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Train Fares

I’ll declare an interest: I use the rail network, but not to commute.

There has been an astonishing amount of bollocks being spoken about train-fare rises. Especially commuters, whose season tickets are rising by hundreds of pounds. “The trains are crowded” they complain. Yes, and cutting rail fares will help that, how exactly? “It’s too expensive” Well move house, or change jobs. Or travel off-peak.

This crowding is because more people try to use the network than is optimal at peak hours.

The effects are not just stress and misery on the journey.

This underpriced peak-hour rail drives up house-prices along the rail corridors, and sucks life and employment out of the towns. It also makes people unhappy. People make bad decisions about what makes them happy. They overvalue big houses, and undervalue time not spent on an hour-long commute into town. They overvalue money, and undervalue social contact and family time. And they’re aided and abetted in this happiness-destroying cultural artefact by heavily subsidised commuting.

 If the crippling over-dependence of the country on London is to be addressed, the market must be allowed to do its work on rail fairs. Shifting economic activity out of London is to be desired. Britain does not benefit from shifting millions into town and out again every day, when with a bit of thought, much of this economic activity could happen in Reading, or Northampton or Brighton or Hull. Making it easy to live in Cambride and work in London doesn’t help Cambridge or its economy.

 You may FEEL you have no choice but to buy the season-ticket, and in the short-run you’re probably right. But in the longer term, every person deciding the commute isn’t worth it, and seeking a job locally helps the local economy. Every person moving nearer their place of work reduces stress at peak hours on the transport system. In the long run, people respond to economic incentives. It shouldn’t be the government’s role to insulate people from the reality of their choices.

So, you want to get into central London by 9am? Why not do what I did when I lived in London, and live in a grotty part of town instead, within cycling distance? OH! You want a big house out of London? So you want ME to subsidise your big house by keeping your rail-fare down? Is that fair? It’s not like you’re without choices: there are no solutions, only trade-offs. Compromise on your house, or compromise on your job. Or accept the real cost of rail-fares. You want a seat, guaranteed? Buy a first-class ticket. Overcrowding in the carriages is merely evidence that the price is wrong.

If there was a free market, rather than fares being regulated, peak hours would certainly be more expensive, and off-peak would probably be cheaper. So renegotiate your hours. Capacity-smoothing fares make sense. Ultimately the problem is one of mis-priced resources, especially space on the world’s second busiest rail network.

Like the Roads, the Rail Network is overused at peak times and underused off peak. Prices reflecting this are a step in the right direction.

Sorry, rail commuters, your fares are not going down any time soon. I don’t mind paying for a rail ticket when I buy a ticket. I do mind paying for rail tickets I’m not using, subsidising people to drive up the price of a house I want where I live, when I fill in my tax-return.

The fare rises are necessary, and will have positive economic effects, if you let them. It’s not all bad news.

The Opening Ceremony

So. Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony.

It was a Triumph. After the Chinese display of might, with all the artistic integrity of a Red-Square parade of missile launchers, we got a fun, irreverent pop-concert from the UK.

After the Royal Wedding and the Jubilee, the world knows this moist North Atlantic archipelago can do pomp and circumstance. What this extravaganza showed the world is that a lot of the rock n roll which defines western civilisation is British, as is much of the technological and industrial inventions which make the modern world as it is. Britain is not a stuffy old country, we’re fun. Come here and get pissed with us.

I could have done without the NHS love-in but that’s by the by. The people are proud of our hospitals being state-owned, despite the fact they lead the world only in hospital acquired infections. Most artists are pinkos. I can live with their eccentricities, if they show the world that Britain is more than Guardsmen outside palaces. So what DID the world make of it?

The Washington Post: As the Olympics opens, Britain rocks
The Australian: Games Begin in British Spirit
The BBC has rounded up some of the rest.

Then there was the symbolism of the copper leaves, each nation contributing a small part, coming together into a magnificent whole the sum of which is greater and brighter than the sum of its parts. The tiny nations like Tuvalu sending a couple of Athletes stand equal to the mighty Americans or Chinese teams. Nations who exist in a state of war may end up competing in a spirit of friendship.

The scourge of international war is receding. For all the corporate bullshit, the Olympic games are part of a process that’s bringing the world together to trade, compete and enjoy a diversity of cultures to the benefit of all. Britain has played a huge part in this process, even though we remain the most warlike nation on the planet.

Far from being a declining power, What the Olympic ceremony showed is a country at ease in its own skin, comfortable with a bit of self-mockery, happy to take risks. No other country would think to put its octogenarian head of state in a skit with James Bond, and have Mr. Bean ruin ‘Chariots of Fire’ for Sir Simon Rattle. Our soft power, from the BBC world service, and musicians to businessmen and scientists still matter on the world stage.

The final motif of Sir Steve Redgrave handing the torch to another generation of young Athletes, was well judged. Then Sir Paul McCartney got everyone participating – in a chorus of ‘Hey Jude’ Not a great chest-beating roar of a rising power but a celebration of the real Olympic spirit. Having lit the torch, everyone joined in, in Friendship, peace and competition.

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.

The Euro Referendum – Myths and Monsters.

Dan Hannan blogging for The Telegraph, trotted out the comforting Tory euro-myth…

If the Tories refuse to give such a commitment [To hold a referendum], they will lose the general election… If they get this issue right, they will win…

It’s bollocks of course, as I argued a while ago. The electorate do not vote on the European issue in General elections. It is almost never (about 2%) given as a top 3 or 5 priority in polling. You may argue that “Europe” dominates the issues, ‘the economy’ and ‘immigration’ which always come on top, but the electorate simply don’t see it this way. When asked, they express a broad hostility to the EU project, a desire for a referendum (the electorate is anywhere and always in favour of referenda), but no real enthusiasm for pulling out.

The EuroNutters simply can’t grasp this. Yes, depending on how you ask the question, a plurality or even Majority of UK voters say they would like to leave the EU but THEY DON’T HOLD THIS POSITION VERY STRONGLY.

The other point I’ve been arguing for a while, so I am not matching my rhetoric to Tory policy as will be alleged. Indeed, Cameron has moved towards my position. NOW IS NOT THE TIME FOR A REFERENDUM. Simply put we don’t know what we’re leaving, and we might get what we want, a federal Eurozone core, and a looser periphery, led by the largest of the ‘outs’ The UK. Now in making this claim, I will be accused of being a closet Europhile and therefore a traitor, by people who think leaving the EU should be the Government’s main priority. These people are idiots who imagine leaving is without cost (especially opportunity costs) and risk. It’s all very well standing on the White cliffs of dover, imaginary Supermarine Spitfires roaring overhead, saying “Very Well, Alone!”

But we’re not fighting a monstrous tyranny like Hitler’s or Stalin’s. We’re disagreeing how to organise some of the wealthiest societies on the planet. I don’t like the EU bureaucracy, but much of what makes the UK a shithole is our own, domestic political idiocies, however comforting it may be to blame our lost competitiveness, or the idleness of the British chav, on the machinations of the Brussels regulatory industry.
Unpopular on the Euorphile Lib-Dem Benches as it will be on the more frothing end of the Eurosceptic right, a renegotiation of our relationship THEN a referendum on the result, some time after the next election (hopefully when the economy is on the mend) is better than an in/out referendum now. However because this isn’t a promise to hold a referendum to withdraw next Thursday, and dismantle the entire EU political machine in the UK by Thursday week, the Blazered golf-club bores of UKIP will not be satisfied. This policy will satisfy almost no-one who cares about the issue. 

It’s a good job almost no-one cares. Cameron is right. Renegotiate, and secure a commitment to hold a referendum on the result, when the time is right. It’s problematic for a blogger, agreeing with an unpopular government who’s moving along the right lines, despite the backbench headbangers and the press who are pressuring a Government into doing something stupid.

For those who think the Government’s ‘lost its way’, this is another ‘Big Issue’ they’ve got right, assuming they can get this past the Liberal Democrats. On the cuts, taxes, benefits, schools and hospitals the Government’s policies are an anathema to powerful vested interests, but not radical enough to appease the new intake of Tory MPs. The presentation, and attention to detail are lacking, but the big picture is looking good. It’s just a shame no-one agrees.

Manufacturing Jobs Wibble.

I was talking to a Farmer recently (until about 1750, any job which wasn’t involved in agricultural production wasn’t “real”). He was telling me about how his new Tractor (he had one of the four-tracked Leviathans that Richard Hammond chose in that episode of Top Gear) could plough. Basically, the GPS could be set to have the furrows overlap within a few inches. The productivity gains mean that he can plough an extra field or two a day just from not ploughing the same bits twice by eliminating overlap. The Tractor is then hired out at profitable rates to other, smaller farmers. The same is true for Combine harvesters and the like. The relentless focus on efficiency drives productivity improvements, and has done since the industrial revolution.

A small cadre of highly skilled professionals do the jobs with enormous machines once done by vast armies of peasant labourers; which is what’s happening to manufacturing. British industrial production is rising barring recessionary glitches, UK industrial production has kept rising for most of the last 100 years. We are still producing lots of things that can be dropped on a foot. It’s just it’s no longer done by the descendants of those peasants who left the land during the industrial revolution to seek work in factories. Those factories still exist, but they employ a small number of highly paid people to operate machines which do the riveting, welding, assembling and polishing. Each machine takes does the job of hundreds of people.

That’s what happened in Agriculture, and is happening in Manufacturing. And THIS IS A GOOD THING. Because all those people not employed in riveting in Tyneside shipyards or Scything Lincolnshire corn fields are employed doing something else for someone else. All that productive labour has been freed, but we’re still getting the food produced, in abundance the Lincolnshire harvestman would have thought impossible.

The majority of Western economies are now services. Even the Germans, who’ve a niche in Machine tools and Automobiles have only 21% of their economy in making things they can drop on their feet.

And this reflects another point. Manufactured products are getting cheaper, so to have material wealth unimaginable to our Lincolnshire harvestman requires far fewer hours of Labour to achieve. Thus cars, the most expensive manufactured products most of us buy, are getting cheaper relative to average earnings, decade by decade. A reliable runaround would have been beyond the means of a WW2 factory worker, but is available to a cleaning lady now. So the same car forms a smaller part of the economy. Having spent less on the car, we can spend more on clothes, shoes, music, computers, kitchen appliances etc, and in so doing provide jobs to people supplying those things. Above all we can pay for people do do things for us – cut our hair, serve us food in restaurants, mediate for us legally, invest our surplus production into other productive activities, heal our illnesses and so on.

And because more of our money goes into buying services than it does in buying manufactures, it stands to reason most of us will specialise in providing services.

The ultimate logic of Adam Smiths division of Labour is that people will, over time, supply our needs with fewer and fewer inputs as we get better at doing it. Thus an activity, agriculture, which occupied the lives and productive energy of 90% of the population 400 years ago, now only occupies 2%. 100 years ago, people made things. Now we make more, but use fewer people to do it, and instead provide services which so far can’t be done by machine. This list is shrinking.

In time, just as in agriculture, high paying jobs will come from managing machines which produce with extreme efficiency, or by exploiting a niche where people pay an excess for a craft built object. So you can either have a farmer managing an expensive machine, or running an organic farm and charging a premium to people who want to know the name of the cow they’re eating. You can get your clothes mass produced relatively cheaply, or you can pay through the nose for a Tailor on UK wages. You can have your car put together by machines in Nissan’s famous Sunderland plant, or you can buy an Aston Martin, hand-built in Warwickshire.

So the next time you see someone opining of dear old blightly that “we don’t make anything anymore”, remind yourself that we do, it’s just it takes fewer of us to do it. Then ignore everything else that person says, because they clearly know nothing.

Western unemployment is at a high, following a series of financial crises, but to blame this on the death of manufacturing is idiotic. There are structural, cultural and political reasons for excess unemployment, but trying to hold back the tide which has seen manufacturing shrink as a proportion of the economy is wrong, because the very process which sees people replaced by machines is the process by which we all get richer. We’re simply falling down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. 400 years ago we banished famine, 100 years ago we banished material want. The developing nations, by simple dint of abandoning anti-market orthodoxies, followed us and are achieving in 10 years what took us 100. They are copying us. Chinese growth will slow when they have to innovate to grow. There’s nothing remarkable about their growth, it’s just what happens when you lose the dogmatic Marxist idiocy, take the choke hold off and let people get rich.

Globalisation, the search for efficiencies in production, and international trade has led to countless millions of people dragging themselves out of poverty by embracing the opportunities of trade. Korea and Japan joined the west on the technological frontier. China is catching up. As a result the 70m population of a small, damp, foggy Island of the North coast of Europe had a GDP in the same ball-park as a nation 14 times as populous just a few short years ago, but is now dwarfed by the Asian giant. This isn’t a threat, nor is it evidence of Britain’s “decline”.

The next challenge is to banish stress and misery from our lives. I suspect this will be harder. The only caveat is that I have a great deal more faith in Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” (a much maligned and misunderstood idea) than the idiotic ideas of politicians. Politicians still seem to think manufacturing jobs are special, which suggests they don’t understand why we’re rich. The only limitless resource is man’s ingenuity. Markets aren’t an ideology, they’re simply what works in the absence of one, by deploying that one limitless resource to everyone’s benefit.

Scotland & Northern Ireland

The Language of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland is called Ullans or Ulster LinkScots. The plantation of Ulster, in what many view as the First British Empire, started under Britain’s first King, James I, who was, before he ascended the English throne, known as James VI of Scotland. Earlier English plantations had been concentrated around Dublin, but he sent Scots to form “plantations” in northern Ireland, whose troubles since have been about ownership of Land. To this day, most towns in the province are overwhelmingly protestant, with the Catholics being more rural. What happened is perhaps not dissimilar to the Israeli settlements of the West Bank, something the Israeli government might like to ponder.

Culturally, Glasgow and Belfast share the footballing loyalties, sectarian troubles and culture. You can look across the Irish sea from the Giant’s causeway in County Antrim in Ulster and see Islay and the Mull of Kintyre, a phallic and legally distinguished peninsula in Scotland.

Northern Ireland therefore is in a Union with England & Wales mainly because of the latter’s union with Scotland. Shouldn’t an Independent Scotland therefore get Ulster? (yes, I know the 6 counties are not the same as Ulster, but the word is often so used) Do the Northern Irish who wish to remain British, wish to remain in a Union with England, or Scotland? Shouldn’t they get a say?

Ultimately unpicking a Union as close as that between Scotland and the Rest of the UK is going to be a constitutional and practical nightmare. Ultimately, whatever happens to Scotland, something like the Anglo Irish Agreement will mean that Scots or English can choose either Nationality at will.

Much of the Nationalist rhetoric, particularly about the Oil, where they think the maritime border should run east-west along the sea bed, rather than follow the line of a relatively straight border, is nonsense. As is their plan to annex the Scottish Regiments of the British Army. The idea that Scotland subsidises the rest of the UK is laughable. It is clear that Scotland would have been bankrupted by the financial crisis, in a manner worse than Ireland. As for the EU, Spain will veto Scotland’s automatic membership, and she will have to apply in her own right, and be seen as another mouth to feed. Once these practicalities are made clear, the appeal of independence is reduced to an emotional one. Bannockburn was a long time ago, and we’ve been through a lot together since.

For these reasons, devo-max makes sense to me, and appears to be the favoured option of most Scots. I for one would LOVE to see Scotland standing on its own two feet. It might even provoke a round of healthy tax-competition to all our benefits. For at present Scotland has a version of the Dutch disease, where they farm subsidy from London, without having to earn anything themselves. The state therefore crowds out private industry, anyone with any drive or talent leaves, Scottish politics becomes that of the shit that’s left behind, and ever more insanely socialist as a result. Tax-raising powers and fiscal independence would be the making of Scotland by skewering their pinko mindset and forcing them to pay for policies such as “free” prescriptions and tuition.

Ireland, who left the Union in the early 20th century still enjoys a “most-favoured nation” status and despite rankles at the top of government, Brits and Irishmen get on pretty well, and it’s always been so. There were more Irishmen who died on the first day of the Somme than took part in the Easter rising in 1916. The Irish Rugby team, plays as All Ireland, completely (and magnificently) ignoring brute politics. Irishmen can vote in British elections, and serve in her army. Whatever happens to Scotland, we’re never going to be totally independent of each other. Perhaps a loose federation of the Isles, including an independent Scotland, Wales and a United Ireland whose citizens are broadly able to choose who they want to belong to and where they want to live is where we will end up. In the meantime, Scotland cannot just wash her hands of the responsibilities she shares as a result of her membership of the United kingdom, and that includes the troubled province of Northern Ireland.

Ultimately though, I don’t mind so long as my Scottish relatives are not made foreigners in any meaningful sense, and nationalist violence is restricted to that happening in February between 20-stone props at Lansdowne road, Murrayfield or Twickenham.

Youth Unemployment….

….Is an absolute disgrace.

Problem is Labour’s mantra that this is an economic problem is belied by the fact that this has been rising since they introduced the minimum wage about 2000. In Spain 40% youth unemployment is indicative that most young people have half a job, before they eventually join the ranks of the protected insiders.

In Britain however, 20% youth unemployment means many of those 20% of young people won’t get a job, now or ever. This is one of the broadest measure of Britains multi-generational welfare dependency. There’s the Workless households, in which one in six children grow up; without a role model of a parent going to work every day, the majority of which are headed by a lone parent. At the top of the heap are the “problem families” which blight every poor neighbourhood.

The problems are circular. Increasingly feminised schools have little relevance to working class boys in particular. They bunk off, find they can’t catch up if they ever have periods of motivation, get frustrated, bunk off some more, and leave school without any of the basic skills necessary to succeed, or any of the qualifications employers demand. These boys then go on to lead chaotic lives, without the hope of employment, fathering children they have little intention of bringing up. Who grow up in workless households, for whom school has no relevance…. and so on.

The problem isn’t a lack of jobs (the number of employed immigrants gives the lie to that), a lack of skills, or even discrimination against the working class, one ludicrous CiF article (I can’t find the link) suggested employers’ demands for punctual, hard-working, well-presented, literate people with clear diction was ‘discrimination’; instead it’s a moral poverty.

There are vast armies of state employees, some 43 agencies by one estimate, focused on solving these problems. Income transfers ensure that the multi-generational welfare families are not cash poor. There are plenty of low-paid people on wages lower than that which can be achieved by farming the benefits system’s (at one recent count) 73 different payments.

Chris Dillow will scoff at the idea that living on £51 per week unemployment benefit. But this number is a joke. Unemployment benefit: that’s just pin-money, when housing benefit ensures there’s a roof over your head, and income support & child benefit to ensure little Wayne, Lee and Kayleigh don’t starve. A multi-generational moral vacuum has been created, where there are no consequences to catastrophic life choices. Few single mothers get sent to gaol unless they’ve killed someone, and there are no punishments short of that hold any fear.

The Problem families don’t need another agency of troubleshooters to ensure they behave. They need a system of consequences. Beyond a certain point of catastrophic stupidity, petty criminality, and ignorance the state needs to cease its efforts to ‘help’. Perhaps above a certain number of ASBOs and convictions, all benefits should be stopped, all children taken into care and the family evicted from state housing. The adults would be free to find a living without the help they’ve spat out all their lives. Link
Consequences for actions. That is all that is required. It may even filter down through the levels of uselessness, without the hard-core of trouble families, their neighbours’ kids might find education in sink comprehensives improve. This might mean that the employers, who’ve been importing labour rather than employing illiterate British teenagers, might start making a dent in youth unemployment. If you build an incentive or two into the welfare state, in 20 years, Britain’s underclass might actually start to shrink.

The Bond Markets are the Masters. Ah… Democracy at last.

Here’s the bad news. The bond markets are the masters now.

Here’s the good news. We are the bond markets, and the bond-markets are us. Or at least anyone with a pension. Who needs democracy when we, the paymasters, have those who would rule us, by the short ‘n curlies. When politicians decide that they know best, we, the people who pay their bills, and ultimately lend them the money for them to squander, eventually call time on their nonsense. They can pretend the bond markets are shouty shirty men with many phones shouting about stuff they don’t understand. But it’s people managing your pension fund for you thinking “you know what, I think I might dump those Italian bonds now” because they don’t trust the Italian Government to repay you any more.

If you don’t let the people decide, you end up with politicians in charge (until they run out of your money that is), and as far as the Eurozone is concerned, the Italians have shown that given democracy, they elect, repeatedly a magnificent, corrupt nincompoop and can’t be trusted. It’s too late to whine about sovereignty. The Italians gave that up, willingly when they joined the Euro. So did you, Ireland. You think British sovereignty was bad, now wait and see what happens when you’re forced to bend over to bail out German bankers.. They won’t even have the decency to spit first. And Greece, who are even more culpable as they lied flagrantly to get into the Euro. Germany rigged the system to it’s benefit. And you didn’t see it coming. So, democracy in Europe is dead. Germany has her Empire, and it will break their bank because they didn’t set to it as the British did, with trade in mind. Indeed the whole project is designed to shield France from globalisation (that’s what they ACTUALLY want!!!)

There is a solution to the current crisis, a simple one, and the markets know it. It’s very, very simple. We’re beyond moral hazard. Germany needs to bail out Southern Europe, and the ECB needs to indicate that it will print sufficient money to ensure that Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, and yes, it will come to this, France too, do not default on their debts. The Euro will fall, but so will bond-yields and the Euro. The Germans must accept a stagnation of living standards for a generation.

The Euro was a political project. Politicians, had they asked their people would have been told “no”. And the people are, once again, right with the politicians in the stupid corner. And the Icing on the cake is that the UK isn’t part of this unfolding disaster, so while we will suffer a bit more than is reasonable as our trading partners’ economies roll over, we can enjoy the Schaenfreude of knowing WE TOLD YOU SO. Britain, of course maintained her trading links with the rest of the world, rather than looking in to an aging, dirigiste, stagnating, over-regulated Europe and will remain the worlds second most popular destination for foreign direct investment, after the USA.

Just Imagine what it’s like to be John Redwood now. Having endured a decade of ridicule and abuse to be proved so comprehensively, prophetically, totally right. The UK can try to help. We can, and probably will lend the IMF, and the Eurozone some more money. Bear in mind that we’re borrowing at a little over 2% and probably lending it to those Euroweenies at 5,6 or 7%. And the German tax-payer’s going to get the bill. It’s like winning a war, but no-one’s died. Who cares about an EU referendum when in a decade there may not be anything left but a ruin in Strasbourg and Brussels a ghost-town?

And when the Euro-project collapses into a singularity of political vanity, the UK can sail off into the mid-Atlantic, still a major global trading nation, still a permanent member of the UN security council, still (just) in possession of military forces with global reach and still with close relationships with rich, prosperous, free-market countries with which we share a language. All things the European Union sought to take from us. Oh. And the human relationship with the Next major superpower is pretty good too. (no, not China, they’ve demographically screwed themselves before they’re rich), India, with whom we (or at least the English) share an obsession.

The UK, once again has flirted with disaster, yet will once more come out the other end the victor, still on top, and all because some politicians with humility decided in the late 90’s that they ought to consult the people before surrendering economic sovereignty.

Don’t write blighty off just yet.

GMT, BST, CET & The Changing of the Clocks.

Twice a year the clocks change. We’re robbed of an hour in bed in spring and get it back in Autumn to no end as far as I can see. And every year, we have to deal with the pointless debate that we should either have British Summer Time all year round (stupid) or worse, co-ordinate our clocks with Europe.

This probably matters little in Torquay. But Shetland, 700 miles & 10 degrees of latitude farther north, in the winter only gets 6 hours of daylight. BST would see first light on December 29th (the Latest sunrise – a few days after the winter solstice) until 10:10am and see last light at 15:56 on the 19th December (the earliest sunset is a few days before the solstice). GMT, UK winter time sees an earlier dawn around 9am in winter and an earlier sunset at around 3pm, which feels more natural.

The argument in favour of abandoning daylight saving usually suggest BST all year round – GMT+1 giving lighter evenings in the winter. Well even where I live, just north of London, in the winter first light is 8am (9am BST, 10am if we co-ordinated with Europe) and last light is 4pm (5pm BST, or 6pm European time). Both commutes would be in darkness under whichever clock. On balance, I think (as most people who get up early) I would prefer earlier mornings for longer. There is some evidence (most of it dated) that lighter evenings reduce accidents. But work patterns and social habits have changed since most of the research on the subject was done; and recent research suggests that the decrease in evening energy use barely exceeds the increase in morning use.

Either way, it’s irrelevant. The time is (or should be) based on the natural phenomenon of the solar cycle. Noon is the point at which the sun is highest in the sky. The idea that we are slaves to a machine, the clock, rather than the natural environment I find faintly disturbing. If workers want to get up long before dawn, to enjoy a lighter evening, people are free to set their day accordingly. Some people, for whom I have nothing but contempt, think it reasonable to start their working day at the slovenly and frankly disreputable time of 9am. I’ve heard some idle, slothful people start at 10am, though the only one I’ve actually met “worked” in advertising. Quite what such “people” want to do with the extra hours in bed, apart from extravagant masturbation, is beyond me.

Instead of a top-down imposition of a working day which suits some, allow people & businesses to set their working hours according to their individual needs. Leave the clock to be set by the natural phenomena, and let people, not Government decide their hours. We aren’t at war and the Government shouldn’t be telling me or anyone else what time to get up.

GMT all year round – the libertarian choice. BST (or worse CET): a monstrous instrument of tyranny.

A Warning To Euro-Sceptics.

Right now, the EuroSceptics across Europe are enjoying a moral ascendancy. Peter Oborne was able to openly ridicule a Eurocrat on Newsnight to the extent that Amadeu Altafaj-Tardio stormed off, with Oborne receiving barely a ticking off from Paxman. The Germans are close to refusing to pay the bills, the Italians are reliant on the ECB for solvency and Ireland, Portugal and especially Greece have seen their economies destroyed by an inappropriate currency union. From his Spectator essay last week

Very rarely in political history has any faction or movement enjoyed such a complete and crushing victory as the Conservative Eurosceptics. The field is theirs. They were not merely right about the single currency, the greatest economic issue of our age — they were right for the right reasons. They foresaw with lucid, prophetic accuracy exactly how and why the euro would bring with it financial devastation and social collapse

This credibility was hard-won. The BBC, The FT, the CBI and even the Tory party were all infiltrated by extreme Euro-fanatics who painted those sceptical of the project as a Lunatic fringe. Fortunately, the Fleet-street Newspapers knew which way the British public felt. By the skin of our teeth, the UK was kept out of the Euro. For the UK the price was the credibility of the Tory party and 13 years of Labour idiocy. All reasonable people, even the Leader of the Liberal Democrats and at least one of their former leaders who argued strenuously for Britain to ditch the pound, are now on record as saying the Euro will not be suitable “for the foreseeable future”. The sceptics have been utterly vindicated.

It would be unwise to dent this credibility by suggesting things as “inevitable” such as Greek withdrawal or a currency collapse, which aren’t. The ECB, in common with other money-issuing central banks, can in final analysis, print enough money to meet any and all liabilities. The Eurozone as a whole is in considerably better fiscal shape than the USA or Japan. The UK despite the advantages of a long maturity debt profile is STILL running a 10% deficit, and is catching up fast with Germany & France’s debt as a percentage of GDP. The question of whether the Eurozone stays together is ultimately one of political will. And there seems no chink in the Armour of the European political class’s will to defy their people, people whom it should be remembered are not yet voting en mass for deeply Euro sceptic parties. Euro sceptics must remember that most people really don’t think “Europe” a big issue. Not big enough to change their vote. Until they think it is, they will tend to vote for the Status Quo, or allow themselves to be led by the political class on an esoteric issue of which they have little understanding.

This is why I believe the Euro will survive this crisis, intact. Enough money will be printed to keep all the nations together, only Greece and then possibly Portugal & Ireland will default. Financial crises come around once every 10 years or so. The next one will probably not affect the EU, so at a guess, the Eurozone will not face another significant challenge for a couple of decades. In the mean-time, the growth-denying aspects of the way the Eurozone is structured will fuel Euro sceptic parties across the EU, who will have received a boost from this crisis. The next crisis may find traction in a more skeptical political class. Or it may not.

Rather than indulging in wishful thinking, by saying “the end of the EU is nigh”, we have to CONTINUE to make the arguments. Events are not yet going to do it for us. The end of the disaster for economic growth and democracy that is the European Union is unfortunately some way off. We cannot pat ourselves on the back just yet.