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Riots. They happen from time to time.

When thinking about the recent riots to have engulfed the country, I tend to agree with the Left-wing analysis of why these kids are looting, but agree broadly with the moderate rights’s approach to dealing with it. First, lets be clear. This isn’t about race – there are no Asians rioting. Muslims are conspicuous by their absence from the rioting mobs, except as they defend their communities. The Asian community’s retention of values, however alien, means their young men don’t steal, don’t rob, don’t smash things up. This is about feral black and white youths who’ve lost any social guidance, from multi-generational welfare homes who are ultimately rioting because rioting’s fun. (No really, it is. Find a riot trained policeman and ask him why he volunteered…). They are rioting for stuff – the lawlessness is presenting economic opportunities for loot. They are therefore rioting because they can, and the consequences they will face, either from the police in terms of violence or the Judicial system, are not to be feared. They are rioting because they are utterly without any moral sense of right and wrong after decades of non-judgmental social workers indulging their behaviour, as left them with a sense of grievance (not your fault), but no means to do anything about it. There are no consequences on the job market for these kids. Few of the rioters will ever hold down any more than a precarious minimum-wage job. What’s a few weeks inside to a kid like this who still lives with his mum? Yes these kids are rioting for reasons of economic, moral and spiritual despair, lashing out incoherently against a society which has failed, then abandoned them.

Who is the bloke in the Chinos? We need to know.

So the left will focus on the social deprivation, the right on the moral despair and lax criminal justice. Just because there are economic elements to the despair, though, doesn’t mean the state should give ever more money. Likewise, though the manner of the protest, and any expression of it may be violent, nihilistic and incoherent, doesn’t mean society hasn’t failed these kids and failed them completely. The fact that society has failed them, through lack of opportunity, shitty schools and broken promises, however doesn’t excuse their actions, and punishment must be harsh as the law allows, and swift as possible.

The police just need slightly more robust rules of engagement. So the solution in the short term is to rapidly increase the costs of rioting, and that means letting the police, who have so far exercised impressive restraint and discipline, hit them a bit harder with sticks a little more freely. With such a loss of control, a steady escalation of force used is reasonable. A few injured rioters for which the police face no consequences as the higher command back their boys, would make the scrotes think again, and improve both the morale of the police and those who are paying them. Likewise those citizen patrols protecting their communities – from Turks, Sikhs and Milwall supporters people have turned out to say “enough, we’re going to defend ourselves” should be given support as there are just not enough Police to be everywhere. However, more excitable commentators have suggested shooting looters, and applying more draconian riot control methods. The solutions do NOT include bringing in the Army, fun though it would be to see the Parachute Regiment go all fighty on rioters. Nor are baton rounds, tear-gas and water cannon going to be much use. The disorder is too dispersed. Plus I quite like living in a country where these things are not allowed. The death penalty will NOT be applied to people who’ve just nicked some trainers from Foot-Locker.

So the stupid right is talking nonsense, but so’s the stupid left, who think state spending is a solution to everything. The solutions do NOT include rethinking “the cuts”. These kids are not rioting because the local youth-centre was shut. The people doing the rioting are the ones who burned down youth centres, not use it. Housing too is part of the left-wing solution. More council housing is the cry. But is it really sensible to herd the most despairing people into ghettos of “social” housing? Surely the state getting out of the housing business would mean fewer Broadwater farm estates in which rioters congregate. Subsidise private renting if you must, but demolish these concrete jungles. Part of the solution involves jobs, and that involves a dynamic economy. But as one heckler of Boris Johnson suggested raising the minimum wage, it’s clear the left doesn’t understand the economics of job creation. Cuts are necessary – vital – to create those jobs. But the primary barrier these young men face are not economic. Jobs for illiterate, uneducated, ill disciplined scrotes are going to be hard to create in any economic climate, but moral. Would YOU employ these feral youngsters? Anyone… anyone… Me neither. The solution is one of tough love, tougher policing and scrapping the economic barriers, such as a minimum wage and generous life-time benefits which prevent them getting jobs.

The longer-term solution is education – fewer failed schools; fewer illiterate, hopeless kids. Education is important, but it’s not money, it’s improving schools and markets are much better this than governments. Broadly the coalition’s academy program, and longer-term, a full-blooded free-school and voucher system will change the face of British education, especially for the poorest.

Broadly these reasons are economic and social. The rioters have so little stake in society they feel justified in smashing it up. There are few consequences that can be imposed to deter, and few opportunities to prevent disorder.

Finally, and most importantly. Riots happen, everywhere from time to time. They are much rarer in ethnically homogeneous Scandinavia or Japan, but not unknown. Riots are more common in big, ethnically diverse cities. Even in Canada or Australia -rich, but relatively low inequality countries, riots have happened – this isn’t about GINI coefficients. It’s about poor people without a stake in the society, lashing out. Toronto recently had hockey violence, Sydney ethnic violence. The Paris Banlieus often go up in flames as North African youths riot. Los Angeles, New York have all experienced race-riots in the last few decades. Riots once in a while are the price paid for freedoms. They can be avoided, mitigated or controlled, but not eliminated entirely.

So far in the UK summer of rage, 2011, four people have been killed, one of whom appears to have been involved in the riots and three run over protecting their community – I’m not going to comment on their cases, because I have no facts. Crucially none have been killed by the police, while (as of last night) over 100 police officers have been injured. These factors remove the opportunity for more martyrs, more violence, more protests, more repression. The Family of Mark Duggan have been dignified, and deserve answers. Again, best not to comment, as I have no facts, but they’re no catalyst for an even greater sense of grievance, for which we should thank them. The fact the police have been so restrained MAY have contributed to the odd burned out building, but it means the rioters are losing legitimacy, even amongst those who might have supported them had the police reacted differently. Ultimately “the moral is to the physical as three is to one”.

Riots happen, just like market crashes and for the same reasons – a herd mentality. The British police have handled themselves in an exemplary fashion. The British state, and British people are capable of cleaning up the mess. Life will go on. The important thing is to deal with the effects of riots, punish the perpetrators and help the victims rebuild their homes and businesses. Don’t let the bandwagon jumpers agitate for either a reversal of the necessary economic reforms or further curtailments of civil liberties, both of which ultimately will serve to further alienate and disadvantage the communities from which the rioters can’t escape.

That S&P Downgrade. The Music’s stopped.

It’s important to understand exactly what the ratings agencies do. Their ratings are merely opinions. They are not regulators, though regulators take their work rather too seriously. They do not set rates – the market sets rates – though they take rather too seriously the ratings agencies’ opinions, mainly because it allows lazy traders to price the risk of a given security according to their rating without doing that boring maths stuff, or any tedious analysis.

The USA is not about to go bust, but the deficit is rising, the debt is rising, and rising at an increasing rate. This is President Obama’s “stimulus” program, and it has failed utterly, just as every other stimulus program everywhere has failed during this crisis. The problem is that of decades of Governmental overspend. In the USA the benefits of relatively low tax-rates are eaten almost entirely on increase health care costs, something Obamacare does almost nothing to address; it just moves the burden a bit from private to public. So the western world entered the financial crisis with Government spending between 40% and 50%, as Governments found it easier to deliver jobs by borrowing to build a bloated state bureaucracy and generous but inefficient state services.

During the cheap-money boom running from the late 90’s to 2008 economic growth was accelerated by the money borrowed by Governments, and the money borrowed by people against the rising value of their homes. Public and private debt across the western world grew as Governments and home-owners spent cheap credit. It was the household debt, sliced and diced by ex-ratings-agency employees in ways to game the algorithms to generate the necessary grades to allow investors, who don’t look too closely under the bonnet, to buy them.

House-price inflation is just inflation, but this was not captured in statistics used by the central banks to set interest rates. Gordon Brown chose CPI, which excludes most housing costs, instead of the far more appropriate RPI, which doesn’t when setting the central bank free to set rates. As a result, British interest rates were too low during the 90’s or 00’s. Similar sleights of hand happened in the USA. Of course it was the private sector credit which went pop first – and the web of debt, and the financial instruments secured upon it fell apart and banks went bust. Ireland and Iceland were bankrupted by the cost of bailing out the banks.

A chunk, but not the lion’s share of the UK’s public debt is the cost of bailing out the banks. But the UK was running a deficit BEFORE the crisis, as was the USA. Governments were trying to keep the party running by borrowing money. Eventually the music stopped. The size of the UK’s and Ireland’s deficit is partially due to the collapse in Bank’s tax-bills which had underpinned public spending. In the USA, the Bush-era tax-cuts (and discretionary war-fighting) are the main reasons for the deficits. the Bank bail-outs (and that of motor manufacturers!!!) were the main reasons in the US. Governments desperately trying to keep the music playing by pulling the “stimulus” levers on their monetary (low interest rates) and fiscal (excessive state spending) levers.

So the wheel came off the financial system, leading to lower tax receipts from that sector. The correct response would have been to cut spending to reflect the new reality. But for the last 2 years, countries with open economies and floating exchange rates, whose policy makers surely knew that the fiscal multipliers were probably less than one, sought to “support” the economy with continued state spending.

This attempt to keep the party going was doomed to failure. Now for the good news. The US and UK political systems and indeed democracy, are mature enough to call “enough”. The Tea Party caucus stopped Obama’s lunatic stimulus program and demanded a return to balanced budgets, and crucially they called for the majority of this fiscal contraction to come from spending cuts, not tax rises. In the UK the electorate was persuaded that ever more spending was not the answer and elected a Conservative-led coalition which had not shied away from the need for spending cuts. In the UK spending cuts are about to start, or “bite” as the BBC keeps telling us. This may be expansionary, if it means that confidence in money and the economy returns.

The UK and USA are going to be Okay. Our public finances will be brought under control. The USA will regain its AAA rating in time, and we may even experience growth while doing it. (This will surprise the Keynesian and the BBC).

The economies of Southern Europe don’t have the excuse of bailing out banks for their crisis. That can be laid squarely at the door of the Euro, a political vanity project which is now destroying economies and lives, because sharing a currency doesn’t make Greeks or Italians into Germans. The ultimate cause though is the same. Decades of cheap money artificially boosted the economy leading to an asset price boom. Governments unshackled from the constraints of the markets were able to borrow to buy votes, until bond traders noticed that the Greeks and Italians were not behaving like those parsimonious Germans and started to drive down the price of their bonds. The music has stopped, the money must be paid back, and Governments MUST cut their cloth according to their means.

Who’s going to spend more to close the gap? Well that’s obvious. The Japanese people have to start spending their savings (while their government reins in its spending). The Chinese government will find the returns available on its surplus heading to zero if it continues to buy dollars to keep the Yuan down. They will have to start running surpluses and let their currency appreciate.

It ain’t all bad. The world has plenty of demand – 2 Billion south and east Asians are getting richer faster than ever before in the greatest expansion of wealth in history. Why aren’t we celebrating this, and seeing it as an opportunity? What we need is Governments to realise they can’t and shouldn’t run deficits or surpluses for ever, and the less they manage the economy, the better that economy functions in the long-term. Indeed neither should people run surpluses for ever: You can’t take it with you. The world’s financial crisis are simply shocks which change behaviour to iron out these imbalances. It works, eventually.Link

The Debt Ceiling. What Politicians Say vs What they mean.

What Barack Obama says

“Spending cuts would not come too quickly to hurt the fragile U.S. economic recovery”

Of course, he KNOWS that state spending, in an indebted country with an open economy with a floating exchange rate, like the USA, doesn’t support the economy, and quite possibly slows the recovery, the fiscal multiplier probably being somewhere below 1.

What Barack Obama Means

“Spending cuts will be talked about just loud enough to keep the punters buying our debt, but not loud enough to provoke strikes amongst the Democrats’ clients in the public sector”

We have similar problems in the UK. There are few economic problems which couldn’t be solved by firing 10% of the public sector, the vast majority of whom push paper around or whose job it is to interfere. The problem is that this will cause the entire public sector (probably including the 50% whose work is absolutely vital) to start shouting and breaking things. It may be obvious that half the public sector is useless, but the useless bit is the bureaucracy which is what decides what to cut, & bureaucracies’ function is their own perpetuation. We’re gutting the forces, releasing criminals and cutting police. Why are we not firing civil servants too?

In the USA as in the UK, “the cuts” fall on those without ‘agency’, the ability to influence the outcome. The problem is these are usually people doing something people value. Money is shaved off waste collection, resulting in outsourced bin-men getting the sack instead of tightly contracted, unionised council prod-noses. This results in the utterly ridiculous sight of the pen-pushers in the MoD outnumbering Soldiers in the Army, who are too busy getting their legs blown off in Afghanistan to fight back. Bureaucrats don’t cut themselves. Police numbers fall, whilst ministry of justice headcount remains the same.

The other reason apart from bloated, self-serving public sector bureaucracy, for the deficits in are “entitlements” (US-speak) or “Benefits” (UK-speak). Naturally, just like in the UK, the Left won’t wear ANY cuts to these. In the US, because red-state America is much poorer than Blue, the Republican base won’t wear any cuts to entitlements either. Neither will the republican extremists consider any tax rises, even the removal of loopholes & tax breaks. Nor will the party of supposedly small government (yeah, right) countenance cuts to farm subsidies (Iowa has disproportionate influence in the presidential primary season) or defence, spending on which is running higher than during the height of the Cold War.

In the UK, even the Labour party’s position (though it is never stated as such) is for significant cuts, albeit slightly slower than the Conservatives, who are considering FURTHER amalgamations of storied regiments, cuts to policing, prisons, the Royal navy, RAF. (Some) Labour politicians are thinking seriously about changes to benefits, agreeing with the Tories (in principle) on a Universal Credit. Ignore Ed Balls’ partisan Keynesian headbangery, the debate is rather grown-up compared to most countries. However despite, all the agreement, without cuts to benefits, we cannot balance the budget, here or in the USA.

It’s not just about where the cuts must fall. Politicians have to stop making the excuse that this is a demand-led recession. We’ve had the biggest fiscal and monetary stimulus EVER, and it has not produced growth. You can argue that the stimulus has prevented worse; Obama or even the Guy who looked like Baron Greenback who used to live at 10 Downing St. are occasionally credited with “preventing a great depression”, but that assumes this is about demand.

Gordon Brown

This recession isn’t about people not buying enough. This is about an economy that is operating near its productive capacity (unemployment is relatively high, it’s just many of the long-term unemployed are effectively unemployable, which is also why jobs go to immigrants), it’s just that productive capacity needs to be retooled away from shoving paper around between Whitehall departments or poking your nose into people’s sleeping arrangements for the council, and towards doing and making things people actually value. Because the economy is running at near capacity, extra stimulus merely creates inflation. What’s that – lots of inflation in the economy? So we can’t and shouldn’t “stimulate” any more.

WHEN all those diversity mongs have been fired, and they’ve found jobs in the private sector THEN we will get growth, and not before. It’s the moving of people from useless to useful jobs. But politicians rely on the bureaucracy to implement their grand ideas for the rest of us. So there will not be the savage assault on the public sector bureaucracy that’s needed, here or in the US. The easy listening of Keynesian demand management is drowning out the supply-side reforms which will allow growth, and creating nothing but inflation. Interest rates need to go up, and bureaucrats (not soldiers, police, bin-men or road-menders) need to be fired, en-mass.

Of course, it won’t happen.

British Manufacturing – It is about the Bike.

I’ve just finished reading Rob Penn’s It’s all about the Bike, about one man’s perfect bicycle, based around a hand-built British Frame. In doing so the book reveals the history of the Bicycle, and how the bicycle was the invention which built the modern world. Indeed the car would not have been possible without inventions which sprung from the Bike: Pneumatic tyres on wire spoked wheels, driven by chains. Nor would cars have been able to navigate pre-bicycle roads. Cyclists have long been agitators for smooth roads. Most of the early car makers sprung out of Bicycle makers: Pugeuot, Hillman and so on. Bicycles generated a corps of people skilled with metal & machinery which enabled the early unreliable cars to survive a journey. Even aviation owes its early days to the bicycle: Orville & Wilbur Wright were bicycle mechanics, and based the principles of stable flight on the self-centring mechanism a bike uses to stay upright.

Because I am in the market for a new Bicycle, I have been researching of the custom frame-builders. For the same reason I buy Tailored suits (I can highly recommend GD Golding of St. Albans) I would like a custom bicycle to replace my aging Condor (whose bikes are made in Italy). There are plenty of guys out there who can build bikes & make a living from it. Rob Penn went to Bob Jackson in Leeds, but there are others: Woodrup, also in Leeds, Wilson cycles in Sheffield, Mercian cycles in Derby, Roberts in Croyden, Villiers in Kent. Burls‘ steel frames are UK made, but their Titanium frames are Russian (the same company which used to make Soviet submarines). Only Enigma makes Titanium frames in the UK.

By far the most popular frame tubing for high-end bikes is made by a British company, Reynolds, who make their tubing in Birmingham, and remain along with Brooks, who make saddles, as the few remaining remnants of the once mighty West-Midlands bicycle industry.

So British manufacturing may have declined, but it ain’t dead, and what’s left is amongst the best in the world. Most volume bicycle production has moved to China & Taiwan, even Raleigh, and as a result, you can get a lot of bike for £500. However some companies have managed to maintain British volume manufacture, albeit in clearly defined niches, Pashley and Brompton are two, and have done so using design and commitment to quality and have developed a loyal following. I am a proud Bromptoneer, for example. But even in the list of fine companies listed above is perhaps the reason we, as a nation, by and large don’t make things any more.

Have a look at the websites of the companies listed above. They are catalogues, not a shop window. They are utilitarian ways of saying “if you want it, this is how much you pay”. The bespoke frame-builders have waiting lists and see little point, it seems, in SELLING. Compare the British frame-builder‘s shop-window with his Italian or American equivalent, whose websites ooze “lifestyle” and desirability. Mercian, Condor and Enigma at least make an effort, but they’re still lacking in imagination. Roberts cycles may make beautiful bikes, but you’d hardly know it from the website, which does not linger on the details like the welds and lugwork which set them apart as objects of desire. It’s not just frames, it’s true of components too. Hub manufacturer, Royce whose beautifully machined wide-flange hubs come with a track & racing pedigree in excess of that of Chris King (whose hubs, by the way freeze in cold weather unless you use the right grease) could be a global components business, if he could get out of his machine shop comfort-zone and SELL with half the alacrity with which he MAKES. If you didn’t know about Royce hubs through word of mouth, or reading Robert Penn’s book, you’d quickly end up with Campagnolo, Chris King or SRAM. The British craftsman presumably thinks that ‘selling thing’ vulgar, and maybe he’s right. Perhaps the British Frame-builder is happiest brazing tubes together, not creating an image.

But…

Business is, in part, creating the image. It’s about creating desire for your product. If a British Frame Builder could make an image and sell a brand, he could sell 100,000 frames a year with his brand on (even if they’re made in Taiwan) as Gary Fisher did and then he could charge even more for a frame hand-built by the MAN HIMSELF. Ralph Lauren doesn’t tailor all his own suits. He does however still cut SOME for his most important clients. As a result of failing to invest in the most basic of marketing such as SEO, the guys with the real skills are missing out on business which is being taken by hipsters making for hipsters, and worse, people making the cheap mountain bike whose sole purpose is to put people off cycling. Try googling “British Frame Builder” First up is Wilson Cycles halfway down the page, whose informative but dated-looking site inspires beard-growth through talk of headset angles, rather than desire with high resolution picutres of his handiwork. The bicycle is coming back, whatever my co-blogger thinks. It’s a British invention and we’re bloody good at making it, but because there’s little magic dust being sprinkled, the industry nearly died.

This is what went wrong with the British car industry. Who, really, honestly wanted a rover? Vauxhall is not an object of desire. This is more a problem of marketing than engineering. And where the craftsmen operate – really good engineers in TVR, Hillman, Marcos, Lotus they lacked the marketing & business skills to make their businesses really work. It’s not about the product selling itself. It’s not, unfortunately, about what you want to sell. The best businesses create their own desire, and make their customers feel a bit special. Ferarri do this. TVR didn’t. Cielo does, Woodrup – well you wouldn’t know, unless you walked into their Leeds shop.

The mountain-bike revolution was apparently led by a bunch of pot-smoking bums in Marin county California who enjoyed racing old balloon-tyred cruisers down a hill called Repack. Despite this background, Gary Fisher built a successful mass-production business, though eventually sold the bike busiess he started to Trek, who subsequently killed the brand, but Ritchie, the original MTB frame builder’s business still lives on as do Orange, Specialized, Marin are all names from the early days of the MTB revolution, a revolution which changed the bike industry for good. Why are so few British craftsmen able to create a brand? Chris Boardman has made a brand, but on Bikes made in China – it’s more an endorsement than a business. Now, with single-speed bikes fashionable, Oil pricey and exercise difficult to fit into the day, Car design crippled by environmental and safety legislation, the moment for the bike has arrived. It just needs a bit of thought from a few people to make a British hand-built bike as much an object of global desire as a British handmade suit or British hand made luggage. Or shoes. Or Cars.

I want to go to these British frame-builders and shake them for their spelling mistakes on their sites, for their cluttered and ugly web-pages. If they took half the care over their Internet shop-window as they did over their lug-work, the best guys could charge twice as much, and in doing so, there would be more people seeking the work, and so more choice for someone wanting a bike. Hand-build bikes needn’t be a luxury out of reach. Bike shops across the land would not be selling on auto-pilot mass produced stuff from Taiwan, instead they would be selling beautiful objects which could be fixed, not thrown away. More frame-builders would create more demand. Carbon fibre may be great for the racer, but it’s to brittle for everyday life – it’s not the best you can buy. Tailoring your frame to your dimensions & riding style (like my first Condor – how I miss that bike, damned BMW) means comfort and stability. And you get a bike which lasts, and which no-one else has.

It’s not just bikes, but the whole of British industry needs to have the self confidence to sell. ‘Made in Britain’ should be about quality and is, if the naturally diffident British craftsmen & engineers can be persuaded to shout about what they do so well.

Anyway. Seeing as you’ve read this far, and in the unlikely event that you’re interested in my dream bike, here’s what I’m going to go for, as and when I can afford it: Either an Enigma Ti or Mercian in reynolds 953 audax frame. British Racing Green as the main colour & Yellow details. Campagnolo 10 or 11-speed (depending on budget). Bottom bracket by Royce, Chris King or Campagnolo. I will go for a traditional Quill stem, unless someone can suggest a reason to not go for one. I already have a brooks saddle, but I might put that on the Brompton & splash out on a Green Ti Swift. Speedplay frog pedals. Wheels with Royce hubs, DT swiss spokes, Mavic rims with 2-cross front, crow’s foot rear lacing and I’ll build ’em myself. There’s a “donate” button to the right if you want to help me get my dream bike sooner…

A British Bill of Rights.

The news that convicted sex-offenders are to be given the right to appeal their life-time requirement to sign on the sex-offenders’ register has prompted tabloid Paedogeddon and a reprive of the pre-election Tory policy of a British Bill of Rights. This usually comes up in Conservative circles when some Euro-Judge decides some vexatious piece of law which apparently flies in the face of mob rule natural justice. The Daily Mail cliche that “the Human rights of criminals have become more important than those of their victims” is, as ever, complete bollocks. In this instance there is no European element, as the judgement was handed down by the UK’s supreme court applying British Law, the Human Rights Act 1998 – something Conservatives get worked up about too, because this too is seen as a dastardly Euro-plot to undermine common law.


I have no problem with the ruling. It does seem manifestly unfair that a man with no sexual interst in children will be on a list which in public immagination lumps him in with predatory paedophiles, for the rest of his life with no right of appeal, and may therefore get lynched one day when such information is leaked to the baying press. You don’t need to do much to get put on the sex offenders’ register, and the fact that it’s harder to get off than the cold-call list from alternative telecoms providers does fly in the face of the principle that some offenders can be rehabilitated.

On the recent ECHR ruling I have little problem with prisoners being allowed the vote. On the other hand, the restriction of the franchise is not an unreasonable punishment. It takes a court to decide who’s right, and only a vindictive bastard or rights obsessive gets worked up one way or the other. The point is that I would prefer a court rooted in British law, applying law drafed in accordance with the principles of common, rather than continental, law and subject to the Crown in Parliament, to decide rather than some unaccountable foreign body accountable only to itself.

The point to make is that a British Bill of Rights would put human rights law firmly within the British legal system, rather than being an impostition flowing from our membership of the EU. This is why I support a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act 1998. However The British Bill of Rights will still enable judges to consider the rights of Sex offenders to appeal against a lifetime of second-class citizen status. British judges will still find in favour of the rights of Prisoners to vote. The idea that the rulings the Supreme Court interpreting the Bill of Rights come up with will be any different to the current system interpreting the Human Rights Act is risible.

Indeed a Bill of Rights which didn’t allow rulings to displease The Sun would not be worth the paper it’s written on.

These rulings are not “legislating from the bench”. It is application of principle, which get lost in the hurly-burly of politics. Politicians who think that the ‘primacy of parliament’ means legislating vindictively in a manner likely to appease the Sun newspaper’s ‘hang em & flog ’em’ approach to criminal justice will be dissapointed. The only difference will be the a reaffermation of the supremacy of British law within the UK, so criminals will still get “rights”, but the Sun will no longer be able to blame “Europe” for this, so I suspect the policy’s most voiciferous supporters today should be careful for what they wish.

People don’t like paying tax!

(Via) I find an interactive map which tracks the movement of Americans around their country. And the interesting thing is the migration from blue states to red. The reason is state income taxes. Basically Americans can flee states with high income taxes and move to get better standards of living by paying less tax.

As can Europeans.

Of course this will come as a surprise to socialists who think that the lovely boondongles of free at the point of delivery healthcare and education are sufficient to make people want to pay more tax. That might wash for some idiots committed to their beliefs (though I’ll be surprised if his or anyone else’s tax return actually contains a voluntary extra payment). But most people want to pay as little as possible.

The people with the most ability to move are, of course, the wealthy. The wealthy, rather than “taking more out” of society, actually pay disproportionate amounts of tax and use services provided much less than their poorer neighbours. High marginal tax rates push these people away, meaning there is in the long-run less money to fund the boondongles socialists so love.

Economic freedom is an important component of freedom, and, yes, a well designed healthcare system (ie not the UK or US) is an important part of economic freedom. But economic freedom also means keeping taxes as low as possible, in order to fund the things that the state does provide best, but let the rest of the people get on with what ever they want to do with the rest. Otherwise, People tend to move, by whatever means necessary from places of high state control to places of low control.

In Britain, socialist fiefdoms like the North of England and the West of Scotland are seeing their brightest and best move south, leaving a broken rump of state-dependent people behind. Socialist ‘paradises’ like the German Democratic Republic for example had to build walls to keep people in, an option not open to California or Glasgow East.

The message is simple. The more you allow other people to become a burden on those who pay for it, the more resentful those who pay will become. The British welfare state is now too big, too generous and too unquestioning for the people who are asked to fund it to do so willingly. If you provide an opportunity to escape – as millions of Britons do each year to southern France and Spain, where the state intrudes much less rudely on one’s life, they will take it.

If you turn a free, prosperous country into an overtaxed panopticon staffed with ghastly bullying state employees in high-viz vests; rich, productive people will leave. The fact that the UK remains a better place to live than former communist countries in Eastern Europe or War stricken African hell-holes like Somalia where most of New Labour’s unchecked immigration is from, is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the experiment in soft totalitarianism.

Low, fair taxes. Less ‘punish the rich rhetoric’ and fewer state prod-noses. And, if you’re George Osborne, don’t raise CGT or abolish higher rate pension tax relief. It may (or probably not) get you a favourable headline in the Daily Mirror, but will only swell the exchequer of Switzerland.

Strategic Failure

The most tactically perfect army ever to take the field was the Wehrmacht of WWII. German soldiers (and often their equipment too) was so consistently superior that they could be relied upon to defeat any adversary, given roughly equal numbers. Thence sprang the belief that if you look after the battles, the war will win itself and the German army found itself fighting in North Africa, Greece, Cyprus, Norway, the Atlantic, in the Air over Germany and disastrously, Russia; all simultaneously. In losing sight of what the third Reich wanted to achieve (or never having a realistic vision of such) the supreme competence of the Wehrmacht led directly to overstretch and then being confronted by OVERWHELMING force deployed by countries who had thought strategically enough to deliver numerically superior, but technologically and motivationally inferior, forces in a hammer-blow which came quite unforeseen.

Nazi Germany thought tactically. Churchill was tactically naive, but strategically sound. Biff the Nazis where they can be found, in order to keep the Soviets onside and the Germans on their toes until we’ve gathered enough strength (ie get the USA into the war) to deliver the coup de grace in Normandy.

The strategic failure of Nazi Germany is similar to the that of ‘the West’. Western soldiers (since Korea, when the US at first fielded the worst army ever deployed by a democracy) have been better trained and equipped than any army or group they are likely to face. British, American, Dutch, and even French soldiers can be relied upon to prevail in any shooting match they go into.

As a result – a direct result – of this competence, the British Government for example though that fewer than 10,000 soldiers could pacify a querulous Afghan province, and NATO in General has completely lost sight of what it wants to achieve from its military adventure in Afghanistan in a global context. We’re bogged down in Tactics, as was the US in Vietnam, focusing on tactical-level measures and losing sight of the strategy. The AfPak ‘strategy’ for example is more a mantra than a reality.

Whilst this is of no great import when the maximum downside is the appearance of getting kicked out of a broken 13th century country, but in a dangerous world, if we lose sight of what the point of acting as a world policeman is, then the downside and cost could be much greater – catastrophic military defeat. Like it or not, we’re in a toe to toe fist-fight with radical Islam. To continue the boxing analogy, the Islamists are the smaller and less skilled fighter, but with an Iron jaw, he keeps getting up. Oh. And he fights dirty.

Thinking strategically, Iran’s nuclear bomb is a far bigger threat. If there’s a country asking to be invaded, like right now, it’s North Korea. But our armies are bogged down in Iraq (90 -odd thousand US troops) and Afghanistan (100-odd thousand Nato forces). That’s as near as damn it a quarter of a million fighting men who could be saving the world from a nuclear armed Iran or North Korea.

And the sad thing is that they would be better providing the means to deal with this threat with their feet up in Minnesota or Surrey than eating dust in Southern Afghanistan. After all, what’s scarier to Kim Jong Il: An Army at war in Central Asia, or an Army who could be on his border in 2 weeks? Whilst I have confidence the of the Strategy of ISAF in Afghanistan with respect to that conflict, in the big, global picture, that’s Tactics. We’re bogged down and overstretched and cannot therefore threaten great violence to those who deserve it. That is why nation building is so dangerous. It’s a nebulous concept, there’s no finish line where you can declare victory so it ties up troops, money and resources; and it stores up just as much resentment as colonialism. The temptation is to outstay your welcome.

The fact is the Neo-Cons were right. We shouldn’t do nation-building. We should go in, shock and awe, biff those we don’t like and then leave; leaving the aftermath to the locals and do-gooding NGOs to rebuild. Take sovereign bases if desirable, but otherwise fuck off once the shooting stops. American and British forces shouldn’t need to stick around to provide targets to suicide bombers, and so shouldn’t be in a war with anyone who can’t surrender on the deck of a battleship. If I was convinced that Iraq and Afghanistan were ‘clearing the decks’ before a Pincer-move on Iran, I could be persuaded, but I don’t think there’s the stomach for the fight.

That’s the reason the Boys should come home. Not because they “can’t win”, they can; but because they are better unused except as a threat.

50mg/l blood Alcohol

One of the consistently dissapointing things about the Tories is the attitude towards alchohol. Cameron and Co have thoroughly bought into the Daily Mail “Binge Britain” hysteria. Many will say that this means that Britain is still Governed by Authoratarians and Cameron’s no better than Labour. These people are of course idiots.


However criticism where criticism’s due. The Con-Lib plan to drop the blood alchohol level from 80mg/L to 50mg is stupid. Britain has the safest roads in Europe despite being one of the booziest nations. This is because Briain has (believe it or not) decent roads, a regime of car inspections which takes many unsafe vehicles off the road, a high standard of driving (drive in Spain, then disagree…), and few people drink and drive. In the 60’s when accident rates were looked at, alcohol consumption played less of a part than Car mechanical safety, road standards, and driver experience. Clearly DRUNK driving is stupid, but there are few people who do that.

The law is reasonable at the moment. It is possible to have a glass of wine or two with a meal, and drive home. You are not remotely drunk, and if you’re sensible, you’re not posing a risk to anyone. If you’ve been out the night before, 80mg allows hungover people (who’re not taking the piss) to get to work. It is not the 50-80mg/l drivers who are causing the crashes. It’s people like this.

…the high levels of alcohol and sedatives could have impaired her driving ability, judgement and perception. Mrs Morley had 256 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood…

COULD have imparied her driving ability? Someone who gets into a car blotto is not going to be deterred by a lower limit. And it is the seriously drunk driver who causes crashes, not the ‘one glass of wine with a meal’ driver.

I am aware that ANY level of alcohol impairs driving performance, but this has to be put in perspective. Tiredness is FAR more dangerous than driving with a blood alchohol of 80mg/l. How many of us have driven after a red-eye flight? How many of us still use a Mobile occasionally when driving? And 80mg of Alchohol is less than the difference in safety than that between a good driver and a bad one: A middle-aged person in a well maintained car, obeying the speed limit with 80mg/l of alcohol in their blood is safer than an 18 year-old stone cold sober, who’s got 3 weeks of driving experience and is showing off to his mates. Frankly I’d rather have George Best on the road with me than anyone in a BMW.

Statistics say that “alcohol is a factor” in just 20-30% of Road Traffic incidents. (if anyone can point me at some real data, rather than paragraphs from alcohol prohibitionist charities, I would be grateful). Given that the police breathalyse EVERYONE and record alcohol as a factor when there is ANY alcohol present, I suspect the real figure is lower: a Tiny percentage of Drunk Drivers are causing a disproportionate number of accidents, and the majority of reasonable drives who may have had a lunchtime pint have accidents at a similar rate to everyone else.

Driving is risky; it cannot be made totally safe. But part of the reason for the success of the British anti drink-drive laws in reducing the social acceptability of drink driving, not in reducing the blood alcohol of drink drivers. And part of this is the fact that the system has broad support. And the support stems from the fact that the draconian enforcement (police waiting outside pubs armed with breathalysers), and severe punishment, is allied to a reasonable “allowance” for a pint on the way home or having a bit in the tank on the drive to work in the morning after.

The risk of dropping the drink drive level to 50mg/l will be that this broad consent is lost. Before the law is made harsher, I would like to see evidence that people falling into the 50-80mg/l range are causing a lot of accidents. I suspect that MOST of the drink related accidents are in the 160mg/l plus range: ie people who have already ignored the existing law, and will ignore the new one. Focus on the people disobeying the existing law. Don’t try to catch those who broadly agree with the legislation by changing the goal-posts, and don’t pretend that someone with 51mg/l blood alchohol is as bad as someone with 160 mg, which is what purse-lipped “road safety campaigners” seem to want.

The Conservatives are also worryingly similar to Labour on the Binge-drinking hysteria and are proposing the profoundly stupid minimum unit price for alcohol. I would like to see some research which puts the ludicrous 21 unit/week limit to the test before punishing sensible drinkers. But a reasonable government which doesn’t seek to blame SOMEONE (else) for society’s ills? Does ANY democracy have one?

Cameron & Co are profoundly wrong on Alcohol. But they were profoundly wrong before the election. Please don’t say they’re breaking any promises, nor are they as bad (this issue aside) as the last lot.

State Puritainism

I listened to some copper on the Today program this morning. The “Binge-Drinking” moral panic was still there, but instead of demonising pubs, it was all about cheap booze at home or in the park. Whilst I could not support his proposal to raise the age at which you could buy Alcohol in a Supermarket to 21, I noticed he wished to keep the pub drinking age at 18, regarding the social environment of the pub superior to that of the park bench or sofa.

Is this a sign of the state puritainism of the last 13 years rolling back? I don’t think I heard anything on ‘Today’ in favour of pubs before this morning?

Perhaps one day they will learn that British people drink to excess because they always have, and that Britain is an oppressive shithole where everything is either banned or compulsory, and the resultant stress causes us to drink to excess and punch other, equally stressed arseholes. Maybe Britain would become a better place if the petty authoritarian choke-hold was released a little bit.