Thursday, April 29, 2010

UK election: Economist backs Conservatives

The Economist has declared it is supporting the Conservatives winning the UK election. Why?

Well according to Conservative Home (which has a preview of tomorrow's editorial) on Labour:

"it praises Brown for keeping Britain out of the euro, yet on the economy states that "a prime minister should not get too much credit for climbing out of a hole he himself dug as chancellor", describing the budget deficit as a time-bomb which Brown is "ill equipped to defuse"."

Quite.

On the Liberal Democrats: "Whilst stating that it has been "looking for a credible liberal party in Britain for nigh on a century", it is swift to dismiss the Lib Dems with their enthusiasm for the euro, flirtation with scrapping our nuclear deterrent, desire to abolish tuition fees, opposition to nuclear power and policies on business which are "arguably to the left of Labour's": "Mr Clegg has been a delightful holiday romance for many Britons; but this newspaper does not fancy moving in with him for the next five years".

I suspect the TV debate tonight will see Clegg exposed on the LibDem past support for the Euro. The Liberal Party it is not.

So Conservatives? Hardly a ringing endorsement but it:

"praises David Cameron for modernising the party and stamping out social illiberalism. It also congratulates George Osborne for not giving in to the demands of the Right for tax cuts and for committing the party to an austerity programme

Stamping out isn't true, since there is little sign of tolerance on issues like drugs and censorship. Moreover, the Tories are supporting tax increases, on a more limited scale than Labour. The liberalism of the Economist isn't really holding true in ignoring this.

"More than their rivals, they are intent on redesigning the state. They would reform the NHS by bringing in more outside providers; their plans to give parents and teachers the right to set up schools are the most radical idea in this election. Centralisers under Margaret Thatcher, they now want to devolve power to locally elected officials, including mayors and police chiefs. Some of this is clouded in waffe about a Big Society. Other bits do not go far enough: it is foolish to rule out letting for-profit companies run schools and wrong to exempt the NHS from cuts. But Mr Cameron is much closer to answering the main question facing Britain than either of his rivals is. In this complicated, perhaps inevitably imperfect election, he would get our vote."

OK, the education policy IS worth a tick. That is about it. The insouciance about the failures of the entire NHS model is disappointing, and I don't trust locally elected officials more than centrally elected ones.

However, the endorsement is understandable. A clear Conservative victory is preferable to a hung Parliament or a Labour victory. A hung Parliament will inevitably mean electoral reform that will mostly favour statist parties like the Liberal Democrats, Greens and the BNP. Labour victory will simply be unjust.

UK election: Winner will be out of power for a generation

According to US economist David Hale, he said "I saw the Governor of the Bank of England last week when I was in London and he told me whoever wins this election will be out of power for a whole generation because of how tough the fiscal austerity will have to be"

Edmund Conway in the Daily Telegraph, who quotes this says that few understand the scale of the deception that politicians are engaging in on the amount of austerity needed.

In essence, if you believe the state should NOT grow, it means drastic spending cuts, which will have to include education, welfare and probably health.

If you don't care about the size of the state, it would mean some of that, but also tax increases that will deeply affect the competitiveness and image of the UK internationally.

Conway continues:

We have been insulated from the full pain of the financial/economic crisis so far by unprecedented low interest rates and by the bank bail-outs. At some point, the anaesthetic will wear off and we will face a period of austerity that may well make the ruling party so unpopular that it effectively becomes unelectable for decades. There will be strikes; there will be stagnation; there will probably be a double dip of some variety. But this time the pain will be unmistakeably imposed by the politicians.

Gordon Brown should bear most of the blame for this. He ran deficits in the "good times", ran up massive increases in state spending with little to show for it, and cheered on an economy propped up by cheap finance, property speculation and state spending. Now it's all the fault of the greedy bankers, and we should all feel lucky he was in charge.

No Gordon, you screwed up. The only fair result is that the Labour Party comes a distant third to the Conservatives and the new leftwing major party, the Liberal Democrats. It is only because it spreads such fear among those it has made dependent on its big state, that it has any chance of power today. If the Conservatives win, and have to engage in massive spending cuts, Labour will take the opportunity to moan about it, and offer nothing in return.

Gordon Brown's place in history will be one of utter disgrace.

(Hat Tip: Edmund Conway, Daily Telegraph)

UK election : Vote BNP if you're not white British?

The Independent reports that the BNP is proposing to GIVE £50,000 in resettlement grants, per person, to "non white British" residents of the UK to leave. I suspect the BNP feels its core vote of racist envy dripping malcontents is drifting away.

As someone who would undoubtedly be classified as "white British" given my parentage, I'm outraged.

For if the BNP ever got into power, I'd happily want to take £50,000 and flee to a country that wasn't being run by knuckle dragging, semi-articulate, barely literate incompetents. Of course, if that was a real possibility, the £ sterling would already have plummeted to parity with the Kiwi drachma.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

UK elections: So how about UKIP?

I have seriously flirted with voting for UKIP, until tonight.

Why UKIP? Well it helps that Googling UKIP comes up with "Libertarian, non-racist party". Beyond that there are many policies consistent with wanting less government:

- Flat tax of income tax of 31% and income tax free threshold of £11,500;
- Abandon the European Union, but retain free trade and investment with the EU;
- Reject carbon taxes or carbon trading as it rejects interventionist policies on climate change;
- Allow people to opt out of the NHS with a tax credit scheme;
- Introduce school vouchers and allow free schools to be established;
- Abolish regional assemblies.

OK, not too bad. However, then it gets a bit more tricky. It isn't just the typical war on crime stuff or the rather odd massive increase in defence spending, it means policies that frankly are contrary to freedom:

- Amend takeover code to prevent "foreign interests" gaining control of "strategic British companies". In other words, outright socialist nationalism;
- A socialist style public works programme of nuclear power stations and high speed rail lines;
- A 5 year freeze on ANY immigration for permanent settlement, effectively shutting out the world's best and brightest regardless;
- Zero tolerance on crime, "three strikes and your out" without removing victimless crimes;
- Expand NHS coverage and keep it free;
- Ban BAA (a private company) from expanding Heathrow runway and terminal capacity;
- Build more social housing, ban greenbelt development and introduce democratic planning controls;
- Ban the burkha and veiled niqab in"certain private buildings" (quite why you need to on private property is a bit odd)
- Oppose GM food production and retain farming subsidies.

Of those, it is the amendment of the takeover code, the ban on immigration, irrational ban on GM food production and the belief in more state spending that make UKIP unpalatable.

On top of that, I asked my local UKIP candidate how he would cut the budget deficit. He said, among other things, that withdrawal from Afghanistan would help. Apparently Afghanistan reverting to the Taliban and the Taliban spreading to Pakistan shouldn't be a concern! In addition, the other answers were partly trite (cutting the ID Card while laudable wont save money already spent!).

The ONLY reason to vote UKIP is a protest vote to rattle the Conservatives, which is safe since UKIP really only has a chance in one seat (not mine). UKIP says to them to not take their core voters for granted, and that for many the European Union remains an issue. However, do I really want to be associated with a party that is so vehemently anti-immigration? Do I want to be associated with being hardline on crime, including drug and censorship "crimes"? Do I want to give moral support for public works programmes and banning some foreign investment? Finally, more specifically, do I want to support a candidate who opposes UK involvement in Afghanistan (and doesn't know the UK has already withdrawn from Iraq)?

My conclusion is, no. The candidate himself is not worthy of my moral endorsement.

So I am left with the Conservative candidate, of whom I know little. He's next in the questioning...

UK election: All three parties to thieve some more

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a presentation outlining its conclusions on the plans of the three main parties for tax and spending. The conclusion?

ALL of them propose more tax.

The Liberal Democrats propose on average an extra £760 per household in tax, Labour £610 and the Conservatives £390.

So vote Conservative for more tax? Hardly the choice if you want LESS government. Indeed, the Conservatives are better for low to middle income earners than Labour, as their tax rises hit the wealthiest the most.

So since I wont be voting Labour or Liberal Democrat (what do you think I am?), is it Conservative as the least worst of the parties likely to hold power, or do I go for the only other option in my constituency that isn't about more government - UKIP?

The NZ$ vs the £ Sterling... correction time?

The NZ$ is at a record high against the British Pound. Travelex are currently selling NZ$2.05 for £1. This is almost a record low for the Pound against the dollar.

City AM is arguing that a long run correction will be on the way, and the right thing to do is long selling of the kiwi vs the sterling. In other words, the Pound is likely to rise after the election (assuming the uncertainty built into the price is corrected), and that the NZ$ will be on a track to fall because of pressure from the Reserve Bank of NZ.

What does this mean for kiwis in the UK? Bring your money here. The pound is unlikely to ever be this cheap against the NZ$. The NZ$ strength is driven in part by the relatively high interest rates, but also naive belief by some currency traders that the NZ$ has parallels with the $A. City AM dismissed this link a few months ago, as the A$ is driven by rising commodity prices around minerals. The NZ economy is not driven by this, and in fact has a tourism sector being hit by the drooping Pound, Euro and Yen.

Meanwhile, kiwis wanting an overseas holiday should book trips now - it will never be this cheap to visit the UK and Europe, whilst the pound remains low and the Euro gets damaged by the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain). Unless, of course, you believe in reducing CO2 emissions in which case keep yourself on NZ soil or else you can be readily accused of blatant hypocrisy.

Gordon Brown's latest gaffe

Bigot.

It is what he muttered under his breath about a woman who asked why so many eastern Europeans had been let into the UK. A former Labour voter she now is. Now it isn't so important that she doesn't like eastern Europeans, as she used to vote Labour it is not hard to figure out how well developed her views may be.

What is important is that the Prime Minister says such things about the average voter/taxpayer. Gordon Brown may well have just helped accelerate the loss of votes from Labour to other parties.

Lord Mandelson, ever the slimy spindoctor has tried to grease Gordon out of it by saying "you may say something in the heat of the moment that you should not do but, more importantly, that you don't believe. Gordon Brown does not believe what he said about her. But he said it because people do sometimes say things on the rebound from a conversation like that. That's what makes him a human being, as well as a politician" according to the Guardian.

The Guardian continued that Mandelson defended Gordon Brown on the BBC "It is not something be believes. He does not believe it publicly or privately."

This prompted the interviewer to ask if Brown often said things he did not believe. At that point Mandelson turned distinctly frosty and said he had already addressed the point.

Given Labour's likely strategy in the next week is to frighten Britain into thinking only a vote for Labour will keep the scary mean Tories out, I would have thought another whole series of voters will just have decided that the race may well be between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.

UPDATE: He was so scared of the fallout, he went to her house to apologise profusely, off camera.

UK election: A battle for the left

With the rise of Cleggophilia, the potential has been raised as to whether this election will actually be a lot more than just a hung Parliament, but a seismic shift in the fortunes of the two major explicitly leftwing political parties.

Almost all polling in the last two weeks shows Labour coming third in opinion polls of voter preferences. Notwithstanding the vagaries of polls (and the possibility that respondents may be less likely to admit to voting for the encumbents under the current circumstances), if translated into votes it will be a devastating blow. Given the allocation of current support across constituencies, and the UK having a first past the post electoral system, it would still mean the Liberal Democrats would come third in terms of number of seats.

In 2005, Labour received 36.1% of the vote and 349 seats, the Conservatives 33.2% of the vote and 210 seats, the Liberal Democrats 22.6% of the vote and 62 seats, whilst a bunch of smaller parties received 8% of the vote and 29 seats, in a Parliament of 650.

The latest poll of polls puts the Conservatives on the SAME proportion of the vote as in 2005, with around 33%, the Liberal Democrats skyrocketing to 30% and Labour slipping to 28%.

However, what this means is, with the swing spread evenly among current constituencies Labour STILL has the plurality of seats with 276, the Conservatives only increase to 245, and the Liberal Democrats increase to 100 (others have 29).

Under that scenario, Labour would have the right to form a government BUT being third would mean its moral authority to do so would be highly questionable. The Liberal Democrats would almost certainly demand electoral reform in exchange for support to either major party, but LD leader Nick Clegg has said that if Labour came third in popular vote, it would not support Labour led by Gordon Brown for government, as it would be clear that the vast majority of voters would have rejected his government. So there may be the spectre of the Liberal Democrats backing the Conservatives as the party with the highest plurality of vote, whilst Labour with the highest number of seats is in Opposition. The price of Liberal Democrat support will be clear though - it would mean a change in the electoral system (although almost certainly not to MMP like New Zealand was led to do by the hard left).

If Labour gets less than 27.6% of the vote, it will its worst result since before the Great Depression, as it managed to grab 27.6% in 1983 when it promised a hardline socialist manifesto (and the Liberal/SDP Alliance, precursor to the Liberal Democrats grabbed 25.4% of the vote).

Yet, it could be far worse for Labour. The Conservatives have shifted targets to a range of what were previously seen as "safe" Labour seats, where the Conservatives are second, on the basis that if the Labour vote seriously collapses, it could mean a significant sea change. The Conservatives implicitly see Liberal Democrat seats are unlikely to be winnable. The Liberal Democrats are also targeting Labour seats, with leader Nick Clegg saying in the Times that he wants to be Prime Minister and that "Liberalism has replaced “Labour statism” as the driving argument of the Centre Left". Of course what he means is liberal with other people's money and socially liberal, not classically liberal.

What is most important is that the Liberal Democrat leader has admitted he leads a party of the left, and he is seeking to supplant Labour as the centre-left force in British politics. While it would be a brave person to predict this will happen at the election, it would be a crucial blow to Gordon Brown and the Labour Party to find large numbers of their supporters switching to the Liberal Democrats.

The last time such a shift occurred was in 1924, when the Liberals lost a third of their vote and over two thirds of their seats, cementing Labour as the Opposition party (even though the Conservatives won most of the seats).

Such a shift would thrill the Conservatives, as they are left without major competition on the side of those who want less government and taxation (as limp wristed as they are in being committed to this), as shifting support from Labour to the Liberal Democrats increases the seats the Conservatives pick up along the way.

Personally, I doubt it will quite happen like that, but it is highly likely the Liberal Democrats could beat Labour on share of the vote, and the Conservatives may get less seats than Labour.

Oh and before the shrill self-righteous head counters (not head examiners) of the electoral reform left start shouting, the simple truth is that this is NOT an issue in the UK for anyone, besides the Liberal Democrats and a small handful. Most voters accept that the seats in Parliament won't actually be proportionate, and work within that system.

After Greece?

Portugal? Not yet but the Wall Street Journal reports "Its overall public debt is close to 80% of GDP, while's Greece's surpassed 110% of GDP last year.

The Portuguese government is slated to borrow around €20 billion to €22 billion from bond markets this year, less than half of Greece's borrowing needs". However, give it a few months and a lack of fiscal discipline.

Spain? Now that's a far bigger economy, but it has public debt at lower rates compared to GDP than the UK and France. Its problem is going to be prolonged stagnation, and unemployment at a destabilising 20%. However I wouldn't see it falling before any of the others.

Italy? As the third biggest economy in the Eurozone, this would precipitate a crisis that makes Greece look like a sideshow. Italy has serious problems, as the billionaire halfwit running the place continues to be willfully ignorant of the need to upset people by cutting spending. Italy has public debt proportionately similar to Greece, at well over 100% of GDP. Its most recent sovereign debt issue was only barely adequately covered by subscribers, meaning the next one will have to be at a higher interest rate. It has one saving grace, in that private debt levels are low as Italians have a savings culture stronger than other Eurozone countries. It is this, and the fact Japanese continue to "invest" in their government's sovereign debt, that has saved Japan from collapse (but meant the economy has been zombie like.

Ireland? It has bitten the hard pill of budget cuts, so should be safe but it still has the largest budget deficit of them all, because it decided to nationalise banks. Its recapitalisation of Anglo-Irish Bank has been classified as debt, when before the Irish government wanted to treat it as equity.

What's the verdict overall? Socialism doesn't work. It especially doesn't work if governments promise voters who expect something for nothing, and it shows the enormous damage and the costs imposed by constitutionally unrestrained governments. Governments who can overspend, and effectively issue promissory notes for debt that they issue, but have no means to repay. Governments that ever grow, that constantly offer more and more "freebies" to citizens, that grow the welfare state, that grow the bureaucracy of the unproductive, yet employed.

It is a path to absolute ruin, and it is a path that has been popular in much of Europe for some years, and a path that the UK, the US and New Zealand have also been following. Albeit all of them have had the option of devaluing their currency, effectively stealing from the holders of their currencies (in debt and savings) to enable this sovereign debt cycle to be perpetuated.

Who is accountable? No one. Politicians get 3-5 year bites at power, they get paid (and get opportunities to get paid far more afterwards), they promise to spend other people's money to get power, and the masses like children vote for it, and then wonder like imbeciles when governments eventually tell them the "good times" are over.

When government has unrestrained power to borrow on your behalf, demand you pay for its spending on its behalf, imprison you if you fail to do so, and the only restraint you have is to vote along with millions of others to change the teams, who by and large do the same with different flavours, this is what happens.

Reality evasion on a grand scale.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

UK election: Evading unpleasant truths


Besides me not actually being in the UK for around a week, I've not blogged about the UK election lately because it has been an exercise in comprehensive banality largely focused by an unusual degree of hyperactive psephology.

Given that was fun just to write on its own, it is timely that the Institute of Fiscal Studies (an economics think tank that was formed in the 1960s) announced today that the three main political parties are misleading British voters of the scale of the budget deficit problem.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the IFS said ""Over the four years starting next year, Labour and the Liberal Democrats would need to deliver the deepest sustained cuts to spending on public services since the late 1970s,"

"While, starting this year, the Conservatives would need to deliver cuts to spending on public services that have not been delivered over any five-year period since the Second World War."

You see, the fundamental enormous lie they are all spreading is that the budget deficit is the highest it has ever been, by any measure, and public debt is the highest it has been, by any measure, for over a century.

This debt is, in part, because Gordon Brown decided to nationalise banks rather than let them fail, but is also because he has consistently run budget deficits over the last nine years. Borrowing, spending and hoping, so Labour could be re-elected by the people receiving the largesse stolen in advance from future taxpayers.

Most of that borrowing has not even been for the sort of infrastructure projects some economists argue produces a net positive outcome for the economy either. It has been to pay for the ever growing expansion of the welfare state in all of its forms.

Gordon Brown has tried to campaign on "business as usual". Labour, you see, "invests" its borrow stolen loot - "investing" means paying for wealthy pensioners to get free bus passes and subsidised gas and electricity. "Investing" means propping up homeowners who foolishly borrowed too much and have mortgages worth more than their properties. "Investing" means paying for new bureaucracies to run neo-Stalinist big brother checks on people who may spend time with children, vetting those without convictions or even charges. "Investing" means pouring money down the ever poorly performing ponzi style health and state pension plans. YOU can't invest of course, or rather, your children can't (since it will be them forced to pay for it). Don't be so selfish.

After all Gordon Brown saved the world, he's the genius who sold billions of pounds of Britain's gold reserves when the price of gold had been at a historic low, he abolished boom and bust. How dare mere taxpayers question him?

How can any person seriously trust this man with a piggy bank, let alone the finances of the world's sixth largest economy? Particularly when his own Treasury Secretary let it slip that the necessary cuts in state spending will be greater than that implemented under Thatcher's government in the 1980s (which frankly were modest), at the same time as Labour promises to introduce a socialised care service for the elderly.

Labour is lying and it knows it, because all it has ever offered the UK electorate, fundamentally, is to spend more of its money and to grow the role of the state. It will be cutting spending, and increasing taxes if it gets elected, because if it does not address the deficit convincingly, it will hurt the pound, the sharemarket and Britain's credit rating. However, Labour is partly expecting to lose, and is hoping to stem losses by promising to the masses to continue giving them more unearned proceeds from future taxpayers.

What about the Conservatives? Well, the only thing going for them is that they haven't wrecked the country's finances. The Conservatives say they'll be more ruthless on improving the efficiency of the state, but they too are fundamentally dishonest. They continue to promise real increases in spending on the centrally planned and "free at point of use" (so unlimited demand) state health system, and in aid to the wealthy in poor countries. They continue to promise toys like a state subsidised high speed rail line for business travellers. The Conservatives simply stopped talking about cutting spending because the lumpen-proletariat didn't like the truth, especially since Labour and the Liberal Democrats kept promising money borrowed from future taxpayers.

Taxpayers (and let's be honest, many millions who are net tax recipients), you see, appear to like being promised goodies, paid for by someone else, no doubt because past governments have treated them like children. So the Conservatives have chosen just to keep quiet.

The Liberal Democrats are having it both ways, because they claim to support deep cuts, although they also seek to increase some taxes and abolish income tax on the low paid. The net effect is not that different from Labour.

However, their cuts range, like abolishing ID cards (not much money), not replacing Britain's nuclear deterrent (not a lot year on year, but a fundamental change to foreign policy), to abolishing government subsidised Child Trust Funds. Slightly more honest? Well they would be if they were worth much, but most of what they say is the same "efficiency savings" "reduce bureaucracy" Sir Humphrey speak that is code for keeping the state as big as it is. The Liberal Democrats are largely an offshoot of the Labour Party. Given the recent celebrity style boost of the polls, the Liberal Democrats are also keeping quiet on spending cuts, as they see an opportunity to plunder Labour voters used to being promised something for nothing.

So what SHOULD be the biggest issue at this election simply isn't - it is whether the next government can avoid the UK making the same sort of failure to deal with public spending that has seen the Irish and Estonian government engage in major cuts in spending on a grand scale, and saw Greece face default.

Are the politicians just liars or is the public too stupid to understand?

Monday, April 19, 2010

UK election - Liberal Democrats, the naive protest vote

For a very brief period I thought about voting for the Liberal Democrats. Why? Because I want Labour out, and the Lib Dems came second in my constituency last time. Removing a seat from Labour is rational, but a moment of scrutiny shows the Liberal Democrats for what they are, a mediocre muddle of conflicting, contradictions, which at best is naively optimistic and at worst is peddling envy and big government.

The whole manifesto is here, but you'll fall asleep reading it. So I've compiled the highlights, it shows a party that is pulled in three different directions, socialism, environmentalism and liberalism. The result looks like a left wing more liberal version of the Labour Party.

On tax it starts looking good. The first £10,000 would be tax free for everyone. I can't oppose that, except that it isn't about cutting taxes overall. No. Capital gains tax would be increased, as would taxes on aviation (why tax aviation? Part of the environmentalist religious mantra, and helps to price the poor out of overseas holidays), and a new tax on owning a big home. The tax policy essentially benefits the middle class voters it wants to attract, while penalising the wealthier and the poorer (as the tax on aviation hurts the poorest who want to fly).

It then claims to look sensible on deficit reduction, but when you look at the detail it isn't much different from the weasel words of the other two, about more efficient procurement, reforming state sector pensions. The exception is the Liberal Democrat view on defence, which is for the UK to withdraw from the world somewhat. Scrapping Trident means phasing out Britain's nuclear deterrent over time.

However, the real danger is in the policy on banking. A new Banking Levy on all banks, would penalise the prudent as well as those bailed out, and it is a precursor to splitting up the banks. It also wants to drastically cut bank bonuses, effectively chasing the most talented in finance to Geneva, New York and Hong Kong. In other words a wholesale attack on one of Britain's leading industries, presumably to pander to middle class anger and envy about it. How can this be taken seriously? Why the hell aren't the Conservatives warning of how devastating this would be, except the fact that George Osborne hasn't a clue about the banking sector either?

Meanwhile, it might say it wants to cut the deficit, but then it seeks to made the Ponzi style state pension MORE generous. Surely not another vote bribe of the elderly paid for by more borrowing? It also extends the absurd Winter Fuel Benefit to the disabled and would give money to homeowners with homes that aren't used so they can be used for public housing. It also wants to eliminate child poverty by 2020, presumably by not leaving it to parents to look after their own kids. Increasing the welfare state at a time when it says the economy is in tatters?

It wants to expand corporate welfare by the state paying shipyards to make wind turbines? What sort of nonsense is that to put out of business existing manufacturers? It is illegal under EU competition law for the state to do that, you'd have thought since the LibDems love the EU, they might have known that.

It would set up an Infrastructure Bank to waste taxpayers' money. It sees it like a sovereign fund, except you don't establish those until you have low or no net public debt. Silliness again.

Then there is part privatisation of the Royal Mail, a sudden rush of blood to the head of common sense, rare as it may be.

Liberal? My arse. What liberal party would make it compulsory for job application forms to have NO NAMES, so people are not discriminated against for their sex or ethnic background? How the hell are you meant to interview Applicant X, or approach referees? How does that combat the suspected discrimination?

Education is largely tinkering, except for promising to abolish university tuition fees over six years. Again, the cutting the deficit idea is shown up to be bullshit.

Health is tinkering as well, although it is curious the LibDems are the only major party to not promote continued above inflation spending rises on the NHS. Although the quackery of the policy can be seen when included in health policy is opposing the 3rd runway at Heathrow Airport because it will reduce pollution and health costs. Yes, seriously.

Free speech? Well not really, not when you want to ban airbrushed images in advertising, for example. Requiring Facebook to have an online reporting function for perverts and bullies. See the trails of Nanny Statism all over the manifesto. You see it in setting maximum interest rates for credit cards, forcing rail fares to be reduced (even on overcrowded lines) and in wanting to set up a PostBank! Border exit checks add to this.

It wants to regulate supermarkets, so that they are forced to pay higher prices to farmers for food (as will everyone). Liberal? Just mercantilist protectionism.

It is in cuckoo land on energy policy to make 40% of energy renewable by 2020, which would mean a huge increase in energy bills. It would scrap nuclear power as well, and have an Australian style nationwide home insulation programme. Why? Because the LibDems are vehement about cutting CO2 emissions. It wants to spend more money on UN agencies, and to support wiping third world debt - seems bonehead Bono has got to them too. It is quiet on the EU, because it knows so many loathe the waste there, but it would strengthen European defence co-operation.

However, one policy on defence says it all about naivete. The LibDems rule out military action against Iran. It may not be a wise or a desirable move, but to completely rule it out tells Iran that Britain, at least, would not stand in its way of being a nuclear power. Why this policy even needs to be here (how many Iranians are voting?) is beyond me.

Transport isn't too important, but again it shows a childlike foolishness. It would seriously cut road spending (which isn't big anyway) to reopen closed railway lines, which would mean no road improvements and possibly more potholes and other serious deterioration of already underfunded roads. Along with banning new airport runways, and it is the typical Green "rail good, road baaad, planes baaad" religion.

Anything liberal? Well scrapping the ID card scheme is about all i can get enthused about, but the Tories say the same thing. There is an implied policy of not being so draconian on drugs, with policy based on harm, but that is barely scratching the surface. Libel laws would be reformed, innocent people's DNA removed from state databases and stop storing people's email and phone records without good cause. This is it on freedom, at the same time as regulating business and individual behaviour more, and changing taxes, but not reducing the size of the state.

Finally, it would reform the electoral system to introduce STV, and give the young and naive the vote at 16 (both would benefit the Lib Dems enormously). It would also empower local government to introduce local income tax, yes small government isn't to be found here.

It's atrocious. It is a mix of old fashioned socialist envy about banking and property ownership, lots of anti-capitalist environmentalism and hatred of certain technologies (aviation and nuclear power are notable), and a lot of tinkering, with a smidgeon of reducing state surveillance in some areas.

It could be the Labour Party without it's embracing of state surveillance, and its commitment to the defence status quo. However, it reforms very little, and in fact would cause immense damage to British business and industry, whilst gaining nothing for social services, and reducing Britain's influence in the world.

There is nothing here to excite, and quite a bit to fear. However, all the public are thinking is that Nick Clegg is a vote against both Brown and Cameron. Yet, he has enough seats and could win enough to hold a significant influence after the election.

What's next?

Well there is another debate next Thursday between the three leaders, so things may go a little different.

More importantly, Monday morning is only hours away from having the markets open and react to the high chance of a Liberal Democrat determined hung Parliament. I suspect that will tell a lot about what business thinks of the public's flirtation with the Socialist Democratic barely Liberals.



Friday, April 16, 2010

UK elections - Liberal but Democrats, so what are they this time?

I had the great fortune of missing the debate between the two men who will be Prime Minister and Nick Clegg on British TV - largely because I was on one of the last planes out of Heathrow before the volcanic ash cloud plummeted the country into environmentalist heaven.

The Liberal Democrats are deserving of attention for three reasons.

Firstly, the original "Liberal Party" once governed the UK and once proudly embraced free market capitalism and social liberalism. When it waivered from this, it moved to the centre, embraced Keynesianism and the Labour Party supplanted it as a major party, from which it has never recovered. Until the merger with the Social Democrats (a breakaway from Labour when it was avowedly Marxist).

Secondly, as the third biggest party, with 66 seats, it has the potential to be a kingmaker if neither major party wins an outright majority. This has happened last time in 1974, on that occasion the Conservatives came second, but Ted Heath tried to remain in power through support from Ulster Unionists. They had demands Heath was unwilling to agree to, so Harold Wilson from Labour formed a government with support from the Liberals, but the majority was so slim he called another election that same year. Labour won an small majority, which itself disappeared over the next few years as Labour lost by-elections and formed a pact with the Liberals. The possibility is real that this situation could be replicated.

Thirdly, with Nick Clegg allegedly the "winner" from the first leader debate, the poll ratings of the Liberal Democrats have soared. With both the Conservatives and Labour losing support to the Lib Dems, making it more of a three way race.

So should lovers of freedom embrace the presence of the Liberal Democrats, given their consistent support for civil liberties and suspicion of state interference in the rights of citizens? Or is it simply a wolf in sheep's clothing?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Conservative manifesto - less worse than Labour but where is the freedom?

Given the electoral system in the UK, the big choice for most voters is whether to support the incumbent Labour Party, and its "we'll look after you, give us your money and promise us your kids' money too" approach or the Conservatives.

Labour, naturally, wants to portray the Conservatives as the "nasty party" proclaiming that it would make "brutal" cuts like Margaret Thatcher did, and claim that the radicalism of that government is where the Tories REALLY have their hearts and minds.

A little odd given the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted on the BBC that LABOUR would have to make cuts worse better than Thatcher.

Nevertheless, on the face of it, given how the Tories have abandoned the closeted xenophobia, anti-homosexual, social intolerance of the past, is there really hope that the Tories are now socially liberal AND the great inheritors of Thatcher's culling of the state?

After all, I would LOVE to be able to give the Conservatives my moral authority to earn my vote. Britain needs to consign the pseudo-Keynesian spendthrift promise breaker Gordon Brown and his tribe of envy peddling control freaks to history. So is there something to hope for in the Opposition? A belief in capitalism, individual freedom, commitment to addressing real crimes and to a state that weans the public from dependency on it for pensions, healthcare and their kids' education?

Not if you read the Conservative Manifesto. No. In fact, the Conservative Party continues to be suspicious of capitalism, embraces wholeheartedly the religion of unquestioned environmentalism. Moreover, you'll be spending a lot of time searching for the freedom in it, because it largely isn't there.

Its first policy is called "Big Society". Remember when Margaret Thatcher correctly said (and was subsequently quoted only in part) that there is "no such thing as society"? She meant that when people say "society" thinks this, or is to "blame" for that, that it is a nonsense as there is no collective brain. Society is simply a group of individuals who interact with their own consciousness, own opinions and diverse views, lives and attitudes.

The "Big Society" policy says "We have set out an ambitious agenda to build a Big Society based around social responsibility and community action." In capital letters? Quite simply, fuck that.

Allister Heath in City AM put it so very well:

their “big society” agenda, which looks suspiciously like a rebranded big state. “Our ambition is for every adult in the country to be a member of an active neighbourhood group.” Really? What about those so busy trying to make ends meet that they have taken on two jobs, or who are too ill or too old or who have to care for young children or elderly relatives? And what about the barmy proposal for vast numbers of state-funded community organisers? It’s nonsense – slightly sinister nonsense, even, with authoritarian undertones and entirely unaffordable in an age of drastic austerity. One can’t chide the state for its bossiness and all-controlling bureaucratic officialdom – and simultaneously try and make volunteering compulsory. There is such a thing as freedom and being allowed to do whatever one wants with one’s life, rather than being bossed about by do-gooders. It is worrying how, for all their empowering rhetoric (and in some cases proposed actions, such as on civil liberties) the Tories have forgotten about this.

He's right you know. It is the classic conservative agenda, not of letting free individuals live as they want as long as they don't hurt others, but putting obligations on your life to "participate" in ways the government approves of. Most people much of the time help and contribute to the lives of others, like parents, family, friends, colleagues. They don't need Uncle David Cameron telling them to volunteer on top of that.

The Tories have made a big deal of not increasing national insurance tax like Labour will, but they will STILL increase it for those earning over £35,000.

Frankly the most positive policy is on education, by allowing anyone to set up a school in competition with the state and have state funding follow students to that school. A form of semi-deregulation of the compulsory education sector.

Beyond that there are some positives:
- Reducing corporation tax and an agenda to reduce regulation on business;
- Resolving the West Lothian question, by requiring issues that only involve England or England and Wales need to be passed by a majority of MPs from those constituent countries;
- Allowing council tax payers to veto increases in council tax by petition;
- Retain and replace Britain's nuclear deterrent;
- Ensure that UK has final sovereignty over its laws (which wont happen as it means leaving the EU in effect);
- Reduce (but not eliminate) powers to enter homes by councils;
- Scrap compulsory ID cards;
- Allow DNA from innocent people to removed from databases;
- Remove consensual gay sex convictions from criminal records;
- Freeze council tax for two years.

Then some negatives:
- Giving other people's money to households to pay for energy efficiency measures;
- Stop the privately owned and funded third runway at Heathrow on spurious environmental grounds, and no more runways at Gatwick or Stansted either;
- Interfering in energy markets because of climate change;
- Introduce voluntary "National Service";
- Create a new bureaucracy to look to prop up food prices for farmers;
- Destroy remaining property rights of BT and other telcos by forcing them to sell broadband capacity to others;
- Force everyone to pay for universal broadband access below cost in rural areas;
- Increase state health spending and foreign aid spending in real terms whilst the country is in fiscal crisis;
- Refusing to abolish the 50p top tax rate while public sector pay is frozen;
- Put a FLOOR under landfill tax;
- Retaining the ridiculous and distortionary "free at point of use" policy of the NHS;
- Encourage councils to build more council housing;
- Limit non-EU immigration;
- Maintain most of Labour's expanded welfare state.

No, it doesn't inspire. It doesn't promise to not increase other taxes, like fuel duty and VAT. Welfare dependency remains, as do victimless crimes and the nanny statism over children that Labour introduced. It is at best devoid of ambition, with the only positive sign the education policy (even that is the ACT policy of 2008). The rest is denial of the need to confront socialised medicine, a complete disregard for private property rights and being hijacked by the inane environmentalist lobby to strangle growth in aviation.

Gordon Brown it is not, New Labour it is not, but does this deserve moral endorsement from me as a libertarian?

Sadly, no. I can't endorse the environmentalism, the confiscation of property rights, the weasel words around the deficit and tax, and the embracing of the NHS.

The question is whether the Tories are that bad that it wouldn't matter if Labour won or the Conservatives won. The problem I have is that if I vote Conservative I hardly have a right to object if they do what they say, since I would have had a hand in saying YES GOVERN ME.

I don't think I want to do that.

Venerate the Great Leader

See this photo? Save it. Print it out, and use it as you see fit to denigrate the image of the man who, more than any other, saw George Orwell's 1984 not as a warning, but as a manual on how to run a country.

It's his birthday today. He'd be 98. Sitting on a newspaper image or folding the newspaper incorrectly constitutes a criminal offence, but I am sure you can do better. I am thinking it gives something to aim at.

Why? Well he started the Korean War, his policy includes imprisoning young children as political prisoners, orchestrated several deadly terrorist acts and has single handedly produced the most totalitarian dictatorship and personality cult run state in history. Go on, make it something the whole family does, they can all learn something.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Labour - Trust us, we know how to spend other people's money.

Yesterday, the British Labour Party launched its manifesto. The title "A Future Fair for All" reminded me of a witticism of Sir Bob Jones who once remarked on the use of the word "fair" using the school report meaning. "Fair" is less than good and only better than "Poor". It is apt in this case, as Gordon Brown and what was "New" Labour have mediocre ambitions for Britain, as is seen by their willingness to continue to pilfer so much from those who ARE ambitious and successful.

So what was promised? The Guardian sympathetically has reproduced the whole thing.
  • A significant expansion of the welfare state with a "National Care Service" taxing everyone so that the children of those who own their own homes don’t get their inheritance touched;
  • Allowing good schools and hospitals to take over poorly performing ones, decided by bureaucrats of course;
  • More powers for dour protestant local government to ban betting shops and lapdance bars;
  • "Create" jobs, guaranteeing jobs for everyone under 25 by taking from those who actually create jobs, banning more jobs by raising the minimum wage and forcing longer paternity leave on all employers (except the self employed of course);
  • Borrow from unborn taxpayers to create a "Green Investment Bank" (so the government has a set of all colours);
  • Borrow from unborn taxpayers to build a flash high speed rail line to Birmingham that can't be funded from those who would use it because the time savings aren't worth enough to them;
  • Tax all users of fixed phone lines to pay for people who choose to live in remote locations to get subsidised broadband (i.e. the elderly subsidising farmers);
  • Government able to intervene in poorly performing police forces, guaranteed 24 hour response to anti-social behaviour (useful if you're getting harassed on the spot!) and making rich criminals pay for their prison time;
  • A right of recall for "errant" MPs, a referendum on introducing the Australian style preferential voting system and for the voting age to be reduced to 16 to increase the size of Labour's demographic of people who like the government to spend other people's money.
Finally, there is a promise to not increase income tax or the scope of VAT, which of course leaves the point that:
- National Insurance is going up, which is income tax by another name;
- VAT could STILL go up, and at 17.5% it isn't low;
- Labour promised income tax wouldn't go up in its last manifesto, and created a new top tax rate of 50%;
- Labour increases fuel tax every year according to inflation and none of the extra money ever goes on transport.

So the promises are vacuous.

City AM calls it a "rejection of capitalism", because it proposes that corporate takeovers require a "TWO-THIRDS" majority of shareholders to approve them, effectively giving a veto of minority shareholders to any such takeovers. In addition it proposes a "public interest" test to allow political vetoing of takeovers of infrastructure and utility companies, bureaucrats naturally knowing best how to maximise wealth of businesses none of them own.

Labour has no strategy to cut the structural deficit and the monumental public debt accumulated on its watch. It has ever grown the size of the state with intrusive powers to regulate the internet and most recently require everyone who spends regular time with children to be vetted by a non-judicial bureaucracy which anyone can complain to if they think someone is "a bit funny". Most disturbing of all is its playing of Marxist envy politics - that it is moral to keep taxing those on middle and higher incomes more and more, borrow more from future taxpayers, and to keep those on lower incomes permanently dependent on the state for income, housing, retirement and to decide on their health and education.

It is fundamentally dishonest about economics, and immoral in its view of the relationship between subject and the state. It sees the public as subjects to be regulated and taxed and told what to do, and they better be grateful for it. Government as a percentage of GDP went from 38% in 1997 to 45% today and debt as a percentage of GDP from 42% to over 100%.

The Conservatives? Well that Manifesto was launched today.... I'm underwhelmed and more on that later.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pope's moral authority destroyed

As an atheist, what the Roman Catholic Church does or does not do or say amongst its own flock is of peripheral interest to me. What is of interest is when those working for it commit serious criminal offences, and the Church and by implication the Vatican State seeks to cover it up.

There can be little doubt that many people in the Roman Catholic Church are deeply concerned about the litany of cases of child abuse committed by priests. Furthermore, the extended efforts by many in the church to cover up the cases, to demand silence from the victims and then to shepherd the abusers to new flock, which naturally they abused -given the sanction for abuse was simply to be sent somewhere fresh.

To some Christians it appears a new crusade is being fought, primarily by atheists, to destroy the Church. They will see it as unfair, in that there are clergy in all churches who are abusers. Nobody suggests for a moment that the Church has a monopoly on child abusers. However, it is never a defence to a crime to point out that your neighbour commits the same crimes. Particularly when you hold yourself up as a source of moral authority, guidance and trust.

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken strongly about the incidence of child abuse, and many Catholics will have seen his recent statements as showing some contrition and interest in remedying the situation.

However, the basis upon which he can do this now looks wanting. The New York Times has found a letter signed by the then Cardinal Ratzinger. The letter is about a 38 year old priest, who tied up and abused two young. The Cardinal said that "the case needed more time and that “the good of the Universal Church” had to be considered in the final decision. In other words, he put the good of the church above prosecuting and expelling this sadistically abusive priest.

The New York Times continues...

"John S. Cummins, the former bishop of Oakland who repeatedly wrote his superiors in Rome urging that the priest be defrocked, said the Vatican in that era, after the Second Vatican Council, was especially reluctant to dismiss priests because so many were abandoning the priesthood."

Now the priest concerned had already been convicted of child abuse a few years beforehand, apparently not enough for the Church to judge someone unfit to be a priest. The Pope to be considered it a bigger priority to think of the good of the church, that it retain a recidivist sadistic child abuser as one of its own, that to remove him.

Despite the efforts of Bishop Cummins who wrote to the Cardinal in February 1982: “It is my conviction that there would be no scandal if this petition were granted and that as a matter of fact, given the nature of the case, there might be greater scandal to the community if Father Kiesle were allowed to return to the active ministry.”

"Cardinal Ratzinger requested more information, which officials in the Oakland Diocese supplied in February 1982. They did not hear back from Cardinal Ratzinger until 1985, when he sent the letter in Latin suggesting that his office needed more time to evaluate the case."

More time? He already had THREE years, he had been convicted in 1978. In 1985 he started volunteering at a youth ministry.

The Pope should explain himself, explain why he thought the interests of the church itself were greater than the interests of children or indeed their parents, who trusted the church.

Given the Pope is now implicated quite seriously in engaging in the same sort of suppress and deflect behaviour that has been highlighted most recently in Ireland, does he not have some sort of moral obligation to confess his own failings?

How can anyone, objectively looking at the Roman Catholic Church, seriously believe that its leader can hold moral authority in damning those who have done what he himself has done?

How can people venerate a man who has preferred to protect the reputation of his employer than the safety of children?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Will the UK contribute to South Africa's energy crisis?

For the past two years South Africa has faced a serious electricity crisis. Demand has been exceeding supply, with the reasons for this being multi-faceted:

- Electricity generation remains dominated by a state owned company (Eskom), which has been severely undercapitalised (so not investing in new capacity) as the Government refused to inject capital into a company it was seeking to privatise. State ownership without the state seeking to invest;

- Electricity tariffs have been generously subsidised (described by the Chairman here), so that the price of electricity is around a third of the cost of generating it. The reason being the political desire to supply cheap electricity to the population Eskom makes a substantial loss, so cannot finance expansion from its own revenue. Socialism is crippling electricity generation (although tariffs are increasing by 30% to start to address this);

- Privatisation of Eskom has been stalled for political reasons and because no new owner would want to buy a company that loses money without the power to increase tariffs to address this;

- The government deregulated the electricity market, but there is no foreign interest in building new capacity whilst the state continues to bear Eskom's huge losses as it continues to price electricity well below cost.

So South Africa has been stuck, with ample coal reserves, but without the capital investment to translate this into electricity generation, and pricing a scarce resource so cheap, it gets rationed through blackouts.

Now the appropriate answer to all this is to split Eskom into three or more companies, privatise them one by one, letting each privatised one set its own tariffs. This would effectively allow new entrants to decide how to invest in new capacity and match price and demand.

In the meantime, South Africa has sought a World Bank loan to help pay for a new power plant for Eskom. Setting aside whether this should happen at all (it should not), the UK government is apparently considering vetoing it at the World Bank. Why?

Not for economic or financial reasons, but because Greenwar, Foes of the Humans and Christian Aid oppose it as the new power station would be coal fired.

They want money into so-called renewable energy, even though the cost would be twice as much per unit. Not that these organisations are planning to build and fund power stations themselves. No, they would rather South Africans endure blackouts and keep their economy crippled than to let some coal be burnt.

Why is the UK interested? According to the Times, Gordon Brown is looking for a way to capture the "Green" vote, though it is interesting to see how this clashes with the interests of some of the poorest on the planet.

So if the UK vetoes the World Bank loan, it will be about pandering to a Green agenda - it wont be about incentivising South Africa to engage in serious reform of its electricity policy.

After all, even if South Africa did privatise and reform electricity, the anti-human environmentalists would no doubt continue to oppose new coal fired power plants, also oppose more nuclear power, and want to force taxpayers in wealthier countries to subsidise "renewable" energy.

Five more years? Not likely

Gordon Brown has threatened that if Labour is elected again he will serve out another full FIVE year term.

I don't think saying that will have the effect he wishes.

Look at the comments under the Times article about this, find any POSITIVE ones...

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Gordon Brown is not a true Keynesian

A budget deficit of 12% of GDP is apparently "right" so says Gordon Brown. This is a Keynesian view apparently.

Well setting aside whether Keynesian is right or wrong (it's wrong, but that's for another day), Allister Heath in City AM has written today about how this was never Keynes's view:

John Maynard Keynes, whose work is often cited as justifying our fiscal incontinence, would in fact have been horrified at the scale of the deficit and our over-sized state sector, which the OECD puts at 52 per cent of GDP. Keynesians argued that governments should allow the budget to go into the red in a recession by a few percentage points of GDP, with 3 per cent usually the maximum – perhaps 4 per cent if things were truly desperate. Nobody ever claimed one could prudently rack up three or four times that level – and crucially, proper Keynesians supported budget surpluses in the good years. Brown’s constant structural deficits even at the height of the bubble would have been anathema to them.

So even if you believe in big spend ups during recessions, what Brown has done is THREE TIMES the scale of deficit spending that Keynes himself argued, and that during times of growth, budget surpluses should be run (which would then pay down debt). Gordon Brown only ran budget surpluses twice as Chancellor of the Exchequer, primarily due to inheriting a prudent Tory budget in 1997 and windfalls from selling mobile phone radio spectrum.

Furthermore, cutting budget deficits is positive because it:
- Reduces transfers from taxpayers to foreign sovereign debt holders;
- Reduces the crowd out of the state in the debt markets, reducing the cost of debt to the private sector.

In addition, the best way to do this is to reduce consumption, not increase taxes and not reduce spending on the few areas of positive economic expenditure like roads (which in the UK are grossly underfunded).

One European Commission survey of 49 countries that cut their deficits found that 24 of these fiscal consolidations promoted growth even in the short term – even when deficits were considerably lower than 12 per cent of GDP. The higher the deficit, the more likely that cutting it will boost growth immediately – a conclusion implied in a February 2010 study from the European Central Bank which found that the crisis has caused markets to punish irresponsible fiscal behaviour even more severely than before.

It’s quite simple: we need to cut the budget deficit as fast as possible by reducing spending. That, rather than messing around printing yet more money, would provide the best, most effective stimulus for the UK economy.

So in short, Gordon Brown has screwed up big time, the UK is only avoiding Greek like concern because UK governments don't default, UK savers have had their cash assets devalued as the pound drops, and the UK government hasn't lied like the Greeks.

To treat Labour as if it has been a profound saviour of the British economy is a joke - it has wasted money, running deficits during the good years and is now running up public debt that will hold down the UK economy for many many years.

It is a good enough reason to kick Gordon Brown out in utter disgrace.

Gordon can't have it both ways

Now if you believe in Keynesian economics, and think that the government pouring money into the economy is “good” for it in prime pumping demand, and consequent economic activity, you think that when the government spends more it is a good thing.

Presumably, you would argue that reducing taxation would similarly be good, as it would leave more money in the hands of private citizens to spend or save (the latter typically in banks or repaying debt).

Well according to Gordon Brown the answer is no.

You see he constantly accuses the Conservatives of wanting to “wreck the economy” by cutting spending more quickly than Labour. Yet when the Conservatives promise to NOT increase tax (a form of income tax labelled National Insurance) as MUCH as Labour, it is doom and gloom because it means the budget deficit will be a problem?

Who is right Gordon?

If the economy should have more money in it, then the state taking less makes sense right? If the budget deficit is a bigger concern, then the state spending less makes sense too?

The ONLY reason you can support more state spending, and more tax is nothing to do with economics, but everything about what you think the role of the state is – to do ever more.

Tony Blair’s “New Labour” which long ago promised to contain spending, following on from Thatcher’s modest degree of fiscal prudence, has clearly disappeared. Labour is now the party of ever bigger government.

A libertarian voting in a UK General Election

So “I saved the world” Gordon Brown has finally called 6 May as the date for the next UK General Election. It is worth noting how electoral terms in the UK are longer than in most countries. The last election was nearly five years ago, and that was a shoo in for Tony Blair and Labour, against Michael Howard and the Conservatives (which barely picked up a handful of extra seats). In coming weeks this will be my primary blogging topic for obvious reasons.

The UK election is likely to be close. Recent polls have put the Conservatives ahead by between 2% and 10%, with 7% needed for an overall majority (bearing in mind the UK has a First Past the Post electoral system). Some pundits are picking the Conservatives winning a plurality of seats, but short of a majority, so requiring the support of others to govern (which currently is mostly the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish and Welsh nationalist socialists and the Ulster sectarians).

The big issue for me is who to vote for (or to vote at all). The Libertarian Party UK is more like ACT in NZ, and probably wont have a candidate in my constituency in any case. It may come down to Conservative vs. UKIP, in both cases there are a long list of reasons to say “no”, with maybe only one or two reasons to say “yes” to either. It goes without saying that Labour is beyond redemption as a party of ever growing nanny state in both regulatory and financial terms, and the Liberal Democrats are just a different version of Labour. There is every reason for the Labour government of Gordon Brown to be consigned to the proverbial dustbin of history, but little reason for the Conservative Party of David Cameron to be given the chance to tinker with the nanny state, and slow its growth. Voting for the Conservatives means removing Gordon Brown, but is it right to endorse a different way of cooking the same dish? Poison laced with chocolate instead of lemon is still poison. Is it better to vote UKIP to send a message to the Conservatives that compromising on your principles costs you support? Or is the populist nationalist rant of UKIP so unconscionably awful that it doesn’t deserve endorsement? Should I simply choose based on the candidates themselves (a good small government minded liberal if any exist)?

Monday, April 05, 2010

Greens continue to oppose economics and individual freedom on transport

It's not just because transport is my area of expertise that the Greens particularly annoy me in their treatment of this sector, but it actually displays so much more of their ideology and their approach to reason, economics and individual liberty than many other sectors do.

The Green answer to everything in transport is to take a simple child-like approach to it all. It comes down to:

"People make the wrong choices (according to us), we should force them to make the right choices by taxing the wrong choices and subsidising the right ones, and banning the development of wrong choices."

One of the most liberating development in modern history has been the technology of transport. The steam engine changed the face of international trade and travel by sea, and then nationally and locally by rail. The internal combustion engine did the same for road, sea and rail, and facilitated the development of air travel. Since then, asphalt, mass production, radiocommunications, the jet engine and the continued advances of technology have opened up the planet to exploration, communication, trade, travel, commerce and social exchange.

Now there is no doubt that there have been some negatives along the way. Millions have died through accidents by faster transport. It has been inevitable that engines would explode, catch fire, or fail to function, or that people would get in the way of vehicles, or would make mistakes while driving them. Yet on a per passenger km basis it is the safest it has ever been.

Many cities suffered from chronic pollution due to high concentrations of vehicles, but few environmentalists today would think that it was the steam locomotive that first caused that concern. The now very sought after suburb of Thorndon in Wellington was once not so appreciated, as the steam locomotives in the Wellington rail yards produced smoke and noise that was less than pleasant for many local residents. However, again the pollution from vehicles on a per vehicle km basis is steadily lower, as they become more and more fuel efficient. The introduction of electric cars promises to take this further, but the Greens are willing to dismiss this.

Why? It will "take too long" to have more electric cars in the fleet (apparently not believing their religious faith that Peak Oil will price petrol powered vehicles off the road), and it wont solve congestion.

Well they are right on that front - congestion is simply due to demand exceeding supply of road space. The answer is to price usage of the road so they are in equilibrium, and surpluses might be spent on additional capacity if it makes economic sense. Nowhere has a new world city reduced traffic congestion by the Green fetish of highly subsidised public transport.

However, embracing the technology of the stone age in the form of walking (and its close cousin cycling) is also telling. Now both are perfectly viable for short trips, for many people. They are useless for freight, useless for trips of more than a few kms and of course many (elderly for example) simply can't use them for much. How can anybody looking forward get excited about walking and cycling?

Of course, the main competitors for walking and cycling are public transport - which the Greens want to heavily subsidise, so that people are more likely to ride a bus or train than to walk or cycle. However, that's about economics, which is simply ignored in the Green view.

The Greens reject reason in ignoring the overwhelming evidence that forcing others to pay huge amounts of money for public transport does not resolve traffic congestion, and still only means a small minority of trips are taken by public transport in cities. They further ignore any talk about public transport sometimes being less environmentally friendly than driving - such as the support for the trains that carried less than a busload of travellers to Napier and Invercargill.

They reject the clear economic case that the main problem with roads is that they are managed and priced as commons, not as economic commodities. They furthermore embrace the slowest modes of transport, despite the obvious evidence that they have a peripheral role in most cases, but reject the private car EVEN when it is to be electric powered, because even then it means people travel not when they are scheduled to do so, on a collective mode of transport, but because they choose.

The rational approach to transport is to let the state get out of the way, use private property rights for roads to manage environmental issues and let users of each mode pay their own way. However, for those who believe in collective brains and collective thought, it somehow seems fair for people to pay for how others move, not how they move, and to ignore that the price mechanism remains by far the fairest and most effective tool to ration scarce resources.

Greenwar, what happens when environmentalists get angry

Greenpeace likes to portray itself as embracing non-violence. However, as people around the world have become increasing sceptical about the agenda being peddled by the left dominated environmentalist movement, the continued use of dialogue and discussion has gotten under their skin. Gene Hashimi is from Greenpeace India, and he clearly has forgotten the "peace" part of the organisation's name (not that it has ever used force, no never) with his two part blog post on the Greenpeace blog.

Why would I post a link to it? Because of the threat contained at the end:

he proper channels have failed. It's time for mass civil disobedience to cut off the financial oxygen from denial and skepticism.

If you're one of those who believe that this is not just necessary but also possible, speak to us. Let's talk about what that mass civil disobedience is going to look like.

If you're one of those who have spent their lives undermining progressive climate legislation, bankrolling junk science, fueling spurious debates around false solutions, and cattle-prodding democratically-elected governments into submission, then hear this:

We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work.

And we be many, but you be few."

and you'll be up against the wall when the revolution comes. After all, why should you say such a thing unless you were threatening people at their homes or workplaces? Why should it matter that you tell people where they live and work, unless you want to scare them?

Greenpeace has noticed this has caused some alarm. It has engaged in enormous spin to DENY that he is any kind of violent guy. It says "Gene's blog entry is about encouraging PEACEFUL civil disobedience - the kind of peaceful methods that liberated Gene's country (India) from imperialism. I know Gene, and he's a genuinely peaceful guy who believes in the power of peaceful protest to change the world. Some people are trying to portray him as otherwise. Just read what he had to say in context. He is very specific about what he thinks people should do."

Really? In context?

OK. So what does his blog entry say otherwise. Besides the classic anti-US propaganda "Why did the US, despite being responsible for the largest per capita share of global CO2 emissions" - it's not Gene, Qatar is, but too scary to confront Arab monarchies is it?" and then getting upset that the oil industry does what his side has done for many years "The smoke and mirrors created by the fossil fuel lobby are impenetrable. Their own tracks well covered, they operate through front groups, shell companies and think tanks.", it's all just a lot of anger. He is basically upset that some people have a lot of money to put forward their point of view, not that Greenpeace is lacking cash of course.

He talks about how the Micronesian government wrote to the Czech government to tell it to stop the expansion of a coal fired power plant (funny how it didn't write to the Chinese government, except of course China is a generous provider of aid and is unlikely to be responsive). Then lies about it, because the Czech government ignored Micronesia saying "this has revealed that a watertight legal case, a high moral ground and a credible support base are no match for infinitely-resourced and well-muscled think-tanks." Now the coal sector is in cahoots with the oil sector, this "watertight legal case" simply doesn't exist, and what he doesn't say is that the expansion includes modernisation to reduce the rate of emissions. Ahh, Gramsci is alive and well.

So what does he propose to do? "We need to join forces with those within the climate movement that are taking direct action to disrupt the CO2 supply chain". Direct action is code for breaking the law and ignoring private property rights. He endorsed the view of this peaceful person:

"The politicians have failed. Now it's up to us. We must break the law to make the laws we need: laws that are supposed to protect society, and protect our future. Until our laws do that, screw being climate lobbyists. Screw being climate activists. It's not working. We need an army of climate outlaws"

Seems to me a little like another movement that existed in China around 40 years ago.

So the lesson is, if you don't get your way, you break the law and you threaten those who disagree with you.

It's always been nonsense that Greenpeace is about non-violence, as it has heartily embraced state violence to ban, tax, subsidise or compel whatever it wants - now it's more open, Greenpeace supports threatening directly.

UK Election 2010: Libertarian Party UK

Gordon Brown is widely expected to announce the date of the UK general election on Tuesday, and so as a libertarian, it would seem automatic to at least consider the party called the Libertarian Party here in the UK.

The Libertarian Party UK is relatively new, having only been founded at the start of 2008. According to Wikipedia it has 500 members. In the context of New Zealand, which has been running far longer, and has more members, LPUK as it seeks to be known, is truly embryonic.

It has ran a couple of candidates in recent local elections and by-elections, and is solely represented by Gavin Webb, a councillor on the Stoke-On-Trent City Council. This is because Webb defected from the Liberal Democrats.

OK, so it's small.

How does it describe itself? "The Libertarian Party UK is a minarchist party utilising political philosophy based on support for individual liberty" is what was said on its press release announcing Webb has defected. Minarchist means "a political ideology which maintains that the state's only legitimate function is the protection of individuals from aggression". All very well then.


However, do the policies match this?

Well um, only in part.

The economic policy shows it seeks income tax to be abolished, company tax reduced to 10% and the abolition of inheritance and capital gains tax. All well and good (in the right direction). However, then it argues replacing VAT with local and national sales taxes, initially at the same rate as VAT. Hardly ambitious, and handing over taxation to local authorities is rather scary.

Monetary policy is more promising, supporting the Gold standard and free banking.

It is rather limp wristed on quangoes, seeking to make them into departments if they have statutory powers. A better approach would be to go through them and see if any are consistent with the core role of the state, if not then abolish.

However, LPUK would eliminate the statutory minimum wage, which was only introduced under Labour since 1997.

Health policy has low ambitions, seeking competition and a transition to an insurance based model, with no sale of state assets. Far better would be to allow people to opt out of the NHS, give them back their national insurance and then move the NHS to an insurance model that people can opt out of altogether.

Education policy looks like the Conservative one of moving to a voucher based system, but no notion of user pays for the tertiary sector. After all, if income tax is to be abolished then surely this offers greater opportunity for students to finance education from future earnings, and the voluntary sector.

Defence and energy policy is mixed too. Defence is all very well, except armed neutrality as well as remaining a member of NATO. Quite simply incompatible. Either you have allies or you don't. Armed neutrality would have meant the UK conceding continental Europe to the Nazis. By contrast, energy policy is to leave it all to the market, which is welcome.

Welfare policy appears to endorse retaining the welfare state, with most of the policies being about winding back dependency. Far simpler transitions would be to state that non-British citizens could no longer apply for welfare, abolish all welfare for those above the "poverty line" and declare a date after which new applications would welfare would no longer be accepted. Weaning people off of state pensions over time makes sense, but again this might need a little more to it.

Housing and planning policy is perhaps most disappointing. Reviewing planning laws rather than abolishing them. No mention of private property rights. Most disturbing is "ensuring local populations have a strong voice in planning decision making". Nothing libertarian about that at all!

Transport policy is about meddling, with detailed nonsense about seat-belt laws (leave that up to road owners), but OPPOSING "non-freight vehicles" being charged for road use. Taxpayer funded roads are not exactly libertarian either.

Law and order is more promising. Plenty about rolling back intrusions of the state into personal freedoms, legalisation of drugs for adult use and decriminalisation of adult prostitution. Significant steps to legalise ownership of weapons for self defensive purposes. Much detail about the role of the Police.

Finally, Constitutional Policy has some useful gems, such as abolishing the TV licence, Human Rights Act, withdrawal from the EU, and "regionalising" legislation so that MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could not vote on legislation that is about matters devolved to their local executives. There is a fair bit about transparent lobbying and only allowing individuals to donate to political parties, which seems almost irrelevant if you don't deal with the more serious issues like - abolishing or reforming the House of Lords and creating a written constitution. Supporting electoral reform is all very well, but unless the system is reformed to eliminate the elected dictatorships on individual rights, it will do little good.

SO all in all a bit of a mish mash. What is lacking is the selling of principles. Principles like private property rights and the individual freedom to act as you see fit, as long as you respect the rights of others. Such fundamental concepts that should be easy to sell to more than 500 people in the UK.

That was the view taken by myself and three of the most libertarian men in the UK (all kiwis) when we visited the South-East Branch of the Libertarian Party meeting the other evening. There was much nodding of heads in agreement, but maybe a classic English lack of passion and lack of willingness to be fired up and argumentative about individual liberty. I had to leave early, but the conclusion I got was there was some good intentions, just not the "fire in the belly" to argue convincingly with the "statist quo".

After all, it isn't about getting elected, especially in a First Past the Post system - it is about ideas, and about changing the terms of the debate. The other minor parties trying to do this are the Greens, which clearly proudly sit on principles (because they are often mainstream today), UKIP (which is anti-EU for reasons of nationalist state sovereignty not individual freedom) and the BNP (which is a bunch of inept racist state worshippers).

It should be about saying NO to those seeking to bribe voters by spending more of their own money or promising new laws for this or that. It should be about making your terms ones of individual rights and for politicians to argue why they should take those rights away or spend your money, rather than to argue about what rights to take away and how to spend it.

I doubt the Libertarian Party will have a candidate in my electorate, although if so, I would likely vote for him or her after asking a few basic questions. However, it is clear LPUK is far from being a compelling electoral grouping at present.

The leader, Chris Mounsey, has a blog called the Devil's Kitchen, which isn't half bad, though I hadn't notice it till today. So that will be worth watching.

The other major libertarian outlet in the UK is the non-political (as in not a party) Libertarian Alliance. It has a blog too, but its utterings are largely ignored as well (and LPUK members I spoke to had no time for the LA).

Dare I have the audacity to say that a bit of Ayn Rand might do them both some good?

Erosion of private property rights in the UK

Three issues in the past few days have exemplified how the notion that private property rights are sacrosanct has been seriously eroded in the UK. They are around pay TV, mobile phones and bed and breakfasts.

First, Ofcom, the UK media regulator deemed that the UK's most successful pay TV operator - BSkyB - must be forced to sell content from its Sky Sports 1 and 2 channels to competitors at 23% less than it currently chooses to do so. The reason? "Sky exploits this market power by restricting the distribution of its premium channels to pay TV providers." This "reduces consumer choice." "

Now BSkyB has brought more choice to British TV viewers than any other broadcaster. It offers 615 TV channels, and people pay for it voluntarily, unlike the BBC which is paid for by state enforced demand notice. The story of BSkyB is how it started operation to the UK without a licence, because it was operating entirely from outside the UK. It easily bet the state endorsed BSB, bought it out and became an enormous success story, against the odds (the story is in this book). It lost money for many years, never seeking a penny from taxpayers, and became successful because it took risks, it bought broadcasting rights for major sports events and people wanted to pay for it.

In other words, it was a great British entrepreneurial success story, something to be proud of. So what does the state do? Kneecap it. It wants to boost the competitors, the lacklustre Virgin Media (which bought out the poorly performing cable TV companies NTL and Telewest), BT's (once the focus of Ofcom diktats till it was cut down to size) Vision service and even the barely known Top Up TV. What it does is say the broadcasting rights Sky bought from various sports codes are NOT Sky's, but the "people's", so it is helping out Sky's competitors.

What will be the result? Sky's competitors wont bid for the sports broadcasting rights, so the price paid to the distributors and clubs will be lower, since Sky will only be bidding against the beleagured commercial networks ITV and 5, and state owned Channel 4 and the BBC. It means Virgin Media, BT Vision and Top Up TV will have to make less effort to appeal to viewers, they can be clones of Sky.

It is another example of pseudo-entrepreneur Richard Branson seeking the gloved fist of the state to take from his competitors to help him out. A charlatan indeed.

Remember, what did Ofcom ever do to increase consumer choice? The UK has one of the most vigorously competitive pay TV sectors in the world, one which has not been subject to the ridiculous rules on price and content that is seen in the US, and the content rules in Australia. As the Daily Telegraph says "the UK desperately needs strong media conglomerates that can compete internationally. In a globalised digital era when Google is eating ITV's lunch, that means we must stop being so parochial and let British companies grow and succeed.That might mean, say, Sky and ITV gaining an uncomfortably strong domestic position. But – like a monthly subscription to Sky Sports – that's a relatively small price to pay."

However, dare the politician speak up against the wide open mouthed "consumer" in favour of the property rights of the producer.

The second issue is about mobile phones. In the UK four companies operate national mobile phone networks of their own - O2, Vodafone, Orange/T-Mobile and 3. In all they, and their wholesalers (for example, Virgin Mobile uses the Orange/T-Mobile network), have 121% market penetration. In other words, there are mobile phone accounts for every adult and child in the UK, and a fifth have a second! With a vigorously competitive industry, multiple network providers, you'd think the free market could reign. Oh no. Ofcom, yet again, sets the price those companies can charge other operators (including fixed line operators) for terminating their calls.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the current price is 4.3p/minute, it is to drop to 0.5p/minute by 2014. Allegedly it is partly due to EU pressure, as clearly it thinks it has some moral authority to set prices for contracts between private companies. Orange and Vodafone are unimpressed saying respectively:

"If these measure are put in place they will stifle innovation. Any incoming government should be mindful of what these ill-considered proposals mean for the future of their country. Handsets may no longer be subsidised, you may have to pay receive calls."

and "A cut of this magnitude deters future investment, makes it less likely that the UK will continue to lead in mobile communications and is at odds with the Government's vision of a Digital Britain."

Of course the bigger question is "Why the hell should the state interfere in contracts between companies in an open fully competitive market"?

Naturally, those advantaged by it are happier. "3" is a relatively new network, so its customers make more calls to competitors than it receives. BT, long been battered into submission by the state for being the former monopoly (and which has withdrawn from a long line of overseas investments in recent years) has also welcomed it.

What WOULD happen if Ofcom said "Set the price you wish"? Well the operators would negotiate rates based on what they thought their customers could bear. Their customers don't want to be on networks nobody wants to call after all.

Again, the UK has spawned one of the world's most successful mobile phone companies, with Vodafone the largest mobile phone company in the world by revenue, and second largest by subscribers. It's UK competitors are French-German, Spanish and Hong Kong owned, and it has thrived. New Zealanders might note that without it they would have waited far longer for text messaging, prepaid mobile phones and competitive pricing with Telecom.

However, what incentive does Ofcom have to NOT meddle?

Finally, a gaffe. Conservative Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling was recorded, off the record, by an Observer journalist saying that those who run bed and breakfasts from their homes have a right to turn away gay couples. This is contrary to "human rights" laws which say otherwise. His point was that there should be respect of people of faith who have genuinely held beliefs. His point is the wrong one.

Now, he has since felt the need to backtrack on this, pointing out he voted for the said laws which ban such discrimination, and he voted for civil partnerships to be allowed. There is little sign he himself holds so-called "homophobic" views. Of course, those on the left are out like sharks to claim the Conservatives "haven't changed".

The point he should have made IS about private property rights. It is your home, you decide who enters it. If you run a B&B then you should also be able to turn away anyone, for whatever reason or feeling you have. Simple as that. If you, as a prospective customer or visitor don't like it? Then use free speech to say so, but don't expect the state to come banging down the door to force anyone to let you in.

You don't have a right to enter anyone's property without the owner's permission. Now had Grayling said that, he might have escaped some of the dirt thrown at him. If you had children and ran a B&B, you might not ever want single men staying, or you may not want priests or whatever. You don't need to justify yourself, it's your property.

Sadly, in the UK today, the argument of private property rights is peripheral. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats actively reject such rights and will surrender them at will. However, the Conservative Party hasn't the wherewithal to argue differently.

It's about time there is a choice that does!