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Thursday
Nov162006

Milton Friedman dies

Via Tim W, the Cato Institute has reported the death of Milton Friedman at the age of 94.

Update:

The thought has just occurred to me that we have lost both Friedman and John Cowperthwaite this year. Not a good year for freedom. 

Thursday
Nov162006

Petitions

Tony B has a new website where you can start online petitions for him to ignore.

Two must-sign ones are:

Referendum on continued membership of the EU.

Scrap ID cards

Get over there and sign up now. NOW!

Wednesday
Nov152006

Stupid party

Tory MP: Global warming is my generation's Dunkirk

"Climate Change is the defining issue of our age. Previous generations had to deal with the rise of Nazism or communism. This is the issue on which my generation of politicians will be judged. This is our Dunkirk."

- Richard Benyon MP

 

Being the stupid party has its drawbacks when matters scientific are being discussed.  God preserve us from idiots like Richard ("Nice, but dim") Benyon.

Wednesday
Nov152006

Profiting from crime

Richard Charkin is the managing director (I think) of the publishers MacMillan. He also has a blog (a real one with opinions and comments rather than a series of corporate press releases).

He has written an interesting piece about the government's plans to prevent criminals from profiting from the writing of their memoirs.

I suppose Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom was written in prison and he earned money from it. Some people would regard George Bush's invasion of Iraq as criminal. Should he be banned from selling his memoirs? I sense an interesting debate in the offing.

Quite.

I suppose this is just headline grabbing by the government, but I suppose we will have to go through the motions of opposing it. 

Monday
Nov132006

Fairtrade not fair

Gavin Ayling reckons that Fairtrade isn't fair.

Fair trade means that those lucky few who get themselves involved in a cartel can sell their products for a marginally higher price which, at least in theory, gives them dignity. What it means in reality is that a majority of food growers now must compete not only with CAP and US assisted first world producers but also cartel members.

DK agrees.

Well, it's also worth pointing out—for those who do not read Private Eye—that the people who really make the massive amounts of cash are the retailers and the Fair Trade company itself.

John Band (in the comments) takes a different view 

Fair Trade works because it takes commoditised goods and raises their value to consumers by giving them a credible brand.

Non-Fair Trade farmers aren't harmed; the extra money received by producers is entirely extracted from the Guardianista buyers who are willing to pay a price premium. It's not a socialist system at all - it's capitalism in action.

There is something to be said for both views. Fairtrade is an exercise in marketing. A brand is being built up based on the argument that to buy the brand is more moral than to buy the competing brands. It's nicer to poor people. The argument is also advanced that Fairtrade cuts out the middleman who is unfairly extracting the bulk of the profits.

The fact that Fairtrade has (presumably) a small market share suggests to me that there isn't, as yet, a cartel. If Fairtrade started to dominate the market then this would no longer be the case. What we have is the beginnings of a cartel, not the finished article. But it's hard to see a fully-fledged cartel emerging since the Fairtrade operators charge a premium to the rest of the market.

And it's voluntary too. Nobody is forced to join the collectives. If you want the Fairtrade premium you give up your right to self-determination, to expand your business and so on, but you do so voluntarily. A swivel-eyed libertarian like me is not going to argue against Fairtrade on these grounds.

But I still think it's wrong. Fairtrade is based on two great lies.

Firstly there is no unfair capture of profits by middlemen. We know this because Fairtrade has to charge a premium to the rest of the market. If they were cutting out middlemen then they should be able to at least match the free trade product if not undercut it, and still give a better price to the suppliers.

But the bigger lie is that Fairtrade makes the poorest better off. Buying Fairtrade will have to two effects and neither will help the poorest.

Firstly it should make the market smaller. Fairtrade is more expensive than free trade and basic economics tells us that a price rise will cause a drop in demand. A smaller market will tend to put some coffee farmers out of business. I would have thought that it was more moral to have two poor farmers than one rich one and one dead one. (I may be exaggerating, but you get my drift).

Secondly, unless Fairtrade manages to completely dominate the market, some farmers will remain outside its umbrella. As the market shifts towards Fairtrade, these poorest farmers will actually lose out as they see their customers are taken from them by Fairtrade cooperatives. The effect of Fairtrade is therefore a  double whammy for the poorest farmers - a shrinking market and a loss of customers to Fairtraders. This can have only one effect on their wages, and it's not a good one.

The argument the Fairtraders make to justify their premium price is misleading.  We should do the moral thing, therefore: buy exploitation coffee and bid up the wages of the poorest. 

 

Monday
Nov132006

Moron-only short lists

Today Iread that Graham Hoyle, the chief executive  of the Association of Learning providers had said:

'FUNDING SHOULD DRIVE DEMAND-LED SKILLS STRATEGY'

 

I wondered if perhaps demand should drive a demand-led skills strategy. 

Then, in the comments thread to this posting at Devil's Kitchen, I saw Wet Herring advance the theory that government has a policy of "moron-only" shortlists for employment vacancies. At this point I understood.

 

 

 

Monday
Nov132006

Homeschooling in Scotland

"Education, education, education" went the pre-9/11, pre loans for peerages mantra. As Tony Blair's priority for domestic policy, the education system should be the one area where Labour has no excuses. They have had both the time and the money to show us exactly what their "third way" can acheive.

Here in Scotland they have had it even easier. The Scottish education system is widely held (among Scots at least) to be superior to the English. It's broader, and less prescriptive and doesn't suffer from the imposition of a national curriculum.

So Scottish parents should, by now, be pretty impressed by ten years of focus, focus, focus on education, education, education; right? Well, actually, not entirely.

The Scottish Executive today publishes a report into the extent of homeschooling in Scotland. The press release and links to the data are here.

In 2005/06, 580 children were known by local authorities to be receiving home education as a result of parental choice, who had at some point in the past been in local authority school education. This figure had risen by 163 (39 per cent) from the previous year, although this varied between local authorities.

homeschoolers.JPG

We should be clear about two things. Firstly 580 is only the number of children the authorities know about. Children who have never attended school in the first place are not known about and are not counted. But secondly, the figure is dwarfed by the number who remain the (ahem) beneficiaries of state education.

This said, the growth in homeschooling is startling. The number of people who are trying state education and are getting out has risen by the best part of 40%. Expect the number to grow further when the new Scottish Charities Commission starts attacking the charitable status of private schools.

Whichever way Labour spins it their policies aren't working. 

Education, education, education?

Failed, failed, failed. 

Saturday
Nov112006

Cracking down on free speech

Gordon Brown's call for new race hate laws following the acquittal of the BNP's Nick Griffin has met with a round of condemnation from the majority of the UK blogosphere.

One exception stands out from this commendably liberal crowd - the fervently left-wing Daily is right behind the Chancellor:

Freedom of speech is one thing, but, as the old cliche goes, it’s not ok to shout fire in a crowded theatre. BNP leader Nick Griffin’s comments are exactly that, a false claim that could wind up causing people’s death or injury.

They quote Griffin's comments about Asian Moslems "seducing and raping white girls" and go on to welcome the Chancellor's proposals.

It will be important to draft any new laws carefully. Freedom of speech must be safeguarded and that includes the freedom to criticise religions. But it can’t be impossible to draft a law that makes it illegal to use inflamatory language to provoke people in hotspots like Keighley.

Now there appear to me to be two major flaws in this argument. Firstly the claim that Griffin was lying about grooming of white girls by moslem men. This pattern of crime has now been reported several times both by mainstream sources (Channel Four, Radio Five) and by bloggers like Pickled Politics. Labour MP Anne Cryer has been at the forefront of the campaign to get something done about it. The onus is on The Daily to tell us why all these reputable sources are mistaken.

The Daily goes on to point out comments in the Telegraph:

The BNP thrive in areas where people feel forgotten by the mainstream parties. There are signs that the fascist party is becoming a home for many disgruntled former Labour voters.

Surely they can see that by trying to sweep the issue under the carpet they are part of the problem. They are acting as a recruiting sergeant for the very BNP they despise so much.  

The other problem with the article is the idea that it is possible to frame legislation that will permit Anne Cryer to complain about the Asian men grooming white girls, but will at the same time prevent Nick Griffin from complaining about Asian men raping them. The accusation is to all intents and purposes the same one.

If th Daily gets its way and this legislation does get through, expect the BNP's membership to swell, and wave another set of liberties goodbye.

Saturday
Nov112006

Spending, waste and the left

The Burning our Money blog reported last week on the truly amazing scale of waste at the Football Licensing Authority (FLA). This emerged as a result of Greg Clark MP's grilling of the department's permenant secretary Jonathan Stephens in select committee. Clark had ascertained that the FLA was spending ...(wait for it)... £180,000 a year to house its six employees in one one of the most prestigious addresses in west London.

Stephens was absolutely determined to avoid saying whether this represented good value for money. His pathetic evasions would have been comical if it wasn't for the seriousness of the matter. Let's face it, the best possible spin that can be put on it is that it's gross incompetence. It could quite conceivably be graft. It will almost certainly be forgotten by next week and the waste will continue unchecked.

Burning Our Money has been tireless in its reporting of this sort of incompetence and excess in the public sector - if you are going to be successful in the propaganda game you need to keep grinding your message out week after week.  These efforts have been rewarded with a very respectable technorati rank, so we can hope that the message is getting out. But if you do follow that last link, you might like to take a look at who is linking to Burning our Money. In essence it's the right and the libertarians. The left (or indeed the LibDems) are nowhere to be seen. So the question is "Do the left care about waste in the public sector"?

Now it might be possible to argue that Burning our Money is a right wing blog and will therefore predominantly attract readers from the right, but my impression from the Labour blogs I follow (Kerron, Paul, Bloggers4Labour) is that public sector waste is not a significant issue to left wing bloggers. Kerron had a post last year about Portcullis House, and I also read a post somewhere which said the left ought to take the issue more seriously. And that's about it.

This is a pity, because if any issue should be able to get a cross-party consensus it's wasteful spending. The example of the Porkbusters campaign in the US is a case in point - left and right getting together to force the government to change its ways. And it's surely in the interests of the left to get to grips with this issue. The scale of waste will not go unnoticed by the general public forever, and if they ever do become aware it will be the left that will suffer.

At the end of the day, if we are to have "democratic accountabililty" there has to be real accountability. If someone cocks up there has to be some sort of sanction applied. Heads actually need to roll, including those at the top. For me, I think Jonathan Stephens should be summarily dismissed, as he would be if he were the CEO of a private company.  I'm interested to know if those on the Labour or LibDem left share this view, and whether they feel that they hav spent too long arguing for higher spending while avoiding this issue of whether the money has been well spent.

Answers in the comments please. 


Thursday
Nov092006

Coloured

According to several commentators the use of the word "coloured" with respect to someone from one of the ethnic minorities is a no-no. This following Bernard Jenkin's remarks on the BBC

 In an interview on BBC Radio Essex, Mr Jenkin said: “There are lots of candidates who may be coloured or may be white who get disappointed in selections, and I don’t think it does you any good when you start throwing your toys out of the pram, and to imply that the selection committee are racist because they didn’t select him is rather an insult to them.”

To this fairly innocuous statement a Labour MP called Dawn Butler stuck her oar in thusly

“It is shocking that in 2006 a Member of Parliament would still use the terminology ‘coloured’. It is patronising and derogatory. You don’t have to scratch the surface too deep to show the Tories are still the same,” she said.

What then to make of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People?  Shocking, I tell you, shocking.

 

Wednesday
Nov082006

More on the MCB's finances

Free Born John is the blog of Peter Risdon who was responsible for the March for Free Expression last year. Peter has been watching Michael Gove's efforts to find out just how much money the Government has been throwing at the Moslem Council of Britain. Gove has been doing the rounds of the departments asking each in turn how much they have paid out. Some have responded, others including the FCO and Communities and Local Government have refused citing a lack of centrally held information.

As Peter points out this is a shocking state of affairs when we can't find out how much money has been paid out to an organisation which, as an unincorporated association doesn't have to publish accounts. We have no idea how much the crooks in Westminster have paid out nor what it has been spent on. It's pretty amazing that the crooks in Westminster themselves have nary a clue whether the money has gone towards its purported purpose or whether it has in fact gone on swanky living, loose women or worse.

It's also incredible that this information can't be ascertained without, apparently, unreasonable cost. To work out the spend for a single account through a ledger of some sort should be a query that would take less than sixty seconds. How many ledgers do these departments have? Or do they have no financial controls at all? 

I haven't been able to leave a comment at Free Born John, but here's a thought. The internal financial structure of each department must be known, and, one would imagine, is not a state secret. If Michael Gove were to address the same question to the minister in terms of the spend from the main ledgers then presumably he could at least get a handle on the size of spend. Anyone know if this information - ie the location of each of the main ledgers within a department - is public?

 

Wednesday
Nov082006

Wearing woolly hats

The Telegraph had an article yesterday in which it described how NPower was advising people to encourage their children to go to bed in woolly hats or clutching "microwaveable rice cloth bags".

Apparently this advice met with a cool reaction, with both the (normally sensible) Civitas and the Citizens' Advice Bureau coming out against it.

Robert Whelan, of the think-tank Civitas, said: "Most people realise energy bills are a fact of life and budget for them. We don't expect Sainsbury's to tell us how to put children to bed hungry, so I don't know why an energy company is suggesting we put children to bed with hats on."

Sarah Miller, of Citizens Advice, said: "There should be better and more permanent ways of addressing the issue of spiralling energy prices. We are already seeing people struggling to pay their gas and electricity bills but we expect that this will grow massively over winter."

I really must be getting very old-fashioned. I just cannot see what the problem with this is. There are plenty of people out there who heat their homes to tropical temperatures and then wonder how they are going to pay the bills. Pointing out that there are other ways of acheiving the same effect is hardly unreasonable. PC Copperfield has described how the underclasses deal with the issue of winter heating:

I always know I'm in a council/housing association property because a) It has a kind of fuggy, overpowering warmth that you only get if you're not paying the heating bill and b) There's a massive Plasma TV in the corner with SKY+ permanently on.

And of course Tim W has pointed out that switching off the central heating will probably make you lose weight too. Really, it's about time somebody pointed it out.

Tuesday
Nov072006

Do corporations pay tax?

Richard Murphy campaigns for higher taxes at his blog called Tax Research UK. He is therefore a regular contributor to programmes on the BBC.

His offering today is on the subject of whether corporations pay tax. Richard believes that the idea that corporation tax is a tax on shareholders is a fiction put about by "economists and companies". He claims, without citing any examples, that these wicked people believe that that companies have no identity separate from their shareholders.

They cannot be sued for its actions. They cannot be held liable for its debts. And yet apparently they pay its tax. Shall we get real here? They don’t. It’s liabilities are not those of its members. That’s the whole purpose of a limited liability company.

I would have thought that it was patently obvious that the liabilities of the members were, well,  limited rather than nil. The clue's in the name really isn't it?

Richard seems to be labouring under a misconception of what a limited liability is. Sure, the company has separate legal identity. That doesn't imply that the assets and liabilities belong to anyone other than the members. We know this because if they like they can vote to wind the business up and have the net assets returned to them. They can't vote to have the assets returned without netting off the tax liabilities (they're not ours, they belong to the company, honest guv!). Do you see how ridiculous your suggestion is now Richard?

As a codicil, the idea that economists are a homogenous mass opposing right-thinking people like Richard comes across as rather flat-earthish. Perhaps we could call Richard and his ilk "economics deniers"?

Tuesday
Nov072006

Politics in school

I'm currently girding my loins to have it out with my daughter's teacher. The school, a state primary, is generally held to be a good one and has had an excellent write up from the inspectors, two factors which together do absolutely nothing to dent my scepticism about the quality of the education it provides. Having myself been the product of a state secondary which had a good reputation and an excellent write up from the inspectors, I know better than to put much weight on the first and any weight at all on the second.

My daughter is a voracious reader. Now six, she is consuming books at a frightening rate and we are certainly struggling to find suitable things for her to read. As is the school. The problem is that the school has responded by doing precisely nothing. They have continued to supply her with picture books for new readers and suggest she reads ten pages twice a week. So the daughter reads the whole thing in five minutes and ends up feeling cheated.

And if that wasn't bad enough the whole curriculum seems to have been written by an alliance of woolly liberal types. Multi-culti this, and wierdy beardy that. Half of the day seems to be spent learning about recycling and emptying the compost bucket from the staffroom. And it doesn't seem to get any better in later years. At the school assembly we were treated to a presentation from the Primary Sevens about the virtues of Fairtrade - all about not giving in to greed and so on.

Now both greens and fairtraders may have wonderful intentions. (We can argue about whether they are going to achieve any of their objectives or if, as usually happens with weird beard types, they actually end up making things worse). But there can be no doubt that these are questions of economics and politics which are entirely out of place in the classroom. I want a school which teaches children how to think, not what to think.

The Bishop is on the warpath. 

Saturday
Nov042006

First entry

 

Welcome to the all new Bishop Hill blog.

Over on the right you'll see a link to a project I've called Leviathan. The idea is to document the full scope of Government in the UK by means of a sort of a biography of each department. As I go along I hope to document what they've all been getting up to and what they've been wasting all our money on. I'll also pass on any gossip I can find. I will probably pinch all the best stuff from people like Wat Tyler.

Now the scope of the project is huge. In fact I'm pretty sure it's too big for me and I'll probably get bored of it, but there's no harm in trying. And it could be fun, especially if my first department is anything to go by.

It's the story of how a "special friend" of Peter Mandelson's called James got appointed to a committee. The committee created a new department, and appointed James to head it up. On a salary of £150,000 a year.

 

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