Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Free trade isn't fair II

Here's a few more words on free trade to add to the earlier discussion. They're made with little empirical verification, let's call it an heuristic of principles.

1) People are one of the major resources in an economy.
2) By opening barriers to trade, people (particularly the poor) are fully exposed to fluctuations in the global economy.
3) This creates macroeconomic instability, diminishing investor confidence in the country due to uncertain expectations.
4) This uncertainty impacts negatively on consumer confidence, hampering economic progress.
5) More importantly, it leads to diminished well-being for people at the bottom of the distribution. The result is social dislocation, further hampering development efforts.

For illustration of (5), one need look no further than the UK, where the prosperity associated with the freeing up of markets in the 17th and 18th centuries puzzled and alarmed contemporary intellectuals. Of course, the persistence of the market system eventually dramitcally raised the living standards of all but not without considerable strain on society in the mean time. In economic terms, social capital was greatly diminished.

We saw the same process in the 1980s when Thatcher's reforms, while celebrated now, wrought havoc on the most vulnerable people in society. Britain still has the second highest inequality of the EU15, one of the highest levels of poverty and the lowest levels of social mobility, all of which can be attributed diminished social capital. To this I would add productivity: people suffering from a break down of community relations are, in general, less responsive to education*, mostly due to lack of incentives for improvement.

Other examples are not hard to find, this blog gives an excellent example from the perspective of AIDS workers in South America:

"Free trade agreements (FTAs) such as CAFTA and AFTA , while purporting to
promote liberty and free enterprise, erode the infrastructure necessary for
basic health care and development. The pharmaceutical patent-related provisions
of these FTAs reduce the safeguards in place (by the major international
trade/intellectual property law, TRIPS) for promoting public health, effectively
blocking access to and use of affordable ARVs in Latin America for those who
need them most."

If those that espouse free trade arguments feel that AIDS will not affect the economy, their economics needs a little amending.

Electorates are often derided for squealing about the freeing up of trade when actually it is the result of rational economic choice. If we accept that social stability is the bedrock of its macroeconomic counterpart, unbridled free trade doesn't seem so economically desirable after all.

*This statement comes with the necessary caveats. There is formal and anecdotal evidence that a large proportion of successful entrepreneurs come from difficult backgrounds.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Give me a C...A...

For anyone that thought the CAP was good for anything more than making impressive piles of food into museum pieces, here's this little cherry from The Grauniad.

To paraphrase, one third (€14bn) of the CAP budget goes to food companies, not farmers, which is meant to be the legitmating reason for this abomination of welfare policy. These beneficiaries include the elsewhere notorious Gate Gourmet, British Airways' catering firm, whose mile high food provision somehow qualifies for them for £1/2 million subsidy. Also rewarded were Nestle and, sadly too late for Devil's Kitchen, Eton College who admitted they had no idea why they received the money despite inquiries.

The largest British recipient, however, was Tate & Lyle, with £227 million over the two years 2003-4. A quick look at their website shows that CAP subsidy accounted for just under half of total profit over those two years. How many hospitals is that?

So the deal is this: the EU pays €14 billion to companies by some opaque undemocratic process and we get in return ... higher food prices!

... and a few more jobs in creaking industries that could be far more usefully employed elsewhere. The next time I hear anyone bemoan the widening productivity gap between Britain and America I will give them two words to ponder: TATE LYLE.

Lordin' it about

Well the men (and a a few women) in wigs have done it again! On this sort of form, it's getting more and more difficult to campaign for a fully elected chamber.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Stop the fawning, Cameron's a c*nt

David Cameron continues to delight his spectators. His performance in Prime Minister's Questions was lively and witty as he sought to drive the wedge between Blair and his party.

Cameron was voted in for his painting of grand visions, his tapestries of a brighter future, all underpinned with policies of such alarming vacuity as to make BP's 'Beyond Petroleum' guise seem as though it will actually change the planet (in that regard, it'll take much more than a shoddy carbon calculator). The new 'Cameron's Conservatives' website - assembled with such speed as to make wonder whether Davis ever had a chance - has a friendly hand-signed note from David:

These are the six big challenges I believe we face. They're complex, interconnected and require serious long-term thinking. I want to make sure we get these challenges right, and that means listening to the views of as many different people as possible.

Indeed it is such long term thinking that Cameron's team seems to have done little of it at all. Further investigation reveals a plea to 'Send us your thoughts'. Not so much a blueprint for the future as a mocking comment on its current state.

This is of course of little consequence, the Tories (and the media) have their poster boy and they know it.

One of Cameron's great attractions is that he comes unaccompanied by baggage. What baggage there is, however, does much to take the shine off his unblemished features. As Jonathan Freedland comments today:

In four years in the Commons he has voted against every extra investment in
schools, hospitals and the police. He voted against the increase in national
insurance that went on the NHS. He wants to abolish the New Deal and undo Britain's adherence to the European social chapter, the document that ensures a variety of rights and protections for British workers.

Let us not forget, either, that Cameron was lead author of a Tory manifesto that put immigration controls at the centre of its agenda. If ever there was a wolf more shrouded in ovine finery, Cameron surely gives them a run for their money. David Cameron was not Michael Howard's annointed for nothing.

On today's evidence, it seems Blair is aiming to stonewall Cameron with a dry policy debate to keep the young pup yapping without success - a well-worn Brownian tactic. However impressive Cameron's performance will seem in the press, there is something about his thin-lipped sarcasm that will do little to extend the honeymoon period the Tories now enjoy. If Cameron wishes to truly change the Tories appearance it will not be achieved by haranguing Hilary Armstrong for 'screaming like a child' after bemoaning the scandalous under-representation of women in the commons.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Champagne Humanist

Grr! Got the same as Devil's Kitchen. All credit to him though for alerting me to this excellent procrastination tool.

Anyone else think the picture looks like a Tony Blair cartoon?


You are one of life’s enjoyers, determined to get the most you can out of your brief spell on Earth. Probably what first attracted you to atheism was the prospect of liberation from the Ten Commandments, few of which are compatible with a life of pleasure. You play hard and work quite hard, have a strong sense of loyalty and a relaxed but consistent approach to your philosophy.

You can’t see the point of abstract principles and probably wouldn’t lay down your life for a concept though you might for a friend. Something of a champagne humanist, you admire George Bernard Shaw for his cheerful agnosticism and pursuit of sensual rewards and your Hollywood hero is Marlon Brando, who was beautiful, irascible and aimed for goodness in his own tortured way.

Sometimes you might be tempted to allow your own pleasures to take precedence over your ethics. But everyone is striving for that elusive balance between the good and the happy life. You’d probably open another bottle and say there’s no contest.

What kind of humanist are you? Click here to find out.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Bashing the other Blair

This is undeniably good news. Sir Ian Blair's conduct after the shooting Jean Charles de Menezes only served to muddy an already messy situation.

While controversial, the (always hyphenated) shoot-to-kill policy seems proportionate to the threat of a suicide bomber. As shown by the de Menezes case, mistakes happen but this should be a spur to more effective intelligence. The Economist put this point best with the headline "Excuse me, are you a suicide bomber?"

Incidentally, I realise the vacuity of the above suggestion. 'More effective intelligence' must be the most proposed and least well understood solution to the terrorist situation; especially as those putting it forward often furiously protest when attempts at giving more powers to the intelligence services are put forward, perhaps the best way of making intelligence more effective. 'Be more like Jack Bauer' is probably the most helpful that we armchair critics can be. Highlighting this paradox, however, does not mean that intelligence should not be more effective. However, like a Hummer through an emissions target, I shall leave these point in its shoddy form and return to Sir Ian.

Following the Stockwell shootings, Sir Ian pedalled so many different excuses in an attempt to confuse the public that he was telling the truth (same Blairism, different Blair). We were told, variously, that de Menezes had run from the police when asked to stop, that he vaulted a barrier, that his coat looked unseasonally warm. All of these claims have been discredited since. The claim that has yet to be overturned to my knowledge was that de Menezes was illegally staying in the country after his student visa ahd expired - and this was meant to be a mitigating factor.

Of course government enquiries usually play down offences by public officials, especially one that is so cosy with old Tone. If justice prevails, however, the Met chief will be discredited and forced to resign. But as a full member of the cronyship, I doubt it will be the last we see of him.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Nuclear Power

I really haven't made up my mind on the issue of nuclear power. It seems generators that are becoming in their output of waste but it's the nature of the waste that sticks. Still you'd think Blair would change his tactics after his last embarassment. Haven't we heard this somewhere before?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Save the Cameo

Edinburgh bloggers are uniting to save the Cameo, one of the City's two alternative cinemas. Go and see what Tiny Judas has to say about it.

A reply to Worstall

There has been a wee flurry of comment over some of my points on free trade. I'll reply at greater length soon but I would like to take issue with one of Mr Worstall's assertions.

I doubt that there is actually a developing country with a multi-national with turnover twice GDP actually in its territory.

If by 'in its territory' he means 'has its headquarters' is probably right. If he simply means operating in (as I did) then he is sadly quite wrong, as this depressing account shows.

It also illustrates my point perfectly. Sao Tome has been hit by a wall of prosperity, leaving an inexperienced government ill-equipped to deal with this amount of money - chiefly due to underdeveloped institutions. Too much money, too little power in the face of it. Corruption is inevitable.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Free trade isn't fair

Tim Worstall's praise of today's Guardian leader is in need of some tempering. He rightly talks of European and US subsidies ad "both immoral and economic madness". What would be more madness, however, would be a world in which no trade barriers exist.

While I applaud any anecdote combining dog's piss and Peter Mandelson, Ricardo's often-peddled arguments for free trade are obsolete, due to their reliance on perfect mobility of capital and labour as well a complete disregard for the existence of time (see here for another example of what bad consequences this can have).

Economies have a history. There are industries which make them tons of cash today, which could be dead ducks tomorrow as technological advances abroad overtake domestic competencies. Trade barriers give countries useful breathing space to sustain their economies during this transition and hopefully allow the domestic market to find something better to do. In the meantime, consumer confidence can be sustained as protected industries can let workers down gently instead of creating mass employment that can paralyse regions and cause widespread misery.

The other part of the free trade argument is that it ignores all concepts of power. A developing country faced with a multinational with an annual turnover worth twice its GDP will not be able to keepit in check. Of course good governance is a (perhaps THE) major issue in development but one mitigating factor is surely that legal institutions aren't allowed to develop when the economic incentives distort them so much. What is more, studies of knowledge spillovers from multinationals to domestic industry have shown the latter does not gain from the presence of the former. (China's tactic was to use trade liberalisation to actively guide technology into domestic hands, a luxury not open to say Chad or Bangladesh) . Trade controls are therefore a check on the tremendous power faced by developing countries, which hampers their development of technical knowledge and appropriate legal/economic institutions.

Of course the CAP and its equivalents are completely mad; as Blair pointed out, half the EU budget is spent on 3% of its population. Personally, I'm often on the more liberal side of the argument, but to dismiss trade barriers entirely is to exclude an extremely important tool of development policy.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Tory leadership contest

As the contenders for the Tory leadership tour the country in a series of hustings, David Davis is the man with the convincing to do.By congratulating TB on his education proposals, David Cameron has displayed an excellent grip on strategy by driving a wedge between Blair and the Labour Party.

Davis's attempt to paint Cameron as the new Blair may work with the party activists but will not hold with the wider electorate. People like blue-skies thinking and being swept along by grand visions. This has been Blair's greatest strength. What riles people is his inability to deliver and such contempt for due process that any public utterance is ignored in favour of greater policy scrutiny, as the heightened analysis of recent proposals has shown.

The other problem with Davis's tactic: Cameron won't be opposing Blair but Brown. A blue-eyed, blue-skies thinker will be far more appealing to an electorate than a dour intellectual thug, and may shake the faith of optimists who believe Britain has reached a socially progressive consensus.

China's 'democracy'

China’s democracy is a people’s democracy under the leadership of the CPC. China’s democracy is a democracy in which the overwhelming majority of the people act as masters of state affairs.

Now I'm not too well versed on the complexities of Modern Chinese history but I have a feeling this account of Chinese political democracy (authored by the CPC) is treating the truth a little too malleably.

A country whose rulers are elected by an impenetrable electoral college does not strike me as bearing the hallmarks of fair democracy. Perhaps we should respect the honesty of the system that doesn't fool the electorate into thinking it has a choice, as illustrated by Bill Hicks (via):
'I believe the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.' 'Well, I believe the puppet on the left is more to my liking.' Hey, wait a minute, there's one guy holding up both puppets! 'Go back to bed, America, your government is in control. Here's Love Connection, watch this and get fat and stupid. By the way, keep drinking beer.'"
Now the presence of democracy does not certify a fair system of governance, but if the people don't have votes and the government of the day doesn't have the chance of being thrown out every half-decade or so, there ain't no democracy.

As for the overwheliming majority of the people acting as masters of state affairs, the CPC seems to be confusing having the world's largest bureaucracy with actual power the people. Decisions must be taken with a large hierarchical consensus, and it must be conceded that this allows for some amount of consultation.

In view of the rising number of protests, however, it seems a population enjoying increasing prosperity and broader-based economic power is now looking for a little more political say without embarking on a career dependent on the state. It will take much more than a rehashing of history to curb these demands and the CPC is surely quaking at this knowledge.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Inter armes leges NON silent

Flabby Whitebeard, his political astuteness yet to suffer the erosion of that of his master, suggests that concessions will be made on the 90 day amendment to the Worthy Bill of Terror. Cassandra Blair retorts 'I see great woe to those who defy my wisdom. 90 days or else.'

Should our hero concede? For has not his master's judgement been tempered in the furnaces of Whitehall, Washington and Sedgefield? Has it not been sharpened on the whet stone of war, education and prevention of terrorism debates before? And has he not emerged triumphant?

A fool would resist such force of argument, such a hurricane of sagacity, and so Flabby relents.

But what's this? 49 loyal minions have defected! Could Tiberius Blair, he of shuttling diplomacy and presidential swagger, have erred in his advice? Moreover could the struggles of The Sun Newspaper of Delphi have got it so wrong?

Forsooth it is true!

Croaking recriminations, Tiberius retreats into his cave. One step further from reality, another step further from the masses who once heralded his every newborn son. With unbended will he goes to perfect his Cartesian mode of politics, from which the outside world is his only distraction.

Flabby Whitebeard stands loyally in the breeze as the stone rolls over, absorbing bodily the arrows for his master. Let us hope it is a vain attempt.

Those Labour reactions in full

The reactions to the Commons defeat yesterday speak volumes about this government.

"John Reid suggested Mr Blair's stature was enhanced. He said Tory leadership contenders David Cameron and David Davis had "crippled" themselves politically by supporting the 28-day compromise. "
This comment reminds me of a character in the film Kung Pow: "Oh that's just John Reid, take no notice of him. We trained him wrong - as a joke!"

Tony Blair: "worrying gap between parts of Parliament and the reality of the terrorist threat and public opinion".
OR "Well shit, it worked with Iraq, why can't you hippies trust me this time?"

Gordon Brown: "Tony Blair must continue to implement the agenda on which we were elected. It's only six months, you know, since there was a general election."
OR "And he's in this much shit already?"

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Amazon Purchase circles

Marginal Revolution has discovered this the 'purchase circles' which allow you to see what different groups of people like to buy such as General Electric, Halliburton and even the US marines.

Against intuition, General Electric people seem enthused by books on growth and doing business better whereas GE Capital are more interested in the like of 'The Life of Pi' and Harry Potter. I guess the boys with fat checks are just more chilled out.

Angry Economist Strikes Back!

The Angry Economist replied to my first post in a rather uncharitable way:
Russell said...
So far I'm unimpressed. You don't seem to like economics so you're proposing that the world should work some other way. Unfortunately, economics doesn't force the
world to work a certain way; economics (good economics at least) describes the
way the world actually does work. If you don't like that, then you don't like
how real people behave.

1) I really like economics. I get quite a kick out of my Masters degree in the subject, due for completion this year. Little more proof is needed than I'm happy to be identified as one in a society where economists are not exactly groovy.

2) The post upon which I was commenting made many assumptions about human behaviour.
Economic practice dictates that assumptions have to be made in order to simplify a chaotic world and allow fallible humans to make models, which can make reasonable predictions about future behaviour. If the model doesn't work, our assumptions need more careful scrutiny. All I did was to go along with the same assumptions Russell did and point out problems he hadn't considered in his account. Of course this is affected by opinions which sway the saliency of different economic arguments. Russell is also motivated by opinions which push him the other way. I don't see either of us as doing bad economics, merely using economic arguments to derive different opinions.

The danger is that orthodox economic theory has developed in such a way as to neglect important facts of nature. These theories are then used to make policy recommendations which can be devastating in their ignorance.

For example, most of its economic models are static, mainly because much of economic theory has developed for the convenience of mathemtics and the mathematical tools needed for dynamic analysis have only been recently discovered. As a result time is often neglected. Discussion is of states of the world and how to achieve them. Little is spoken of the evolution of such states and how the way in which something develops dramatically affects its current state. Now, most of Britain's industries are run in the private sector. This is mostly a good thing; the post-war central planning experiments were grossly ineffiecient. However, Britain has been able to develop appropriate legal frameworks and tacit accepted practices that control what businesses can get away with.

The Soviet Union had no such luxury. Overseen by Nobel laureate Jeffrey Sachs, the government was advised to privatise its assets to expose them to some market discipline. Good plan on paper. The enterprises were grossly inefficient and needed to be reformed to help insert some innovation into a sclerotic society, let alone economy (not that the two are separate entities but let's leave that for another time). Sold for rock bottom prices, what were formerly state assets were sold on at huge profit and the money flown out of the country, thus creating the notorious oligarchs, crippling Russia's infrastructure and impoverishing millions.

Now Prof. Sachs cannot be held to account for the oligarchs' immorality, but he should have recognised that the appropriate institutions were needed before Russia could successfully exploit the benefits of the market. To adopt the AE's argument, by neglecting the dimension of time, by ignoring learning processes necessary for competence and thereby failing to see how the world actually worked, Sachs was doing bad economics.

(This is not with the benefit of hindsight, either. A similar story occurred in Hungary a few years before. What is more, as director of Colombia's Earth Foundation, Sachs is once more making shock therapy cock-ups. In his book The End of Poverty his idea is implement decisive infrastructure projects and benefit programs to pull Africa out of poverty. One problem, this has been tried before, and little of the money was well spent. As economist William Easterly asserts, only by a system of gradual implementation could mistakes be corrected, lessons learnt and the money be effectively spent.)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Everybody's pal, Scooter Libby

"Scooter Libby is one of the most capable and talented individuals I have ever
known. He has given many years of his life to public service and has served our
nation tirelessly and with great distinction."

So clucked Dick "Dick" Cheney after his right hand man had been indicted. It's a masterful piece of propaganda. I. Lewis Libby is a man that stands a serious chance of indictment. But Scoots? We used to play b-ball down on 47 and 5th as kids! If you could see the way he'd slug a homer back then you'd think twice before flinging around wild accusations of obstructing the course of justice and the like.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


While the high street persuades me that All Souls Day is the deadline to do all my Christmas shopping and seeing that wildlife has been a feature in recent posts here's some fluffy economics from the Wall Street Journal courtesy of the otherwise parsimonious Environmental Economics blog.

The comments alone are worthy of attention:

How much, in your estimation, would Mr. Nikkanoff have been
compensated if Rudolph had been flying at the time?

Posted by: pam October 02, 2005 at 04:30 PM


Posted by: Tim Haab October 03, 2005 at 02:27 PM
I have seen a bolt of truth arc across the heavens to land in a foreign field. Perhaps now my journeying has crossed the plains of confusion and mountains of perplexity and chanced upon a smouldering meadow that was the target of said projectile, albeit long since burnt out.

It seems The Guardian was wrong about one thing; a moose in Europe is not a moose but an elk. However, both share the binomial Alces alces. My spirit renewed by this finding it turns out the elk became extinct from Scotland in c.1300 and was last captured in the Fenian legend Bas Dhairmid:
Glen Shee, that glen by my side, Where oft is heard the voice of deer and elk.
The galling thing is the americanisation of the term, which is not only incorrect but has given me unnecessary vexation for almost half a day. I shall be writing to The Guardian to tell them so.

The tale of Jim Swan

Incidentally, while researching moose (instead of a dissertation *gulp*) I uncovered this little diamond courtesy of James Swan of the National Review. The delicious subtitle of "Think we have hunting problems? Try the U.K." is followed by observations on the "draconian British gun-control laws":

Pistols are forbidden. To possess a shotgun or rifle it is necessary to hold a
certificate granted by the police. Certificates are not easily obtained.
Applicants are subject to police checks, and gun owners must store their guns
securely. Only small-caliber air guns, like BB guns, are exempt. Pistol-shooting
members of the British Olympic team have been forced to practice abroad.
This despite the fact that $500 million pounds of the economy rely on hunting - haha these limeys! But the British public's blindness to obvious entrepreneurial opportunity is not the worst of it:
...economics is not all that's at stake here. As Joseph Campbell once said,
“Flesh eats flesh is the master pattern of life.” By taking life for nourishment, we learn to revere it from the heart.

In 1999, there were 8,259 firearm murders in the US (62 in UK). Many of Old Jim's compatriots have obviously taken his advice to heart.*Boom* Shameless anti-Americanism from bastard me.

Beavers - awesome!

Good news for hat makers as six beavers are to be released in Gloucestershire. The little critters haven't seen these sceptered shores for 500 years so I'm sure they'll be a warm welcome for them.

Well perhaps. Is Gloucestershire actually ready for them? Beavers can dramatically alter landscapes with their damming ways, creating reservoirs in weeks after a few nibbles of a venerable oak (just ask any Canadian). Good news for ducks, the water vole and water boatmen - a healthy natural constituency to be sure. Farmers, with considerably more political and economic clout, will nevertheless be fuming. Already frustrated by their inability to hunt foxes and badgers, Jo Grundy and co will be nonplussed at the prospect of new creeks and streams diverted through their property.

(Ah, 6music news has just informed me that these beavers are a lot less destructive than their N. American cousins. Relieving words to be sure, but foolhardy I feel. Might Britain, to misquote Trevor Phillips, be "sleepwalking into deforestation"?)

The Grauniad, a little behind the pace, is also upbeat about Britains ecological future: one where farmers clear out and let nature take its course. This is certainly good news.

About 800,000 hectares of Britain have been identified as places where
traditional farming could be replaced over time by wilderness nature reserves,
possibly inhabited by vanished species such as elk, moose, beaver and wild
The radical vision of developing large-scale conservation areas and
linking them via ecological corridors to allow herds of animals to roam across
hundreds of miles is proposed as a relatively inexpensive way to revitalise the
large areas expected to become uneconomic to farm during the next 15 years as
European subsidies are progressively cut.

Did I read that right? Moose! This can't be true! Now looking very carefully at this moose map below there doesn't seem to be much of a moose population in blighty and, after 45 minutes of trwaling the internet does there ever seem to have been one.

Moose map

However, The Guardian is elsewhere adamant that this is the case:

[Conservationist Paul Lister's] plan is to abandon deerstalking as a method of
managing deer numbers and instead reintroduce once-native,
self-sustaining populations of predators, such as the grey wolf, European brown
bear and Eurasian lynx, as well as wild boar and moose.

Well shove a hose pipe my arse and turn pressure to full, that is quite a confounder. I mean, Mr. Lister wouldn't be lying would he? Nothing during my 45 minute research has uncovered a thing about moose in Great Britain. Anyone who has any knowledge on this please tell me, I'm extremely vexed.

Debates on the indigeneity of the moose and the destructive potential of the beaver are not, however, the cause of such procrastination on FE's part however. This "wildernisation" is most noteworthy for being a handy solution to the problems of the Common Agricultural Policy. When this millstone is removed, the beaver scheme will cushion the blow for farmers who will be able to go into forestry. The present plan doesn't seem to want farmers to keep their land but perhaps a sort of co-operative scheme could be set up with multiple landowners contributing to the scheme and therefore sharing the benefits of eco-tourism and sustainable forestry.

The solution is more furry than fluffy - but it is undeniably economic.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Greatest Philosopher

Forgive the lateness, I was out the country as this was going on. I was perusing the results of the BBC's 'Greatest Philosopher' poll. A case was made for each of a shortlist of 20 with no striking omissions. The winner by a good few lengths was Karl Marx. Now his impact on the 20th century is undoubted and perhaps his effect outside of the ivory tower makes him stand out from his peers.

If we're talking strict philosophy, however, I think there are some with more clout. For example Kant constructed one of the most cohesive and consistent moral systems in philosophy (As an aside, an Austrian woman, Maria von Herbert, wrote to Kant asking for guidance after being dumped. Kant's prescription of "a pure moral sedative" didn't quite do the trick and she ended up committing suicide. This however should not be taken as an indictment of his overall system - this is the cold stone table of philosophy, not a psychiatrist's chair).

Aristotle would be my prime candidate. After all, the man practically invented the style of modern philosophy as well as, of particular interest to this writer, being the first to write about economics (I believe he invented the term).

I think the BBC's helpful summaries make my case quite simply.

Most modern socialist theories are drawn from his work but Karl Marx has had a wider influence touching on many areas of human thought and life such as politics, economics, philosophy, and literature.


More than Plato and Socrates Aristotle's brand of reason influenced the progress of Judaism, Islam and Christianity through thinkers such as Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas and Averroes.

I think saliency has got the better of a balanced decision. (Mariella Frostop chose Søren Kierkegaard if you were wondering. Anne Robinson chose Nietzsche)


The observant will notice a shiny 'This blog is listed on Wikablog' button on the right. This new venture is attempting to catalogue the blogosphere and is almost entirely run by its members. See this Devil's Kitchen post for a full explanation.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

All together: "Educate good times, Come on!"

So with a mighty fanfare come those new education proposals replete with promises of more independence for schools, greater parental participation and greater involvement from the private sector. Check, check...wha?

Perhaps my education was severely impaired with it's lack of Latin lessons sponsored by Dolmio and Geography brought to you by Crayola. Aren't our hallowed halls of learning meant to be a haven from such corporate pressures?

I like the idea of greater school independence. National curricula stifle creativity and breed morons. But why ruin it Tone?


Europhobia keeps us spectacularly well informed (via TJ) about Berlusconi latest obfuscation. The burly italian is getting ever closer to emulating Caesar with his proposal to change the constitution allowing him to dismiss ministers and dissolve parliament at will.
These are the
most significant reforms since the post-Mussolini constitution came into
in 1948, and place more power in one man's hands than has been seen in
Italy since the time of the baldy blackshirt.

Gee I sure am glad to be British with such a megalomaniac in charge of our Italian cousins. Imagine what friends Berli must keep...actually let's not.


Another gem from the Perry Bible Fellowship which appeared in The Grauniad the other day. This one is my personal favourite, however.


Grr! Barely a blogger for 24 hours and already spammed by a filthy spamming spammer! Word verification now in place to correct my naivety.

Tiny Judas on time thievery

Check out this 'thinkpiece' from Tiny Judas. A piece of prose as lyrical and lucid as we've come to expect from the wee man.

PFI fraud *sigh*

Devil's Kitchen makes some good points regarding the below but it would be interesting to compare public/private pay differentials for similar jobs. My impression is that many lower paid jobs (cleaners, maintenance) are outsourced so these would skew the average private sector figures downwards.

His footnote, however, actually supports my argument:

There is now no A & E department in the centre of Edinburgh. The old site has been sold to developers who are building the usual load of flats, "affordable housing", shops and offices. Now, if I were them, I would also include a small A & E department, and charge people, let's say £20, to come in and be treated. In a taxi, it is going to cost rather more than that to get to the new ERI in Little France and little less to get to the Western General. There is a market for an A&E department in the town centre—especially on a Friday and Saturday night!—and I believe that it could also be a useful stop-in centre at other times too.

To fill in, the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was sold to the private sector for £12m then leased to the NHS, so the latter could make a quick buck. The hospital then became a 'prime piece of real estate' and was sold for SIXTY MILLION POUNDS! I'm told the new hospital, Little France, is tremendously clean and friendly place to be, but what good is that, as DK so rightly points out, when any benefit is literally and economically bled away getting there?

More interestingly, however, DK's comments bear testimony to his fine entrepreneurial spirit. Bravo!

[The above figures taken from this helpful article, however suspicious some of its conjectures. There's just no arguing with these Reds!]

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Angry Economist & me

The Angry Economist enjoys applying the iron fist of economic sense to a plethora of issues, with the chief aim of undermining the "leftist strategies [that] are the cause of our current problems".

However, his expositions of contemporary conservatism are extremely well argued and typify the seemingly dispassionate rationalism of the right that leaves lefties red-faced and fuming. Our thanks therefore goes to Mr Nelson for inspiring this blog, whether or not he will regret it remains to be seen.

To kick things off, a recent post gives a compact argument about how private sector is better than public at the efficient management of resources. This adage has been around since the beginning of economics itself; most famously expounded by Nobel laureate Milton Friedman in his calls to 'starve the government'.

However, he has touched only tangentally on the truth. Let us assume that a private sector employee, with hopes of career advancement and rising salary, is good at making profit for his company. Public sector employees are not so good at making profit. Their career advancement, we hope, is through competency in his chosen office. Any differential in competency we can put down to lower wages and fewer opportunities for promotion in the civil service (although the latter is changing).

However, let us underline that the private sector is there to make profit. All other aims are subsumed to this one ambition. As a result markets created through privatisation (wholly/fully) will have a structure to further this end. This will maintain no matter how many government regulations/targets/inspections are carried out. For services such as education and helathcare this is an extremely worrying prospect. The only antidote to such a situation is so much government monitoring so as to make efficiency gains questionable.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Election watchdog fom o'er the pond

Blair is in trouble. Of course this is hardly surprising when the Tories have such a knack of pin-pointing the most important issues in our country. This week's glaring weakness in UK culture: gypsies.

A whopping 15,000 of their caravans clog up our rural arteries and unused land. It's unused for a reason you know! Even the most conservative of these promiscuous rascals is likely to have at least a family of six meaning that the gypsy population makes up 0.15% of the UK population (and remember we're being conservative here!).

The Conservative Party, however, would never be so hamfisted as to target the whole group - those old grey men are far too subtle. Their focus is on only those who are parked on unauthorised land. Why? Because the land is unused for a reason you bloody carny!

The genius of the Tories plan lies in this sharp, precise targeting. 16% of gypsies park on unauthorised land, so we're talking about 14,000 odd (odd) people flagrantly trespassing unused private property. Now that's a vote winner! And why? Because the Sun is on their side. It looks like Britain's best loved daily is returning to its roots with a full endorsement of the policy.

But hang on a bigot-baiting second! Didn't the Sun all but propose this legislation with its 'Stamp out the Camps' campaign? What better way to show up a government that's lost touch with the electorate than by letting a red top write your manifesto?

Problem is, despite the satire, that means it could well work. I think I'll stay in Canada.
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