Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Jackart Elsewhere

I've a piece up at Hagley Road to Ladywood, on how the Coalition is the best Government we've had in generations. Go and make a nuisance of yourselves over there.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Monday, 28 June 2010

Where's my Nobel Prize?

Continuing the theme of Friday's post, here is a New York Times editorial from Paul Krugman which basically lays out the lefty Narrative that debt financed government spending - the stimulus - is what ends recessions and prevents depressions.

And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world — most recently at last weekend’s deeply discouraging G-20 meeting — governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.
He's wrong. The great depression was not ended by the vast construction projects of the New Deal any more than Japan's lost decade was ended by the spending spree which now sees Government debt at over 200% of GDP. THe USA didn't leave its depression until WW2 and Japan has not yet ended hers. The UK, which withdrew from the Gold Standard and kept spending under control had a much easier Great depression than the US, despite losing many export markets to isolationism, tarrifs and economic nationalism.

By contrast, in countries where the "stimulus" is withdrawn, spending is slashed and eventually, taxes are cut, you see a more rapid and vigorous return to growth. Examples include the UK in the 1980s or Sweden and Canada in the 1990s. The economic boom we enjoyed in the 80's and 90's was a result of what Krugman calls the "Old-time religion of sound money", and the bust we're enduring now is a result the debt that started to build up in responce to lax monetary controls, over-low interest rates leading to unrestrained private and public profligacy during the Noughties.

He asks
Why the wrong turn in policy? The hard-liners often invoke the troubles facing Greece and other nations around the edges of Europe to justify their actions. And it’s true that bond investors have turned on governments with intractable deficits. But there is no evidence that short-run fiscal austerity in the face of a depressed economy reassures investors. On the contrary: Greece has agreed to harsh austerity, only to find its risk spreads growing ever wider; Ireland has imposed savage cuts in public spending, only to be treated by the markets as a worse risk than Spain, which has been far more reluctant to take the hard-liners’ medicine.
Which is just nonsense. Ireland, whose economy is turning the corner following 2 poor years, is in the same ball park as Spain and Portugal. Neither Ireland nor Spain are having problems getting bonds away - at similar spreads over German debt, but Ireland is a much smaller and less diversified economy than Spain, which would account for a their slightly higher spread - and (thanks, Slugger) Irish yields are improving faster than Spain's. Greece is Bankrupt with yield spreads twice that of Spain, Portugal or Ireland. Both Spain and Ireland are cutting deficits, so to pretend that a slightly lower yield spread is evidence for the success of a Keynsian demand boost in Spain compared to Ireland smacks of looking for evidence to support the answer he'd already arrived at.

Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist, so I don't want to call him an idiot, but nowhere has expansionary fiscal policy ended recession or pulled an economy out of depression. Until the lefties (and in this context that means ANYONE who favours an expansionary fiscal policy) point to one, I will stick to my "Old Time Religion" of sound money. It's track record, though imperfect is sounder than that of fiscal profligacy. And recession so caused is likely to be shorter than that resulting from runaway inflation or a debt crisis caused by a Government which thought it could undo the economic cycle.

The problem is with the Government stimulus argument is that it gives left-wing governments an excuse to feather-bed their clients in the name of fiscal expansion. If you overspend for a decade, there has to be a reckoning. Managing the economic cycle is all very good in theory, but how about the practice? Unless you can point to a concrete example of a recession ending as a result of Government expansion, then I would rather not Bankrupt my children, thanks. In seeking to control the Animal Spirits, you're just less self aware than Canute. The economic cycle is as amenable to Man's control as the tide.

Friday, 25 June 2010

The Unreality of the Leftie Narrative

Charlotte Gore has put my thoughts in a nutshell concerning the "CUTS! Waaaaa" nonsense coming from the left, which is exemplified by this post over at Liberal Conspiracy, which basically tots up the number of people employed by the State in one form or another and does some sums and comes up with 1.6 full time equivalent jobs which must go from the 6 million.

Sounds about right to me. There are too many Civil Serfs and Local Government prod-noses and it's time for one in five of them to be fired. What? You say it's going to be mostly done by hiring freezes? So no bloodbath. You disappoint me.

What the left just never seems to want to address is HOW THIS ENORMOUS WORKFORCE IS GOING TO BE PAID FOR. The public services in which Labour "invested" has got to the point that people (the people who are paying for it) are thinking about the choice between worse services and lower long-term tax on the one hand and continuing to feather bed public sector employees on the other. Now the people who pay for everything are seeing jobs for life, generous pensions and a complete absence of insecurity or even basic budgetary control, and they think "I'm paying for that". Well fuck 'em.

So the budget is supported by 50% of the electorate despite everyone, in every decile of income being worse off (that's y'know, like the definition of "all in it together"). That's a pretty good level of support for what is, effectively a kick in the nuts, because it's a fair and deserved kick in the nuts.

Ditto Benefits. There are people being paid rent of £21,000 in Housing benefit when THEY SHOULD BE MOVING TO A GROTTIER PART OF TOWN, just like the people on low wages WHOSE TAXES ARE PAYING FOR THEM TO LIVE IN CHELSEA.

The message is simple, but the left will not understand it. THE FUCKING MONEY HAS RUN OUT, AND WE CANNOT SPEND ON TICK ANY LONGER. We'd all like a Rolls Royce. Unfortunately we're on second hand Astra money. As Charlotte says, "no-one's going to die from budget cuts". We, out here in the private sector didn't "cause the recession" either, they happen sometimes; but we've endured, tightened belts and got on. It's time for your recession now.


Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Budget reaction

For anyone looking for my reaction to the budget, they could do worse than going to Mr Eugenides' place, where there is some glorious invective.

This speech is essentially an extended "fuck you" to his predecessors.... Vince Cable looks like he's swallowed a shit-flavoured landmine.

The cuts are coming thick and fast - thick and fast enough to gladden the hearts of all bloggertarians, and enrage lefties everywhere... If only this presaged a wholesale assault on the size of the state, rather than applying a tourniquet to the gushing wounds inflicted by the witless fuck-muppets who came before.

I hope there isn't a TV in whatever psychiatric ward Gordon currently resides.
Or you could peruse my Twitter feed. Up to you.

Labour's Desperate spin

The Labour line for today is that the Budget deficit is just an excuse for CUTS that Osborne & Co. would have made anyway. The Liberal Democrats are left-flank protection. And in repeating the self-serving lie that cutting expenditure now is "taking money out of the economy" at a point where the "recovery is most fragile" they demonstrate a most profound lack of understanding.

Every pound that the Government borrows, it must borrow from either domestic savers or foreign investors. Every pound borrowed by government is unavailable for lending to business. Every pound taxed is unavailable for private spending or investment. I simplify - at the margins, a bit of extra government borrowing can create demand, but the jury's out on whether this is possible beyond the automatic stabilisers like unemployment benefits.

So on a superficial level, firing a diversity outreach co-ordinator loses some demand in the economy as one family's take-home pay falls by £22,000 (the £30,000 these creatures are paid, less the extra benefits he'll receive once he's on the rock 'n roll. This will reduce demand for goods and services and a rapid cut in the public sector wage bill by getting non-jobs off the payroll will be noticed in the short term in the GDP figures. It may even "cause" a double dip in the figures.

But if you're not a filthy parasite in a non-job, does this "recession" affect you? Not very much, because to offset the demand drop from your local 5-a-day support worker, local businesses find it slightly easier than they otherwise would have to secure finance because the Government has to borrow £22,000 less next year, which will be available to the private sector. The money not raised in taxes is money that can be spent in shops. Whilst the victims of cuts are obvious, by all means protect front-line services. There will not be a need to fire a single nurse, police officer or school teacher because of "cuts" when there are still 'Healthy Workplace Advisors' or '5-a-day coordinators' being employed. Even the most cursory google search will reveal that these jobs are not mythical. the beneficiaries are dispersed. And given those "victims" of cuts are some of the most generously remunerated, securely employed, idle, bolshie, people in the country some of whom have been taking massive salaries to do very little worthwhile, it is time the public sector party at our expense was brought to an end.

Finally the benefits system which keeps a boot on the face of the very poorest must be reformed. Withdrawal rates must be improved. Bureacracy must be removed. The insecure border between welfare and work must not present a risk of losing benefits as a reason to not take an insecure first job, because the benefits system does not accept that insecure first jobs flipping burgers can and do lead to more secure and rewarding employment. Maximum benefits must be cut so that people cannot make a comfortable life on the state's teat.

One by one, the recession caused by the deflating of a US property bubble has leaked through the home-loans companies, into the Banking system and finally into the obscenely profligate governments who were running deficits during the boom. However much they may try to blame the financial woes for Government bankruptcy, the fact the UK's Labour Government was running a serious deficit in 2007, at the height of the boom reveals the lie.

Labour's crocodile tears about "their people" as well as revealing the profound corruption at the heart of the Labour project, demonstrates that they will do it all again if they ever get power. They will take your money and give it to their client state of welfare junkies and public-sector union slugs. Labour accuse the Tories of wanting to cut come what may - they're just reversing what they think: Labour never saw a problem to which 'tax, borrow and spend' is not their favoured solution.

As a result of the profligacy, it is necessary to cut as much as possible as quickly as possible from the public sector fat. TO fail to do this is a much bigger risk than the tiny risk of a statistical recession which doesn't affect the private sector. Just like the recipients of 'sub-prime' loans, Governments overreached themselves. Today's budget is the reckoning for those who have not yet endured their recession.

I'm aright though. I've had my recession and it was tough. If you're in the public sector, enjoy yours!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

America is Closed for Business.

What is true for people is also true for the other tax-paying entity, the company. And what Barack Obama has done yesterday, in arbrtiarily confiscating assetts without due process or any form of contract, is to raise the fear of arbritary confiscations from other businesses which may displease the mob in the future. This is contrary to the principles of the rule of Law. This is not a defence of BP, who appear to have been reckless, but no-one thinks they are not already doing everything in their power (they are of course denied some assets for political reasons) to clean up the mess, and they have paid nearly all the claims for compensation they have already received. BP was emphatically NOT shirking its responsibility, and has endured a politically motivated lynch mob mentality orchestrated from the White house. Obama knows what he is doing is illegal and unconstitutional. BP could demand that its contracts are met, that Haliburton and others pay their share, but this would destroy them politically.

The conclusion is clear, whatever Fishermen from Louisiana think, Obama is abusing his office.

The risk of doing business in the USA is already great, and has got much, much worse. Many non-US companies already refuse to have a US shareholder on their books (next time you receive a prospectus, look for the words "not for distribution in the USA" on the front). Thus the capital markets of the world are closing to US interests. Soon internationally minded US companies will start moving their brass plaques from Delaware to London, Frankfurt, Dublin, Dubai, Hong Kong or other more kindly jurisdictions. Americans may not notice this while their domestic capital markets are wide and deep, but they may find their next recession deeper and longer as the once great nation slides back into the protectionism that caused the last depression.

Obama. By pandering to the mob by offering to keep his "boot on the throat" of BP and demanding extra judicial compensation (which WILL be used as a political slush-fund) has become the worst president in American History. And given who he followed, that was always going to be tough. A president of less historical renown (no peace prize for Mr Coolidge), but much greater stature said "the Business of America is Business".

Not any more.

People don't like paying tax!

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

As can Europeans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Skimmer ships

After Hurricane Katrina, George Bush suspended the Jones Act which requires that ships plying trade between US ports must be US registered and have 75% US crews (unionised, naturally).

Obama has NOT suspened this act meaning dozens of Skimmer ships - a type of ship designed to clean oil from the sea, the best of which are European are unavailable to help contain the Gulf of Mexico spill. Dutch ships are standing by. These have not been allowed to enter US territorial waters, despite the requests of a number of locals politicians from the affected area Republicans. The answer given will be because these ships don't perfectly clean the water, and leave small residue with the water they pump back out of the storage tanks. The real reason, of course, will be union pressure to sustain a despicable piece of typically American protectionism.

I told you he'd disappoint.

Monday, 14 June 2010

I gather there was a Soccer match at the Weekend?

Believe it or not, I watched the game. Glad to see someone is going to replace Gareth Southgate in the Nation's affections. Rob Green must be thanking his lucky stars he's not Columbian. And given England demonstrated their customary mediocrity (in Both forms of football), with The USA 'winning'* 1-1, it's a good job there's one sport at which Brits had something to cheer. So Congratualtions to Williams McClaren, Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button. You'll keep the flag flying longer than the England football team at this rate.

Back to the Soccer. Someone, somewhere thought it a good idea to issue a Vuvuzela to every supporter in South Africa, with the result that 80,000 tuneless plebians are making a noise like a tone-deaf mental patient with a kazoo.

An infernal buzzing. At 131 decebels.


This, it goes without saying a fucking silly idea. Football, a tedious spectacle at the best of times is made unbearable by the kind of deafening white noise that in almost any other circumstance would represent a war-crime or industrial injury suit waiting to happen.

*The NY post headline is not 'Silly Americans', alas. Apparently it references something famous that happened in College American Football.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Poor regulation.

Just like sub-prime, if you dig, then you find stupid regulation behind, or at least contributing to, every disaster.

Ask yourself 2 questions:

Why is the gusher so difficult to cap? Because it is in deep water.
Why was BP drilling in deep water? Because they were not allowed to drill in shallow water.

Whilst ultimate responsibility clearly rests with BP who could have run multiple pipes, which I've read somewhere is industry best practice (I don't know - I'm not an oil engineer), the US Government too is partially responsible for its knee-jerk, reactive and slapdash approach to regulation, which puts political concerns and pork-barrell politics above environmental and economic concerns.

Every regulation has a cost, and it is rarely borne by the people the framers of the regulation intend it to be borne by. In this case, Louisiana shrimpers and British Pensioners have paid for the poor regulation of deep water drilling and the ban on shallow water drilling.

Governments: Fucking things up since 5,000 BC.

The result of Means Testing benefits

No-one wants to pay benefits to rich people, right?


Benefits should be low, and where possible, universal. Means tests distort incentives and remove the incentive to work and save. Gordon Brown loved means tests in order to "target" benefits at "the most in need". As a shorthand, Gordon Brown liking something is a pretty good reason to be against it.

Mark Wadsworth
, land-value-tax fetishist extraodinaire, gives us one example involving Pension Tax Credit and Council Tax benefit. Spread this disincentive to save across the whole economy and you've solved the deficit which a reduction in the benefit bill would go a long way to sorting out, and the astonishing level of consumer debt explained. That's before you deal with the cost of administering 70-odd different benefits to which people might be entitled: It just does not pay the average man in the street to save at all, thanks to an idiotically complex welfare state.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Strategic Failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Britblog Roundup #273

Good morning and welcome to this, the 273rd itteration of all that's good and wholesome in the British blogosphere. Starting with international politics then:

This was of course the week after Israel decided to destroy its relations with the rest of the world by boarding a ship bound for Gaza in contravention of its controversial blockade. In doing so with seemingly disproportionate force, and in killing Turkish citizens amongst others, Israel drew condemnation from around the world, including from our foreign secretary and its only muslim ally, Turkey. There are some Conservatives for whom Israel can do no wrong. Andrew Dodge is one. The fact is that Israel, being a sophisticated democracy with advanced weapons is held to a higher standard than those they fight. It should be proud of this, rather than appearing to want to keep the Palestinians as a cowed and subjugated people. As such, stamping ones feet and shouting "it's not fair" will not win you friends, or achieve the strategic aims set out. Indeed, it could be the moment Israel finally lost. Charles Crawford sets out a set of overwhelming circumstances which could lead to a chaotic WWIII, which focusses on Israel. I doubt it's that bad (and so does he), but the Jewish state needs to pay more attention to the opinions of its friends in the USA, the EU and especially the Muslim world. It cannot afford provocation.

Of course Israel/Palestine is not the only world issue, though as Mr Eugenides points out, it does attract rather more than its fair share of protest and publicity.

In the UK, I mention Derrick Bird the gunman from Cumbria, who was responsible for the worst spree killing since Dunblane. These events are rare, and the Government's response was perhaps more reasonable and less Knee-Jerk than previous administrations.

The Labour leadership contest is generating acres of blog-print, and especially Dianne Abbot's so-far unsuccessful bid. Her shtick appears to be "the others are white men. I'm a black woman, vote for me." Slugger o'Toole likens this to the struggles within nationalism. Dan Hannan reckons she should just run on being herself. (Being a Tory, I suspect he'd be quite happy with an Abbot-led labour party). Of course, despite the fervent wishes of the Tories and the Left of the Labour party, David Millibanana is going to win in a boring and predictable way.

A place to stand is dismayed at the cost of the Forth Road Bridge expansion project: they're planning to double-deck it, but at a cost greater per metre than the Millau viaduct, and matched only by some far longer and more difficult structures. Fraud perhaps? There are other options... In these days of budgetary austerity, we cannot afford such extravagence.

The liklihood of increased Capital Gains taxes is causing Ire on the right and schadenfreude on the left. Of course taxes on capital are a) generally the easiest to avoid, and b) most counter-productive and distorting in a chancellor's arsenal. In this case they are to be on the Tories' percieved friends in "the city" and as such will be c) entirely political, and d) temporary, when it transpires that of all the taxes available, because of a) above, CGT is the most likely to be on the left-hand end of the Laffer curve. Even Gordon Brown, for a while realised that inflation must be taken into account. Christie Malry goes through the options for the Chancellor most of which tried by Brown, over at the FCABlog.

The health Nanny state is likened to a religion by The Heresiarch, arguing that the perpetual guilt-mongering about smoking, drinking and fatness is replacing guilt about sex as society's principal pathology.

The Wardman Wire hosted a chat about income from political blogs. You can replay it here. A word of warning: Don't quit your job just yet...

With the soccer world cup just days away, Chris Dillow reckons that there are truths in National footballing stereotypes. Efficient Germany, flamboyant but brittle latins and so on. Does anyone doubt the inability of an Englishman to successfully take a penalty in a knock-out match? What's true in sport, is also true in business, or so Says the father of the Roundup, Tim Worstall.

Next week the Roundup is at Suz Blog. As ever, if you spot anything interesting or juicy, please send the link to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com. One self-nomination is allowed and nothing from anything racist, libellous or offensive, or too many from one blog. The hosts will aim to include everything, but can exersise discretion.

Monday, 7 June 2010

50mg/l blood Alcohol

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

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

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

...the high levels of alcohol and sedatives could have impaired her driving ability, judgement and perception. Mrs Morley had 256 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood...
COULD have imparied her driving ability? Someone who gets into a car blotto is not going to be deterred by a lower limit. And it is the seriously drunk driver who causes crashes, not the 'one glass of wine with a meal' driver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 4 June 2010

The Cumbria Spree Killings & How we are Governed

In Hungerford in 1987 Michael Ryan's murderous rampage through Hungerford left 16 people dead. The resulting legislation banned the Assault rifles of the type he used. In Dunblane, nine years later Thomas Hamilton's spree left 16 teachers and children dead. The resulting legislation banned all handguns, including, despicably, .22 calibre single shot target pistols, of a type which has resulted in NO UK murders ever, and effectively outlawed the sport of target pistol shooting in the UK. This was because of a populist campaign by the Labour party, who used the horror of Dunblane for base party political ends - there was no disagreement between the parties over strenghtening the gun laws, though the Conservatives wanted to avoid destroying an Olympic sport in the UK.

Wikipedia has a helpful list of mass murders, School shootings and spree killings. Countries with tight gun laws feature just as prominently as the U.S.. The most heavilly armed society in the world, Swizerland (where it is illegal to NOT hold an assault rifle and ammunition in your house), is notable by its absense. Illegally and legally held firearms are used for these killings worldwide. Legally held guns are often used in juristictions where it is possible to hold such weapons. Where it is illegal to hold such weapons, by definition, illegally held weapons are used. In the UK, crimes using handguns has rocketed since the complete ban on such weapons. Hamilton, Ryan and Bird all used legally held weapons, but the bodies lying on the streets of Manchester and London are a result of illegally held weapons and these take a far larger toll.

When advocates of ever-tighter gun control laws point to the USA, they are guilty of a cognitive bias called the availabiltiy heuristic: over emphasising readilly available information. Mass murder and spree killing are well-publicised in the USA or Europe, and the reporting covers every minute detail of the event and subsequent investigation. Each subsequent one in the USA reinforces the preconcieved notion that "the USA has crazy gun laws'. Similar events in Finland or Germany are mentally down-played. We will know exactly how many times Bird fired, where he reloaded, how he acquired his weapons, how long he had held them, what ammunition he used by the time this is consigned to the history books. Indeed it will be impossible to avoid such information: it will lead bullitins for the next month or more in the UK, so it will acquire a weight in peoples estimation of importance quite out of proportion to the frequency of such terrible events here. An equivalent shooting in China may be second or third in a news bulletin on the day it happens and be quickly forgotten, just as the unfortunate victims of drive by shootings in British inner cities, many of them simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, are quickly forgotten.

You cannot uninvent guns. In a free society, it is extremely difficult to prevent mad or bad people obtaining them. In this instance, the Heresiarch suggests in a very good blog post that a head injury recieved during an assault on Bird may be the ultimate cause of his "snapping", and that he was an otherwise decent chap. We will never know for sure though exactly why he did this terrible thing.

These events are random and cannot be predicted. They are certainly NOT influenced by the gun laws where they happen. However spree killings in places where concealed weapons are allowed to be carried do not last long. The downside, clearly, is that many more people are shot in accidents where guns are widespread (however pools are more dangerous than guns). Widespread ownership (legal and illegal) means more gun murders too. However even this is not an argument for making guns harder to obtain. All guns do is change the tool used to commit murder. In the UK, we cannot get guns, so in most areas scrotes shank each other instead - the UK has a relatively high rate of knife murders. In the USA these would have been gun murders. This results in the banning of pen knives and multi-tools. This is ridiculous too because anyone can walk into a kitchen shop, and buy a short sword. Are you going to ban Kitchen Knives?

Following Derrick Bird's killing spree across Cumbria and the Lake District left 16 dead, Government and the police has finally worked out that the Gun Laws cannot prevent such acts. People will get the tools nessesary to do their deeds and it is the people who kill, not the guns. Yesterday on the news, the police were not calling for "tougher" gun laws. Instead they talked of "Complex" gun laws that could be "streamlined", but recognised that various calibre hunting rifles (these often have "sniper scopes" as breathlessly described by the BBC) and shotguns are nessesary in rural and farming communities. Some people like to shoot their dinner. Even the Home secretary is saying that a "knee jerk" toughening of the gun laws of the UK is not on the cards, and that it is impossible to protect people from lone madmen.

This is evidence that the Governance of the UK has improved - we are no longer Governed by people whose first response is to think "what will the papers demand that we do?". We are being Governed by people who realise the limits of Government power.

Thankfully, Spree killings are vanishingly rare events and as such make a lousy basis for legislation. The Current British Government seems to acknowledge this fact. Anyone still think Cameron and Co. are just as bad as the last lot?

Elsewhere: The Law West of Ealing Broadway makes the same point. Charlotte Gore deals with Libertarianism and Guns. The Nameless Libertarian too believes such events cannot be predicted.

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