Friday, 30 March 2012

Police: Not Even Pretending Any More

If anyone is in any doubt what's wrong with the British Police, Inspector Gadget should dispel those doubts today. Institutionally, they have absolute contempt for the people they're supposed to serve. This is why they should under no account be armed. The guns they do have should be removed. Use the Army when you need to shoot someone, because the police can't be trusted to not shoot someone "armed" with a table-leg.

Contrary to Gadget's claims that the police are "on the front-line, battling scum armed only with an aluminium stick" the truth is, the Policing in Britain is not a dangerous job. It doesn't even make the top twenty. Fishermen, soldiers, scaffolders and Bicycle couriers all face a greater risk of death or serious injury. Arming the police would only result in more heavilly armed scallywags. Anyone think it's a good idea?

Gadget's response to Galloway's win in the Bradford west by-election:

No one really minds when an extremist makes it to the local council, or as a one-term MP during an unpopular parliament. Their ability to influence events is minor; there are always other councillors or MP’s to provide a firewall.
His view is that democracy is OK, so long as it doesn't take any important decisions. He goes on about "the swamp", whines about the bureaucracy, disrespects his superiors and demonstrates contempt for both democracy and the chain of command, yet wants me to let him have a GUN? No WAY! Because I know who that gun will be pointed at, and it isn't the armed scallywags from the Swamp estate (they're too much work for our brave plod, when armed with just a machete). It will be me, next time I point out that "I didn't actually swear there, officer. You imagined it, and I have video and audio to prove it. Would you like to hear then retract your allegation and threat of arrest?"

Yet the police still cruise around in their cars tooled up like the walter-mitty wannabe soldiers they really wish they were in their stupid, high-viz assault vests; yet refuse to investigate crimes adequately; blaming the CPS for their shitty "investigations". They blame refusal to patrol "swamp estates" on lack of manpower, yet I see dozens cruising on foot in areas frequented by pretty tourists, harassing smokers for stepping over a line with a pint glass in their hands. Dozens waste whole days pointing speed guns at motorists, yet refuse to take action on clear video evidence of dangerous driving. Whatever the solution to crime and disorder in Britain right now, whatever the police are doing AIN'T IT. This is a complacent organisation riven with contempt for the people it's supposed to serve, which has for decades been given too much power; power which has utterly corrupted them. Believe me, their contempt for the public is returned, in spades. The only people who still "support" the police, are those who've had no contact with 'em.

Elected police commissioners does not mean the "politicisation of the Police". It means that someone chosen other than by a cozy meeting between establishment players nodded through by toothless local "democracy" will have actual power over the Police and their priorities. The people might actually get their voices heard when they feel totally let down because they know to whom to write. Galloway may be a rabble rousing dictator-and-terrorist apologist, but so's Ken Livingstone and the Met police didn't fall to pieces under him. Indeed, the police seem to prefer Livingstone with whom they seemed to find much in common, to the much more activist and liberal Boris. The police Nationwide are going to be accountable to people again - yes the people might elect Galloway to run a police force. He may even be good at it - the record will show. If he's not, he gets booted out.

Stand by, Gadget, you anti-democratic cryptofacist. You may not like the decisions "the people" make. That's the point. YOU are not, nor should you be, in charge. You are MY servant, and I am NOT accountable to you. Do you want to know what a country looks like when the police ARE in charge? Myanmar, Aparthied South Africa, The Soviet Union (Russia now?). They're all shitholes. If the Police're against something, it's probably a good idea. QED.

The police are stupid, lower middle-class, pig-ignorant, doughnut-munching filth; a Provisional wing of the Daily Mail; at once bullying and ineffectual. The British police now wear black shirts. They're not even pretending any more.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Libertarianism, Mexxy, Miaow Miaow & The Drug War.

So ketamine alternative, Mexxy is to be banned (No, I'd not heard of it either...) because it might have killed a couple of chaps from Melton Mobray. Just as Cocaine substitute, Miaow Miaow was banned for much the same reason. Of course no-one has proved that Mexxy or Miaow Miaow are responsible for those deaths, how prevalent the usage is, or indeed what the risks are. They are "associated with" deaths. Just as hospital admissions by people who have been drinking, but for whom drink is not the cause of the admission are still recorded as "alcohol-related" to please purse-lipped puritans who want to prove that our recreational self-medication is harmful, whatever the real evidence might be.

No doubt, pharmacology graduates working right now in laboratories in the Netherlands are testing new and exciting compounds to get people high, which may or may not kill their users. They then enjoy a few months or years profits until someone in a shirt, who thinks Cocaine is dangerous, cottons on that people are enjoying a mind-altering substance, and suggests to a Politician, who is voted for by Daily Mail readers, that it should be banned.

Crime Prevention Minister Lord Henley said: "Making this drug illegal sends a clear message to users and those making and supplying it that we are stepping up our fight against substances which are dangerous and ruin the lives of victims and their families."
"A clear message"? When Cocaine is more available (if you know whom to ask) at 11:01 on a Wednesday night than alcohol? Of course, we don't know the toxicity of Mexxy, because it hasn't been rigorously tested. We do know the Toxicity of Cocaine, Amphetamines, Ecstasy or THC. They're all considerably lower than that of Alcohol. Lord Henley again:
"It is important for users of these harmful substances to understand that just because they are described as legal highs, it does not mean they are safe or should be seen as a 'safer' alternative to illegal substances."
Quite. We just don't know the safety of "legal highs" because it is assumed by law-makers that getting high is bad, a priori, and a "legal high" is therefore by definition always operating in a legal grey area. Of course Cocaine IS dangerous but only under long-term, habitual use. Just like booze. But Coca, the leaves chewed for millennia by Inca to ward off fatigue and altitude sickness, are not dangerous. Indeed the medicinal properties are well known. The reason no-one takes Coca in the west is that the leaves are too hard to transport and would command a fraction of the price of Cocaine Hydrochloride. I reckon a fair chunk of the coke used in the west is by people who'd rather drink coca tea and enjoy a stimulating effect similar to that available at Starbucks, without the heatburn and need to remember whether 'Vente' means 'Medium' or 'Large'.

Qat, which has an effect very similar to Coca, but hails from the Arabian peninsula and Horn of Africa, is currently legal (go somewhere there are lots of Somalis and WASH THE LEAVES before you chew) but may be banned. To what end. To what end were "magic mushrooms" banned?

The insanity of our Drug laws is that people are denied demonstrably safe products, like clean cocaine, Coca and Cannabis. Means by which the already safe Cocaine, or Cannabis could be made even less harmful are prevented by their illegality. Legal products like Qat are denied the sophisticated treatment of a western supply-chain and are not as safe as they could be. Heroin users in particular are gambling with a respiratory depressant of long known effects, but are forced to experiment with a product of unknown strength, as a direct result of the drugs' illegality. Most Overdose deaths occur when an abnormally strong batch hits the streets. People either take the risk of the illegal supply-chain with poor quality control, or take the risk with untested substances which may be more harmful than the natural product which is only unavailable because of a stupid law.

Now you could argue, as most drug warriors do, that the users don't have to take drugs and so are to blame. And that is of course true. But other people rarely operate as one wants. Some people like booze, others weed. Some work hard, others do the bare minimum. Would the world really be better if we all ate our greens and worked hard, drinking only our (entirely unsuported by evidence) recommended 21 units a week?

The answer is, of course, no. Without booze & drugs, we'd have no Rock 'n Roll to pick a trivial example. People take mind-altering substances, including booze, because they derive "utility" from doing so. What, apart from unthinking habit, is the reason for allowing people to drink a substance which is extremely toxic, emetic in lower doses, is perceived to be a dis-inhibitor, which means it is cited as a reason for most Friday night violence; while denying them a substance of lower psychoactivity, which causes few social problems? I am of course talking about Booze and Weed. Why is one allowed and the other not?

The answer is power and politics. People with power disapprove of people getting high in a way of which they disapprove. A couple of pints and a Chilean merlot with your steak - fine. Pass a spliff round afterwards, not fine. A circular argument has been created: Drugs are illegal, so users of drugs risk having their lives ruined by draconian law-enforcement, so "Drugs ruin lives". QED. Now so much has been invested by the powerful in the policy of prohibition up to and including international treaties, that it is an extremely long process for the powerful to admit their policy is wrong. The war on Drugs is simply an unthinking habit of the political/law enforcement/medical complex, all of which has a vested interest in continued prohibition. All "expert" opinion is drawn from this. Organised crime has been gifted the most profitable business in history. The Mafia's not complaining. The stoner, psychonaut, raver, partier simply don't exist in the drug literature. No-one is asking users (as opposed to addicts).

This is like judging a magnum of Chateau mouton Rothschild '54 with a hand painted lable by Salvador Dali by its effect on a smack-addled self-arguer in your local underpass.

In the mean-time, because a few substances do fun (and not particularly healthy) things to one's brain & body, there will be a demand for them, but they will be banned with the full might of the law. And the law of supply and demand, added to the contrary nature of people when told to not do something naughty, creates a mighty demand slope where Cocaine hydrochloride can be produced in the Andean Jungle for pennies and sold in New York for Thousands. And like Canute standing before the tide, they fail to stop the supply, but kill tens of thousands and lay waste continents in their attempt to stop brute economics.

Politics simply cannot defy economics and make water flow uphill. The "war on drugs" is exactly like the 20th century left's attempts to defy the economic law of supply and demand. The result - a huge pile of corpses - is exactly the same. Libertarianism: Applying the right's economic logic to the social sphere. Individual freedom both economic and social is always right, even if you dissaprove of what they do with it.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Road Pricing by Fuel Duty Rebate.

I've long argued the roads are mis-priced. For much of a 24 hour period, roads are underused, and therefore probably overpriced. For 4 hours a day there's gridlock in every town, and for most of the period 9:15am to 16:00, the roads are full, but flowing and therefore the price is about right. The Government's main means of pricing the roads is Fuel Duty.

I've also opposed GPS-based road-pricing systems for privacy reasons. But I believe people should pay a market rate for services used, especially scarce ones like urban road space.

Given that most of the noise about fuel taxes are coming from Hauliers, whose vans lorries are responsible for much congestion, especially when unloading in town centres, there is an opportunity to make the roads run more efficiently by getting hauliers to move stuff at night.

Hauliers operating vehicles of more than 3.5 tonnes must already log driver's hours. There's no reason why the same tachograph systems couldn't be used to log fuel used as well, in order to secure a rebate (say 50% for the sake of argument) on fuel used at night.

If successful, Why not extend this? Everyone, not just professional hauliers could have the option to drive at night or get to the office extra-early, and save money by doing so. The Government would not be intruding, but by demonstrating which bits of your driving were at "off peak hours" the Government should refund some of its overcharge as a rebate. Let's see if people take it, and we can then see the true price of people's driving preferences.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Game Group & What it means for Retail

Another (less than iconic this time) retailer has gone bust. Game group sold console games to chavs and had two brands, GAME and Gamestation which cannibalised each other's sales. The problem is that even the most enormous, PC-challenging game can easily be delivered over the Internet, and there is no tactile element which demands you have to feel the merchandise before you take delivery. So there is no reason to own a shop to sell games. A website can be run with a small call-centre, and half a dozen software engineers. There is simply no need for a vast estate of shops with staff, managers, cleaning contractors, rent, rates and theft, the cost of which must be built into the price of the product, meaning you can NEVER compete with online.

Just as Manufacturing jobs are vanishing while productivity is going up, the same is true of retail. This is how an economy grows: all those people employed doing one thing - in this case, shop assistants and managers, are freed to do something else, sell coffee for example. You can argue retail is a leisure activity, but it's an expensive one, and so people mooch around shops, then go home and buy it, whatever it is, cheaper online. If you're selling a product of interest mainly to spotty boys who wear hooded tops, they will take the opportunity to nick the merchandise. Retailers will simply not regard providing a shop window and somewhere for youths to hang out as a viable business model, and will close.

High-streets must therefore shrink. We simply don't need as many shops as we used to, just as we don't need as many factory workers or farm-labourers.

If you're going to invest in the business, invest in those with the scale to dominate their product area, and the logistic nous to get objects to people's homes in less than 24 hours. Tesco, for example was the first business to make money out of online Grocery in the world. E-bay, Amazon and Wiggle are all big players in their niche. And there is a real opportunity in a privatised Royal Mail, which is going to be responsible for all those "fulfillments" in the "last mile".

The future of e-fulfillment

Online takes 10% of the UK retail spend and it's growing fast. Everyone will laugh, but your humble postie is the key to making online retail work, and the packages will render the domestic mail network as profitable as the business one (perhaps more so, as most "business" mail is advertising junk). If there is an IPO of the Royal Mail, depending on the price, I will be investing.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Pigouvian Taxation, Externalities and Markets.

Tim Worstall, Writing at the ASI makes an interesting point about Pigouvian taxation. Namely that politicains will see them as a source of revenue rather than simply trying to disinterestedly find the level of Externalities to build into the price.

And I'm afraid that the more we see of entirely righteous Pigou Taxes the more we see of this behaviour. I pointed out in these very pages some years back that if we applied the Stern Review to petrol taxation then fuel duty should fall by 12 p a litre: since then it has risen another 5 or 6 p still using Stern as the justification. Air Passenger Duty was set (amazingly, by Gordon Brown) at the Stern level of some $80 per tonne Co2-e: it has been doubled at least since then purely for revenue purposes.
Of course that's the "pigouvian" element of these taxes. But many taxes, such as land value and fuel duties are not just pigouvian searches for the correct price for the externalities. In the case of APD and Fuel, this "externality" is the price of climate change caused by CO2, but They are also part of the system of taxes which set the price on the use of a scarce resource: Road and Air space. Here the "correct" price is whatever the market will bear to ensure the (for example) roads run full, but not congested. So it's possible to argue that road space (as priced by fuel duty) is too expensive for 12 hours a day (overnight when the roads are empty), far too cheap for 4 hours a day, and about right for the rest of the time when the road flow is high but laminar.

Taxation can be used to ensure a more efficient use of a scarce resource. A tax on the value of a property for example, will provide an incentive to buy a house no bigger than you need, encouraging Granny to move out of her 4 bedroom house earlier than she may have done, increasing supply for those who may well value these scarce properties more: Families with children.

There are NO upsides to income taxation. Given that the money needs to be raised somehow, wouldn't it be better if our taxes helped ensure assets were used more efficiently? These are also taxes that can be avoided by changing behaviour, which makes it harder for a Chancellor to take a higher share of the national pie than people are comfortable with. Income taxes are an unavoidable punch in the face. A pound raised from pigouvian tax, even a tax set at too high a level is better than one on income or corporate profits, that reduces the supply of jobs.

Finally, the very fact that these taxes are deeply unpopular is a good thing. It is harder politically for the Chancellor to screw more out of drivers than he is doing. However he is under constant pressure to increase taxes on "the rich" (i.e. people other than "me"). If the basis of taxation moved towards consumption, the chancellor, rather than finding it easier to raise money and spend more, will find it harder as people change behaviour to avoid the tax, and agitate against it if they can't.

Tell me that's a bad thing.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Traffic and why "I Hate Cyclists"

Why do cyclists evoke such strong feelings from some drivers?

It's not that cyclists behave dangerously. On any objective measure, cyclists are far, far less dangerous to other road users than cars. According to one study, In over 90% of the cases of death or serious injury to cyclists investigated in Toronto, the motorist was at fault, not the cyclist. Cyclists kill pedestrians substantially never, and when they do, it makes national news. It's not that cyclists hold the traffic up. Compared to the endless queues caused by other cars, cyclists rarely cause any problems. It's not that cyclists disobey the law more than drivers; other motorists routinely break speed limits, run red lights (motorists tend to do this as the lights are changing to red, rather than going early), and park illegally. Cars, not cyclists are the major cause of death in healthy people in the developed world. Yet the risks posed by cars to their occupants and everyone else are accepted, yet people seriously talk about compelling cyclists to wear helmets, something which would save few, if any lives.

So what is the reason for the extreme hostility cyclists experience? Ultimately it's down to a series of subliminal messages experiences noted by a motorist's hind-brain causing instinctive reactions that young, stupid, low-status men driving shitty cars in particular (as well as the kind of arsehole who thinks buying a BMW is something other than the behaviour of a cunt) are ill-equipped to handle.

First, there is a lack of understanding. Few people cycle. The laws of the road, and indeed the roads themselves are designed by drivers of cars, for drivers of cars. Other car drivers' actions can be understood in context. Cyclists' actions are not so comprehensible: nipping in and out of stationary or slow moving traffic for example, seems a LOT more dangerous to someone sitting in a car than it does or is from the point of view of someone on a bike. Ditto going through a light on red, when it's safe to do so. A motorist understands and condones the "amber gambler", but not the guy on the bike going through the crossroad during the pedestrian phase (obviously, without getting in the way of pedestrians of which there are often none). If more people cycled, more motorists would understand what cyclists are doing and why. Usually they're getting out of the way of several tons of angry steel.

Cyclists flash through motorists vision. Objects, road markings, for example move across a motorists vision at "human" speeds, and they do so by design. The dashed white line on the motorway moves across a driver's retina at the same speed as a human running towards you ten yards away. Other cars move towards you on the other side of the road rather slowly, before almost instantaneously accelerating through your peripheral vision and vanishing. Cars ahead and behind going the same way are almost stationary. Cyclists, pretty much are the only things which move faster than this relative to the driver. When passing a cyclist at speed, the car flashes past at relative speeds of up to 50mph. When a car is in traffic, stationary, cyclists flash past close to the driver at 15-25mph, often crossing the stationary motorists' vision, unexpectedly and from behind, without aural warning. This causes involuntary endocrine reactions in the driver, increasing stress and reinforcing a subliminal message: cyclists are dangerous. This reinforces point one. This is also true of pedestrian's reaction to cyclists.

Cyclists are people, and this is obvious to the subconscious, as well as the conscious brain. Cars, on the other hand depersonalise the person within. Look at the language used when discussing traffic. Often people will talk about the CAR doing x,y or z. Whereas people talk about the CYCLIST doing a,b or c. Cars are impersonal objects. Cyclists are people. When a slow driver holds someone up, it's not subliminally felt as SOMEONE deliberately getting in your way, but as SOMETHING. A cyclist is a person, therefore when inconveniencing a driver, (however mildly) it's taken more personally than when a mere object does so.

Finally, there is a message delivered by the very obviously human cyclist holding you up: He's probably pointing his arse directly at you, perceived by the hind-brain, subliminally not consciously, as an extremely hostile act. Riders of upright bicycles report far fewer hostile interactions than those of racing or mountain bikes where the handlebars are lower than the saddle. Cyclists don't mean to do this. It's just a function of wind resistance!

The motorist is not consciously aware of these subliminal signals, but feels much more hostility towards cyclists as a result of the subconscious interactions and the result is the almost daily threats the cyclist experiences.

People are simply not designed to drive. Our lizard-brains simply can't cope. The road environment and the cars on it have been made forgiving to the inadequacies of people driving cars, but it is something no-one can do successfully. Don't believe me? Ask the insurance industry. Racing drivers, those who ACTUALLY can control a car better than anyone else are not considered a good risk. People tend to compensate for extra safety features in their car or any extra skill, by taking more risks. The risks are most keenly felt by people without a ton and a half of steel wrapped around them.

Ultimately, the feedback loop doesn't work. Every journey completed without incident may be one in which you discombobulated another road user without knowing it, leaving no opportunity to learn from mistakes you never knew you made. Every "close call" noticed, on the other hand results in self-congratulation about an accident nearly avoided. This creates the belief common to all drivers that they are more skillful than they really are.

Sooner or later, cars will drive themselves and the problem will be moot. But until then, if you drive, assume you're an idiot, barely capable of the task you've set yourself and drive accordingly. Drive like you're drunk and there's a police-car behind you. And if you're not a motorist, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Either way, read this: Traffic, why we drive the way we do, and what it says about us. Tom Vanderbilt is not responsible for the theories about cars vs cyclists, I am. These are just the thoughts I had when reading his excellent book and extensions and extrapolations to the central thesis. He is more interested in the theory of traffic congestion, but his book will hopefully make more humble drivers of us all. It is a more fascinating read than it should be.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

"The Young are too Fussy."

When presented with a problem, the implications of which the left don't like, their response is usually to malign the "right-wingers" asking the question and pretend the problem doesn't exist, rather than deal with any issues raised. Do you need an example? Claude at 'Hagley Road to Ladywood', one of my favourite lefty blogs, helpfully provides.

Our young people are too fussy when it comes to jobs".

...And the evidence for that would be...?

Jack, of course, because it's the typical sweeping generalisation that you hear with increasing frequency from the kind of people who 1) don't appreciate their luck and 2) have a tendency to hear one anecdote and generalise.

Like "media personality" Janet Street Porter, or Frank Field MP on last Thursday's BBC Question Time - the latter telling the story of some stroppy kids grunting that for less than £300 a week they wouldn't even consider a job.

And so the Daily Mailers of this world hear an anecdote or two like that, and voila'...the hundreds of thousands of young people toiling away for shit wages in assorted pubs, supermarkets, Greggs, Starbucks and the rest turn into ghosts.Link
Absolutely. Most people have learned that to get a good job, you must first hold down a shitty one. But in London, try getting your coffee served by a native-born English Barrista. In East Anglia, you will almost never find an English-born vegetable-picker. Not that immigration is a problem, quite the opposite, but in high wage areas, the problem is that benefits are too generous relative to take-home wages and living costs. Benefits are too difficult and bureaucratic to get to risk losing them by taking insecure or seasonal work. The combination of these mean the low-skilled who qualify for benefits, won't risk them by taking insecure jobs which result in the same or even lower take-home pay.

Surely rather than high minimum wages which in the long run reduce the supply of low-skilled jobs, why not reduce non-wage costs like National Insurance? Why not simplify and flatten out of work benefits, and ensure sensible marginal withdrawal/tax rates (which are at some points up to 107%) mean that it is always significantly better to be in work than not?
And so does the increasing army of bogus "self-employed" people, many of them youngsters with no pension rights, sickpay or holiday pay (check out the hairdressers trade, for an idea), forced to call themselves "self-employed" just so that their employer can dodge national insurance and every other obligation.
So, what Claude is complaining about here is that people have found a way round the huge non-wage costs, by hiring self-employed people where possible. People take these jobs (like me) because they might be all that's available, and eventually we come to enjoy the flexibility and control they often offer. Some people value flexibility and control over working hours
Not to mention, the millions whose email inbox these days contains more job rejection messages than spam. Because, in case you didn't know, it's official news that in parts of Britain "[a]lmost 80 unemployed people are chasing each job".
I have never, once, ever successfully applied for an advertised job. I've gone "temp to perm" and once I had marketable skills, I speculatively hawked my CV around and had a position open up for me.
Nah. You heard it. Janet Street Porter said it. "Our young people are too fussy when it comes to jobs". "They don't try hard enough". "They're picky". "They don't pull their finger out".
Janet Street Porter is undeniably Ghastly. But "they don't pull their finger out" put more sympathetically perhaps means "they" don't know how to find work, and quite understandably get disheartened by the rejection letters. I don't blame the young people. I blame (if anyone) school careers advisers who think finding work in the private sector is the same as applying for a teaching post, and who don't teach how to find work in the modern world.
I don't know about you. But I don't know one single person who only accepted jobs strictly related to their studies, or that didn't settle pretty much straightaway for something well below their expectations. Not one.
I know lots of educated erudite people, all of whom are successfully employed in some way or another. Unlike your average leftie however, I don't assume myself and my social milieu to be representative of the general population. Economists call what Claude is doing here the "availability heuristic".
And you can be sure Janet wouldn't like it if cliches were thrown about that people develop her kind of mindset from hanging around too many golf clubs or "dinner parties". And where, while munching on a canape or two, you hear anecdotes from some other media guru whose posh kid called Camilla, Rupert or Hubert is still travelling around the world while waiting for the perfect job offer to follow their successful degree in PR.
You're suggesting Janet Street-Porter is posh? Can there be such low-expectations! I love the scare quotes around "dinner parties". But why not around "Golf Clubs"? "Munching on Canapes"? "Posh Kids called Camilla, Rupert or Hubert"? "Travelling around the world"? "Degree in PR"? Generalisations: don't they just sound hateful? Oh. Only when it's a generalisation you disagree with, eh, Claude? Finally, I doubt Janet Street Porter, or any actual posh people give a shit what the proles think of them. Neither do the "middle class" which is regularly and systematically demonised and ridiculed as selfish, grasping, sharp elbowed.
Generalisations: don't they just sound hateful?
Yes, Claude they do. But lefties don't spot their own hypocrisy even when you beat them round the face with it.

The fact is Claude and his ilk have opposed anything to make the problem of job hunting easier for the young and low-skilled. Removing job protection and reducing non-wage costs increases the supply of jobs. Minimum wages and expensive job protection mean the low-skilled are priced out of the labour market, probably permanently. He opposes any reform of the Benefits system, Especially when done by Tories. Labour MP, Frank Field comes in for demonisation for daring to suggest reforms which might help solve the problem, and are pretty much identical to those proposed by (savage right-winger) Iain Duncan-Smith. It's against the rules of the Tribe to work with the hated, vicious enemy.

Left-wing solutions like raising minimum wages and job protection legislation appear to be doing "something" and may even be popular. But they don't work, at best they increase structural unemployment. At worst, they're the reason why fifteen percent of our population will probably never have a job. That's it Claude, you and your middle-class, safely employed buddies (you said it...) keep your boot on the face of the scum, whilst pontificating about "Daily Mailers" whom you're accusing of the same. Incidentally the Daily Mail, hateful though it is, is the paper of choice of the thousands of small businessmen, who are ACTUALLY providing jobs. Enjoy your circle-jerk over clean consciences. Pull up the drawbridge behind you, there's a good chap.

Update. Hagley road to ladywood's comment policy reads "Comments that contain racist, homophobic or generally abusive or insulting language won't be published. Same with non-constructive, inflammatory stuff." Both the truncated version of this post, and a subsequent comment have dissapeared. I guess, like most lefties "free speech" means "free speech for those who agree". They really don't like it up 'em, do they?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Conversations on Drugs with a Politician.

I had a conversation recently on Twitter with a Councillor from Ipswich about drugs. This is one of the two subjects about which I'm like a dog with a bone (the other is cycling). I cannot think of a more expensive, destructive, counterproductive and stupid policy than the "war on drugs". And like cycling, the dam is breaking, but it's important to keep educating, because prohibition's supporters are many and ill informed, however well supported they are by bad science and "studies" to support their case. She wrote a blog post to introduce her views, so I thought I would respond in kind, answering her points, in detail, one at a time.

I suspect we would ALL like to see killer drugs eradicated (apart from the dealers) so it will just be a question of how we can achieve that.
Let's start with two fallacies in almost the first sentence. Killer drugs? Pot, almost as widespread as alcohol kills almost no-one. And before you say "Don't be silly, she's talking about horse, not weed", she is talking about pot too. Prohibition benefits dealers. It's a cash business, with social hours requiring little in the way of start-up capital, with better prospects than McDonald's. It's un-taxed, not subject to quality controls and with no statutory rights (other than caveat emptor) for customers. Drugs don't kill, or at least they would kill much less if a PhD chemist working for GlaxoSmithKline was making them, rather than a dutch stoner in a backstreet lab. The fact is millions of people take "killer" drugs like Exctacy or cocaine every weekend with few ill effects. A dealer who gets known for a bad batch will quickly lose business.

When the hue and cry is over, most drug deaths, such as Rachel Whitear who's blood heroin turned out to be below the lethal dose; or Leah Betts, who succumbed because she drank 7 litres of water, turn out to be something else. With heroin particularly, Drug deaths often occur from respitratory failure because a batch of purer than normal heroin hits the streets, resulting in a wave of overdoses. This would be avoided in a legal supply chain, because users would know in advance the strenght of the drug they were taking.

It's therefore reasonable to argue that drugs are killers because they are illegal, not illegal because they're killers.
I came into politics because of my concern over increasing drug use and therefore I'm not writing this on a position of proving I am right about anything I have already written. If the research and ensuing policy proved me wrong, I would be just as delighted. All I want is for us to at least be winning the war on drugs, whatever that takes.
Economists call this "selection bias". People who go into politics because of a concern about increasing drug use are talking about a small, but visible band of Crack, Heroin and Alcohol abusers. This population increased coincided with "care in the community" a massive downsizing of the Army in "options for change" and the breakdown of traditional working class communities in the 80's, and of social norms surrounding illegitimacy in the '60s. Basically there were more ill-educated bastards, and people with mental health problems, and fewer places to hide 'em away or employ them. It's easy to blame "DRUGS!" for wider social problems. The same moral Panic, over the same people, doing much the same, but with Gin can be seen at the Tate's recent exhibition of Hogarth's work.

I remember vividly the horror of the Ipswich street worker murders and the fact that we were told it was impossible to get prostitution off our streets. Well we proved them wrong with our 5 year strategy and although this long established industry has obviously not gone away, we have at least helped many girls get their life back and helped the residents of London road to have their roads free of street workers and pimps.This was done using partnership working to help them abstain from drugs, get away from the men who were pressurising them and find suitable alternative environments in which to start a new life.
Prostitution is very similar to Drugs. Tolerate the trade (which is not in itself illegal) and keep it where it doesn't upset good, honest Tory mothers like our good councillor. A delivery business, on the Internet, and in "massage parlours". The street whores are often the ones with chaotic lifestyles with a relationship to the drug trade. The problem is that a really heavy drug habit is expensive to fund. Drugs that could be provided for pennies by the medical supply chain cost hundreds of pounds. Most of this profit goes to the illegal supply chain. There are two ways to fund a habit. If you're a woman of little education, and few skills, become a prostitute. If you're a man in control of your faculties, become a dealer. Recruit vulnerable women, and become their pimp/dealer using the supply of Heroin to control them. Also recruit sub-dealers (who are probably also users) to bulk-up your income. Take your own heroin at source. It's the illegality of drugs creating this highly effective pyramid marketing scheme, with its attendant cycle of abuse, not the drug itself.

Is there evidence that it's the illegality of heroin prescription which causes the effects? Why yes there is. Opiates were widely abused from the 1800's onwards. Laudanum, Opium, Morphine (addiction to which was known as "the soldiers' disease, because it was often a habit acquired in field hospitals) were widely available. There was little moral panic, because most of the focus at the time was on the demon drink. Opium was seen as a vice of the moneyed classes.

The misuse of Drugs act 1971 changed all that. And when was there a heroin epidemic? That's right, the late 70's and early 80's. It's not compelling evidence, post hoc ergo propter hoc and all that, but it certainly supports the view that opiate abuse only became a moral panic when the working class started doing it, instead of well-tailored rakes.
And so the negative statement 'we will never get rid of drugs' just doesn't wash with me. Yes we can win the battles, but it will be a slow, arduous multi-faceted, multi-partnered approach and lessons must be learnt and adopted from best practice around the world.
People like to get high, pissed, stoned or stimulated. Get over it. Illegal drugs is the most profitable business known to man, one the United Kingdom went to war over. The battle over its profits has destabilised South America and Central Asia for decades. So no, Councillor. We will never get rid of drugs, not without measures which would be frankly intolerable in anything like a free society. "Best practice"? Well Mao's threat to shoot heroin users worked. But if that's all you're selling, I ain't buying.
I intend to be open, honest and look for evidence that does not support my approach as well as those that do so that I give a balanced view. I invite comments from professionals in the know and people that have lived with a drug problem.
The people whose opinions our good councillor are NOT canvassing are the Hundreds of thousands of people who take party drugs occasionally. I know these people, I'm a stockbroker, for Christ's sake, but who knuckle down with the week. Because their drug of choice is illegal, does that mean they have a "problem"? What about the enormous population, probably numbering in the millions who take Cannabis regularly without coming into contact with John Q Law. Do they have a problem. Because if they're busted, you can bet it pays in terms of less gaol time if they say they do... I have a degree. I know these people, because I've been to university.
I have never taken illegal drugs but I know how hard it was to give up smoking a few years ago (apparently very comparable with heroin) so I do understand the torture involved in an addiction. I therefore come from the premise that help is needed as well as punishment for those who commit illegal acts.
It's amazing how many people campaigning against drugs start their arguments "I have never taken illegal drugs". To which I say "if you've a degree, you must have been a remarkably po-faced and boring individual at University". You know that argument was once deployed against homosexuality. Or Heretics in Spain. Condemning something BECAUSE IT'S ILLEGAL, when people think it shouldn't be (like sodomy or judaizing) is a silly position.
I will start with a statistic that was confirmed to me at our working group meeting this week. That children whose parents take drugs are 8 times more likely to embark on this journey themselves. This alone suggests that we owe it to them to try and work on abstinence of drugs (not merely harm reduction, which was the strategy under Labour). Many of the last govts policies were based on the premise that 'oh well, we'll never stop it so let's just educate them and tell them about the harm in the hope that we can reduce it, while they do it'.
The observation that people become like their parents is hardly shattering. I know people who've smoked pot with their parents. Sorry "started down the road to becoming a street prostitute" by seeing their parents take "illegal drugs".
This is clearly wrong because at best, it sends out mixed messages and, at worst, appears to condone it.
Just as with alcohol, the continental approach - learn to respect dangerous drugs, like alcohol at an early age leads to mature attitudes. The approach of "yes there's a time for experimenting with drugs, and that's university" works with drugs.
Yes, we should educate but our policies must now be with abstinence in mind or the next generation will bring us even more victims, addicts, destroyed families and huge costs.
I simply disagree. The addicts, many of them are a product of a pyramid-selling supply chain, not the inherent evil of the drugs themselves.
All those that now find it so difficult to get off the nastier drugs must surely wish they never started...
... and wouldn't have in the majority of cases, were they not illegal..
it so lets make sure that going forward this regret is not felt by even more of our young people.
by legalising, regulating and controlling a trade in substances that 50 years of "war" by the most powerful nations the world has ever seen, which costs the US alone the same as the entire UK defense budget, has absolutely failed to stop.
Would I have started smoking had I been told the dangers way back in the 70's? Of course not.
Absolute twaddle! Everyone knew it was bad for you back then. My Grandparents called cigarettes "coffin nails"!
So my first point is We must stop sending out messages that taking drugs is acceptable. Some are comparing taking drugs, like cannabis, with drinking. I am not accepting this argument here for various reasons;
a) 2 wrongs don't make a right
Find me the victim when someone grows pot and sells it to someone. WHY is the state stopping mutual, un-coerced trade in something that kills fewer people than "accidents involving trousers"?
b) Alcohol is legal and making it illegal will never happen.
No. We've tried that, and the result is chaos and carnage. The result of drug prohibition is ... um... chaos and carnage, on two continents. Your prescription: More of the same?
c) Wine is a natural substance that is good for you in small measures. One spliff is not good for you, even if you believe it's not bad for you (to be debated later date)
Cannabis is a naturally occurring herb across most of the old world. It appears to have a great many medicinal, pain-relief, and appetite enhancing effects which would benefit from being researched. No-one is arguing smoking a spliff is good for you, but eating a "space-cake" may not be bad for you, and for many, may be medicinal.
d) Alcohol dependency is an illness but other than making drinking illegal also, it has no relevance to the war on drugs which is a stand alone issue and requires a different strategy.
That's simply an assertion, supplied without logical argument and frankly idiotic.
The conclusion in 'The Phoney War On Drugs by Kathy Gyngell, an author and researcher suggests that we must;

Reduce the supply of Drugs
Tried. Failed. It's simply impossible to interdict supply in any meaningful way in a free society.
Reduce recruitment to drug abuse
I agree, but this is best approached in a legal, regulated supply, without a criminal supply chain which creates a highly effective pyramid marketing scheme, which is without compunction marketing to children.
Encourage people with drug abuse to give it up
Which appears to work with smoking...
The Netherlands and Sweden have both adopted the approach of enforcement of their drug laws, prevention of illicit drugs and provision of addiction care with successful results. Interestingly it is the UK that has gone into the realms of normalising drug use, not the Netherlands, according to research, and I think that would surprise many.
Ultimately the problem, even liberal regimes like the Netherlands have is that the supply chain is in criminal hands. Decriminalisation and toleration is hypocritical. What we need is legalisation. Much is made by the Drug warriors about the Netherland's apparent volte-face. There's more to it than "it failed". "It" didn't.
So I will firstly use some of the information contained within her research and book before moving onto those from the side of 'legalising drugs', something I am deeply opposed to but will nevertheless give opportunity to it's believers here.
Imagine a legal, regulated supply chain. Addicts getting medical grade diamorphine, which has few of the health destroying effects of street heroin, which are supplied along with help and clean needles. Recreational drugs supplied at medical grade, with users able to be confident they're taking something of known strength uncut with something nasty. Ecstasy deaths are caused by poor quality backstreet lab, not a drug which given the millions who took it in the 90s, seems far, far safer than alcohol. Cannabis users don't punch each other in the face in the taxi-rank on a Friday night. Why the hell are we making illegal a simple plant? Coca has been used without harm by the Inca for millenia. British people use cocaine because it's easier to transport than leaves!

The war on drugs has been an expensive disaster for everyone involved. The UK spends around £3bn on it every year. We could stop spending that, and instead tax the trade heavily. Everyone would be better off.

There are simply no arguments in favour of the continued "war on drugs". It's lost. "More of the same" is simply not going to work. Not now, not ever, except by destroying the Freedoms that make us happy and prosperous. Some people react to freedom in a way you don't like. Get over it.

Entry for most inapropriate paraphrasing of "First they came..."

Fuel Duty, stamp duty, council tax, parking charges. People HATE these taxes and campaign on the basis that these taxes are "unaffordable". Well, they're not, because people keep paying 'em. QED. It might hurt, but that's a feature, not a bug. I'm not arguing they're fair or reasonable. But this really is a case of liking taxes levied on other people. People whinge when they're taxed on what they like to do.

The underlying problem is that the British state spends 50% of GDP and is raising 40% of GDP in tax. We're taxed too much because the Government is spending too much. It's spending too much because for 10 years from 2000, when the one-eyed Scots maniac abandoned Tory spending plans, the Government spend with the care and attention to effects, of a man urinating after 10 pints. When the Government is spending 40% of GDP or less THEN people can whinge about wanting a tax cut. Until then...

First they came for the smokers, and I didn't speak out because I am not a smoker.
Then they came for the petrol, and I did not speak out because I drive a prius.
Then they came for my drink and I didn't speak out because I drink less than my doctor.
Then they came for my house, and because I'd supported every other tax rise, while voting for Labour to piss other people's money at my problems, everyone else told me to "suck it up, you selfish twat."
(With apologies to Martin Niemoller) More tax needs to be levied, and if you've ever voted labour, it's your fault. With consumption and property taxation, at least you have a chance to avoid it, if you wish. Give up smoking, buy a bicycle and drive less, get your booze from Calais cut down the drinking, or buy a smaller house when you no longer need four bedrooms. This is much fairer than income taxes, which everyone seems to think are paid by the rich alone. Look at your pay statement. How much extra consumption tax could you pay, if that big chunk of your income didn't dissapear into the Government's maw each month? Consumption taxes are taxes on idiots buying a new BMW because his penis is small, rather than making do with a cheap 2nd hand runabout.

If people decided to take a bike or walk to the shops, they'd be healthier, and free the roads for those who need to drive. Fewer smokers, better health; (I don't like saying this) more expensive booze, possibly less blood and vomit on the street on a friday night. A tax on of big properties will increase the supply of family homes for families, as it creates an incentive for Grandma to downsize BEFORE she's incontinent. These taxes have positive, as well as negative effects. Income tax is just a punch in the face with no redeeming qualities. National insurance is a punch in the face which comes with a P45, without any redeeming features. Corporation tax is an just income tax (upon whom does the incidence of corporation tax fall?) which comes with a rejection letter from applying for a job after you've been fired because of NI increases, with no redeeming features.

To be honest, I think tobacco and alcohol are probably already taxed enough, but the principle of taxing activities with negative externalites is a sound one. Cut taxes on payroll, income and profits. Raise them on use of resources with short supply, specifically roads and big houses, to ensure more efficient use by those who value them most.

Why is it worse to pay council tax than income tax?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Is Vince Cable Right?

The 50p rate is a silly tax and raises little if any money, so needs to go. Osborne appears to want this. Both the Tories and Lib-Dems want to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000. This makes sense too. Why tax people earning less than a "living wage" and make them beg for some of it back? This seems perverse. This tax cut offsets any benefit cuts suffered by low-waged workers and makes a great deal of sense and seems fair. Politically, I can see why "the rich" need to be seen to pay more, even if I disagree they do.

Economically speaking cutting the 50p rate is a free win for the exchequer because it's raised a great deal less than expected and may actually raise more money at 40% (the jury's still out on this one, though I suspect the IFS will show the 50p rate has cost the exchequer...). Raising the tax threshold however is a genuine tax cut. As such, we at this blog are not punk-Keynesians who believe that more deficit is any form of "stimulus". This means a raising of the tax threshold to £10,000 either needs to be matched by spending cuts (the best option) or a tax raise elsewhere.

Given that further spending cuts are not on the table, the question is what to tax. I am in favour of cutting income and payroll taxes, as well as those on capital and profits in order to raise taxes on consumption. I am also persuaded by the economic rationale for land value taxation, which is why council tax doesn't get much abuse on this blog.

According to the BBC news, the options are extra council tax bands at the top, an increase of stamp duty, or a mansion tax on properties worth over £2m. A Mansion tax is silly. Why introduce a new tax, when there are land value taxes in place which could be modified? Although this was in the manifesto of the wooly-inbetweens and will probably be the most politically easy to implement, it's not the right option. It's distortionary, creating an arbitrary cut-off at £2m and will hardly raise any money at all, and with an additional bureaucracy for a new tax, is gratuitously inefficient.

There are not enough of these to make a "mansion tax" pay

An increase in stamp-duty on the most expensive homes is probably the next most politically likely. After all, you only pay it when you sell or buy which for most voters is far enough away to be ignored. Gordon Brown did this, and the result was a much less efficient market, one we're still suffering now. Transaction taxes like this reduces liquidity in the housing market. A Tobin tax is a silly idea for shares, and houses are no different. Such a tax will encourage people to hang on to homes they rattle around in, thus increasing prices of four bedroom family homes for those, young families, who need them most, but can't afford them. They're paying income taxes, effectivly subsidising grandma's three spare bedrooms in which nick-nacks gather dust. Transaction taxes are stupid. They decrease liquidity and predictability of markets, and therefore increase volatility. These are not good things in a market as central to an economy as residential property.

By far the best, most economically efficient tax, with the fewest economic side effects and one or two positive effects too is to simply increase the number of council tax bands, increasing the council tax on the biggest, most valuable homes. This will encourage empty-nesters to move down the property ladder, freeing family homes for, well, families who need them. It will encourage a more liquid, and therefore less volatile and more predictable property market. The act of downsizing your property will free vast amounts of capital currently tied up in property, to be redeployed elsewhere in the economy. It will increase incomes for pensioners who downsize.

One of the biggest structural flaws of the UK economy is the love affair with bricks 'n mortar. By taxing property to pay for an income tax cut you replace a damaging tax (high rate income) with a less damaging tax (property value), and improve the liquidity and assortiveness of the UK property market into the bargain. You also increase the amount of tax raised locally, increasing the power and prestige of local government, which fits the Government's localism agenda.

However. This isn't what will happen. The arguments in favour of raising council tax are too difficult, the tax too unpopular to be the vehicle to replace the taxation of income between £7,000 & £10,000. What will happen is that a "mansion tax" on "the rich bugger down the road" will be levied and an opportunity to reform council tax will be lost. There will be a tax cut. There will be a replacement tax, which won't raise as much as income tax on income between £7,000 and £10,000 and therefore the deficit will go up. The property market will be made a little more complicated and a little less liquid.

The Tories are half right. (actually a bit more than half). The Liberal Democrats are half right (actually a bit less than half). Half times a half, is a quarter, so I suspect the coalition will be a quarter right. This is why tax systems should not be designed by a committee.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Libertarianism and when the Lefties' masks slip.

My good friend @NorthBriton45, who blogs at Radical Blues turned his irony klaxon off this morning. He's a socialist, one who's twitter handle takes as its inspiration (supposedly) John Wilkes' organ 'The North Briton', whose issue #45 led to a load of court cases as a parody of a King's speech was libellous. Wilkes himself got locked up in the tower.

The Earl of Sandwich once said to Wilkes, (a notorious libertine, and member of the Hellfire club)

"you will either die of the pox or on the Gallows",
to which he replied
"that depends on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress".
Given what I know to be NorthBriton45's rather abstemious (by the standards of journalists) and admirable lifestyle - he's happily married and not as far as I know, a renowned libertine, I feel I would be better an inheritor of Wilkes' erstwhile organ. After all, read his blog, then mine. Who's more likely to go to the Tower for libelling someone in power?

Anyway. Back to the Irony Klaxon being turned off. I defined Socialism thus:
The imposition by force of your economic preferences on everyone else.
To which NorthBriton45 replied
libertarianism: the desire to impose your own freedom on other at the expense of others.
Cue Gales of laughter from the libertarianish twittersphere. The mask slipped. Just as it did with Dr Eoin Clarke's ludicrous assertion about Starbucks coffee and the tyranny of choice, (a post now laughably removed). Just because he trusts in an all-knowing state (run by people like him) to make important decisions, everyone should have no choice. Lefties really, really believe that choice is wasteful, that competition instead of driving up standards and down costs, is wasteful duplication.

So. How can it be more efficient to have competing BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, and Volkswagen when you can have a trabant, and wait 6 months for it. Starbucks, or the kind of rusty piss-water that used to pass for coffee in the UK? Have you tried to get a phone installed recently? Now talk to your parents about getting one installed in the 1970s.

But it's not about the agony of choice in consumer, or even utility services. It's about a misrepresentation of libertarianism. Later he says
you constantly want to avoid responsibility. Individual and isolationist
as if there is nothing between the individual and the state, nothing between the individual and the law. Libertarianism is about the individual taking responsibility back from the Government. It's about rejecting safety nets, excessive legislation protecting us from ourselves. It's about saying "do what you will, but don't come crying to me if it goes wrong". Most people are scared by this responsibility, because most people are ignorant children, scared of the Big Bad World. The government likes it that way: scared people can be easily coerced into handing over 40-50% of their income to be spent by the state.

But free people don't live in anarchy. The old gag: you can't leave Anglo-Saxons alone for too long or they will start to form clubs. People generally co-operate for mutual benefit without the state telling them to do so. The state of course has a role in enforcing laws of contract, and enforcing those against harm to others. Most libertarians are comfortable with some form of safety net for those less fortunate. Most see some form of Citizen's basic income in this role, taking a rhetorical position of "the state/society has discharged it's responsibilities to you with this payment, what you do with it is your business". Try to deny that this is less of a tyranny than the current welfare slavery which traps the least fortunate in society at the bottom of the heap, begging weekly for money from bureaucrats. The fact that the bureaucracy often makes terrible decisions about people's lives doesn't seem to faze libertarianism's detractors. The casual brutality of the state micro-managing people's personal relationships is just accepted. The tyranny of the benefit office or laws preventing people getting on the job ladder at all is lauded as "for their protection". From what? Quis custodiet ipsos custoides?

Libertarians are not hermits or survivalists, often quite the opposite. Nor are we atomistic about human relationships. Most work co-operativly for private companies. Nor are we anarchist: libertarianism requires a strong and competent state, albeit one doing very much less than at present. Libertarians are not selfish, but the philosophy is that of harnessing selfishness to the greater good. Just like free-market capitalism, but with the same insights which led to the greatest explosion of wealth and creativity the world has ever seen applied to the social and personal spheres as well as the economic.

Most economic liberals are social authoritarians. Most economic authoritarians are social liberals (a position which includes most of the British left). Socialists (proper ones) are economically and socially authoritarian, as are fascists. Libertarians are the only people who believe people should be free and actually apply this to people who are not like them. Nowhere has a bureaucracy made a better decision than a properly functioning market. That's not to say markets are perfect, but like democracy, they tend to improve over time and be better than any alternative.

So as I said earlier, in the statement which kicked off the whole damn discussion.
Libertarianism: the only mature political response to the observation that your preferences are not everyone Else's

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