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Libertarians Suck At Marketing

By Sara Scarlett
May 31st, 2013 at 12:37 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Civil Liberties, Economics

Honestly, I’m beginning to think it’s even worse than I originally thought.

It’s almost become a cliche that when you say you want a Libertarian state people turn around, laugh in your face and say ‘Move to Somalia!’ So much so that Libertarians have started to make memes mocking this phenomenon. And even though there were roads, railways, health care, education and infrastructure hundreds of years before any government in the world spent over 12% of GDP (1914), people act like were it not for our lords and masters we would all digress into illiterate cavemen and then die from lack of health care the minute government is removed.

The thing is this: Libertarianism is wonderful. Look at Hong Kong, look at Estonia and look at the UAE. Even though none of them are perfect, and the UAE is socially conservative and not secular, since the 1950s and the 1980s respectively they have all clawed their way out of poverty and today their residents enjoy a higher level of prosperity than ever before. Even though Hong Kong is probably the closest thing to Libertarian state, I still have to deal with morons coming up to me and throwing Somalia in my face. A strong, low-tax state is obviously not the same as a failed state.

Imperfect libertarian leaning states look like Hong Kong. Imperfect socialist states look like Venezuela. We don’t even have to hit the target of complete purity and people still get pulled out of poverty.  How else could an idea as bad as socialism be so popular even though it’s consequences are a litany of woe and misery? They are just better at marketing their ideas. Libertarians need to acknowledge this and take some responsibility for it. Socialist ideas are emotional, not rational and human beings are emotional creatures rather than rational ones. The powers of the market are strong and on our side, but unfortunately so is public choice creep. We are at a disadvantage and we need to up our game.


Liberalising the European Union

By Barry Stocker
May 31st, 2013 at 10:41 am | 9 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

A recent item at this blog posted by Editor, ‘EU-it really is getting sillier by the day’, refers to the attempt at an EU ban on serving olive oil in restaurants except in packaged bottles, and the reversal of this idea of by the Commission. While I think the item makes a very good point about the persistence of over-regulation by the EU, and proposals which rightly attract public ridicule, the headline at least was a bit harsh. After all the ban was reversed by the Commission. This reality also undermines the image of the EU as driven by out of control bureaucrats in the Commission dreaming up bizarre projects for an over centralised and over regulated Union. The post hints at, but does not quite reveal, the economic interests behind the proposal. It was driven by big olive oil producers in southern Europe, who claim to be ‘maintaining standards’. By extraordinary coincidence ‘maintaining standards’ in this case would have the effect of driving out competition by small scale ‘artisanal’ producers, who would find the cost of the required packaging less easy to bear than big producers.

The point here is not just that the EU often falls prey to this kind of attempted manipulation by sectional economic interests, but that regulation in the nation states of the EU, and nations all over the world, is driven by this kind of distortion of decision making through sectional interests able to undermine the common good, including that central good of depoliticised open competitive markets. The proposed olive oil in restaurants regulation was pushed by national governments in those EY countries which are large scale olive oil producers, and the political process is under the influence of the major producers in that sector. The liberal reform of the EU must include very strong, clear and enforceble measures against these forces which ravage all countries, and which are particularly necessary in the EU because it has failed to create a political system, on the whole that can resist the EU being defined by vulnerability to such forces.

As the original post points out, the Liberal Democrats, have been long term supporters of the EU, leaving open the question of what attitude the Liberal Democrats should have now, and what contribution Liberal Vision should have to make to debate on the matter. I’m sure there are differences of opinion within the Liberal Vision group on this, but we have overall taken the line of supporting a political union of European nations while questioning the form it should take. Some LV people present and past (before passing onto non-party political roles)have been deeply involved in the European Movement, and I did a few very minor things within EM and the Liberal Democrat European Group myself before I became an ex-pat academic in Istanbul.

My proposal is that we should stick to the policy of political union, but separate ourselves very clearly from the administrative centralism which is supported by the mainstream pro-EU groups. Of course the people concerned do not describe themselves in that way, but the reality is that their default attitude is to support any centralising measure, and to dismiss any  and all opposition and criticism, as populism coming from the fringe of the left or the right. The Euro crisis has dampened such attitudes, but they will keep coming back, and we should contest them. What we should aim for is clear but limited political union, a form of federalism but emphasising that federalism limits the power of the centre, We should aim for a limited number of areas of EU legislation and action, which are done well but kept within limits. I will list a series of proposals which I hope will be of interest to those who want a European political union without the drift to regulatory bloat and grandiose projects adopted regardless of the risk and the downside.

1. More of a role for national parliaments. Maybe a minimum number of national parliaments to give assent before legislation is passed.

2. All areas of EU legislation to be jointly legislated by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. A very easy to understand procedure to be adopted for how this works.

3. Abolition of the European Council, a deeply absurd addition to the EU institutions.

4. Abolition of the Commission, its best employees to be redeployed as EU civil servants.

5. Formation of a European government (probably with some less provocative name) on a roughly Swiss model, that is ministers from the main political groups in the European Parliament in accordance with representation in the EP. The idea of national style competition between political blocs across the EU has it charms, but is unrealistic for reasons which include linguistic differences and differences between national parties within the European ‘parties’. These considerations should be considered as fatal for any idea of  directly elected president of the EU.

6. Some form or EU basic law, or constitution (maybe with a less provocative name), designed to limit powers. Strong institutional arrangements to enforce limits on powers, and prevent centralist drift. This can be very difficult as US experience shows, but let the EU adopt more and stronger measures to prevent such drift.

7. A completion of the internal market to eliminate all barriers to trade, particularly with regard to contracting out of public services and cross border entry into ‘professional’ and ‘skilled employment’. The least onerous regulations of any nation to be the de facto regulation across all nations.

8. Internal market to be accompanied by equivalent (or near as possible) opening up to non-EU competition. Maybe there should be a law to bring this in within 10 years.

9. Tax competition to be allowed and encouraged.

10. The Euro, if it survives and I presume it will, to be optional for new EU countries, and to be based on a relatively clear set of enforceable restraints on debts and borrowing, and bail out conditions, with a presumption against bail out of private financial institutions, except as a genuine last resort.

10. Other big European projects, to be based on opt ins and coalitions of willing governments, not enforced uniformity.

11. Laws and institutions to be based on restraint of new regulations, with very robust tests regarding economic costs, before formulation, and certainly before enactment.

I do not make any claim to expertise on EU institutions and I recognise that not all the above are easy to combine. However, discussion of the EU has too long been the preserve of a few who understand its structures, and all political associations have some tensions within their institutions and constitutional arrangements. In any case, I offer these proposals as a stimulation to discussion, not as a prediction of where the EU is going.

“Green GOOD – Concrete BAD!”

By Sara Scarlett
May 29th, 2013 at 9:31 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Planning, Policy

A Tory Minister recently said something imminently sensible. Naturally, the Daily Mail doesn’t like it. In the most typically characteristic rant, the DM blames immigrants and marital breakdown for the lack of housing. They also blame an aging population but that’s the only point on which they are correct. The odious commentary actually uses the phrases “glorious green fields” and “children’s and grandchildren’s heritage.” *shudders*

You may enjoy the sight of those green fields but when your 28 year old adult son or daughter is still living in their childhood bedroom you may prefer it if there were more houses… If green fields and having nowhere to live is the heritage you want to leave my generation, then, f*ck you… actually. And we know the fear of “concreting over the countryside” is utter codswalloping tosspottery of the highest order. There’s plenty of room. If we all had the incomes and housing density of a Monegasque household everyone in the UK could fit into Cornwall.

Even if the DM’s claims weren’t ridiculous and you forced couples to stay together, closed the borders and started forcing our elderly to participate in regular ‘Hunger Games’ style melees, that wouldn’t diminish the fact that our planning laws are unfit for purpose and have been for years. Boles is right and I hope he stays the course against these rent-seekers and NIMBYs. It’s this wooly view that green good – concrete bad! It’s a lot easier to admire the country side when you already have a house to go home too.

So be careful what you wish for Oldies, an aging population means fewer bungalows in the home counties become available to retire to each year, that’s for sure.

Human beings need to be together in cities for almost every single industry to thrive. If you don’t believe me, I strongly suggest reading ‘Triumph of the City.‘ The greenbelt was another shambolic piece of planning policy of the highest order. Only New Labour could come up with notion that it is undesirable to built homes where they are needed most, forcing primarily younger workers to commute for longer. If you really want to protect the countryside – why not build more high rises closer to cities? Having higher density in urban areas, where everyone wants/needs it, means the countryside is less likely to be encroached on.


The Sorry State of Debate

By Sara Scarlett
May 29th, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Comments Off on The Sorry State of Debate | Posted in Uncategorized

Today’s deeply upsetting statistics – you’re 44% more likely to die from an elective surgery on a Friday and 82% more likely to die from an elective surgery on the weekend.

Coupled with this unsettling article in the Speccie which, I’m sorry to say, directly corroborates some of the truly awful experiences with the NHS care of my elderly relatives.

And the cherry on the cake – Julie Bailey, a campaigner for the reform of the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and founder of the ‘Cure the NHS’ group, has been subjected to startling bullying and abuse.

What a damning indication of the sorry state of debate, free speech and civil society in the UK. We’re not even fighting about which reforming action to take. We’re fighting for the right to have a debate in the first place and that shouldn’t be the battle in a ‘free’ country.

Abstract Concepts Don’t Pay

By Sara Scarlett
May 28th, 2013 at 10:00 am | 3 Comments | Posted in Economics

One of my pet peeves is a particular brand of wooly-political thinking whereby individuals denounce the ‘commodification’ of things that, according to them, shouldn’t be commodified. It’s usually things like health care and/or education which said individuals wrap in soppy, emotional rhetoric and reams upon reams of abstract concepts because those things are far too important to be treated like mere commodities.

It may very well be the case that health and education are so much more than commodities – in fact, I’m pretty sure they are – but that doesn’t change the fact that it requires huge amounts of commodities to be mobilised in order to provide health care and education. We don’t pay doctors, nurses or teachers in the warmth of human kindness; we pay them in cold, hard cash. Whilst many doctors are motivated by more than just their earning potential after graduation – it is nonsense to suggest that there is no mercenary consideration. The fact that being a doctor is more-often-than-not a highly paid job must make the prospect of, at least, seven years of study considerably more palatable. In a similar vein, medical equipment doesn’t grow on trees and a childhood’s worth of school books doesn’t magically appear once you declare education a sacred, profound and noble art.

My problem with this type of thinking is that whilst it does motivate various parties to action, it can just as easily justify action that doesn’t bring us health care and/or education that is higher quality, more accessible and more abundant. It can also justify action that is unhelpful and downright harmful. If health care is a human right then by slapping that pack of cigarettes out of someone’s hand – aren’t you merely upholding their human rights? I know this ties in to negative rights versus positive right but what I’m talking about here is a distraction from finding the solutions to the problems of public policy making. How best do we treat health care and education in a way that mobilises the resources we need to provide them? That may mean treating them like commodities.

Human beings need food before they need health care and education but we are more than happy to treat food like a commodity. A healthy, nutritious diet means so much more to an individual than just food – but treating food as a commodity, despite the distorted state of the global agriculture market, has meant huge and continuous increases in the abundance, quality and affordability of food.

If treating things like health care and education more like commodities means they become more abundant, more affordable and they increase in quality – wouldn’t it be worth dropping the soppy rhetoric?