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The Independent City State of *ankers

By Timothy Cox
June 16th, 2010 at 12:22 am | 3 Comments | Posted in Economics, UK Politics

Yesterday, I attended a talk on the theme of our natural resource legacy by economist Paul Collier. He questioned the ethics of depleting resources in order to produce other goods- “our children’s children are unlikely to be impressed when we offer them computer games instead of fish stocks” he mused. He even managed to work in a good natured dig at Goldman, which made me think about another of our legacies: the UK’s economic environment. Now, we all know everyone hates bankers at the moment. Allister Heath reminds us that Osborne will use tonight’s Mansion House address to indulge in a little more “banker-bashing”.Traffic wardens, divorce lawyers and tabloid journalists have never slept so well.    Everything that can’t be blamed upon the financial services must be the fault of the credit rating agencies and anything else is BP’s fault. In fact it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find someone who makes money who isn’t despised by the general public. But is all this hatred really such a good idea? Will our children’s children really thank us, and our politicians, for making life so difficult for big business in the UK? Is hammering people with new regulatory hurdles, higher capital gains tax (CGT) and the constant threat of new rules and scrutiny really such a good idea? I rather suspect not and here’s why.

Would we miss them?

Another esteemed economist, Paul Romer, is promoting a new approach to development: Charter Cities. The idea is for underdeveloped countries to set up new cities with business friendly regulatory environments and low taxation to attract investment and labour. Modeled on the development success stories of Hong Kong and Singapore, the concept is radical, inspirational and might just work. So, considering our resentment for all things financial why don’t we set up a Charter City- City of Bankers – in Canary Wharf? All the fat cats who spend their time smoking Cuban cigars (hand rolled by 5 year olds), buying porches, and generally ruining “our” economy could move there in voluntary exile to enjoy the business friendly environment and the absence of bureaucrats. We, on the other hand, would get to inhabit a London free of corrupt and greedy businessmen and get on with enjoying the finer things in life: eating organic produce and drinking carbon-neutral water.

Of course, the answer is fairly obvious. Really we want, in fact we need, the financial sector and big business to stay. Not only do we appreciate the services, jobs and tax revenues, but we also enjoy the talent, capital and ideas they attract from across the globe that afford us the cosmopolitan quality of life most of us relish. London and the UK became prosperous and successful by embracing business and industry, not by obstructing it.

The typical response to these concerns is that big businesses wont just up and leave- London is London, its where everyone wants to be! Maybe. But maybe not forever. London is the financial capital of the world by design, not default, and we’re not talking about today’s businesses, but tomorrow’s. Established companies may linger, but the new ones will locate wherever they believe they will make the most money. While London remains the place to be, all is well and good, but for those politicians (unfortunately there are many within the Lib Dem ranks) who remain intent upon scoring cheap points at businesses’ expense- be careful what you wish for! One day our children may talk of setting up a Charter City, not in jest, but in an attempt to entice those we currently love to bash to come back.

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Sack this person – now!

By Timothy Cox
June 11th, 2010 at 1:55 pm | 8 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

In case you hadn’t noticed, today a certain football tournament kicks off in South Africa. Thankfully this fact hasn’t escaped the attention of our Food Standards Agency (FSA). No, indeed not. Such was the concern about our wellbeing at the FSA that someone has generously spent tax payers’ money preparing a guide on how and what we should drink during the festivities. How kind. Never mind that Homo sapiens have managed feed and water themselves for around 200,000 years now, what we’ve always needed is a ten-year-old government body to help us through the trauma of mealtimes. A full copy of this egregiously patronising document is here3045948221_4b3bc27ba2, but the highlights include:

“If you’re throwing a party for friends and family to watch a game, there are lots of tasty and healthy options you can tuck into as you cheer your team on. Why not serve a vegetable curry with boiled rice or a tasty chilli with plenty of kidney beans?”

“When you’re engrossed in the game it’s easy to sip your way though more [drinks] than you realise. Remember that bottled beers come in different sizes, so you might be drinking more that you think.”

And my personal favourite:

“You might feel as if you are kicking every ball and covering every blade of grass along with the players, but that doesn’t count as being active! So why not use football fever as an excuse to get active yourself?”

What on earth is this all about?! Easy to lose count of how many drinks you’ve had… forgetting that bottles come in  different sizes…! I would feel embarrassed using this tone with my four year old cousin, let alone preaching about the type of party food you should or shouldn’t serve in your own home. As for using football fever to get yourself active, nothing makes me want to remain ensconced in my arm-chair more than a jumped up public servant reminding me of my “duty” to keep myself fit and healthy. Whoever spent a morning writing this paternalistic nonsense, at our expense, needs sacking. Immediately.

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Shameful UN need reprimanding by the coalition

By Timothy Cox
June 7th, 2010 at 4:57 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in International Development, Uncategorized

297676513_a3210819d6International development invariably raises some complex issues but periodically we come across an example of the international community acting in a totally indefensible manner. No shades of grey here- this is morally and politically abhorrent. I am referring to the United Nation’s decision to continue with a controversial prize established in “honour” of Equatorial Guinea’s notorious dictator Obiang Nguema.  If the government wants to get serious about development it must be seen to be outspoken and forthright about such travesties.  Furthermore, the Liberal Democrats must not shirk their responsibility to make their voices heard on issues like these across all departments during this coalition.

The UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences is supposed to be awarded “for scientific research in the life sciences leading to improving the quality of human life.”

The “quality of human life” under Obiang’s regime is a disgrace. According to the World Bank, GDP per capita is $28,103 (richer than Israel), but 77 per cent of the population still live below the poverty line. Part of the problem is that all funds received from the country’s extensive oil reserves pass through Obiang’s personal bank account to prevent “misallocation of funds”. Naturally he has invested wisely for the benefit of the people:  Global Witness report that his son purchased a $15,000,000 Californian mansion in 2006 and that the family owns three Bugatti Veyron cars (each retailing for over $1 million each) along with a healthy compliment of Ferraris, Maseratis, a Rolls or two and the obligatory presidential jet. Not a single free and fair election has taken place since he assumed power in 1979 (Africa’s second longest serving living dictator) and one in three Equato-Guineans  die before their 40th birthday. Corruption, human rights abuses and systemic torture by government officials are reported as being routine practice.

But none of this need concern the UNESCO bureaucrats in Paris who will take half of the dictator’s $3 million donation for “administrative fees” to help them identify worthy winners of this prize. It is perversely ironic that the United Nations, which claims to be in pursuit of  a “better world”, should explicitly endorse, and be in the pocket of, one of Africa’s most repressive and corrupt dictators. The Equato-Guineans suffering daily are unlikely to appreciate the irony.

The UK carries a lot of weight in the international development community and, while Andrew Mitchell controls the development portfolio, this is an issue that should transcends briefs and party divisions. Michael Moore and Norman Lamb  are among those on the Lib Dem benches who have been honourably outspoken about the scourge of corruption upon development before. It’s time for their voices to be heard again. Removing one prize fund won’t change the world overnight- but not doing so sends a terrible message to some of the world’s worst abusers of power.

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Bastiat prize entries now being accepted

By Timothy Cox
June 7th, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Comments Off on Bastiat prize entries now being accepted | Posted in Uncategorized

Freedom-loving writers published in print or online have until the end of June to enter the Bastiat Prize. The think-tank, International Policy Network, is accepting entries in the form of print or online articles and blog entries.

The Bastiat Prize was created to celebrate witty and original opinion journalism by those who defend the principles of a free society and the importance of liberty. The total prize fund is $18,000 and there are two competitions, one for journalism and one for online journalism.

Last year’s competition attracted over 290 entrants from more than 50 countries. The winner was John Hasnas, with an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal. Second and third prizes bastiat prize 2010went to Robert Guest, Washington Correspondent of the Economist, and Robert Robb, editorial columnist of the Arizona Republic. Last year’s selected entries can be found here (opens pdf).

The prestigious prize is now in its ninth year and former judges have included Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and Nobel laureates James Buchanan and the late Milton Friedman.  This year’s judges include John Stossel and Matt Ridley.

Submissions must be received on or before 30 June 2010. Click here for more information.

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Words about words

By Timothy Cox
May 5th, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Comments Off on Words about words | Posted in Election, Liberal Democrats, Policy, UK Politics

Is the Clegg/Cameron friendship cooling off before it even got going? Well, certainly a neat analysis (from Millward Brown) of the language employed during the last leaders debate would seem to suggest that it might be.  Clegg and Cameron had the smallest pool of common words by some way- just 13, compared to 27 shared between DC and GB, and 20 between NC and GB (see chart).  Considering that almost a quarter of their shared terminology was unlikely to be complimentary (“Gordon”, “Brown” and “Labour”), and the only meaningful phrases they shared was “council” and city” (both issues upon which they disagree) they appeared to have very little in common to say at all.

I’m afraid it’s a little hard to make out, but hopefully you’ll get the picture!

shared-words  

Of course, this is hardly a litmus test for co-operation but is does provide some interesting insights. Take a look at their top twelve words used list: 

Brown                                        Cameron                        Clegg 

people  62                                   people  61                         people  53    

tax     56                                     government      37            tax     49    

cut     45                                     tax     33                            money   26    

bank    32                                   year    31                           work    26    

country 32                                work    28                           pay     25    

David   31                                  bank    25                           bank    24    

credit  29                                   country 23                        Cameron 16    

job     25                                     economy 22                      David   16    

Conservative    24                   business        17                 income  16    

year    23                                  cut     16                             Brown   14    

economy 21                             money   16                         Gordon  14    

work    21                                 waste   14                          problem 14    

 

Neither Cameron nor Gordon made reference to “Nick” or “Clegg” enough to make the list. Fence sitting before a hung parliament, perhaps? And while tax and people topped all the polls, work was a strangely low priority in GB’s vocab- possibly starting to regret that tax on jobs he’s stoutly defended for so long?

One final observation from the shared words chart: Clegg was the only man to breathe the word “Chancellor”. In 90mins of debate in which the economy was the focal point, neither Cameron nor Brown dared to mention what we’ve all been thinking. No-one wants another term of Darling after the mess we’ve been put through and Osborne looks green and unsure. During times of financial uncertainty the minister behind the finances need experience and nous- Vince has both in abundance. Increasingly he looks like the only man well suited to steering our economy and Brown and Cameron both know it. Funny that Brown didn’t remind us of his (oh so successful) tenure as Chancellor isn’t it?!

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