Friday, 30 December 2011

Quote of the day

From Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism:
In the interwar period, the large Austrian banks had consciously sought to win economists of Schumpeter's standing as front men to reassure their creditors from abroad. They had also asked Mises for support several times, but he always rejected these proposals because he thought the commercial banks were all bankrupt. This was not a pose. He had in fact always kept his personal account with Austria's postal savings bank.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Pre-Christmas inbox

Currently reading

Am I the only one not calling for a subsidy?

Here we go again:

PUBLIC money should be used to subsidise more direct flights from Scotland to China, Russia, India and Brazil
Now I'm a fan of aviation having been brought up at Prestwick, but this is ridiculous. Just the sort of nonsense one would expect from the Labour party.

But read on:

Both Labour and the Conservatives yesterday urged SNP ministers to set up a dedicated pot of cash to tempt airlines to fly routes direct to the new global economic powerhouses.
So the Tories are at it just like Labour. No wonder lots of us have given up voting for them.

The best way to attract air services to Scotland is to have a low tax, low regulation economy. It would also help to re-establish our once world beating education system. Subsidising airlines is not the answer. Eliminating the Air Passenger Duty on the other hand is exactly what's needed.

Monday, 26 December 2011

How to save the Union

I'm not saying that one should or shouldn't want to save the Union but simply explaining how it could be saved. And this is the only way.

Back in May I wrote this:

I have no doubt at all that most nationalists are motivated by questions of identity, not finance. Of course it helps their case if the economics look good but what they are working towards is for Scotland to be a normal country.

It really is rather unusual for somewhere to have its own national legal system, its own national Church, its own national sporting teams and representation, and almost all of the other attributes of nationality and yet not be independent. That's what motivates the SNP, not whether an independent Scotland would be richer or poorer.

It's a question of identity, and nothing else. Forget all about oil, not to mention Barnett and GERS.

Five years ago I had this to say:

Everything would be much clearer if the SNP were known as the Scottish Normalcy Party instead of the Scottish National Party. Almost all Scots, nationalist or otherwise, get extremely upset about what I call The Presumption of the English Norm. For example, there are apparently several countries in which one can look up "British Embassy" in the local phone book (and in the local language) and find no entry. It's under "English Embassy", even when the language in question has a word for "British". And given that the Bank of "England" hasn't been renamed makes me think that Gordon Brown could be an SNP agent. I don't believe that our southern friends have any idea how annoying this kind of thing is, but imagine how they would feel if the rest of the world used the word "French" to mean "English".

If you visit the country where the locals speak Japanese, the government is known as the Japanese government, and the country is called - wait for it - "Japan". The country where folk speak French is ruled by the French government and it's called "France". It's the same almost everywhere. So it follows that the country where people speak English is ruled by the English government and is called "England", does it not? Well, no, it doesn't. But most of the world, including most English people, talks as if that were so. Well then, why does this happen?

I think that it's all to do with the language of Britain - the UK actually - being called "English" rather than "British". This would be less of an issue if it weren't for the fact that English is also the language of the world's most powerful nation, of science, of business, of finance and also of the Internet. That linguistic domination continuously reminds the rest of the world of the concept "England", while millions of Scots keep shouting: "You mean Britain."

Some of us like myself put up with this while still being annoyed and just accept that the UK is a very unusual country - one that is a multinational state. (Confusingly, the US is a multi-state nation.) But for many Scots this issue is all consuming, and more than anything else in politics they want to live in a "normal" country. So what's normal?

Back when the SNP was founded "normal" meant independent, like Norway or Switzerland today. But most countries in Europe are now members of the EU - that's the new norm, however much we may dislike it. And that's why the SNP wants Scotland to join the EU. It doesn't matter to them if it all leads to a federal superstate - or worse, a non-federal superstate - as long as Scotland has the same status as everywhere else. While Scotland remains an invisible part of a country known to most of the world as "England", membership of the EU is seen as a better option by members of the SNP - the Scottish Normalcy Party.

All of that remains true and answers the perennial question about why Scotland might wish to leave the British union only to join a European one.

So, if the British establishment wishes to save the Union, and it does for they are far better informed than the English blogosphere, what needs to be done is clear. And nothing else will do the job.

There must be a joint announcement by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg.

With immediate effect any public servant or MP who uses the term "England" when they mean "Britain" or the "United Kingdom" will be dismissed on the spot, without compensation, and with loss of all pension rights. This will obviously also apply to those employed by quangos, especially by the BBC. The Bank of England will be renamed the Bank of the United Kingdom.

Any foreign government getting it wrong will find that diplomatic recognition will be removed for one month for every offence. If M Sarkozy refers to the UK as "England", we will call France "Bretagne". Should President Obama get it wrong, we'll start to call the US "North Dakota". But if Ron Paul gets elected and makes a mistake we'll give him a second chance...

So, is all of this going to happen?

I don't think so, and that's why I expect to be a holder of a Scottish passport in the not too distant future.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas

With acknowledgement to: these guys.

(CLICK image for clearer version)

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Edinburgh pound?

A local currency for Edinburgh?

Perhaps:

PLANS to introduce a new local currency for Edinburgh have been approved, despite concerns about forgeries.
I see that Councillor Jim Lowrie has "raised concerns about the potential for counterfeiting". I know Cllr. Lowrie, and he's right.

The problem is that any government created paper currency is counterfeit unless it's backed 100% by some real asset. Will I be able to cash in my Edinburgh pound for - let's see - part of a tram? Probably not.

We've been through this sort of thing before:

As Mises explained, a sound currency can only come into existence by winning the hearts and minds of people in the marketplace.
We really need the government to get completely out of the money business altogether. It's all explained in this book, which updates the Mises argument. All the current talk about whether an independent Scotland would use the Pound, Euro or some other statist currency misses the point entirely.

Back again

Sorry about the long gap.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Be afraid, be very afraid...

The lack of postings since the Vienna trip is partly because I'm trying to arrange my affairs as best as possible while faced with the current financial situation.

Here's a good interview in which James Turk talks to Adam Fergusson.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Dollars and nonsense

These two signs were photographed at the same tram stop in Vienna. Just outside the university as it happens.

Mr Engels was of course one of the people behind communism. But who knows about Joachimsthaler? Actually, his name ultimately led to the word dollar.

A hundred years ago the professors at Vienna University understood why communism couldn't work. And they'd probably have been horrified to be told that the dollar would eventually become just another fiat currency.

Vienna by David Farrer
Vienna, a photo by David Farrer on Flickr.

Vienna by David Farrer
Vienna, a photo by David Farrer on Flickr.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Vienna 2011

Last week I went to the Mises Institute conference in Vienna.

The world's greatest economist was born 130 years ago and it was appropriate for us to mark that anniversary by meeting in the home of the Austrian School of Economics. Remember when back in 2008 the Queen asked why no-one saw the economic crisis coming? Well, the Austrians did. And we know why the crisis continues, and we see no sign of the political class understanding what actions are required.

Here is Hans-Hermann Hoppe giving the closing address in the stunning Akademie Der Wissenschaften, in which some of the founders of the Austrian School taught.

Vienna by David Farrer
Vienna, a photo by David Farrer on Flickr.

And here are links to other photos that I took in Vienna and in Bratislava.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Dava Sobel

Sobel is the author of the excellent Longitude book that I had read some time ago. I hadn't realised that her new work on Copernicus was originally planned to be a play but the play is now contained in the book. We were treated to a short extract from the play performed by two Scottish actors. Sobel herself is American. I'd never seen anything like this before at the Book Festival but it went well and received a big round of applause. An interesting session.

Melvyn Bragg

This morning we went along to hear Melvyn Bragg on the King James Bible. Bragg spent a lot of time talking about the use of short Anglo-Saxon words, often from Tyndale:
Around 85 per cent of the Authorised Version comes from Tyndale, whose muscular poetry he describes as “bitten into our tongue”. Tyndale gave us so many enduring phrases: “let there be light”, “a man after his own heart”, “rise and shine”, “filthy lucre”. But even by the KJB’s time some of this language had what Bragg acknowledges to be “a halo of antiquity”. The verilys were already quaint.

Many Christians today use more modern translations: surely as democratising in their clarity as Tyndale was in his. I poll my friends and find that the practising Christians use modern translations – arguing that the King James Bible is “elitist and exclusive” – while defence of the KJB comes from my secular, literary friends.

Orwell too was a great fan of using short and simple words whenever possible. And as for elitism, I for one think that we have far too little of it!

This event was marred by a continuous noise of background music from somewhere in Charlotte Square behind the tent. Bragg himself mentioned it during his talk. Someone from the Festival should have gone outside and sorted it immediately. Perhaps such an action would be seen as elitist! Well, that's what we were paying for.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Elish Angiolini

At eight this evening I heard a talk by Elish Angiolini, formerly the Lord Advocate, the first woman and the first solicitor to hold this post.

Dull but worthy would sum up this event.

Angiolini probably isn't going to be a media star like Ferguson, but then again Ferguson isn't ever going to be Lord Advocate...

Niall Ferguson

Early evening found us once more in the big tent at the Book Festival, this time to hear Niall Ferguson. The event was chaired by Iain Macwhirter, a Herald journalist who is also Rector of Edinburgh University.

You may think that Mr Macwhirter is a traditional old-time socialist, but some of us have been working on him! A few months ago I attended a dinner that featured Macwhirter as guest speaker. After his speech I chatted about the banking crisis, insisting that it was caused by government, not the free market. I explained that (unlike conservatives) libertarians had fully expected such a crisis, understood its cause, and had opposed the bailouts. And so it was with great pleasure that I heard Macwhirter introduce Ferguson just as would a hardcore libertarian, including a reference to "communist banking". The invisible hand in action!

From a presentational point of view Ferguson was easily the best speaker I've heard so far at the Festival. More importantly, his talk was a direct attack on the soft collectivism that so threatens Britain and especially Scotland. Mention was made of the Austrian School and why people were turning to gold. We heard about the six "killer apps" that had enabled to West to beat the Rest:

1. Competition

2. Science

3. Property rights

4. Medicine

5. The consumer society

6. The work ethic.

These apps are all in the process of being "deleted" here while being "downloaded" elsewhere, particularly in Asia. I for one see no sign of this process being reversed.

Later on I had a nice chat with Macwhirter after getting Ferguson to sign a couple of books.

RBS misleads children

Mrs F&W picked up the Summer 2011 issue of Pocket Money, a Royal Bank publication that seems to be aimed at children. Nothing wrong with that of course, but then we spotted this:
When the price of goods goes up over a period of time it's known as inflation.
That's true. Increasing prices are now known as inflation. However, I prefer the original definition: inflation is an increase in the money supply, which (other things being equal) leads to price rises.

Perhaps RBS does employ at least one person who gets this simple point.

Perhaps.

More worrying were the next two sentences:

When goods go up in price, it also gets more expensive to borrow money. A good time to save!
Well, perhaps in the good old days that would have been a good time to save. Not now! The political class is bailing out its banker friends by keeping interest rates below the rate of inflation and savers are being ripped off. Royally ripped off perhaps...

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Ian Kershaw

I enjoyed hearing about Kershaw's new book which was published today and is already on its third printing. There were certainly plenty of reviews last weekend.

This was a very professional presentation that was followed by lots of questions. Sadly, the hardcover version costs £30. I'll wait for the paperback.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Down Mexico Way

Tonight we heard Ed Vulliamy speak about his new book. We'd kind of expected it to be about the huge inflow of Mexicans into the US as described so vividly by Victor Davis Hanson.

But the talk (and the book) was mainly about the huge drug industry on the Mexican side of the border:

This absorbing odyssey along the Mexican-American border gives pause for thought to anyone who ignores the side-effects of cocaine. Not those on the users, but the calamitous impact on Mexico and its people.
At one point Vulliamy praised the work of the US police and said that was perhaps an unusual position for a Guardian writer to take. Back in standard Guardian mode he complained about widespread gun ownership in US Border states but then said the El Paso had one of the lowest murder rates in the country!

We had an interesting chat with Mr Vulliamy after his presentation. We discussed Ron Paul and the other Republican candidates. Vulliamy thought that Rick Perry would get the nomination and would win the presidency.

He said that a big problem in Mexico was what he described as the "privatisation" of previously communally owned land in the border villages. This was apparently a consequence of the introduction of NAFTA. I countered by saying that, on the contrary, such a transfer was the opposite of privatisation, and represented theft by the state of existing privately owned property to be given to the friends of the state. Land owned by the villagers since time immemorial is just as much private property as when it is owned by corporations. Vulliamy accepted my point and I extended this line of argument to cover the banking crisis in which we also saw the state bail out its friends - the exact opposite of the free market.

Vulliamy said that there is a body of opinion that holds that the financial crisis of 2008 would have happened earlier were the big banks not stuffed full with drug money.

I vividly recall my own one-day visit to Mexico that ended up with a scary drive through an unlit Tijuana trying to find the US border. After this talk that's not something I'd wish to risk again.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

John Hegarty

I was really looking forward to hearing John Hegarty speak tonight. I worked in the advertising business from 1975 to 1995 and John was one of the big names in the eighties and nineties through the Bartle Bogle Hegarty agency.

I'd guess that most of the Book Festival regulars are more Guardian than Telegraph types, to put in English terms, and I wasn't too sure what folk would make of a Thatcher-era adman. Nae problem: John had them eating out of his hands. Looking every inch the creative director in his brown shoes, stripey socks and powder blue suit with a garish lining John won lots of laughs and applause, especially when he explained just why he personally was responsible for the introduction of boxer shorts into the UK. Buy the book if you want to know...

Sadly, I wasn't called in the questioning session - there were so many raised hands. I was going to ask about the relationship between the creatives and the finance folk in agencies. And if any of you ask about "creative accounting" I'd say that my former boss and I spent ten years of drinking time wondering where the 20p difference was in our ancient hand-written ledger!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Wrong suspect

Around twenty years ago when I was living in London I knew an Andrew O'Hagan. He was the son of one of our directors and he worked in our post room before going to university. If I recall correctly, he wanted to be a writer. His parents came from Glasgow and they also had Ayrshire connections. All of this fitted in perfectly with the biography of the novelist Andrew O'Hagan. Even the photos on the books looked right.

But when O'Hagan came onto the stage he seemed too short. And the accent was wrong. I spoke to this O'Hagan afterwards and he was rather amazed to discover that he had a doppelganger.

O'Hagan's hour-long talk was an impressive performance, even if I disagreed with quite a bit. He spoke widely about the Scottish condition and the full talk is here. I liked this recollection:

I tried to tell a story my auntie had told at the counter of a chip shop in Shettleston. It was about the war, about an old couple in the Gallowgate who suffered a bomb blast that blew both of them out of their living room into the street below. They survived. ‘It was awright,’ said the man to a reporter later, ‘it’s the first time we’ve been oot thegither for 40 year.’
Unfortunately there was far too much of that mawkish collectivism that so mars Scottish life. It really will have to go if we ever become independent.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Full House

We rounded off Saturday evening with Alexander McCall Smith at an event chaired by Al Senter. It is quite impossible to recall precisely what happens at these events. McCall Smith talks about this and that, the audience laughs, more anecdotes, louder laughter, and before you know it the hour is up and we're looking forward to the next time by which time he'll probably have written another dozen best sellers.

Map of a Nation

Rachel Hewitt's Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey talk was very enjoyable. She started by discussingg the extensive military mapping of the Highlands that was done after Culloden. Previous maps of the north were very much a matter of hit or miss. We were told of an Army commander who was somewhat perplexed when a promontory on his rudimentary map turned out to be an island!

The Ordnance Survey organisation was formally started in 1791 and a comprehensive programme of mapping the UK was undertaken. The south coast of England was a priority during the Napoleonic period.

Interestingly, Hewitt stated a preference for real, paper maps over GPS systems and the like. I agree. In fact I sometimes think it a bit wimpish of me if I have to consult any map when I'm in the car.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Homage to Catalonia and Caledonia

I've always enjoyed Quintin Jardine's Skinner books. They're so different from Rankin's Rebus insofar as Rebus remains at the same level in the Lothian and Borders Force whereas Skinner seems to zoom from Inspector (?) to Chief Constable in an instant. Both cops are good in their own way. Jardine's new book The Loner has a new protagonist, half Catalan and half Scottish. Guess where Jardine spends his time! I've read about 120 pages so far and am enjoying this book. Apparently Skinner will make an appearance...

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Born in the USSR

Martin Sixsmith spoke on his new book about Russia. The basic message was that Russia is now back in its "natural" authoritarian state and that most people favour that over the alternative "anarchy". I expect that most Russians haven't read Hoppe.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Jerusalem

Later on Monday we went to hear Simon Sebag Montefiore talking about his new book. I didn't quite enjoy this performance as much when I'd heard him on his Stalin books in previous years. If I remember correctly last time he walked up and down the stage speaking directly to the audience. This time he was "interviewed" by Allan Little of the BBC. But then, I hate the BBC with a passion...

What a difference a day makes

Despite not feeling too well and having been a bit disappointed on Sunday evening we went to see Katharine Birbalsingh again on Monday morning.

And what a difference.

Bishop Hill puts it this way:

This was one very passionate lady - there was an intensity to her that at times verged on the frightening.
Well, I wasn't frightened: I was delighted with this performance.

Birbalsingh told us that the reason that the country is run by Old Etonians isn't so much to do with an old boys network but because they receive an excellent education. And how she wanted the same for "her kids". It was clear that Katharine didn't especially enjoy being a media star - it doesn't pay very much for a start! - but just wanted to get back into teaching.

Let's hope that her planned "free school" is one of those few that get the go ahead.

Needless-to-say, the real solution is to privatise all schools.

Apart from one useful idiot questioner the audience seemed to be entirely on Birbalsingh's side.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Golden Brown

After a very enjoyable garden party in Murrayfield this afternoon it was back to Charlotte Square for seven pm. I was really looking forward to hearing Katharine Birbalsingh present an anti-state case, but that's not what we got. She was certainly better that her opponent from the Independent, although to be fair he wasn't entirely an out-and-out statist himself. The (unidentified) "Chairman" was clearly on the pro-state side and was somewhat discomfited when the expected right-wing Tory teacher turned out to be nothing of the sort. Apart from Birbalsingh's support for "free schools" all three were singing from the same statist song sheet. An audience vote was overwhelmingly against the motion that "THE STATE MUST WITHDRAW AND LET CITIZENS SHAPE THEIR SOCIETY". "God help us all" cried Mr F&W. Of course, the vote would have gone the other way had the audience heard a real hard-core consistent libertarian argument from yours truly.

The highlight of the evening was seeing Sarah and Gordon Brown in the book signing tent. Keeping a wary eye on the at least one and possibly three bodyguards I approached the great man and told him that "My gold shares are doing very well." Without batting an eyelid Gordon smiled and replied "As they should be"! Does he own the odd sovereign?

It's that time again

I went to my first Book Festival event last night. While Mrs F&W was listening to McCall Smith (we both hear him next week) I went to hear crime writers Lin Anderson and Tony Black. This sell-out session was quite similar to previous crime writing events that I've attended. Before the talk I looked at books by both authors and had decided to buy some later on. However, Tony Black's extract was a bit too gory for my taste and I also decided to work out for sure which Anderson books I've already got and perhaps buy another one sometime. Having books signed by the author is not particularly important for me. Black's protagonist is an Edinburgh-based cop who thinks of himself as a Weegie, "despite coming from Ayr". In his opinion anyone who comes from west of Corstorphine is a Weegie...

Monday, 1 August 2011

We haven't gone away, you know...

The lack of posting is mainly the result of an ongoing chest infection. Plus the depressing feeling that the world has gone mad and there's nothing to be done about it.

It's at times like this that one should read some history, and that's just what I've been doing.

I'm now about one third of the way through Austerity Britain by the excellent David Kynaston. I heard him at last year's Book Festival.

Here's a quote:

The Willesdenites were asked what form their new ideal housing would take; as usual, only a small minority (15 per cent) opted for the self-contained flat. But by this time the government had already introduced new subsidy scales for local authorities that in effect gave them a significant financial incentive to build blocks of flats of four storeys or more, as long as they had lifts.
What's fascinating is that the professionals - the architects and the planners - were convinced that people should prefer flats because they represented a more communal, or socialist, way of living, which would involve all kinds of state-provided leisure pursuits in each building.

The people, the mainly Labour voting people, didn't want to know.

And here's what happened in Dundee only yesterday:

And here's some more socialist projects biting the dust :

Friday, 8 July 2011

The media shouldn't become the story

I'm a fan of Newsnet Scotland. Or do I mean of Newsnet Scotland?

It looks like there's been some kind of split and I'd like to offer some friendly advice.

I was a member of the Libertarian Alliance way back in 1982 when the great LA schism occurred. It took twenty years to get resolved and, even now, some of the participants can't remember what it was all about.

Get it sorted guys.

Monday, 13 June 2011

They work for you!

I've been sorting out loads of old bills and correspondence.

Here are the final two paragraphs of a letter that I sent in 1990 to the Leader of the Council of the London Borough of Ealing:

Would you please ensure that this matter is immediately sorted out?

As far as I am concerned, the sooner local government functions are privatised, and your bureaucrats are put into productive employment, the better.

The problem got fixed...

Deflation in the Western Isles

So it turns out that those fake notes in Stornoway "weren't fake at all":
But now, business leaders in the Western Isles have criticised banks and the police after further investigation weren't fake at all there was nothing suspect about any of the notes at the centre of the forgery alert.

At the height of the scare, several retailers in Stornoway stopped accepting £10 and £20 notes, while the Bank of Scotland also refused notes which they believed to be counterfeit.

However, after specialists examined notes seized on the island, police have confirmed the money was real all along.

Well, I would argue that the banks and the police are wrong. The notes are part of the state-induced fraudulent monetary system that's designed to take money from the prudent and give it to the imprudent, especially to the political class itself. In that sense the notes are fake.

I must confess that I smiled when I read this sad footnote:

Another businessman, who asked not to be named, said: "I tore up the £20 notes returned by the bank as fakes and I put them down the toilet to stop them getting back into circulation. I thought that was my public duty.

How do I prove that and who will compensate me?"

But on second thoughts, I shouldn't have smiled. By reducing the money supply the gentleman has performed a heroic public duty. He should be compensated. And the form of the compensation is that he should be made Governor of the Bank of England (sic).

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Why do people want independence?

I've met John Kay a couple of times and he's a good bloke with sound economic views. His latest article has caused a bit of a row:
Scotland would "gain little" by full independence, a key economic adviser to First Minister Alex Salmond has warned.

Professor John Kay said that while the move would "clearly be economically viable", increased financial power within the Union was more likely.

Given that Scotland's GDP per capita is close to both the UK and EU averages I've always accepted that an independent Scotland would be "economically viable", as does Professor Kay. He goes on to say:

"Scotland can get many of the advantages claimed for independence if it negotiates for more autonomy, while still staying part of the Union," said Prof Kay.
But that's only so if one is talking about economics. I have no doubt at all that most nationalists are motivated by questions of identity, not finance. Of course it helps their case if the economics look good but what they are working towards is for Scotland to be a normal country.

It really is rather unusual for somewhere to have its own national legal system, its own national Church, its own national sporting teams and representation, and almost all of the other attributes of nationality and yet not be independent. That's what motivates the SNP, not whether an independent Scotland would be richer or poorer.

If I could go back in a time machine to 1707 and change future history so that the words "England" and "Scotland" were never heard of again anywhere in the world and that both had been replaced by the word "Britain", Alex Salmond would not be First Minister. Indeed, there wouldn't be a Parliament in Edinburgh. Unless we'd sensibly decentralised Britain and moved its Parliament to the more civilised part of the country...

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Gresham's Law and the footballer

Bad money drives out good, says Gresham’s Law supposedly. Except that it doesn’t. Bad money only drives out good if the state imposes legal tender laws that stop the market from operating properly.

In a free market coins have a purchasing power that’s related to the quantity and fineness of their metallic content. When the state starts to “clip” coins, by reducing their size or by reducing the fineness of the metal, the natural market response is to value such coins less than unclipped ones. Market forces will lead to a coin that’s been clipped by 5% having 5% less purchasing power. The state then attempts to get round this by enforcing legal tender laws that try to enforce equal value on coins that don’t have the same physical attributes.

Naturally there is a market response to this legal tender law too. Once the existence of the clipped coins becomes known people start to pay close attention to their money. If a South African bus driver asks you for a rand for a ticket, you’re not going to hand over a Kruggerrand are you? No, you're going to hand over a "clipped" rand. The bad money circulates and the good money is hoarded and thus driven out of circulation. The market responds to the state's intervention.

In a free society the same principles would operate when it comes to freedom of speech.

I remember my first trip to the US. At a shop checkout desk there was a newspaper with a headline: “Elvis seen on Moon”. Great I thought: we’ll be getting some new records. The next day it was something like: “Alien spaceship lands in Central Park”. Damn, I’d missed it. But then I started wondering why none of the other papers were carrying these stories. By the third day it was: “Fed plans to stop inflation”. Then I knew it was all a con. The point is this: in a society that allows free speech, the right to be believed has to be earned in the marketplace. And that’s how it should be here and now.

As far as I can see there are only two justifications for restricting free speech.

First, when you agree to such a restriction in a contract. For example, you work for a pharmaceutical company and your contract of employment bans you from giving away trade secrets. If you break that agreement and are fired, you deserve what you got. Besides, that would be a civil matter with there being no question of the state threatening to lock you up.

Secondly, it is legitimate to ban speech that threatens to initiate violence.

Otherwise the right to free speech is absolute. Ultimately these ridiculous injunctions and super-injunctions are designed to protect reputations. But a reputation is what goes on in someone else’s head and it is ludicrous to legislate about people’s thoughts or about the verbal expression of those thoughts. No one else has a property right in your mouth.

Ah, I hear some of you saying: “That would mean that all kinds of scurrilous stories will fill the papers.” Yes it would – for the first week or two. But then we’d quickly learn not to believe everything we read in the press. Some of us are there already – I’m now dubious about reported sightings of Elvis. But once there is a “free for all” in communicating the market will sort it all out. Only those writers and broadcasters that get it right over a long period will be trusted. The rest will be laughed at. And that’s just how it should be.

The state’s legal tender laws were an attempt to steal from the public by forcing them to accept devalued coins. The public reacted by hoarding the sound coins.

The rich and powerful got the state to restrict freedom of speech. And now, with technology and globalisation on its side, the public reacts by demanding that our freedoms be restored.

We need to get rid of state interference in both the production of money and in the production of words. Let the people drive out the bad laws.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A Scottish Guide for English Journalists

The Maximum Eck has let me into a little secret. The Scottish Government is about to institute a contest for English journalists. The journalist with the most points gets to win the "They Just Don't Get It Award" for 2011.

Points are to be won every time the journalist uses an ever-so-worn-out cliche about Scotland.

First, every mention of the word "kilt" gets you one point. Come on now, everyone's got to get at least one point, haven't they? Happily you can lose the point if you are sufficiently well informed as to explain that kilts are only worn at weddings and at football matches (normal or rugby). Note that good planning may even enable North British kilt wearers to do a wedding and a game on the same day. This is not advisable for the groom...

Almost everyone will get two points by mentioning "Braveheart". Most southern journalists think that Gibson-Wallace was born in the Highlands. It certainly looked that way in the film. Fortunately you can lose all points accumulated so far by noting that Gibson-Wallace was probably born near Glasgow Airport. If you are really informed you may explain that one body of opinion claims that Gibson-Wallace was actually born near Prestwick Airport. Either way, he was Scotland's first plane spotter. It seems unlikely that Gibson-Wallace really did have an affair with Sophie Marceau, but then how does one explain the "Auld Alliance"?

A perennial favourite is Hadrian's Wall, as in "Let's rebuild it". Mention of this pre-Berlusconi Keynesian construction site earns the contestant three points.

But beware. As all right-thinking folk know, the Wall doesn't divide Scotland and England. Oh no, not at all. It started (as did yours truly) on the Solway Firth. But, sadly for the Wall, it started on the southern side. So unlike myself. Perhaps the pre-Berlusconians were too scared to start construction in Annan, although Toni's Cafe has been there for quite some time...

The really interesting thing is at the other end, conveniently known as "Wallsend". Just before Wallsend is the fine city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. But here's an amazing fact: It looks likely that while the centre of Newcastle would still be in England when the Wall is "rebuilt", St James's Park would find itself north of the border. The Old Firm would be increased from two to three! Howay the lads, whatever foot they kick with.

Anyway, why do these Wall revisionists want to give away 99% of Northumberland? Note the angle at which the Tyne enters the North Sea. Rebuilding the Wall means England losing a huge part of its offshore resources. George Osborne will send the Wall rebuilders homewards to think again. Assuming he knows where "up north" actually is, of course.

To earn the maximum of fours points, journalists entering the contest need to mention the dreaded Deep Fried Mars Bar:

I’ve found it; the mists of myth and legend have lifted and the deep-fried Mars bar has been tracked down. It’s served as petit fours at the Hotel du Vin in Edinburgh, as is Irn-Bru Turkish delight. I’ll type that again, in case you were distracted by the urgent necessity of extracting your teeth from the table-top: it’s served as petit fours at the Hotel du Vin in Edinburgh.
Well, the Hotel du Vin is the only place in Scotland I've been to that serves the DFMB. And the joke is that the waitress assured us locals that the evil concoction was only ever eaten by tourists. Perhaps the visiting journalist should get five points for consuming this masterpiece of Scottish cuisine. After all, it'll be on expenses.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

They just don't get it, do they?

I first became interested in politics way back in the late '60s and I well remember hearing the shock news that the SNP's Winifred Ewing had taken the "safe" Labour seat of Hamilton. Around that time I started reading the Scotsman and got to know the country far better on my annual visits up from London. Back then it seemed preposterous to think that Scotland would one day become independent.

Not any more.

In the early seventies I discovered libertarianism and remain a libertarian to this day. And now I live again in Scotland but one that has changed completely from the Labour/Tory one that I left so many years ago.

After Ewing's victory at Hamilton I read a letter in (I think) the Evening Standard. It went something like this:
If Scotland became independent, the next thing is that Yorkshire would want to do so as well.
At that point I knew that "they didn't get it".

The thing's this: everyone in Scotland, whether they support independence or not, thinks that in some sense Scotland is a nation.

No one in Yorkshire thinks that in some sense Yorkshire is a nation.

Yes, Yorkshire's a very fine county - the only place I've lived in England other than London. Its inhabitants are rightly proud of their identity and like nothing better than beating those folk from the other side of the Pennines. But Yorkshire's not a nation and no-one there thinks that it is.

When the Treaty of Union was signed and then approved by the two Acts of Union in 1707 (and yes, there were two, obviously) the Scots insisted on three things:

(1) The retention of the Scottish legal system

(2) The retention of the Church of Scotland

(3) The retention of the Scottish education system

Those three "retentions" are what meant that for three centuries Scots continued to see themselves as citizens of a Scottish nation within a multi-national British state. And without those retentions the Scots would never had agreed to the merger of the two parliaments.

The problem is of course that our English friends never saw it that way. From the English point of view, when they thought about it at all, England seemed to have somehow acquired a strange, wet, mountainous additional bit of land somewhere up north. Although vaguely aware that these new "Englishmen" spoke with funny accents and were rather useful in the military, very few down South had any real idea that Scotland had retained its own different civil society as laid down in the Acts of Union. I well recall coming up here on different occasions with English friends who would exclaim: "I didn't realise that it was so different up here." And they weren't talking about the weather! Well, they ken noo...

But do they? I really don't think so. Last night I spent several hours reading the English comments on the Telegraph, the Guardian and on Political Betting. It really was extraordinary.

Would Scotland have its own embassies?

Would Scotland have its own military?

Would Scotland have its own Inland Revenue? (Hopefully not, but that's another story!)

Would Scotland have its own team at the Olympics?

Would Scotland have a head of state?

etc. etc. etc

Why is it all so mysterious? Those Scots who seek independence do so because they want their nation to be just like others. No mystery.

That incidentally, is the answer to those down south who say: "The SNP doesn't really want independence because they want to remain in the EU." Now I'm not a fan of the EU, but the point is that most Scots want to be like other normal nations. If that means out of the EU, so be it. If that means in the EU, so be it. It's the wanting to be a normal nation that's they key to what happened across Scotland on Thursday.

But Cameron, Clegg, Milliband, the BBC, and the rest of them don't get it, do they? That, in my opinion, is why independence is now inevitable.

Labour England!

I've just about recovered from the excitement of the last few days and here's an initial observation.

If we take the UK 2010 General Election results for English seats and compare them with the comparable first past the post vote in Scotland last Thursday we get an interesting result:

Labour percentage of English MPs at Westminster: 35.8%

Labour percentage of Scottish MSPs at Holyrood: 20.5%

Monday, 25 April 2011

Address to the Foundling Fathers

I mentioned the debut of the new blog Orphans of Liberty. A nice name by the way.

Here is their initial statement:

Who are we?

We are differing voices who come together under one banner – that of liberty. We are political and apolitical – some belong to parties, some do not. Some are self-professed libertarians, some are small “c” conservatives, some classical liberals – the names are varied.   However we all have one thing in common, a love of personal liberty; that casualty of the encroaching state as it seeks to micromanage our lives. In his first post for this blog, luikkerland states that writing is the the first act of rebellion. Here, then, is our defiance. Read, engage, enjoy.

Now this is all very fine but I do have one concern and that's the use of the word libertarian. Founder of the new site James Higham places himself in the Libertarian Quadrant.

Good.

But back in November I warned about the increasing use of the term "left libertarian", which I've seen quite a few times in the Orphanosphere recently.

This is what I wrote:

The point is that liberty is indivisible. The case for economic liberty is exactly the same as the case for personal liberty. The economic spectrum goes from authoritarianism to libertarianism just as does the civil liberties spectrum. The government that takes away your economic freedom is as much your enemy as one that takes away your personal freedom.
There is some evidence on my bookshelves that I became a libertarian way back in January 1972 and I don't think that I ever heard of "left libertarianism" for at least twenty years afterwards. But now it's out there in the marketplace of ideas, although its adherents might not like that term!

Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

Libertarianism is a political philosophy that upholds individual liberty, especially freedom of expression and action.[1] Libertarianism includes diverse beliefs and organizations–all advocate either the minimization or the elimination of the state, and the goal of maximizing individual liberty and freedom.

Libertarian schools of thought differ over the degree to which the state should be reduced, with minarchists advocating reduction to only state protection from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud, and anarchists advocating complete elimination of the state. Additionally,some schools are supportive of private property rights in the ownership of unappropriated land and natural resources while others reject such private individual ownership and often support communal ownership instead.[2][3][4] These are sometimes grouped as right-libertarians and left-libertarians respectively.

I've underlined the key quote.

I think this is highly misleading. Real libertarians believe, as stated above, in individual liberty, and only actual individuals can act. Furthermore, acting individuals who appropriate previously unowned resources are then free to decide what to do with their new property, including deciding whether that property continues to be owned by individuals, or communally through co-operatives and the like or indeed by profit-seeking companies, which are themselves a form of communal ownership.

The problem with the so-called "left libertarians" is that they only seem to accept the idea of communal ownership, and communal ownership of a particular sort. In other words they don't believe in individual liberty at all.

There is another point. Without private ownership of property there can be no long-lasting non-economic liberties either.

We real libertarians are perfectly comfortable with any pattern of ownership, so long as it is voluntary. Of course, those of us who are economically minded will point out that certain types of ownership are not conducive to material prosperity but those who chose to use their own property in that way are perfectly free to do so. But not with my property, comrades.

I'm sure that most Orphans would prefer to live in a prosperous society. That requires a defence of real libertarianism.

Orphans of Liberty

Welcome to Orphans of Liberty.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Respect

Here's some interesting news:
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has achieved the highest score for charities for the second year running in research on reputation carried out by the Reputation Institute (RI).
Remind me again. What's different about the RNLI?

Oh yes:

The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 139,000 lives.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Time to shrug?

I started a little company way back in January 1996. My wife and I are the sole shareholders and directors. The company was active for the first couple of years during which I was working freelance. It then became more or less dormant for four years when I was working full time elsewhere. Since returning to live in Scotland the company has sprung back to life.

Our company has never needed a bailout. It has never been overdrawn. Its annual return and accounts have always been filed with Companies House well before the deadlines. The P14 and P35 returns have always gone in on time. Those are the ones that cover tax and NI due and paid for the year. Admittedly the first time I did the P14s and P35s online took a wee bit longer than doing them on paper but the Revenue were offering a tax free bonus, so online was a no-brainer.

The corporation tax return is, or rather was, simplicity itself. Perhaps five minutes to fill it in, then photocopy it and take to the post office. Nae problem.

And so we come to this year.

The company's year-end was on Thursday 31st March. On the Saturday morning I reconciled the bank statement, which included the last client cheque for the financial year. That enabled me to work out my gross salary and employer's NI for the month. We've never bothered with dividends, what with all of the IR35 nonsense. I just want a quiet life and if that means paying a wee bit more tax, so be it.

Next, I prepared the profit and loss account and balance sheet for 2010/11. I also filed the P14s and P35 online. So, only five minutes to go for the corporation tax return which incidentally would show a £2 loss and consequently no tax actually due. I don't suppose that ukuncut would understand... One year I made a £2 profit and the Revenue wanted a cheque for 38p. I like to think that they framed a copy of that cheque on the office wall. The cheque did go through the bank. Fair enough, I'd have done the same.

But everything's changed this year. You aren't allowed to file the corporation tax return on paper any more. It must be filed online. But here's the catch: whereas the P14s and P35s are filed directly onto the Revenue's website, the corporation tax return has to be filed using iXBRL format. As you can see from the HMRC link, this requires a bit of thinking. Do I need to buy special software for the former five-minute job? Not necessarily:

HMRC provides a free product, 'Online Tax Return - CT'. This lets you file Company Tax Returns and supplementary pages A, E and J online with Accounts and Computations templates that ensures your return is submitted in the correct manner. HMRC have tested all the features of this service, and will provide support to users through the Online Services Helpdesk. This will be one of the available filing options once you have logged on to our Online Services.
"Tested"? Not quite. Although the Revenue assures me that their software works on an Apple, first one needs to download Adobe Reader. (Apple has its own equivalent). But the current version of the Reader only goes up to OSX 10.6.6 and the latest Apple operating system is 10.6.7. Do I risk a download? By the way, the Revenue's helpdesk was out of order during the busiest week of the tax year! It gets better. Before you download the HMRC software into your Adobe Reader you must first adopt the Revenue's Twelve Step Programme:
Changing settings in Adobe Reader

You’ll be able to enter data into the service but you won’t be able to view, print, add attachments, or submit the return until you have changed settings in your Adobe form. This change will ensure the Company Tax Return and accounts service operates securely.

There are twelve steps you need to take to change the settings in Adobe Reader to make the service secure.

I've used Adobe Reader on other machines before and didn't even know (or need to know) that it had "settings".

So I guess that I've spent around two hours researching the whole damned thing. I may try to use the Adobe Reader on my notebook but the company's accounts are on the Apple. And the accounts have to be filed online along with the tax return.

I used to wonder about those claims that ever increasing red tape was introduced at the request of large established companies so as to do down small potential competitors. To some extent yes, but not always surely. Now I'm not so sure. I see zero evidence that the coalition government likes or understands small business. They probably are trying to kill us off. Time to shrug?

(UPDATE: I spoke about this to a partner in a firm of Chartered Accountants on Monday evening. It's not just me. The whole iXBRL change is chaotic.)

Bill Jamieson is wrong

In today's Scotland on Sunday Bill Jamieson writes about the Eurozone bailouts.

Correctly, Bill starts by apportioning some of the blame to those countries already on the bailout list:

In this analysis, we cannot absolve the governments of these countries for a large measure of responsibility for the desperate state their economies are in. Greece fiddled the figures it supplied to the Eurozone authorities to qualify for entry. Its statistics now have to be independently verified.

The Irish government turned a blind eye to the galloping personal and corporate debt explosion that occurred under its watch. Portugal has failed to modernise its industries and undertake restructuring to stop its economy becoming ever more uncompetitive.

Unfortunately, Mr Jamieson goes on to say this:
It is now painfully obvious that a "one size fits all" interest rate regime was a fatefully simplistic project - poorly thought through, blind to potential problems and wilfully insouciant to warnings that across such dissimilar economies, problems and tensions were bound to arise. Whoever thought that Germany's strict anti-inflation culture would allow for the different economic composition and dynamics of countries as unlike Germany as Portugal and Spain?
I disagree completely. Needless to say I'm not supporting the existence of a fiat currency like the Euro. But I am opposing the easy call for countries like Greece, Portugal and Ireland to be able to seek salvation through devaluation of their own restored currencies.

Let's not beat about the bush. Devaluation means that you granny's life savings are to be stolen so as to bail out the imprudent. That's also the shameful policy of the current "Conservative"/"Liberal" government here in the UK. And that's what Bill Jamieson's policies would mean for Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

The key point is that devaluation is an invariable consequence of a fiat monetary system. That's exactly why the political class opposes sound money. They want to steal your money. The proper libertarian solution is to get government out of the money business altogether. Governments should not create money, they should not have central banks and they should not guarantee deposits.

Throughout history free people have invariably chosen a form of money that's based on something that's already been valued in the market place for other uses. Given choice, it is highly likely that people would pick precious metals like gold and silver as money. That in turn would mean that the same homogenous money was in use throughout the free world. It follows then that worldwide interest rates would converge according to the global supply of and demand for savings. That supply and demand for savings would be driven by the way in which people throughout the world valued future goods over present goods.

In such a world there would be no continuous theft of your granny's life savings by the political class. Governments would have to live within their means, however shocking a concept that may be. The Greeks, Portuguese and Irish governments should live within their means. So, of course, should ours.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Lots of tweeting today

Here

There is no one ideal NED

That was the wonderful headline in the current issue of the Chartered Secretaries magazine.

The article goes on to say, "However, it is the NED who can offer a constructive challenge which is an essential part of good governance."

I guess that this piece wan't proofread in Scotland!

(NED = Non Executive Director)

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Why do some people hate freedom?

Only SNP can fight market ideology says the ludicrous Joyce McMillan.

Ludicrous? It's almost a case of where to begin. So let's start with the title.

Why, exactly, would anyone want to fight a "market ideology"? To answer that we have to know what the term "market" means. As so often, Murray Rothbard had the answer:

The Free market is a summary term for an array of exchanges that take place in society. Each exchange is undertaken as a voluntary agreement between two people or between groups of people represented by agents
So what Ms McMillan is against is the freedom to make voluntary agreements.

This next bit is sort of correct but remains analytically lacking:

Three years ago, after all, the ordinary citizens of the West watched the financial system under which they had been living for decades hurtle towards self-destruction, and survive only with the help of massive bailouts from the public purse. It was substantially discredited, both intellectually and morally; yet three years on, we find the power of this financial system not diminished, but if anything increased. Nothing has changed, except that ordinary British citizens are now being asked to foot the bill.
First, the system had been hurtling towards destruction since long before 2008. And it was the prior subsidies from the public purse that caused that destruction! Without taxpayer guarantees for the fiat monetary system, there would have been no crash. With those subsidies, the crash was inevitable. Second, the system had indeed been discredited (totally, not "substantially") long before the crash by people like the earlier quoted Rothbard, not by anti-market folk like Joyce McMillan. Third, McMillan should make it clear that the price is being paid by taxpayers and savers, not by all "ordinary" British citizens many of whom are tax consumers.

Then our Joyce tells us that the current UK government is "perhaps the most doctrinaire pro-market administration seen in this country for a century" and that it is "bent on remedying market failure, by applying ever more drastic market solutions". Utter nonsense. The government's debt is planned to continue to grow for several years. "Doctrinaire pro-market" - you're having a laugh. And as I explained above, the crash was caused a politicised, non-market financial system. "Market solutions"? If only.

McMillan goes on to say:

Like hundreds of thousands of bred-in-the-bone Labour voters, I have never been able to bring myself to vote for the SNP; in my heart, I think social justice a far more important political principle than national identity
Oh dear. Has Ms McMillan read anything by Hayek?
To discover the meaning of what is called 'social justice' has been one of my chief preoccupations for more than 10 years. I have failed in this endeavour - or rather, have reached the conclusion that, with reference to society of free men, the phrase has no meaning whatever.
Exactly. The only kind of genuine justice there can be is one based on the free market as defined by Rothbard above.

Next we read this:

What faces us over the next ten years, though, is not a tea-party or an academic debate, but a herculean struggle to turn the tide of extreme market ideology that has already done so much damage to our societies; and to create a credible, working alternative.
I knew that the term "tea-party" would get in somewhere! But where is any evidence for extreme market ideology being practised in Scotland or the UK? The credible working alternative to the status quo is the free market.

Some final thoughts:

McMillan's world "dependent on Westminster subsidy". No - dependent on taxpayer subsidy.

"Scotland's free prescriptions and university fees". What? Scientists and professors work for nothing? Pharmacies and universities spring out of thin air?

On one thing I do agree with Joyce McMillan. I couldn't possibly vote for the Labour party.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Apologies...

... for the lack of postings recently.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I've not been too well for a while but now hope to start regular posts again. Second, I'm continuing to feel totally depressed at the state of the world, the UK, and of Scotland.

I wrote here about how I came to vote for the Tories at the last general election. Then in this piece I explained why I am sympathetic to Scottish independence.

The Conservative/Lib Dem government has been depressing in the extreme. They manage to increase government expenditure while almost the entire population believes that spending is going down. Of course, the rot set in when the Tories totally failed to criticise Labour's runaway expenditure. Not only that, we see the continuation of the nanny state control freakery that made normal people so hate the previous regime. And don't get me starting on the thieves at the Bank of England...

It's not much better here in Scotland. Alex Salmond made this ludicrous promise:

In a personal speech, in which he reiterated his belief in independence, the First Minister claimed that a deal could be reached on no compulsory sackings in the NHS, schools, and right across local government.
They just don't get it, do they? There's NO MORE MONEY. Another thing: why do so many Scottish politicians seem to think that most people here work in the public sector? The overwhelming majority doesn't. And most of us see no reason why public sector workers should get such good deals on wages, holidays and pensions (yes, even post-Hutton) at the expense of the taxpayers.

Enough for the moment. Mrs F&W's excellent homemade lasagna beckons...

Sunday, 13 February 2011

You wait for one donation and then a whole lot of them come along together...

I see that Brian Souter will give money to the SNP's election campaign.

Assuming that others do so first, that is!

See here:

Brian Souter said he will match each pound from small donations up to that figure by the end of March as part of an attempt to secure £1 million for the Holyrood election on May 5.
I think this is probably a good thing. As readers will know, the financial crisis will not be resolved until the malinvestments caused by all that money printing are allowed to be liquidated. Whoever wins the next Holyrood election will come to wish that they hadn't. I'd prefer that to be the Labour party, and they seem to be the most likely winners at the moment. But it would be too awful for Labour to be elected with a huge majority. If they are to win, let it be by one vote in one constituency. Souter's money may help stop a landslide.

As I wrote here, I reluctantly voted for the Conservatives last May. I now regret that vote. The Tories haven't faced up to the seriousness of the financial crisis, nor have they made any real attempt to restore the civil liberties that were lost under the Labour regime. The nanny state lives.

Needless-to-say, no other party has a clue either, but disappointment is greatest when it's tinged with a sense of betrayal.

The UK's political class will probably bring about total national bankruptcy and sadly the SNP are as ignorant of economics as the rest of them. In such a crisis I expect that independence will be thrust upon us whether we like it or not. With the right policies an independent Scotland will do just fine. Which politicians will provide them remains to be seen.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Libertarian Alliance Ltd

Earlier today I resigned as Company Secretary of Libertarian Alliance Ltd. I've been producing the accounts of LA Ltd since it became a limited company thirty odd years ago and also earlier before its incorporation.

I shall miss playing this role in the libertarian movement but after all these years it's time to hand over to someone else.

Naturally I shall continue to support and be a member of the Libertarian Alliance. I wish my successor well.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Supping with the devil

I don't usually think that private organisations should be made to reveal their inner workings to the general public. But surely things are different when providing services to the government. Or rather, to the taxpayer.

So this is bad news:

The Scottish Government has been slapped down by the Information Commissioner for bowing to pressure from big business and abandoning plans to end the secrecy enjoyed by private contractors working for the state.

Ministers have shelved proposals to extend freedom of information legislation to cover the companies that build and run schools, hospitals, prisons and roads. The move was fiercely opposed by the firms.

If companies don't wish to face demands that are "unnecessary, costly, and at odds with promises to simplify regulation and public procurement" they have a simple solution: Don't do business with the state.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Thought for the day

What would happen if the Muslim Brotherhood/al-Qaeda were to take control of the Suez Canal?

By how much would petrol prices rise in the UK?

How much more valuable would the North Sea Oilfields become?

Would the RAF argue that both Lossiemouth and Leuchars be kept open?

What would the impact be on the accounts of UK PLC?

What would the impact be on the accounts of Scotland PLC?

What effect would all of this have on the forthcoming Holyrood election?

Just asking...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Where did the books go?

Actually, they went to London.

Here is the continuation of the tracking information from last time, and again it's in reverse chronological order:

London, United Kingdom 01/20/2011 10:53 A.M. Delivered

01/20/2011 6:44 A.M. Out For Delivery

01/20/2011 6:42 A.M. Arrival Scan

Stansted, United Kingdom 01/20/2011 5:30 A.M. Departure Scan

01/20/2011 3:37 A.M. Arrival Scan

Koeln, Germany 01/20/2011 3:26 A.M. Departure Scan

Koeln, Germany 01/19/2011 5:58 A.M. Adverse weather conditions.

It seems that the books went to another customer of the sender. A little bit of detective work on my part leads me to think that the package may have gone to the LSE!

Anyway, the books were resent and here is the next lot of tracking information:

Edinburgh, United Kingdom 26/01/2011 14:26 Delivered

26/01/2011 9:33 Out for Delivery

26/01/2011 8:00 Arrival Scan

26/01/2011 7:40 Departure Scan

26/01/2011 6:31 Arrival Scan

Castle Donnington, United Kingdom 26/01/2011 5:33 Departure Scan

26/01/2011 2:09 Import Scan

Stansted, United Kingdom 24/01/2011 23:10 Departure Scan

Castle Donnington, United Kingdom 24/01/2011 23:08 Arrival Scan

Stansted, United Kingdom 24/01/2011 21:35 Departure Scan

Castle Donnington, United Kingdom 24/01/2011 21:24 Released by clearing agency Now in-transit for delivery

Stansted, United Kingdom 24/01/2011 20:29 Arrival Scan

Philadelphia, PA, United States 24/01/2011 8:23 Departure Scan

Philadelphia, PA, United States 22/01/2011 11:52 Arrival Scan

Philadelphia, PA, United States 21/01/2011 18:35 Arrival Scan

Louisville, KY, United States 21/01/2011 16:54 Departure Scan

21/01/2011 9:19 Arrival Scan

Nashville, TN, United States 21/01/2011 4:23 Departure Scan

21/01/2011 2:29 Arrival Scan

Atlanta, GA, United States 20/01/2011 23:13 Departure Scan

20/01/2011 21:38 Origin Scan

20/01/2011 16:28 Collection Scan

United States 20/01/2011 16:48 Order Processed: Ready for UPS

And here they are on my desk:

I have to admit that it's pretty impressive that packages can be sent across the world in such short times. Government post offices certainly couldn't have come up with such systems. But leaving Stansted at 2310 having arrived at the East Midlands airport only two minutes' earlier is a wee bit unlikely, is it not?

It seems that the actual scan times have very little connection with what's displayed on the system. But is that all bad news? Not necessarily. Just how efficient would the authorities be at monitoring our every movement, should they so desire?

Hey, bro, is that Dave Cameron?

Well yes, good afternoon Mr President.

Bro, are you monitoring that guy we mentioned?

Certainly. He's now in a cafe in Deansgate, Manchester, and he's eating a bacon roll. How impressive is that?

Pretty good, bro. And where was he before that?

Five minutes' earlier he was in a bus going along the seafront at Plymouth.

Ain't that where all those religious immigrants came from?

No Mr President, they tend to come from Somalia.

Bro, I think we're getting divided by a common language here. Where was the dude before he was in Plymouth?

Fifteen minutes' earlier he was in a bar on the south side of Dublin having some Guinness with a couple of guys in expensive suits.

Hey Dave, Dublin you say? He was probably meeting his bankers! And Bro, I guess all these places must be quite close together, the way he keeps moving around in such a short time?

I suppose so Mr President, but my geography's not too good once one gets out of Notting Hill...

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The wonders of modern systems

I recently ordered some books from the US. Here is the latest tracking information in reverse chronological order:

Location Date Local Time ActivityWhat's This?

Koeln, Germany 01/19/2011 5:58 A.M. Adverse weather conditions.

01/19/2011 3:43 A.M. Departure Scan

01/19/2011 12:51 A.M. Arrival Scan

Newark, NJ, United States 01/18/2011 11:00 A.M. Departure Scan

Castle Donnington, United Kingdom 01/18/2011 12:50 A.M. Released by Clearing Agency. Now in-transit for delivery.

Newark, NJ, United States 01/17/2011 6:12 P.M. Arrival Scan

Louisville, KY, United States 01/17/2011 4:17 P.M. Departure Scan

01/17/2011 10:59 A.M. Arrival Scan

Nashville, TN, United States 01/17/2011 7:13 A.M. Departure Scan

Nashville, TN, United States 01/15/2011 3:23 A.M. Arrival Scan

Atlanta, GA, United States 01/15/2011 12:14 A.M. Departure Scan

Atlanta, GA, United States 01/14/2011 11:05 P.M. Origin Scan

United States 01/17/2011 7:44 A.M. Order Processed: Ready for UPS

Atlanta would be the nearest major airport to the sender. Louisville is the main UPS hub for the US. Why via Nashville, I'm not sure - these are not musical books...

I thought that a direct flight to Europe from Louisville would have been expected but instead the goods went via the busy passenger airport of Newark. OK, fair enough. The package then seems to have reached East Midlands Airport (Castle Donnington) where it cleared customs, but after this it apparently went back to Newark! Newark, New Jersey, not Newark, Nottinghamshire.

Last night the senders e-mailed me to let me know that UPS had entered their Newark data late and that the package hadn't in fact gone back to the US but was still in the UK. OK, but then this morning the books had apparently turned up in Cologne! Now Cologne is the main UPS hub for Europe so I suppose that it's possible that a package would go from East Midlands (the UK hub) to Cologne for onward delivery to Edinburgh, bizarre though that would seem. But then, why would it first clear UK customs before going abroad again and why not fly it direct from Newark to the Cologne hub?

My theory is that the UPS system is not in chronological order again and the package actually went from Newark to Cologne and then to East Midlands.

Mrs F&W has another theory: these books on the Austrian School of Economics have a homing instinct and are trying to get to Vienna...

The sender's note says that they'll be here by Thursday evening.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Never mind the facts, what about the theory?

The SNP has made much of the claim that financial independence would lead to additional economic growth. I blogged about this back in October.

Now there's been a bit of a row about this claim:

During a bad-tempered clash, the academics distanced themselves from SNP claims that their report provided a case for fiscal autonomy.
And looking back a wee bit:
First Minister Alex Salmond referred to the report during his speech at last year's autumn SNP conference, when he said: "We know, thanks to the work of Andrew Hughes Hallett and Drew Scott, that with economic powers we could grow the Scottish economy by an extra 1 per cent a year."
In Holyrood yesterday:
Prof Hughes Hallett, of St Andrews University, said the claims about increasing GDP were "referenced in the papers" he and his colleague had written, but was unable to say what the evidence was or where it came from. He said: "Increased powers could be expected to increase the level of GDP by between 0.6 per cent and 1.3 per cent."
I'm afraid that the professor's reply was a bit weak in the circumstances. You have to be fully prepared when entering the lion's den of politics. Not having the evidence at hand does your case no good whatsoever. Does that mean that I disagree with Hughes Hallett's case? Not at all, and for reasons that may not be obvious at first.

Consider this quote:

The Austrian school is different from other schools of economics because it does not rely on complex mathematical models to prove its point. The economists of the Austrian school derive their understanding by using what is called a priori thinking—something which appeals to our logic on its own without any support of a mathematical model.
Here is a fine book that explains the differences between the a priori approach of the Austrians and the empiricism of the Chicago School of free market economics.

In my last post I showed that there is a strong positive correlation between economic freedom and national prosperity. And smaller government expenditure is positively correlated with economic growth. That's useful information, but it doesn't necessarily prove that A causes B. The a priorism of the Austrians enables us to see why freedom and low government expenditures lead to better outcomes and that's exactly why I've just placed another book order with the Mises Institute.

Here's a little a priori thought experiment:

Imagine you have a teenage child.

Scenario A: You give the teenager pocket money, say a modest £30 billion per year, no matter what he spends it on.

Scenario B: You tell the teenager that he must go out and get a job if he wants any spending money.

Will A or B produce a more economically successful child?

It really is as simple as that. And that's what economists should be telling Holyrood.

Are you free?

I see that the latest Index of Economic Freedom has come out.

The UK stands at number 16 in terms of economic freedom with a score of 74.5, down 2.0 points since last year.

Out of 183 countries only 13 show a larger drop in economic freedom in the previous twelve months than does the UK. At least our score is better than that of Zimbabwe at 22.1, never mind poor old North Korea with a mighty score of 1.0.

The figures show that there is a positive correlation between economic freedom and economic prosperity. They also show that higher government expenditure is correlated with lower economic growth.

This would seem to indicate that an independent Scotland would be strongly advised to emulate country number 1. After all, it was created by a Scot.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Clerical errors

Socialists want the state to control every aspect of our lives. A totally socialist society would be one of poverty and misery. Except for the high heid yins of course. The income differential between the leaders and the workers of the Soviet Union was far higher than corresponding differences in the West. And I'd guess that the Soviet leadership didn't spend too much time getting their own personal paperwork in good comradely order. No, that's for the little folk.

See what's happened to George Galloway:

Miranda Media, set up by the former Glasgow Kelvin MP to receive earnings from his newspaper columns and television and radio work, faces being struck off the register at Companies House.

The annual return, a crucial document which lists the company’s shareholders, directors and offices, is three months overdue.

Mr Galloway’s office said the omission was an “unfortunate clerical error” and hoped Companies House would rescind its threat to close the company.

Such behaviour gets the little people into big trouble. I had to complete one of these Annual Returns within 28 days of the year-end. It went off via the web at midday on January first. In my case getting it wrong would not be seen as an “unfortunate clerical error” by Companies House. If one of our most prominent socialists can't even run a small business properly how on earth do they think that they can run a country?