Monday 26 May 2008

Eurovision - a flawed democracy

So, the Russians won. And we've had the usual complaints:
SIR Terry Wogan, the veteran Eurovision commentator, has cast doubt on whether he would be involved in covering the event again.

He said it was "no longer a music contest" and that prospects for western European participants were "poor".

One of the Scotsman's commenters had the same idea as myself:
The obvious solution to the political voting problem, by the way, is for the BBC to allow Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland to enter the contest separately - it would be the right thing to do on its own merits, but it would also set up a new British Isles voting bloc to rival that of the Balkans, the Baltic, Scandinavia and the ex-USSR.
I'd go further: let's give the vote to the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey etc., not to mention the Free State of Berwick upon Tweed. Then one of our lot would win every year.

On a more serious note (no pun intended!) this whole charade demonstrates some of the problems inherent in democracy itself. It does seem rather unfair that Iceland has the same voting power as Russia in the Eurovision contest. That could be fixed easily enough. Nevertheless, there's still going to be one winning country.

Similarly in a political democracy the winner takes all, no matter how "proportional" the voting system may be. You get Brown or Cameron; Salmond or Alexander; McCain or Obama/Clinton.

How different from the marketplace. When I go into my local pub no vote is held on what we drink, with the winner then being the only available product. No, we all "vote" with our money and the outcome is a huge selection and we all get what we want as individuals. That's why the state should do as little as possible (or nothing at all), letting the market handle almost everything.

Sunday 25 May 2008

Brown's Chicken

That's the headline on a spam e-mail that I received today.

8 pieces for $4.99! Now Brown's beaten inflation...

(Note the name of the company's co-founder!)

Friday 23 May 2008

Shocking result in Crewe

Not that the Tories won of course. Voting for Mr Timpson was the obvious thing to do to get Labour out.

No, what's shocking is that 30% of the voters still vote for the Labour Party despite ten long years of economic sabotage and - even more frightening - ten long years of relentless attacks on our civil liberties. I know that 25% or so work for the state. Who on earth are the other 5%? I suppose they're on welfare. Can anyone who's a net taxpayer still vote Labour?

Sunday 18 May 2008

Responding to Alex

Alex Massie has picked up on the sale of Adam Smith's house:
They chose the £800,000 bid over a higher offer, on the grounds that the University would make the building more accessible to the public. The University plans to restore the house to promote the study of economics. Hmmm. Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to sell to the highest bidder?
In one of the comments Gavin Kennedy writes:
The difference in the bid was £150,000, a rather small amount which will be more than covered quickly by the commercial operations of Adam Smith's former home (1788-90) in pursuit of academic excellence in economics.

This is also a public benefit, which was lauded by Adam Smith.

I'd like to enlarge on that observation with a nod in the direction of the Austrian School of Economics.

Values are subjective. We each have our own unique scale of values and if that weren't so no trade would be possible at all. Let's imagine that I'm in the market for a property. I might be happy to pay £250,000 for a flat in central Edinburgh but another person might well prefer to spend the same amount of money on a sizeable house in rural Fife. And I might be willing to spend a bit extra on a place in Edinburgh simply because it had once been owned by Adam Smith! Others wouldn't. Values aren't limited to monetary considerations.

So I would argue that the City Council hasn't necessarily sold the Smith abode to a low bidder. It all depends on the Council's scale of values and those values can include a keenness for a particular future use of the property. From its point of view the Council has sold to the highest bidder. For once, in this case the Council's scale of values is not unlike mine!

Responding to Martin

I thought that I'd respond to some recent posts on other blogs.

Martin Kelly wrote about my own earlier observations on Boris Johnson's alcohol ban on the London Tube.

Martin claims that:

libertarians...forget that even in the smallest of all possible British states, the authorities would retain a monopoly on force
and that could justify:
banning alcohol from public places.

Again, the libertarian position is a bit more nuanced than that. First, individuals in a libertarian limited state would retain the right of self-defence. The state wouldn't enjoy a monopoly on all uses of force. Second, what is a "public space"? The Tube is arguably a public place (given its current ownership), but "public" houses aren't. Nor are football stadia for that matter. Libertarians think that the Tube should be privatised thus ceasing to be a "public place" but rather a place into which the public are allowed to enter subject to the owner's regulations - just like on the railways. There's an important difference. The rules concerning entry that are set by the owners could include an alcohol ban.

Friday 16 May 2008

Black Smoke

Meanwhile, in Glasgow today, Rangers fail to elect a new team...

Thursday 15 May 2008

Rangers, England and the World Cup

The Prime Minister's take on last night's events is interesting:
A small minority of Rangers fans are a "disgrace" who could have jeopardised England's bid to host the 2018 football World Cup, Gordon Brown warned today.
First, I find it odd that our PM should immediately think of linking the trouble in Manchester with something ten years away. Why did he do that? Is it because his priority is to keep England "on side" (his side of course) rather than making suitable observations about the events themselves?

Second, I wonder how many English viewers were bemused to see so many Union Jacks being waved by Scottish fans in scenes reminiscent of Wembley in 1966. But I seem to recall reading somewhere that Glasgow was one of the top markets for sales of England football shirts. That's certain to confuse certain English bloggers for weeks...

Third, let's suppose that Brown's fears come to pass. Imagine England losing the right to host the World Cup because of the actions of Scottish fans who support the union with England albeit being even more passionate about the one with Northern Ireland. It's enough to confuse most people! But the quality of history teaching these days is such that plenty of English folk would blame Scotland as a whole despite the fact that the Scottish national team is usually supported by everyone except Rangers (and Celtic) fans whose predominant loyalties lie elsewhere.

Wouldn't it be bizarre were an England that had lost the right to host the World Cup respond by kicking Scotland out of the Union even though the Scots in Manchester were the most pro English ones that one could find? Stranger things have happened.

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Gies us a return tae Milngavie, big man

Here's a funny story:
STENOGRAPHERS employed by an English company are littering court transcripts with mistakes because they are bamboozled by Scots accents, senior lawyers have claimed.

Leading advocates have complained that Scottish names such as Barlinnie have been wrongly transcribed as “Barrel Annie” and that words such as “libelled” and “fanciful” have been replaced with “liable” and “fanciable”.

I'm not one of those who oppose the outsourcing of Scottish jobs to England or anywhere else for that matter. We could hardly do so while being quietly proud that the RBS is now one of the world's largest banks. Surely though you need to make sure that the firm can do the job. Clearly, this one can't.

But what's this?

“The transcriptions are bloody awful,” said Donald Findlay QC, one of Scotland's leading defence barristers
Donald Findlay a barrister! Surely he's an advocate.

(My spellchecker is ever so slightly superior - in a Glasgow way. Milngavie is OK, but not Barlinnie...)

Monday 12 May 2008

Is Boris illiberal?

Devil's Kitchen writes that Boris Johnson is illiberal because he has banned alcohol from the Tube. There's another post here and also here.

(Incidentally, I imagine that Mr Devil was pleased to note that the population of the world probably reached 6,666,666,666 during the period of this debate...)

The trouble is, as some of the commenters have pointed out, that things can be more complicated than they may seem at first.

Here's Blue Eyes:

It is essentially a condition of carriage which as a private operator TFL is entitled to change from time to time. Or don't you agree with contracts between consenting adults now DK?

And DK's response:

P.S. If the Tube is a private space, then a politician should not be able to interfere. That was the whole point about the banning of smoking in pubs too.

Either it is a public area, in which case the politicians should have no mandate.

Which is it?

And here's Rory Meakin:

As I said, however, I am distinctly uncomfortable with this decision being taken by a politician. Whether a train/bus/tram company should permit alcohol on its property is in no sense a legitimate matter for public policy. This is the main problem.

The solution would be for TFL (and libraries) to be privatised and for the owners of those businesses to take such decisions (subject to any licensing as may be required). I believe a private tube operater might well also ban alcohol as it's perhaps not viable to sell it like on long distance journeys.

All libertarians opposed the pub smoking ban. That issue was straightforward. Despite their rather ambiguous name, pubs are private property and conditions of entry should be set by the owner and no one else, including the government. The same principle obviously applies to privately owned trains, buses and aircraft.

The problem is, of course, that the Tube isn't privately owned and the question is this: What should the guiding operating principles be when it comes to state-owned assets?

We come here to the heart of radical libertarian theory.

The non-aggression principle limits the state to the provision of defence, police and court systems. Anarcho-capitalists (with whom I sympathise) argue that no state has ever remained limited and can't do so by its very nature.

But if the state is abolished, then all property - including all land - becomes privately owned and each landowner has the right to set whatever rules for entry to his property that he chooses, for any reason whatsoever and however "irrational" to others. Just like those pub owners mentioned earlier or you, dear reader, with your own house.

Under this regime every bit of land is, yes, governed by its owner, and each owner will set those rules that he sees fit. Riding on a Stornoway bus may well necessitate the wearing of a conservative, black, three-piece suit and the carrying of a Bible. San Francisco's BART system would probably be somewhat different...

So, the free market would produce a vast variety of communities. Some would allow drink (and food) on "public" transport and others not. The owner of each community would decide what rules to apply according to his own value system and those values wouldn't necessarily be financial.

So what should Boris do?

I can see the argument that says that Boris is merely acting just like a private manager might do. But Boris isn't the manager of a private company, and in such cases I get very nervous when illiberal policies are introduced even though such "illiberalism" would be perfectly acceptable in privately run organisations.

In short, instead of bannning alcohol on the Tube Boris should tell the police to get out of their offices, stop enforcing political correctness, and start catching criminals.

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Banks: Don't you just love them?

I discovered something rather odd today.

If you send a letter to a bank and don't address it to a named individual the letter doesn't get opened at the branch. It goes to a "central mailroom" to be processed in another city. The result can be (the voice of experience here...) that a cheque can take a couple of weeks to get into your account. The lady at the bank in question told me that it was all to do with improving efficiency. When asked if that worked I heard a cynical laugh from the phone...