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?