Friday, October 31, 2003

Gavin on the smoking ban

Gavin has responded on the smoking ban. I think that he still misses the big point: Regardless of the merits of non-smoking workplaces - I'm prepared to agree that for most workplaces, especially offices and factories, a non-smoking workplace is preferable to a smoking one - this is something which should be decided between the parties involved, i.e. the employer and the employee(s).

"Yes, Frank, smoke-free workplaces are a great idea. But why the qualification? Why is one persons workplace better than another?"

Not all workplaces are the same, that's the whole point about diversity and the free market. If you take up a job, you already know what the workplace is like. If it is so dreadful you may decide not to take up the job, that is a free choice.

"If a government imposed ban is not the solution, then what is?

You rather beg the question here. You assume that a "solution" is required. Trust people to look out for their own interests, they always do. If the market operates properly (If it were easier to open up pubs) non-smoking pubs could compete with smoking pubs.

"God knows the Vintners rant on about 'air-changes per hour', but to anyone who's worked in bars you know that the effect of that is negligible."

The thing is, you either want to work in a bar or not. If it is so unpleasant as things are, get a different job. Or better, open your own non-smoking pub.

"Secondly, there is an argument from principle. I believe that people have a right to work in a healthy environment - most especially where an unhealthy working environment can be changed instantly into a healthy one - as in the case of bars. It is incorrect to say that smokers are all for it, indeed in the polls I read, many smokers were in favour of the ban."

Nobody has a "right to work in a healthy environment", nobody has a "right to work" for God's sake. How could such a "right" be guaranteed? This is nothing to do with a "right to work in a healthy environment" it is about the government tearing up the implicit contract entered into voluntarily between two parties: Employer: I offer you a job in a smoky workplace
Employee: I accept that job.

"Thirdly, damn right I'm a vested interest, as is my health, and the health of all bar workers."

Thus your argument is based on self-interest and is not necessarily a principled position. Arguing "this is good for me" is not the same as arguing "this is good for everyone".

"I'm not sure of the validity of the position that "publicans recognise that smoking on premises attracts more smoking punters than deters non-smokers". Publicans don't care whether people smoke or not; they want them to buy beer."

Yes, and if more people turn up to buy beer, indifferent to the smoking or expecting to be able to smoke, than would turn up to buy beer if no smoking were permitted, publicans will prefer to permit smoking.

"It just so happens to some of the public are addicted to a substance that pollutes the environment around them, badly affecting the health of their colleagues and the staff on a premises. The question is whether a persons right to smoke precedes other people's right to health, and whether that position is voluntary or involuntary."

Again, there is no "right to smoke" or "right to a smoke-free environment". Nobody is forcing you to work in or patronise a smoky bar.

"Fourth, you compare smoking to a hobby. It's not, it's a dangerous addiction. People playing tennis is a hobby, and hey I dont mind people playing tennis - people playing cards in a pub is a hobby, and fine, there's no cards affecting my health."

I don't compare smoking to a hobby, I am trying to get you to look outside your own interest for a moment and imagine a government restriction on something you enjoy. Regardless of the merits of the ban, let's say the government could show that tennis was a dangerous sport (my brother-in-law dislocated his shoulder twice playing it) and that in the interests of health tennis-playing should be rationed. Would you accept that the government had a "right" to regulate your behaviour this way?

"In my view, the government, just like in other employment legislation, has a right to give rights to workers. I have a right to x days holidays, I have a right to a healthy working environment."

What did you think the environment would be like when you took up the job? It obviously wasn't a clincher. Did you ever threaten to strike because of the danger to your health? This is why I say that you would get this benefit "free". It is logical and rational for you to argue in favour of it but that doesn't mean it is a good thing for everybody else.

The problem, Gavin, with your argument as set out is that you take for granted something which most of us who disagree with you don't: That the government has a right, duty or obligation to micro-manage normal social interaction in order to achieve some overall societal benefit. That is why issues about passive smoking health risks, or the merits of various types of workplaces or how easy it is to implement or police the ban are irrelevant. Even if all of those points were as you argue it still doesn't justify the government's intervention.

More tests

Conor is a "soft core" Libertarian, Taking the Libertarian Purity Test I find that, with a score of 88, I'm a "medium core" Libertarian. The test is quite tendentious and assumes a) That a "perfect" Libertarian is an Anarchist and b) Non-"perfect" Libertarian's strive for "perfect"ness in their stance. I'm not so sure if either is right. Some questions are hard to answer without a "depends", such as

50. Is bombing civilians in an enemy country morally equivalent to murder?

The answer to this is: Yes if that is the explicit intention (Dresden, Canary Wharf). No if it is an unforeseen consequence of an attack on enemy target.

I have used the term "Moderate Libertarian" before to describe my views but Minarchist or Social Individualist would probably be more accurate terms. I am neither a Utopian or an Anarchist and would be in favour of a minumum government responsible for the police, the courts and the army. Pretty much everything else can be dealt with less expensively, more efficiently and without any coercion or loss of individual freedoms by the private sector.

But I am still male!

The Gender Genie correctly identifies my sex from about 1000 words of my blog.

Via Andrew Sullivan

Hey, I thought I was Evil!

Irish Eagle is 42% evil but Internet Commentator is only 24%!

This site is certified 24% EVIL by the Gematriculator

This site is certified 76% GOOD by the Gematriculator

Thursday, October 30, 2003

My kind of AgitProp

There's some great banners over at Bureaucrash and ProtestWarrior. I particularly like this one!

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Balance

This is the Guardian's idea of a balancing op-ed to counter the default anti-american slant of their commentary. Eric Schlosser: Hey! we're not all evil

Regulation 0 Free Market 1

Those forward-thinking bureaucrats of Lucedale, Mississippi have acted decisively to counter the scourge of horses "going commando" in urban areas. Their new city ordinance requires all livestock, including horses to wear diapers in town.

Just as well that the free market can provide horse diapers!

(Via Bureaucrash )

More on smoking

Interesting debate over at Samizdata on the smoking ban. Gavin has chipped in and I see, via Slugger that Leptard has an intriguing suggestion for counties such as Kerry who are reluctant to implement Dublin's Diktat on this: Secede to the North!

More Imaginative Diplomacy

US Defensive Department replies to Lara Marlowe below!

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Imaginative Diplomacy

I am rendered (almost) speechless by these weaselly words from The Irish Times' Lara Marlowe, eager to attribute the continuing violence from Saddam loyalists to wider Iraqi resentment at US "Imperialism" and rather too gleeful in mocking American "hubris".

"Imaginative diplomacy could have devised a less catastrophic way of removing the dictator."

"Imaginative diplomacy" is what led us to this path. The fudgers, appeasers and collaborators of Germany, Russia and France, had no interest in removing this dictator.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Whither the Tories

Mark Steyn on the future for British Conservatism has some interesting thoughts on decentralisation (which Samizdata's Robert Clayton Dean has picked up on) but also includes this priceless paraphrasing of John Major's definition of Conservatism:

"Or old maids on bicycles sipping warm beer as they're sideswiped by the Eurojuggernauts on the bypass"

Origins of Zionism

Great piece by Nelson Ascher at EuroPundits on the origins of Zionism and why, contrary to what Tony Judt believes, it is not just like any other European Nationalism:

"Zionism was a second degree, reluctant nationalism born of the impossibility, after having tried to do it, of giving up an identity. A Jew could learn his country’s language, write great books in it, get a Nobel prize, compose operas, lose a limb or two for his monarch, pay his taxes, help develop the national economy, win a gold medal in the Olympics, convert, change his name, marry a non-Jew, take his kids to the church, even become a nun (like Edith Stein) etc. Still, he wasn’t allowed not to be a Jew...Zionism, thus, wasn’t nationalism as a first or preferential option, but as a last resort, and it was resisted by the majority of the Jews until the Holocaust."

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Finding Nemo

Bo-Jo: Ob/Gyn + Ob/And?

Tantalising suggestion from Boris Johnson of a surprising development in the field of Obstetrics/Androcology.

"You can call me sexist on this point, but there is nothing more sexist than sex, and it is still a more or less invincible fact of nature that women have babies and men do not. "

More or less invincible? do tell more..

Trailer Fabulous

Characteristically humourless Guardian op-od today from one Carrie Gibson who complains about Hoxton trendies (this week) adopting Trailer Park Chic.

"There seems to be some sort of assumption that these unfashionable, poor people have chosen to live in a house on wheels; to drive clapped-out Camaros; to wear tacky clothes; to have out-of-date hairstyles. But here, we choose to don a costume of poverty because we can afford to, and we don't even consider what it must be like for those who can't."

It's just clothes Carrie, that's all.

Bedazzled, Bewildered and Bamboozled

Kevin Myers muses on Sinn Fein's "disarming" charm and its dazzling effect on even the most "ardent anti-terrorists"

"The Shinner charm is carried into negotiations, where it seems to neutralise the most basic instincts of the opposition. How else could David Trimble have given his assent to the Belfast Agreement of five and a half years ago without a fixed timetable for disarmament being the keystone of the entire arch? Not merely did the Agreement not demand visible disarmament before the Shinners got into Government, it contained no penalty clauses if the Shinners had not disarmed by the agreed date for total disarmament, three years ago...Why does nobody remember this? Why do journalists at Shinner press conferences not remind the Shinners of this? Why, when the Shinners go on and on and on and on about bloody Patten, do the hacks not retort: Christ, how can there be full implementation of policing reforms when the IRA is still in existence, still armed, still recruiting, still training?..Why? Because of Shinner charm. It disarms: it makes the cleverest men fools."

The Wrong Type of Leaves on the Track

Rangers' non-caledonian custodian Stefan Klos comes over all British Rail in complaining about Phil Neville's winning goal for Manchester United at Ibrox. According to Klos, the younger Neville brother, after his unlikely Maradona impersonation, hit the wrong type of shot. If Phil had hit the right type of shot, Klos presumably would have saved it. Newsflash Stefan: if it goes in, it's the right shot.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Too Cool for Old Skool

I have to concur with Eoin: the new Outkast double album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, is a cracker! Definitely not the same-old-same-old.

"The whole room fell silent. The girls all paused with glee,
turning left, turning right, are they looking at me?
Well I was looking at them, there, there on the dance floor,
now they got me in the middle feeling like a man-whore."


(From "The Way You Move") Nice little Deuce Bigalow reference there!

Taheri on Mahathir

Great piece by Amir Taheri on Malaysian premier (and ami de Jacques) Dr. Mahathir Mohamed's recent speech.

"Mahathir says Jews have persuaded others to fight and die for them..Who does he mean by "others"?..If he means the West, let us not forget that Americans and Europeans fought and died to save the Muslim peoples of Bosnia and Kosovo from extermination. Not a single Muslim state provided any help..Mahathir presented Palestine as a religious conflict...Yet he did not apply the same logic to Chechnya, Kashmir, Mindanao, Burma, Cyprus, and East Turkestan, among the many places where Muslims are in conflict with non-Muslims..The logic of Mahathir's position is that Muslim Cypriots, Chechens, Kashmiris, Burmans, Mindanaoans and East Turkestanis are not as worthy as Palestinians. And yet the number of Muslims killed in those conflicts is many times higher than the total victims of all Arab-Israeli wars."

(Via Iberian Notes)

What? Did Daddy Do You in the War?

The Washington Post isn't only about boring stuff like news and politics. This week's "Style Invitational" is a classic: Week 524, Scramble the words of any book or movie, and come up with a new product

Lots of good stuff including:

Who the Man Shot Liberty Valance?: In this sequel, Superfly Valance arrives from Chicago to avenge his brother's death. (Tom Kreitzberg, Silver Spring)

Love Thing: A Many-Splendored "Is": Bill Clinton's guide through the pitfalls of romance and semantics. (Mary Ann Hennigsen, Hayward, Calif.)


and I particularly liked

Big Wedding, My Fat Greek!: The behind-the-scenes story of Jackie's ultimatum to Onassis. (Judith Cottrill, New York)

plenty more too...

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

You'd have to have a heart of stone not to laugh..

..as Arsene Wenger's insufferable strutting cockerels are shot down 2-1 by Dynamo Kiev. Arsenal may be (just) top of the Premiership, unbeaten and cocky from dispatching oligarch-funded Chelsea but once again their pomp deserts them in Europe. The first European goal in 300 minutes of play for this supposedly "vibrant, attacking" team will be scant consolation as the Gunners' Champions' league dreams lie in shatters. Although they are not "mathematically" out - if they win their three remaining games they have a slight chance - it would be a brave punter who would bet on Arsenal's continuing participation in this competition.

Such sweet sweet schadenfreude, nothing could take this feeling away (not even an upset tomorrow at Ibrox!).

Low taxes and the real economy

Great piece today in The Times: Michael Gove explains to Gordon Brown the benefits of low taxes

"There are always good reasons to reduce taxation. The Government can never spend our money as efficiently as we can ourselves. But there are particularly good reasons to cut taxes when the country is in the position we find ourselves in now, with sluggish growth delivering less wealth for everyone. For cutting taxes, especially from the level we now labour under, will shift the balance of the economy in the right direction. Tax cuts will encourage growth in the real economy, the productive private sector, while helping to bring about the taming over time of a bloated and unproductive public sector."

..and looks across the Irish Sea

"Which is why a recent study of economic performance in the Nineties conducted by the economist Graham Leach for the free market, but non-party, pressure group Reform is so useful....Leach’s work demonstrates that countries that keep the amount of national wealth they take in tax low have grown far and away the fastest. Nations such as Ireland, which cut its tax take from 34 per cent of GDP to 30 per cent in the Nineties grew much faster than those, such as Australia, Canada or New Zealand, that kept their tax take above 30 per cent of GDP. Those countries such as Britain, whose tax burden crept up from 35 per cent to 38 per cent of GDP, experienced even lower growth over the decade. Leach’s work covers a variety of nations, which have all had different governments, but on one point there is no room to differ: lower taxes promote higher growth."

Benchmarking Bertie take note.

Shareholder Power

Following on from our discussion here a couple of weeks ago about "rogue" and incompetent company directors and hitherto supine shareholders there is an interesting story in today's Times: Shareholders in Granada and Carlton successfully prevent Michael Green - closely associated with the disastrous ITV Digital venture - becoming head of ITV Plc.

Tune in, Turn on, Drop out.

Interesting story in today's Irish Times about the level of first-year failure and dropouts for some courses at UCD. Turns out 30% of first year Science students fail and 25% of first-year Arts students fail or drop out. This contrasts with vocational or professional courses such as Law and Medicine.

Not that I wish to re-open my blog-slug-fest with the Backseat Drivers about subsidising third level education but I think there are a few conclusions which could be drawn from this. As the Times piece notes:

"Some academics believe the points requirement for science should be increased to help raise standards...However, since the points must reflect the demand for the course and the number of spaces available, UCD cannot do this."

Of course, nobody said that the number of "spaces available" for Science should be fixed. The obvious solution is to cut back those spaces which are not necessary.

I am in favour of greater scientific knowledge among the public. As can be seen from debates about GM foods, even supposedly intelligent people are scientifically illiterate. I think a better way of achieving this, instead of trying to lure people towards Science courses in University, would be as part of the second level curriculum. When it comes to University, courses should be less general and more specialised and you will tend to see greater vocational interest and "stickability".

Another thought is that while the points system (which aggregates all exam results even in subjects unrelated to the course) is the measure for awarding places and while this is the least-worst method for sought-after courses, it is singularly unsuitable for less desirable courses. Perhaps the basic entry requirements need to be tightened. For example, if you want to do Science, you should have a good result in Maths and Science subjects at the very least, even if you do less well in other subjects.

Whistling in the Dark

Arsene Wenger tries to take his mind off Arsenal's make or break tie against Dynamo Kiev today by, bizarrely, warning Manchester United not to take Rangers for granted.

Don't worry Arsene, we won't.

Meanwhile Arsenal - whose regularly abysmal Champion's league form never seems to deter soccer pundits from tipping them as likely winners - could even effectively exit the competition tonight after just three games if they lose to the Ukrainians.

End of History II

Carrie confidently asserts, on the basis of the IRA's statement today, that..

" If this is the IRA position, that's it for the IRA. The are committed to 'exclusively democratic and peaceful means', 'opposed to any use or threat of force'. The IRA wants to see all guns taken out of Irish society and are handing in a whack of theirs today to prove it. They are going to morph into Sinn Fein now, there's no more IRA"

I hope so.

The End of History?

John goes all Fukayama on us in seeing today's events in Northern Ireland as marking the beginning of the end of his NewsHound service and by implication "interesting" (as in the Chinese proverb) news from N.I.

More smoking

Jon has responded to my post below about the workplace smoking ban.

Maybe I wasn't clear enough with my analogies. I didn't intend to claim that the workplace smoking ban was exactly the same as a hypothetical government requirement to drink 2 litres of water a day. More that both initiatives were, in Tony's words, "beneficial, easy and cheap" and that is insufficient justification for them. Of course ETS is more complicated than self-harmful behaviour. I am not making a direct comparison between an unhealthy diet and smoking. The comparison is between an unhealthy diet and choosing to work in a smoky environment. If someone chooses to work in an environment they know is not smoke-free that is their free choice to do so. I imagine that most non-smokers and some smokers would prefer smoke-free environments and that the market will tend to provide them. For some workplaces, smoking may be an intricable part (a smoking club) for others it may be that the proprietor or some important employees cannot work without cigarettes. If that is the case the market would tend to punish them for not being able to attract non-smoking employees or by requiring them to pay a smoky-environment-premium.

I maintain that smoke-free workplaces are a good idea. My own workplace is non-smoking. I just don't think a crude government ban, and one which treats all workplaces as identical, is an appropriate approach.

What a great idea!

Nice quote from Glenn Reynolds about ESPN sacking Gregg Easterbrook for his clumsy Kill Bill blog post (which many bloggers, including Jon, picked up on) which suggested that Jewish movie executives had a special obligation not to promote violence in film.

"And, yeah, they had the legal right to fire him, I think. But, you know, Disney has the legal right to issue Heaven's Gate: The Extended Anime Version, and bundle it with a claymation remake of Gigli..."

Gobble, Gobble!

Neocon?

Turns out I'm a realist!

UPDATE: Or maybe not, I changed one answer that I had dithered over and now I'm a neoconservative!

Smoking

Tony has amended his position on the smoking ban somewhat, concluding that as ETS (Environmental Tobacco Smoke) does appear to increase the incidence of tobacco related afflictions and..

"..A smoking ban in workplaces, for example, is beneficial, easy and cheap, so why not do it"

Let me try to answer this. A law requiring everybody to wear smart clothes to work may be beneficial, easy and cheap. A law requiring everybody to drink two litres of water a day or eat 5 servings of fruit or vegetable might be similarly beneficial, easy and cheap. None of these would be a good idea. It shouldn't be the government's role to force us to do things that are supposedly in our own interest. Individuals are better are at determining their own interest than the government.

Smoke-free workplaces are probably a good idea but a law mandating this is not a good idea. A smoke-free environment may not be appropriate for all workplaces, for example a cigar smoking club or a "smoky" jazz club. Potential employees for a non-smoke-free workplace can take a view as to whether the risk is sufficiently rewarded by the job (salary, enjoyment, career prospects etc) before agreeing to work there. It is better to let the market sort this out instead of resorting to a crude government intervention.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Faux-Libertarianism

I got a little distracted from blogging yesterday by a discussion on Samizdata following on from Andy Duncan's post about Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Andy has let himself be seduced by Hoppe's forthright rhetoric and has ignored the fact that Hoppe is proposing a level of social conformism that would make Franco blanch and a level of social engineering that Pol Pot would think was extreme. This isn't libertarianism. You can see some of my comments there.

Samizdata is one of my favourite blogs and I usually check it a few times a day. All of the bloggers offer interesting perspectives with a shared libertarian outlook which appeals to me. There are however several regular comment-posters, (turns out they just love Hoppe), who are anything but libertarian, despite their protestations. The only thing they share with libertarians is an opposition to standard New Labour social democrat orthodoxy. Where they differ is more significant, the view expressed is more accurately described as authoritarian extreme nationalism and in some cases white-suprematism in everything but name. If I have to choose between faux-libertarian white suprematism and social democrat orthodoxy, give me social democracy any day, and you know how much I dislike social democracy.

You never know when it might come in handy..

I just can't seem to kick this Guardian habit. In reading newspapers my sequence is as follows: 1) Sport section - 2) Comment section - 3) Glossy Mag. I rarely read the news section, unless there is a particular story about which I want to read more. Perhaps this is an unusual trait for a blogger: not being a news-junkie. I figure that I tend to soak up the news from other sources, radio, tv, conversation. Anyway, my typical reaction to a Guardian Op-Ed piece is either amusement or infuriation. I have tried to wean myself towards the Telegraph or the Times as I enjoy their opinion pieces better but I'm afraid Saturday isn't the same without the Guardian. Passing straight from the Sport section today to the Weekend mag (without pausing to read the pompous posturing) I note that the inimitable Heston Blumenthal is on about microwaves today. He is the proprietor chef of The Fat Duck Restaurant in Berkshire and is somewhat of a genius. He takes a scientific approach to cooking and his column is one of the highlights of the Saturday Guardian. Today's is a classic:

"...we were set the task of determining the speed of light using a piece of kitchen equipment.

The answer was surprisingly simple. Grate some cheese (cheddar will do) on to a plate, then microwave for a very short period of time. Hot spots will appear (as long as the timing is correct) as dots of softened cheese. Each hot spot represents a peak and trough of a wave. Therefore, the distance from one hot spot to another equals half a wavelength (if you are still following) of the microwaves in the oven. Multiply this by two, and you get the full length of the wave.

Finally, note the frequency of the microwave (usually printed on the side or back), multiply the wavelength by this figure and the resulting figure will be, as near as damn it, that of the speed of light.

That's as totally pointless a piece of information as you could wish for, I know, but you never know when it might come in handy."

Friday, October 17, 2003

Tha Boord is leukin tae tak on a boadie for tha follaein jab:

Page 18 of the jobs section of the Irish Times today has an advertisment for "Offis Heid" of "Tha Boord o Ulster-Scotch".

As someone on sluggerotoole remarked some time back - why are the Governments funding the promulgation of Ballymena accents? - for that is all this language appears to be. It is instructive to see samples of this prose out of its usual home in conversation or poetry and being used in an official capacity. Here is a transcription of the equality disclaimer:

The Board "... is leukin forrit tae gettin foarms in frae yins wae tha richt qualifications, nae matter whut kintra leid or race, sex, age or sex-roadit wye the' micht be, or whuitiver their mind is on politics or religion, an gin the' be merried or be leukin efter yins or no. Aa them at haes filled in jab foarms wull be taen tent o on nae ither grun nor whut yin micht be tha best fur tha jab."

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Socialists beware!

Via Bureaucrash I see that Cafe Press (a privately held, venture-backed company) has a clever ruse to draw socialists into the bosom of capitalism, by selling them stuff!

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Guff na h-Eireann

Further to the Bintifada post below, the link on Dick's site shows a placard on display at the protest yesterday.

Why is it that Irish people are so dreadful at creating banners? Far worse than their lame attempts at drawing letters in straight lines and equal proportion, the mere desire to come up with these inane phrases or couplets is cringe-making and twee. I am not just having a go at the bin protesters. OK, I am having a go at the bin protesters, but those in Croke Park with long and rambling localised slogans are many times more irritating. Guff like "Canavan's Caravan, marching after, the Maguire Sam" or "The (Dr. David) Banner County - The Incredible Hulks of Hurling" etc. (Alright, I made the last one up)

It's all reminiscent of the Wildean wit displayed by those who used "verse" to say hello to all their family and relatives at home whilst on Gay Byrne's Late Late Show in the 1980's.

What is the point of all this, except perhaps for providing Belfast advertising agencies with personnel to work on copy for their Harp TV adverts?

The Bintifada!

Great suggestion from Dick for Dubliners who don't know what to do with their overflowing rubbish, bin-collection having been disrupted by the usual bunch of rentamisfits led by Socialist TD Joe Higgins: Dump it in Higgins' Garden. That would be at 155 Briarwood Close, Mulhuddart, Dublin 15. Alternatively, if you'd prefer to let the Socialist Party know what you think of their protest: they're at 141 Thomas Street, Dublin 8.

Home is where the HSA is

"Edmund Burke" points me to an example of how considerate Ireland's Health and Safety Authority are. They are sending a message out out to rogue householders who continue to endanger the lives of those working in their house - be it childminders, au pairs, even people carrying out nixers, builders, plumbers, electricians - by, yes, smoking in their own home. Apparently, some people really are this reckless!

The HSA's Worker Protection Legislation will outlaw this heinous activity and they will welcome brave whistleblowers who report breaches of the legislation.

I wish I could say that I was surprised to see that the bureaucrats who rule us consider private property as just another workplace but as I noted before, this view was made explicit in the Building Regulations which requires private homes to be "accessible" for all the various agents of the state who assume a right to enter (Social workers, Health visitors, Police, Planning officers, Building control officers etc. etc.).

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

No Bias Here

Andrew Sullivan draws our attention to a BBC report on the separation of two Egyptian siamese twins. In a piece which later heads a paragraph "Italy Success" (about another separation of two Greek twins) and mentions the failed attempt in Singapore to separate the Iranian twins it is striking that no mention is made of the fact that this latest separation took place in Dallas, Texas, USA.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Drug Cartels?

Tony Allwright is worked up about "The Crime of Protectionist Pharmacists" and seems to believe that drug prices are high here, compared to (subsidised?) Spain, because Irish pharmacists are "shielded from competition". Not so. I have no interest in defending any cartels where they exist but Tony is missing the point here. He erroneously states that

"You cannot open a pharmacy within a certain distance of an existing pharmacy unless,extraordinarily, you can demonstrate that there is a need for it." 

and

"You cannot practice as a pharmacist unless you have the appropriate Irish pharmacological qualification; no other EU (or US) diploma is recognised."

Neither is true. The elephant in the room which Tony ignores is the level of government intervention in the drug market. Something like 40% to 45% of the public are on medical cards. This means that all their drugs are supplied "free" by the government. In addition to this there is a government "drugs payment scheme" which means that those who don't have medical cards but who are on regular medication need pay only €70 per month and the government pays the rest. Given this regime it would be financially suicidal to open up a pharmacy without access to a medical card and drugs payment contract. It used to be the case, as Tony asserts, that such contracts were only awarded when "need" was demonstrated. This typically bureaucratic requirement has been abolished. Anyone can set up a pharmacy if they want. As for the second assertion: It remains the case that any new pharmacy which opens up, and wishes to do business with the government, must employ at least one Irish-trained pharmacist for the first three years of business. While it is true to say that there are barriers in terms of entry to the market it is not the case that foreign-trained pharmacists cannot practice. Such regulations cannot explain the level of drug prices in Ireland. The fact is that, the government is a near monopoly in terms of drug purchasing and actually sets their price. Central planning and the waste which inevitably accompanies "free" drugs have kept this price high.

I am in favour of removing barriers to market entry and don't see why foreign-trained pharmacists cannot open up pharmacies here, but in the absence of abolition or reform of the medical card and drugs payment scheme this will be insufficient to bring Irish drug prices down.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Reflections of a Golden Dream

Vive La France!

Dundalk is hosting a French market until Sunday and when I walked around it yesterday I could almost imagine I was in Nice's Marche des fleurs. Lots of great cheeses, jams, French sausages, smoked meats, shallots, smoked garlic, herbs, olives, pastries, galettes (all with the French prices in euros meticulously overwritten to obscure the 300% or so markup of course!). French politics may stink but there's nothing wrong with their food.

Sin Bin

John has a few thoughts on the recent bin tax protests in Dublin. These have seen two Socialist TDs (rightfully) jailed for contempt of court for defying an injunction to refrain from disrupting bin collection. He makes an interesting and persuasive case for radical decentralisation.

He is, however, mistaken if he thinks that the bin-tax-protesters are "undermining the excessive centralization of power we have in Ireland". Rather they are "overmining" it. As dedicated socialists they are looking for more centralisation not less. What they seek is to have bin collection provided "free", i.e. funded by the taxpayer. Local bin charges, along with local water charges (another thing they object to) are good examples of decentralisation.

UPDATE: More on this from John. He notes that he doesn't believe the socialists are in favour of decentralisation but holds that it is the logical outcome if their campaign is successful. He's rather more optimistic than I am about the prospects for real decentralisation. I would maintain that the logic of abolishing bin charges is that the local council picks up the tab but won't be allowed levy a local tax for it. It seems more likely to me that you would see bin protests taking place in other counties leading to a a creeping nationalisation of bin collection. 10/10/03 5:35 PM

Call my blog

Further to your post on this below, Internet Commentator is now trading at $35.34 on blogshares.com.

I bought 300 at 84c on Tuesday. That's a tidy 4,200% blog profit in three days.

No, I haven't a clue what it all means either.

Yasser Artatak

Dick notes that while the pope's health is receiving a lot of attention, less is being paid to that of Yasser Arafat who is not in great shape. I agree with Dick that Israel would be prudent to resist the temptation to assassinate, or exile him given this. Why risk the (further) opprobrium when nature will do your job for you. Where I differ with Dick is his assertion that:

"While Arafat's perceived intransigence is regarded as an obstacle to the peace process, a Palestine without him may be a very chaotic place, at least in the short term."

I don't know if this is the case. It's clear that Abu Mazen resigned because Arafat wasn't prepared to cede any power. Dick seems to imply that Arafat is somehow holding together a Palestinian public which is ready to explode. I'd characterise things differently. It appears to me that Arafat is prepared to stoke feelings up and encourage suicide bombing as a negotiating tactic. In the event of Arafat's death it is hard to imagine how things can get worse for a Palestinian society which has seen a death cult take root. There may well be a struggle for control between the various factions but what the Palestinians need is a leader who is prepared to tell them the cold hard truth about what is achievable (Hint: not the destruction of Israel), what is required to do a deal with Israel (Israel's guaranteed security) and do that deal. Whether they will get that leader or not is another story.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Iced Land

William Sjostrom has some thoughts on land and high housing prices. The Irish Examiner is suggesting, and the government appears to be threatening, to "freeze" land prices in the (vain, economically illiterate) hope that this will lead to lower house prices. It seems obvious to me that any such "freeze" will have the net effect of encouraging the - as they say - informal economy. As I set out in a comment to William's post, this would be the likely scenario in the event of the government adopting this policy:

a) The bureaucrat instructed by the government to set the "correct" land price performs extensive, expensive analysis and come up with a formula which states that the value of land in County X should be €100,000 an acre.

b) Farmer Y wants to sell his land to Builder Z, they agree a price of €200,000 an acre. Their contract shows the government-approved value of €100,000 an acre and the rest is paid in cash, in a big briefcase if necessary.

William maintains that the reason housing is so expensive in Ireland is because of scarcity of land. That's not quite accurate. The problem is to do with scarcity of zoned land. It is taken as a given that we must have a more "sustainable" approach to development. This conflates two separate phenomena. The so called ecological impact of building: the energy involved constructing it, including transport of materials to site, and the energy involved in running it, heating etc. The second is the use of land. The thing is, the UK and Holland (examples often cited) have population densities significantly greater than ours and there has been this lazy tendency to import discussions about land use from these countries where land is scarcer. The fact is that fields are one thing we are not exactly short of. If local authorities, around the country, but particularly in and around Dublin, just simply zoned more housing land house prices would inevitably come down. This might be an appalling vista for the likes of An Taisce and Frank McDonald but you can't have restricted development and low house prices. It is a straightforward choice.

Whither Israel?

John is depressed about Israel's prospects and makes the extraordinary claim that by 2048 there will be no Israel. I'm less pessimistic even though the current situation is gloomy.

I don't think it's unreasonable to hope that democracy might take root in Israel's surrounding enemies. When you are powerless, indulging fantasies of destroying the hated Zionist entity can quite easily expand to take up all of your intellectual energy. If you have a direct say in how your country is run, and begin to enjoy freedom and prosperity, more prosaic and trivial concerns will take over from the violent fantasies.

A la recherche de "beat"s perdus

Thinking a little bit more about Old School Hip Hop and Jon's impromptu rap in the comments of the post below: It occurs to me that most people born in the late 1960s or early 1970s can probably karaoke a lot more rap than they realise. Just test how you react to these lines. I'll bet that the conclusion of the rap will come to you straight away:

1) Broken glass everywhere...

2) It's been a long time. I shouldn'a left you...

3) Mastercard, Visa, American Express...

4) Yes. Was the start of my last jam...

5) A businessman is caught with 24 kilos...

The funny thing is, I'd be hard pressed to repeat anything Busta Rhymes rapped. It is either the case that Old School rappers enunciated more clearly than their contemporary colleagues or that those under 21 are better equipped to memorise rap lyrics.

(Answers in the comments)

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Europe can't get it up

Sometimes you just read something and you can't let it go "unfisked"..

Our Grey Lady, (the one on D'Olier Street Dublin rather than on 42nd Street) today publishes an op-ed by one Andy Storey, lecturer in "Development Studies" at UCD which suggests a "correct approach" to Iraq. (Hint: Europeans are insufficiently Anti-American)

Gerard Baker (October 3rd) thinks Europeans are too critical of US foreign policy. The reality is that they are not critical enough. On the face of it, there might appear to be substantial differences between American and European world views, as has recently been argued by Garret FitzGerald (September 23th). Harvard professor Andrew Moravcsik, writing in the journal Foreign Affairs, claims that there is "a deep European commitment to multilateral institutions and civilian power". Moravcsik argues that Europeans "prefer to deal with problems through economic integration, foreign aid and multilateral institutions" - the instruments of so-called "soft" power - whereas the US prefers to rely on "hard" (military) power. But there are a number of factors that complicate any simple hard-American-versus-soft-European dichotomy.

This is the sort of stuff that drives me up the wall. It is taken as given by these EUro-Boosters that there is a straightforward choice between "soft" power and "hard" power and the (implicitly more "sophisticated") Europeans choose the former while you are invited to make your own conclusions about the Americans who take the latter. This is a false choice. What "soft" power really means is an excuse for inaction. Dr Martin Luther King warned his followers of the "paralysis of analysis": You could spend forever analysing the problem, coming up with reasons not to do anything. Meanwhile the problem persisted. This seems to me to be a pretty apt description of "Soft" power. "Soft" power relies on voluntarily submitting to its edicts. "Soft" power can compel me to pay my outstanding parking fines because I'm willing to comply with the law. "Soft" power against a dictator who revels in flouting international opinion is slightly less useful than the monopod at the proverbial arse-kicking competition. This may appear to be of no consequence but it's not. By deluding and consoling themselves with "soft power" actions the European governments allowed civil war, anarchy and genocide to continue in former Yugoslavia. The transnational charmers at the EU and UN may have been happy to kid themselves that "soft power" would sort out Rwanda. It was rather more difficult to sustain that impression in Kigali.

First is the willingness of the European states to endorse rather than oppose the exercise of US military power. The EU unanimously endorsed the 1999 Kosovo-related bombing campaign by NATO and the 2001 US assault on Afghanistan. Some European states have proved willing to directly lend "hard" support to US operations. Britain is obviously to the fore here, but, for example, Germany has 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, and their deployment in the north of that country releases US troops for an intensification of offensives in the south (and for service in Iraq).

I guess what he means is that US bombers should have been shot down on their way to Kosovo. Succeeding in "opposing" US action would mean what precisely? a continuation of Milosevic's campaign. It is remarkable to see how Anti-Americanism is blindly transforming into outright hostility. I say "blindly" because I cannot see the calculation which states that it is in Europe's interest to "oppose" these examples of "exercises of American power". Who benefitted from sorting our Kosovo? The US?, No: Europe.

Even in relation to the war on Iraq, the split between Europe and the US amounted to rather less than it seemed, as Prof Moravcsik has chronicled: "Even in the recent crisis, the vigorous rhetoric of some European governments was balanced by more tempered action . . . is misleading to portray France and Germany as having attempted to balance American power. "Neither state took material action against Washington, nor even proposed multilateral condemnation of the US position . . . (Indeed, Germany and other countries informally aided the war effort)."

There is still this blanket assumption that it is in Europe's interest to "balance" the US. Nowhere is this assertion explained or proved. The reason for the "split" is that even "Old Europe" knows that it is not in its interest to oppose the US, that they should be on the same side against terrorists, tyrants and those who would take away our freedoms but those countries cannot resist the opportunity to simulate global power. Indeed the "Old European" position of rhetorically opposing actions in its own interest is dishonest.

Another complicating factor in any simplistic portrayal of a US-European divide concerns the way in which Europe's (primarily) "soft" power acts, in practice, as a complement to US "hard" power. A very topical illustration of this is the current debate about the roles of the US and the UN in Iraq...George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, has argued that a wider UN role in Iraq could have negative consequences for other parts of the world, and possibly even for Iraq itself, because a force under a UN flag might be no more acceptable or effective than the Americans and British...An increased role for the UN would allow Bush to pull US troops out and deploy them elsewhere... And if the UN, financed at least partly by the EU, agrees to clean up the current mess, then Bush may well be encouraged to attack some other country (Iran may be next in line) in the expectation that he can later hand over responsibility for whatever havoc he wreaks. Versions of this handover model ("hard" power succeeded by "soft" power) have already been practised in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

Storey apparently doesn't feel the need to explain why he thinks that Kosovo and Afghanistan were failures. It doesn't matter that the Kosovars were freed from genocide, it doesn't matter that Taleban's barbaric rule over Afghans has been broken. Why, the US had the wrong intentions, that's all that matters.


Initially, it suited the US to be in complete charge of Iraq for several reasons, including control of oil, and the disbursement of reconstruction contracts to politically connected US companies. But that calculus is changing (US casualties and costs are the key factors determining this), and the option of an EU-backed UN escape route is obviously becoming attractive to the US.

This is a breathtakingly sophisticated analysis from one who considers himself to be an expert in "Development" and Alex Ferguson's conundrum of who to replace Rio Ferdinand if he is banned will be solved when I step out onto the pitch at Old Trafford as United's new No. 5.

For starters. Surely it must seem odd while writing those words to believe that the US would invade a faraway country in order to provide opportunities to shovel to American companies lucrative contracts paid for by the American taxpayer!. Surely it would be easier to keep the pork barrel at home instead of shipping it overseas. As for oil, I just have two words for those who still think that the US invaded Iraq for Oil (and who probably also think that the CIA has him on their hitlist): Hugo. Chavez. Remember Venezuela is a lot closer than Iraq and has just as much oil. Hell they even have a thug for a ruler.


Under its drafts of a Security Council resolution, the US is proposing that a UN-mandated multinational force operate in Iraq, but under US command and with the US still playing the dominant role in the civilian administration of Iraq. France, Germany and Russia are leading calls for the UN resolution to go further towards a dilution of US military and political control, but differences might yet be overcome and the Europeans may ultimately pitch in to help out the US. This begs the question: why should European governments be even considering options to allow Bush off the hook in this way?

The only begging of questions going on here is Storey's insistence on assuming what he seeks to prove. This is the classic cutting-off-nose-to-spite-face argument. We didn't get our way so we'll wreck things. Never mind the consequences. What an appalling vista, a free prosperous democratic Iraq, but Bush is off the hook?, the horror!

While European leaders talk publicly of the need to reassert Iraqi sovereignty, access to oil revenues and reconstruction contracts for French, Russian and other companies will obviously be at the back (or forefront) of some minds. The French Foreign Minister, de Villepin, has already indicated that exclusive US control of reconstruction projects is one issue for discussion regarding the new UN resolution.

So the French and Russians expect to be rewarded for sanctions-busting and doing deals with Saddam by the Iraqi people having to honour the contracts of the thug who brutalised them for three decades?

More broadly, the willingness of European leaders to even countenance bailing Bush out in Iraq lies in the idea of Europe and the US exercising "soft" and "hard" power in a complementary fashion. In the words of Prof Moravcsik, "Europe needs American military might; America needs European civilian power". ...This is not a model for a just world order. Is a world dominated by a "good cop/bad cop" EU-US alliance likely to promote peace and prosperity for a majority of the world's people? The question has a resonance well beyond Iraq.

This question is the wrong one. The correct question is What is Europe going to do when the US gets fed up providing the muscle to solve its problems?

Just like Proust's Madeline

Eugene Volokh notes that Hugh Hewitt is, er, shocked to hear himself labelled as a "Shock Jock" by NPR and Eugene wonders whether he will ever find himself described as a "ShockBlogger".

The alliteration of these terms brought to the surface, unbidden, memories of the 1980s when my cousin Dermot, enraptured by Break-dancing and Body-popping, temporarily renamed himself ShocRoc II (apparently somebody had already taken "ShocRoc I") and, even though I don't remember ever seeing him or any of his "Kru" practicing their art, I now have this image in my head of B-Boys and Buffalo Girls doing the electric bugaloo to Shannon (Let the Music Play) in Shannon (Co. Clare).

The Good Life

Alex Singleton spells out to environmentalists and anti-globos what the simpler life really means:

"Those who oppose progress probably have an idealistic view of what a simpler life entails. They picture it involving sherry drinking on the veranda without a care in the world. But this is not how simpler societies work. Simpler societies involve the vast majority of people getting up at the crack of dawn for a long day of backbreaking toil, with only a small elite living enjoyable lives."

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Irish Times Hacks - Googled

Mark Humphrys points out to me that Google's "I'm feeling lucky" for the words "Lara Marlowe" brings you to Blog Irish While "Eddie Holt" returns Mark's own critique of Ol' "Big House".

Lots of other good stuff at Mark's site.

Who cares about Cubic Expression...

I have to say that I understand little of how Blogshares.com operates so really I don't know what to make of the recent frenzy of trading in Internet Commentator blogshares.

Republicanism, Collaboration and the "Resistance".

Via Slugger I see that Paul Dunne is defending the memory of Nazi Collaborator (see: no scare quotes) Sean Russell and the practice of tar and feathering against some "particularly wretched" (scare quotes appropriate) Irish Independent articles. It is alternately enlightening and depressing to read Dunne's Shamrockshire Eagle blog. Enlightening because he is a very interesting commentator, a rarity in extreme Nationalism, but depressing because he frequently displays the insular parochialism which is endemic to Irish Republicanism.

"SF Euro-hopeful commemorates Nazi collaborator -- so Jim Cusack's article is headlined. What is a collaborator? A person who collaborates -- duh! With whom? With the forces of occupation; or more generally, with the enemies of their country. So, clearly the only collaborators Ireland knew during this time were those collaborating with the continued British occupation of part of our country."

Ok, right off the bat we have the myopia, nothing exists outside of "the struggle" not even a World War. To answer more accurately the question - What is a collaborator? : a collaborator is someone who works with someone else. I am an architect, I collaborate with the structural engineer who makes sure my preposterous proposals stand up. In my blog I collaborate with Conor. It is not inaccurate to describe Russell as a Nazi collaborator, that is what he was: he worked with the Nazis. Paul Dunne's mistake is to assume that the reason there is a negative reaction to the term Nazi Collaborator is because there is something intrinsically reprehensible about the act of collaboration. Not so, what matters is with whom you collaborate.

"The IRA of the period was most certainly not pro-Nazi. Ironically though the Irish Independent of the day was very close to our own Nazis, the Blueshirts. I'd say a dig in the files of that august publication would turn up some hair-raisers. But sure that wouldn't be "news" now, sure it wouldn't? "

It is hard to see how this argument says anything about Russell or whether it is right to commemorate a man who made common cause with the Nazis: the issue Cusack dealt with in the original article. Whether the IRA were pro-Nazi is an interesting but separate question. It is certainly true that there were a number of rabid anti-semites prominent in the republican cause but it is not clear how many shared with Russell the notion that Ireland's interests were served by collaborating with the Nazis. In any case it doesn't shed light on Russell one way or another. The merits of the Blueshirts and any support they received from the Indo of the day is another separate and possible less interesting question. To refer to the Blueshirts as "Our Nazis" is more illuminating of the parochial prejudices of Republicanism than it is of that organisation which certainly took inspiration from European fascist movements but were no Nazis. Jews in Ireland were more at risk from hatemongers like Nationalist, Socialist, Arthur Griffith than General O'Duffy .

"Our intrepid report makes much of the fact that Seán Russell, the main man behind the IRA's ill-fated England campaign of 1939, died while on board a German U-boat,..Russell was not planning to prepare the way for a "Nazi" ... He was planning, as Irish patriots always have done and continue to do, to fight and destroy British rule in Ireland. The other IRA man on that German U-boat isn't mentioned. His name was Frank Ryan. He had joined the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War and was saved from the firing squad by Free State intervention. He too agreed to work for the German Abwehr against the traditional enemy. Was he a "Nazi" as well? ..No. Both men were acting in accordance with the old saw, "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity". The phrase was originally coined by John Mitchel, who rather pre-dates the Nazis. "

This is a pretty eloquent exposition of republican parochialism. Following Mitchel's credo requires a suspension of disbelief about all other events outside of this one little conflict. England's difficulty would certainly have been Ireland's opportunity: Ireland's opportunity to live under the Nazi jackboot. Just imagine Britain had been overrun by the Germans as had France. Imagine one is so callous as to be indifferent to the fate of the British. Is it really remotely plausible that the Nazis would have ignored Ireland. Two possibilities: a Nazi controlled Europe, with an "independent" "neutral" Ireland relying on Nazi Britain for the bulk of its trade or, more likely, a Nazi puppet administration in Dublin Castle with someone like Russell at its head. Few would prefer either scenario to the status quo before or after WW2

"Poor Jim had his nose to the grindstone that weekend. Here he was again: Before the Taliban, there was the IRA . 'A number of young women who went out with off-duty soldiers were "tarred and feathered" - had their hair shaved off, were doused in black paint and covered in feathers from a pillow. They were then tied to lampposts with placards hung around their necks proclaiming them as "soldier lovers" for public humiliation. Most of these young women had to leave the areas they lived in and never return..Such images, reminiscent now of the Taliban regime, were almost common place in west Belfast of the early 1970s.'
Indeed. They were also commonplace in France after the liberation in '44. Presumably that's OK, though, because those so punished were "Nazi collaborators" i.e. French girls who had become intimate with soldiers occupying their country -- oh, but wait...


More assumptions from Paul, who imagines we share his view that this vindictive French retribution was "OK". The behaviour of the French towards girls who had become intimate with soldiers was grotesque and reprehensible not least because the girls' attackers had all been, if not sexually intimate, then in other ways intimately connected with the occupiers. Those girls were an easy target and allowed the French to vent their shame at surrendering and assisting in the occupation of their country.

"..But I want to return to this "Nazi collaborators" issue. Since the analogy with the Nazi time has been raised, here's one that I suggest throws a bit more light on the subject. I say that, if the IRA are "terrorists", then so were the French Resistance against the Nazis. Consider: The French government, defeated in war, signed a treaty with Germany which partitioned the country, one part being occupied by the German army and under German military jurisdiction, the other part ("Vichy France") not occupied, and ruled by the French government. A small band in exile, however, lead by an obscure army officer, decided to continue the fight, forming a parallel government and army. All this was quite illegal."

The error here is to confuse legality with morality.

"Many Frenchmen, including the bulk of the police, collaborated with the Germans against the resistance, whom they regarded as dangerous subversives. Indeed, until the Liberation, most of the everyday work against the resistance was done by the French civil authorities. The situation was greatly altered by the German occupation of Vichy France in November 1942, true, but until then at least the comparison with partitioned Ireland is not far-fetched. The Resistance was on the winning side of course, and every victory creates its own legend. The idea that all or even most of the French fought alongside the brave boys of La Résistance is just that, a legend. The war bitterly divided France, and Frenchman fought Frenchman, to the benefit of the Germans. The resistance garnered more popular support as the German position declined, of course; but never did they base their right to fight on popularity. As for their conduct of the fight, they used all the normal methods of a guerilla force, just as the IRA did and do. rough handling of suspected collaborators, from "tar and feathering" to killing shooting of hostages bombs in public places assassination ambushes of police and soldiery If the Germans had won, what would we all think of La Resistance today? Much the same as what most now think of the IRA. Vae victis ."

I have to say that I am completely gobsmacked by this argument. The fact that the French choose to ignore the losing side and venerate the winning side (I suspect that there was only ever a tiny, token resistance) and have been permitted to revise history to place themselves in a more flattering light doesn't retrospectively alter facts or morality. The cause of the resistance, if it ever existed, was noble. Some of their tactics may not have been admirable. The principal reason why this faux conundrum which is perpetually posed - "One man's Freedom fighter is another man's terrorist" - irritates me beyond distraction is that it is a false opposition. One needn't take sides in a political conflict to condemn terrorism. It is possible to say that, say, "resistance" action against Vichy police and army is not terrorism but bombs in public places were.

Deficit Schmeficit

William Rees Mogg is a bit harsh on Arnold Schwarzenegger claiming that Arnie is unique in appealing to voters on the basis, not of his policies but of his "strength of will". This is a cheap shot and one which Rees Mogg obviously thinks we might miss so he makes an explicit reference to Hitler in the next paragraph. (Impatiently he hammers it further home with a Leni Riefenstahl refererence later on).

The fact is that every election is a beauty contest of sorts. Arnie may not be making detailed policy statements (and the governorship of may prove to be a poisoned chalice: California is not easily fixable) but it is not just his "strength of will" that Californians admire. He makes the right noises about a range of issues that are important to them.

But what I really wanted to talk about was not Rees Mogg's characterisation of Schwarzenegger as a Fascist but his description of the budgetary problems facing California and how they relate to the rest of the US. He begins by describing California's budget deficit ($38 billion) and correctly notes that efforts to solve this may be hampered by all sorts of voter directives which require all sorts of expensive initiatives but set limits on tax. This is followed by the extraordinary claim that "One calculation puts the existing public liabilities of the American system at $32,000 billion, or $32 trillion. That enormous sum comes to about three times the GDP of the United States" (you can see straight away that a vague term like "the American System" could include agents who owe money to each other) and the less extraordinary but no more accurate claim that because..

"..The US already has an unsustainable public debt; it has unsustainable budget deficits at every level; it also has a dangerously high personal debt. California happens to be the state in which the shoe is pinching the bunion"

According to this view California is unlucky not in having been managed by an incompetent but simply in being the part of the American system which bears the brunt. This too easily lets Governor Davis off the hook. Rees Mogg then claims that:

"This torrent of public debt has already resulted in an external deficit of $500 billion, which is largely financed by Asian countries, principally China and Japan; they do not wish their own currencies to rise. By this arrangement, the United States seems to be under no immediate pressure"

I'm no economist and I have noted before that my knowledge of the dismal science is dismal, maybe Conor can enlighten me here but it seems to me that Rees Mogg is conflating budget deficit (government spends more than it earns) with trade deficit (country imports more than it exports). While the first is something to be concerned about the latter is something which people get worked up about but, like outsourcing, is only of symbolic importance. For every item that contributes towards a trade deficit there is a corresponding asset.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Super SuperMarkets

Fascinating thoughts on supermarkets by Samizdata's Michael Jennings who explains how it is that they are able to carry a wider range of more desirable goods (it is not to do with taking a gamble on exotic products - the "hit and hope" approach - but to do with complex computing systems) and how, although prices haven't come down, the more tailored range of products increases prosperity invisibly.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Dead Ear

I see that Eoin disagrees with my take on Iain Banks' Dead Air. I'd be interested to see why...

Vacuum of accountable control sounds just fine

Interesting post by Conor below on the challenge faced by capitalism which is, as The Economist noted, primarily from rogue bosses and politicians and not the "window smashing" anti-globos . I think, however, that there is an important distinction to be made between two separate phenomena which Conor has conflated.

The first is cronyism sustained by so called "Pro-Business" politicians. The general emphasis of "Pro-Business" politicians has been to protect existing businesses from competition and not to encourage freer trade. It hardly needs saying that this is not in anyone else's interest.

The second phenomenon is the "excessive" payouts to some company directors, often unrelated to performance. This is rightly to be deplored but is only the concern of the shareholders involved. It is tempting to suggest that the government "step in" and "do something" about this but this temptation should be resisted. Make no mistake, a "vacuum of accountable control" is not a bad thing. The government has no business intervening in privately owned companies and telling the shareholders how to deal with their directors. If shareholders are foolish enough to remunerate handsomely a patent incompetent well too bad for them. The next time they might be wiser.

As for whether we are "better" now than in the "bad" 1980s it is probably true that the effect of the various tribunals is to create this erroneous impression but just as Conor notes that our Catholic culture permits this sin-forgiveness-sin-forgiveness cycle so too does it affect our attitude towards compliance (as I noted before). It would also be a mistake to lump together, as Conor does, "evasion, corruption and non-compliance" as equal ills. Like it or not, and much as we love to castigate those who don't "comply" with all our numerous symbolic regulations, Irish society only tends toward full compliance without ever reaching it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Missing the Target?

The Economist, on its 160th birthday earlier this year, published a survey of capitalism and democracy over its lifetime. As one would expect, this celebrated and critiqued the success of global liberal capitalism in improving prosperity, extending life expectancy and eradicating poverty. They make the point that anti-globalists/capitalists would choose to represent these achievements as the rape of the planet, a population time-bomb and a widening North-South gap respectively. They also state that “dwelling too long on their (the anti-capitalists) bogus concerns is apt to rot the intellect”. How true.

More interesting is their claim that to focus on the “marchers and window-smashers” is to miss the source of the worst of anti-capitalism. The greatest potential threat to capitalism is the actions of the bosses of companies, the owners of companies (shareholders) and “pro-business” politicians. Really, this is a comment on the corporate scandals of the past couple of years. If bosses reward themselves like owners (without bearing the risk of owners) and the real owners let them get on with it, and “pro-business” politicians regard this vacuum of accountable control as a private matter of no wider concern, or do not crack down when bosses break laws, then these actors actually become the most militant of anti-capitalists.

This has been particularly evident in corporate Ireland. Unaccountability, downright law-breaking and politico-commercial cronyism presents a far greater threat to the future success of liberal capitalism than the half-assed “resistance” of road-painters, street-reclaimers and bin-protesters and could ever hope to. I’m not sure if this is more likely or less likely to occur now than 10 or 15 years ago. Current tribunals into past misdeeds have the great effect of deflecting from the here and now. “Wasn’t it terrible the amount of evasion, corruption and non-compliance that went on in Ireland the bad old 1980’s” is the only conclusion most observers can draw from the output of these tribunals. However, this, by definition makes it appear that as we are in a much better place now. I get the sense that most people, perhaps betraying a Catholic sensibility as regards sin and forgiveness, think that we are going through a once-off purge of corruption. We can get through it, wring hands and shake heads and move forward as a much better, more mature state. Maybe so, but I think there is still a sense that in certain sections of the economy the “bad guys” could still be running rings around the “good guys”. Will we spend the 2010’s trawling through the outrageous strokes that were pulled and favours granted during the greatest economic and property boom in the state’s history?

Efficiency

How Internet Usage affects Productivity, from The Onion.

Bit close to the bone for me!