THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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August 2013

Winning friends and influencing people; the EU way

The Freedom Association and Better Off Out have just published their snappily-titled annual "Balance of Competences Review", which looks at the EU's effect on the UK's place in the world. This link will take you to your very own free copy for download. Even if you are already sceptical of the benefits to the British people of EU membership, I think you may be shocked.

Did you know for example that, as reported in the Freedom Association's newletter today;
Since 2000 the European Union has given the Assad Regime over £1 billion. The money, given to promote such things as "good governance," "social reform" and "economic reform" have obviously all failed - to the detriment of the people of Syria and the international community. However, this revelation was ever the more startling as the United Kingdom did not participate in some of these schemes. It raises further questions over the extent of UK influence within the EU, when programmes fund unsuitable regimes without explicit UK support.
You might very well say that, but you might also note that while Britain did not "participate" directly, as one of the few consistent net contributors to the EU budget*, it certainly contributed financially. Nor is this a "Britain vs the rest" issue. Few taxpayers in any EU country would support having their money given to President Assad. This is an actually an example of the sort of idiocy that is inevitable when a significant proportion of GDP is taken by force and spent by people who do not have to work or risk their own capital to earn it. Our argument here is not with the other peoples of Europe. It almost never is. It's with the bunch of unethical parasites who are living on all our backs.

We cant even be blamed for choosing wrongly. We have no opportunity to elect EU officials. Yet sadly, even when we do theoretically have a choice in our own countries, it's only between different groups of people attracted to the job of taking money by force from their fellow-citizens. Is it any surprise that such a job description attracts the ethically-challenged?

You might naievely expect a government or inter-governmental institution to adopt the approach of a responsible board of a commercial company. Every penny of taxpayers' money expended should be measured against the anticipated benefits to be gained for those taxpayers, just as a board should serve the interests of its shareholders. Sadly, that's a poor metaphor for government. A company's board is dealing with money volunteered by investors who have lots of other choices. A government or treaty organisation is much more like a criminal gang dealing with extorted money. Looked at from that perspective, it's no surprise that the attitude is "easy come, easy go" and "why not give a cut to the gangsters in the neighbouring parishes if it helps to smooth things over". An EU official or politician in any EU country has far more in common with President Assad than with a productive citizen.

To someone with such a mentality, if some money is wasted so what? There's plenty more where it came from. So there always will be until the whole scam collapses or the peoples of Europe make it clear that the inferred "consent" of the social contract is a nonsense and that these actions are not in our name. That's not easy to do, particularly given the corrupt astroturfing shenanigans in which the EU gangsters indulge. But the tough message the British people have just forced their government to give to the people of Syria - that it's up to them to sort out their own corrupt rulers and the cavalry is simply not coming - applies just as much to us.
* This table is based on EU data and the situation is therefore of course far worse than stated. It ignores Agricultural levies and customs contributions, for example, and Britain's share of the former will be massively disproportionate given the superior efficiency of our large, capital-intensive farms. It also ignores administrative costs.

Guest post - 'Ministry of Defence can't tell the time. Good grief!'

I have been reading the Spectator this morning, and in their Portrait of the Week found this gem:

Despite a ban on ringing the speaking clock, Ministry of Defence staff spent £18,804 of its money last year dialling 123 to check the time.

I don't know where to begin. Out of respect to my host, I start with the idea of 'its' money. Where do they think this bloody money comes from? It isn't 'its'. I would suggest the correct word to use here would be 'our' money. 

Then why is it that our civil servants have a need to call a fee paying service to find out the time? Do the individuals who work there, on now very generous salaries matching their outrageously generous pensions, not have a watch? A phone? The cognisance to read the time in the corner of their computer screen? They are either profligate or stupid, or perhaps both. 

The article does not tell us what happened, but one suspects someone used the ultimate English retort of 'writing a letter'; or in other words a memo, which was probably circulated, which will be ignored, much as the orginal rule clearly was. How about we recover the money from these overpaid imbeciles? And give everyone a warning so that if they do so again they are suspended without pay, or better, sacked? I need hardly point out that spending our money in contravention of their rules of employment has a word in the real world, and a penalty. It is called theft, and it is a criminal offence. 

This may seem petty, but sloppy language, especially in media, betrays sound thinking. Is it any wonder we are in the state we are in? 

The Prime Minister should now resign

BBC News - David Cameron loses Commons vote on Syria action.

Not because he is wrong (though he is) but because he is incompetent. He has embarrassed the nation by stupidly offering military support to our best ally that he should have known he could not deliver.

He should have sought Labour's support before ever recalling Parliament. When refused that support, he already had his answer (as his Whips could have told him) without this debacle. He could have politely and discreetly informed President Obama.

He has lost the trust of many of his own MPs, who are briefing the press that they are "unwilling to take him at his word". Since his word is given and retracted regularly in the face of mere opinion polls, let alone parliamentary defeats, who can blame them?

The man is a lightweight unworthy of his office - or any position of responsibilty. There should be no portrait on the Downing Street stairs, no pension and no peerage. He should just go quietly and let us begin to forget him.

One, two, three, what are we fighting for?

I am not a pacifist. There is such a thing as legitimate self-defence. However we are not currently threatened in any serious way by anyone in Syria. Quite the contrary, as Perry de Havilland explains over at Samizdata

Some people want to intervene in Syria to stop Al Qaeda backed people and Hezbollah backed people killing each other.


 I have a better idea… sell ammunition to both sides.


Country Joe and the Fish provide the best marching song for the upcoming Syrian War; the latest attempt by our effete rulers to prove their machismo. They will do it in their usual style by shedding the blood of far better men than themselves from a very safe distance.

h/t The View from Cullingworth

More enforcement, not more laws


There is a proposal in the United States to extend background checks so that everyone selling a gun - not just a licensed dealer as at present - must first check out their buyer. It sounds innocuous, yes? Who could possibly disapprove? After all, it's not in the interests of law-abiding gun owners for more criminals to have guns. But here's the point. Seventy-six thousand background checks last year detected criminals trying to buy guns. Yet the police prosecuted only thirteen. If there are no consequences when a background check detects a crime, what exactly is the point of having more checks?

This illustrates a key problem with modern politicians - and not just in the USA. They prefer the publicity value of being seen to make new laws to the hard slog of making current ones work. They would rather appear to do something than - well - actually do something. Which is why we have thousands of laws on the books that criminalise virtually everyone, while those committing the handful of crimes that actually matter generally go about their business undisturbed.
If the money spent on debating, promoting and implementing this new law were given instead to the police to be used for enforcement, how many bad guys would be off the streets? Why doesn't that count as "doing something" any more?

Research links children's psychological problems to prolonged screen time. Oh yeah?

Research links children's psychological problems to prolonged screen time | Society | The Guardian.

Busybodies always seem to assume that, if forbidden to do the things they don't like, you will do the things they favour. As that's an obvious fallacy they will move from ban to ban until everything of which they disapprove is forbidden and we have the totalitarian society they crave.

If the "prolonged screen time" of which "Public Health England" is so disapproving were in front of a Kindle for example, reading with the intensity that I read when a young boy, would that be a problem? I managed to spend many more hours a week reading than modern children spend watching television, chatting on Facebook and playing video games combined. Yet I got exercise too because I walked or rode everywhere on my bike, was bought a season ticket to the local swimming pool as my birthday present every year and - most importantly - was allowed out on my own from a young age. I took all my exercise unsupervised, not just going to the swimming pool every night on my way home from school, but out and about on the streets and in the fields and woods with my friends.

Modern children are not the problem. Modern parents - with their imagined terror of what might happen if their children were free range - are the problem. Children are not getting enough exercise because many respectable parents are too busy to take it with them and too paranoid to let them take it on their own. Is it any wonder they spend a lot of time with electronic entertainments? Those, after all, are available in the home, without parents making a ludicrous fuss. Is it any wonder they chat with their friends online, when they are not allowed to be with them?

There may even be a positive side to all this. I suspect, for example, that one could correlate the decrease in violent street crime with the increased popularity of computer games. I happened to wander into a video games store in my home town on a working day and was amazed by its pale denizens who looked as though they lived under a stone. They reminded me of the local youths of my day who used to get a lot of healthy exercise chasing and offering violence to respectable, studious young people. I am sure their parents have no more heard of "play dates" than their grandparents had, so without the efforts of Electronic Arts et al., they would certainly be out unsupervised. Maybe they are not better off spreading their waistlines and satisfying their lust for violence in front of a monitor, but the rest of us are. If respectable, paranoid parents allowed their children out unsupervised, they would probably be safer now than in the "good old days" because the nasty kids would still be indoors - killing each other online. If only the computer industry could make cyber sex as satisfying as cyber violence, maybe those families would also stop breeding?

More seriously, if this now falls under the definition of "public health" in Britain, there is no hope of freedom. The state took its public health powers in order to clean up the disease-ridden slums and restrict the activities of the likes of Typhoid Mary - because those were external threats. No-one could reasonably object to such powers but, as always, the people to whom they are granted never stop trying to expand them. They do so in their own financial self-interest and because the people attracted to such jobs are those who like to boss others about. However sad it may be that children are getting fat because their parents don't let them get enough exercise, it's not a threat to anyone but themselves. Therefore it's not the state's business. A country that has the resources to employ expensive professionals to carry out studies of what its children do with their recreation time does not know the meaning either of "austerity" or "common sense".

Limiting the power of government - money [Guest post by Mark]

Since the 17th/18th century capitalist seizure of government power, and specifically following from the 1694 creation of the Bank of England, the government's debt has been the basis of our monetary system. This combination of government power and capitalist credit money made possible a broader based integration between government and the economy - contributing directly to the explosion of British economic, industrial and military power which later gave birth to the British Empire.

This system has obvious advantages with respect to the coordination of a mass economy but from the perspective of individual freedom it is deleterious.

Some argue that the private creation of government money is a separation of powers which itself limits government. In reality, the opposite is true. Finance is government and government is finance - and at the same time, if we wish to do business, we cannot help but be drawn into this government-private hybrid money nexus. The power of government is surreptitiously (or not so surreptitiously) extended to every aspect of economic life.

Not only is it nearly impossible to escape this system but also, if the government relies upon and controls the private money system, we face the twin dangers that (1) control of government/finance becomes the most profitable activity in society and (2) the temptation to raise revenue for government takes precedence over real economic considerations.

The Fred Goodwins of the world, or the trend for physicists to become bankers are a result of (1) while the austerity/ higher tax campaigns are a result of number (2).

Libertarians would generally seek to solve these problems by eliminating the government from money creation. There are a number of problems with this approach. Firstly, credit networks without government support tend to be either small and personal, or entirely unstable. Secondly, there is no evidence that pure "commodity money" has ever existed or that barter can be used to run a large scale economy. Thirdly, almost everyone agrees that there must be some role for government and if government must use private money we again run into problems (2) + (1) - because government relies upon private money it cannot be separated from private business.

Now, there may well be a trade off between the ability to run a mass economy and individual liberty, in order to be free we might have to accept fewer things. I'm relatively comfortable with that - from the perspective of libertarians the destruction of the mass economy may well be a feature rather than a bug. However, I do feel that, rather than eliminating government money creation, as libertarians suggest, (or eliminating private money creation as per the positive money proposal) - we should allow both systems to operate alongside each other, but to exist, entirely and conspicuously separately - in essence, make using government money and engaging in the mass economy a choice.

Government created money could be a form of virtual commodity, (with the function of gaining respite from the taxman - essentially a tax credit). If the government did not require private money, there would be no (revenue related) reasons for it to tax these transactions. Therefore, it would be relatively easy to eliminate VAT, income tax, capital gains tax and replace it with some form of flat tax on tax credits only. In this way, the ability to do business would be separated from the need to pay tax.

Personally, I would set up the system in such a way that it would be possible to choose through lifestyle to avoid tax entirely. (For example - we distribute 100 tax credits to each citizen every year and tax on the basis of natural resource consumption- 100 tax credits for every 10 squared meters of land - by making a lifestyle choice to consume fewer natural resources you could avoid taxation and then be free to engage in whatever other business you choose - obviously many people would insist that people did "work first" before they get credits.)

You could then choose to conduct business either using surplus tax credits (which would offer the mass stability of government money), private credit agreements or barter/commodity money. These entirely independent monetary systems would provide a *real* division of economic power and be based entirely upon voluntary exchange.

As I say, I don't know if this would be more efficient from the perspective of production or "raise GDP", but I do think it would be more conducive to personal liberty.

In what mad world?

BBC News - Real IRA man's family to be compensated.

I do not agree with the basic idea behind the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Compensation is a private, civil matter. The only crossover should be that the guilty verdict in the criminal court is accepted by the civil judge, so that he can move straight to deciding the amount of damages. There will also be cases where civil claimants can succeed despite the defendant's acquittal in a criminal court, because of the lower burden of proof.

It's simply immoral that money should be taken by force from honest citizens to compensate victims of crimes in which they played no part. Millions of wrongs do not make one wrong right;That the system should compensate the family of a terrorist killed by other terrorists merely illustrates the stupidity of it all.

A revenue problem or a spending problem?


I know that most of my readers are in Britain and am aware that your comments are fewer when I post about other places. Where, however, would I find a funded-by-extortion British professor uttering such words as:

No matter how robustly our tax revenues grow, government always finds a way to spend everything it collects - plus more.

I loved his comment that America would have been better off asking its physicians to reform government than its politicians to reform healthcare, since the per capita increase in healthcare costs since the 1950s is an outrageous 2,000% but the per person cost of government has risen 3,000%. To put that in context, other costs have risen by a mere 700%, which rather suggests to me that both healthcare and government should be privatised.

I would be fascinated (and probably horrified) to see a similar analysis of inflation- and population-adjusted increases in government spending since the 1950s in the UK.