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

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Of poverty and privilege

After less than two years back in Britain I am bored of the first world problems of this plump and pampered land. I am particularly tired, for example, of the overused word "privilege". To me, the great enemy of mankind is not privilege but poverty. Those of us who are not poor represent a problem solved. The question is how to increase the wealth of those who still are. As a purely economic issue, that's a question long since answered.

History shows us that free markets cure poverty fastest. History also shows us that socialism increases poverty. Ask the millions of people in the former Soviet Bloc. It is a stupid, nasty, hateful doctrine; the moral equivalent of deliberately infecting the healthy with disease in order to reduce health inequality.

Socialism's obsession with material goods ignores the fact that the ability to accumulate wealth, important though it is as an engine of economic development, is not that big a deal at a personal level. Faced with my late wife's cancer, our life's savings could ultimately only buy her more comfortable surroundings in which to die. Material rewards for a life of hard work are all very well, but any sane person knows that true happiness comes from things that have little or nothing to do with money; health, culture, education. recreation and family. 

There's a wonderful passage in one of Billy Connolly's shows where he talks of a man at a dinner party who, asked what he did, said "I am a tobogganist". Connolly has much fun imagining what his Glaswegian working class father would have said if he had told him that's what he wanted to be. I have recently been reading about the famous photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. Both came from rich families. Both walked away confidently from their material comforts (although Frank occasionally took money from his parents to help him along) in order to embark on artistic careers. Their equivalent, if you like, of tobogganing.

The confidence, perhaps even arrogance, of such people about the importance of their life choices derives from the fact that, unlike Billy Connolly (and most working-class children) they have no practical-minded parents telling them, with their best interests at heart, to "get a real job" The confidence, or indulgence, of their parents is helped by money, of course. If you can't support your child for ever, you are understandably more anxious to see him support himself. But their "privilege" was more complicated than that. Their parents did not laugh at them when they aspired to be "tobogganists". Rather, they expected of them, if that's what they were going to do, that they should head for the highest Alp. That expectation is the true nature of privilege.

Yes, it's easier with money but it's also possible without. Chinese children do not do best in Britain's schools because Chinese parents are, on average, richer. They do better because their parents, on average, value education more highly and expect more effort. A "tiger mother" may not feel like a privilege when you are under her care and control, but she is worth more than all the money in the world. Any parent, rich or poor, educated or not, can be a good parent - with better effect on their child's ultimate happiness (and, incidentally, the nation's prosperity) than any redistribution of wealth.

I remember two long-lost school friends in my scruffy home town up North. Their father was a dustman devoid of all aspiration. Their mother, however, had a dream. Both arrived at infants school able to read because she had pushed them around town in their prams teaching them to do so from the road signs. Unashamedly eccentric herself, she empowered them to be different from their contemporaries and not to give a damn about the relentless peer pressure to be stupid at our bog-standard comprehensive school.

She wasn't Chinese. She was from the white working class; now the second-worst performing ethnic group in Britain's schools. She did nothing any parent, grand-parent or aunt - rich or poor - could not do. I wish all the whingeing envy-ridden half-wits banging on about "privilege" would shut up and be like that scruffy, oddball, utterly splendid mother. She refused to be defined by her circumstances. So - if we have any dignity - should we all.

If you have economically under-privileged kids, if you teach them, are related to them or even just have them as neighbours don't tell them they are doomed. Don't encourage them to hatred and envy. Encourage them to dream of "tobogganing" and lend them the occasional book. Let them see you reading for pleasure (pretend if you have to) so they think of it as normal. Then they will be privileged kids too.

Spending isn't good; what's good is producing

“Pure fallacy from beginning to end” at Catallaxy Files.
In this video, Milton Friedman deals with the left's eternal favourite, the broken window fallacy. When I was a student politician, there was a Trot called Andy on the NUS executive. After every conference motion, he screwed up the papers and threw them on the ground exclaiming "more jobs!" His stupidity was rather funny then, but when it dominates economic thinking it's less amusing.

Money is a token. It has no intrinsic value. It's only useful as a means of exchanging goods and services. The measure of our wealth is the quantity of goods and services available to be exchanged and therefore our ability to produce them. Money should, if properly managed, track the value of that wealth, but that doesn't mean it's the same thing - as witness the fact that making more of it simply reduces its purchasing power.

Government jobs are overhead. Almost every business has to have some overhead, but business people understand that it must be kept to the necessary minimum. All libertarians ask is that voters understand that at a national level as well as they do in their everyday dealings. 

h/t razor-sharp ozblog Catallaxy Files

These are entirely useless idiots - unless you are a politician

Britain could end these tax scams by hitting the big four | Polly Toynbee | Comment is free | The Guardian.
UK-Uncut-at-Vigo-Street-o-008Ignore Polly. She's just writing her usual hypocritical twaddle. Read the comments. They would be hilarious if they did not so clearly reveal the depths of ignorance, prejudice and hate-addled envy that now characterise most of the British people.

Any reference to tax structuring by Socialists (Margaret Hodge or the Guardian Media Group, say) is dismissed as Tory Propaganda while they rant on about taxing turnover, FFS.

Do they even know what turnover is? Do they understand it's perfectly possible (and indeed quite common at present) to suffer losses on substantial turnover? They either don't or more likely they don't care.

The sad fact is that they just hate (a) the productive and (b) the rule of law. They want their leaders to be able to grab any damn thing they want from anyone they dislike regardless of whether their victims obey they law or not. Due process of law is not the keystone of civilisation to them; it's a loathed obstacle to visiting their mindless hatred on their enemies. It's all (as they keep saying amusingly in demonstrating their entire ignorance of life's complexities) "very simple"

The companies they are attacking and others like them do all the innovating that makes our lives better (who really wants to live now without Amazon or Kindle?) and pay the wages taxed (directly and indirectly) to pay for all the "social goods" these retards lust over. I read recently that entrepreneurs take only about 3% of the value they deliver as their own reward. Their customers get 97%. Compare and contrast with the massive losses on "fiscal churn" involved in delivery of social goods by the retards' beloved state.

Corporate taxes are a joke anyway. The true economic cost falls on individuals (customers, employees and shareholders in varied combinations). There is no point at all in corporate taxation except to disguise the true level of personal taxation. These idiots are being taken for a ride by politicians, as usual. I predict, not a riot, but further punishment and demonisation of the productive in order to win votes from the envious, hate-ridden, feckless readers of that Cayman Island-based model of fiscal rectitude; The Guardian.

I, Pencil

I, Pencil | A Project of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Anyone who thinks politicians can ever make things better should consider this; everything they do obstructs the beautiful process illustrated in this movie. A process that is breathtakingly complex, even in relation to one of mankind's "simplest" products. So they had better have a damn good reason for every such obstruction. Not just one they can "sell" to the lazy, the greedy and the downright wicked in return for votes.

The Marshmallow Test, Revisited

The Marshmallow Test, Revisited - At the Edge (

It seems to me that the two sets of research (the famous original testing a child's ability to delay eating a marshmallow in return for another one later and the new data suggesting that children learn such behaviours at home) actually fit well together. The new research merely explains why some children are more prepared to defer gratification; because they come from stable homes where promises are kept. That doesn't make the 1960s Stanford research wrong. Children able to pass the test still do better in life on average because deferring gratification leads to good outcomes. It's just yet another argument for good parenting. Flaky parents tend to raise flaky kids. Duh.

An interesting sidelight is whether governments that constantly change the rules (e.g. generating inflation to cheat their way out of paying their debts in full) affect adult willingness to defer gratification. 

Why work hard when the government is going to take the lion's share of what you earn? Why be prudent, when it is going to inflate away the value of your savings, tax such income as they still yield, give the proceeds to the feckless, and manipulate interest rates down to protect over-borrowers and punish savers? The government itself (while the idiot left cries "austerity") is going further into debt at the rate of £2.3 billion a week and encouraging the most indebted consumers in Europe to spend more by way of "stimulus".

Not only is government annoyingly prone to treat us like children but it seems it also behaves like a very flaky parent. 

Wrong on every level?

Stumbling and Mumbling: In defence of idleness.

Is our bias in favour of industry and thrift out-dated? Do we need to adapt to a new paradigm? Chris Dillow of the blog Stumbling and Mumbling, who bills himself as "an extremist, not a fanatic", believes so. He even arranges English words in plausible patterns to advance his argument. Does work, as he argues, really now come down to a matter of taste? Should those who like it really be grateful for those to whom it is unappealing? And therefore ready to subsidise them as they, for example, go fishing?

I cringe at his every word. I can't help feeling that it's all a bit Woosterish, with simply a new cast of characters camped out in the Drones Club, but he seems sincere. Work is bad and leisure is good. Therefore the more leisure the better and such work as remains necessary should be left, rather like military service, to underpaid volunteers. Am I just old-fashioned? Conditioned by centuries of necessary graft? Or is there something wrong with his vision? Not to mention something creepy about the way that he imagines these are matters to be arranged centrally, with some higher authority moving us omnisciently around on a metaphorical chessboard?

A message from the 1970s

A message from the 1970s on state spending - Telegraph.

The 1970s were when my political views were formed. In that decade, I was suspended from my bog-standard comprehensive for my revolutionary activities. I was a member of a Maoist school students union, which organised the only pupils strike in the history of British education. I sold "Quotations from Chairman Mao" and "The Little Red Schoolbook" to my fellow pupils. I refused to be a prefect or to apply to Oxbridge (alas) because I was anti-elitist.

I had a Damascene political conversion as a result of seeing men on a building site where I worked in my school holidays subjected to violent intimidation by the Shrewsbury Pickets. I had already read my Marx but that led me to my Hayek and Popper. I went on to lead my university's Conservatives to take control of its Student Union from the Left for the first time and was one of the first people to call myself a "Thatcherite". I met and discussed politics with Sir Keith Joseph and discovered I was a good judge of character when I also met the pompous, wet and unreliable Sir Geoffrey Howe. I didn't like him the instant I set eyes on him and was not surprised when he later played Brutus to Margaret's Caesar.

But the truly formative event was the national humiliation wrought on Britain by Labour bankrupting the British state and calling in the IMF. I don't think anyone who was there and understood what what happening could ever forget it. It has informed my every political and economic thought since. It's why I am so scared by the nonsense flickering across the synapses of commenter and erstwhile guest blogger Mark (and virtually everyone else in Britain, alas).

Every new Labour leader should stand before his first party conference and recite Jim Callaghan's words, because they nail the greatest lie in modern politics and economics; that the state can drive growth. It cannot. At the most it can facilitate it, by providing the rule of law and consistent, predictable regulation that businesses can plan for, but otherwise getting the hell out of our way. This is what he said.

We used to think you could spend your way out of recession and increase employment by boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists. And in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion ... by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step.

I agree with , author of the linked article in The Telegraph, that these are among the most important (and I would add almost certainly the most honest) words uttered by any British Prime Minister. That they have been forgotten so quickly horrifies me. If all my efforts in writing this blog achieve nothing else, I hope I can bring people to Mr Callaghan's honest, if no doubt disappointing for a lifelong Socialist, realisation.