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

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The Boy King's Speech

Conservative Party conference 2011: David Cameron's speech in full - Telegraph.

I could quibble about some of his sentiments; on the importance of government leadership for example, but essentially I agree with every word of David Cameron's conference speech. The problem is I don't believe he does. At least, he lacks the will to make it happen. The Conservative Party, as presently constituted and led, is a dog with no fight. It's a poodle of the liberal left. It might yap irritatingly occasionally, but it's never going to bite them and - most of the time - it wants them to stroke it.

The Conservative Party used to be the political rotweiler of Britain. It was an election-winning machine; a mass movement - and the most important dating agency of the middle classes. It was the largest political party in Scotland (can you imagine?!) and was briefly, under Margaret H. Thatcher, an intellectual hotbed. Sir Keith Joseph (a far better man than our leftist historians will ever admit) had the Centre for Policy Studies shaping national thought for a while. Those were the only times in my life when I had hope for our country's future.

I was never really a Tory though. I don't hunt or shoot, never wear tweed and feel no need to be paternalistic to the poor. I have no desire to tell other adults (unless and to the precise extent that they threaten person or property) what to do with their lives. I didn't give a damn if Cecil Parkinson bonked his secretary, any more than Margaret did. Once I got past my Che Guevara and Mao Zedong-worshipping teenage years (give me a break, it could have been drugs) it seems I was always a classical liberal.

The Conservative Party was only welcoming to the likes of us under Margaret. Daniel Hannan and other sound thinkers now look like Jews in Woody Allen's unkindest caricature of a 1950s country club. I admire their gall and persistence in joining, but frankly what do they hope to achieve? I don't think Mr Hannan has anything more in common with David Cameron's thinking (as opposed to his rhetoric) than with Gordon Brown's.

We need a Broad Right alliance in this country. The BBC's hysteria today about the suggestion people should pay off their credit cards (more sensible advice than which is scarce possible to conceive) suggests that the prudent are dangerously close to becoming an enslaved minority. They can't afford to be divided.

The likes of Dan Hannan are widely respected within UKIP and libertarian circles, for example. They could broker, if not a merger with the Conservatives, at least an electoral pact. The Eurosceptics have been proved right in the most convincing manner. The Tory hush puppy tendency of woolly-thinking wets are as weak as they have ever been since Thatcher's day. Now is the hour, for the good of the nation, to give the electoral quietus to Labour; the greatest divider of communities, destroyer of wealth and pimp to failure and degradation in our country's history. For David Cameron never spoke truer words than when he said;

We must never let these Labour politicians anywhere near our economy again.

If only he had the manhood truly to believe that could be achieved, it just might be.

Worstall on economics

Well of course.

I have nothing to add to Tim's wisdom and commend the linked post to you.

Economics ... has nothing at all to say about whether more or less inequality is a good thing to be striving for. Nada on whether greater physical wealth is better or worse than greater spiritual wealth, about whether we really ought to all make things with our hands or leave it all to machines or Chinee. Entirely sweet f*** all to say about what is the desirable society.

Quite. Asserting the primacy of politics over economics (a la Angela Merkel) is like deciding to fly to France by jumping off the white cliffs of Dover and flapping your arms. Your legitimate objective of travel to France doesn't entitle you to defy gravity.

Watching Ms Merkel and her European cohorts attempting to defy economic gravity is sadly not quite such an amusing image.

What the USA's liabilities look like in $100 bills

US debt problem visualized: Debt stacked in 100 dollar bills.

We really can't have enough visualisations like the one on the linked page. Honestly, I don't believe the idiot politicians have their heads around the scale of what they have done. And still they want their overdraft limit (i.e. their claims against Americans as yet unborn) raised. Damn them.

Screen Shot 2011-07-31 at 16.09.50

h/t Counting Cats

German politicians make war on truth

Europe declares war on rating agencies - Telegraph.

Do Wolfgang Schauble and Heiner Flassbeck understand what they are saying? They want to "break", "dissolve" or "ban from rating countries" the independent agencies investors rely upon to rate investment risk.

Is this what Chancellor Merkel meant when she asserted the primacy of politics over economics?

If independent sources of information are suppressed, you arrogant fools, investors will not simply assume that your assessments of risk are correct. They will find other reliable data or they will assume the worst. Frankly, a politician furiously demanding the suppression of independent data sources is the best evidence yet that the EU bail-outs will not work.

Independent rating agencies, though they have erred (as all humans - with the apparent self-exception of German politicians - must) add to the overall value of financial assets by making risks more transparent and allowing comparison of rival investments on a consistent basis. Risks which are obscure must be priced on a worst case basis, diminishing value.

Germany's politicians are out of order here, and dangerously so. Not least when they indulge in such racial epithets as "anglo-saxon" to attack their perceived enemies. As a group, German politicians are ill-advised to raise the spectre of national stereotype.

h/t Samizdata, which makes the chilling point, in this context, that so far from being doomsayers, the rating agencies have a track record of undue optimism. Think about that, Wolfgang, as you bark your deluded orders to your imagined army.

Midday train to Georgia

I am on The Freedom Association's Facebook list and the invitation to today's Freedom in the City meeting caught my eye. It was addressed by the Georgian Ambassador to London, Mr Giorgi Badridze. His Excellency has been rather forthright in the past about his country's relations with Russia. I knew the other side of that story and wanted to hear his.

I was living in Moscow in 2006 when Russia embargoed Georgian goods. The police came to Moscow schools looking for children with Georgian names, so that the whole family could be deported. Georgian wine (80% of which had previously been bought by Russians) suddenly disappeared from supermarket shelves and the Georgian-themed hotel in the same street as my office was speedily renamed.

I was also there for the 2008 war during which Russia siezed some Georgian territory. It is still occupied by Russian troops, both FSB and regular army. Understandably therefore, and with diplomatic relations broken, the ambassador pulled few punches. Georgia, he said, had shown that a country with a history of totalitarianism and corruption could move forward to a better life. He hoped Russia would soon also "join the civilised world".

I wince slightly to think of the reaction of my charming Russian friends to his words. I suggested to him that the real problem is Russia's continued (and unecessarily) negative view of "The West" (whatever that may be). Even the educated, intelligent Russian people I worked with could not understand why Georgia should want to join the West in general and NATO in particular. The Chekists in the Russian elite are using Georgia as a proxy to sustain a unifying, but rather nasty, anti-Western nationalism among the wider population. I suggested Georgia might have a role to play (given that - unlike us - the Georgian people enjoy Russian affection) in solving that greater problem.

He feared that the old goodwill had been killed by propaganda. He pointed to the fact that anyone with "southern" looks is now likely to be beaten on the streets of Moscow by nationalist thugs. Sadly he's right about that. An Anglo-Indian former colleague was taken for a Georgian or Chechen and thoroughly beaten while in Moscow to visit our office. As further evidence of the nastiness being dangerously fostered in Russia, he cited the hero's funeral (with senior politicians in attendance) given to disgraced Colonel Yuri Budanov. Strong stuff.

I read with interest the recent comments by Robert Gates, about to retire as the United States' Secretary of Defense. Personally, I would be delighted to see NATO disbanded, as I think it should have been immediately when the Soviet Union fell. It was formed as an alliance against the USSR and, while it genuinely sought (as any redundant bureaucracy will) to re-task itself, its continued existence sent all the wrong signals. I have no doubt that Poland, for example, joined NATO as a deliberate and typically exuberant provocation to its former comrades masters. Not that I justify Russia's behaviour, but it should have been no surprise to the West's governments that Russia reacted badly to Georgia's membership application.

What has all this fascinating stuff to do with the mission of The Freedom Association (or this blog)? Most of the ambassador's presentation was not about Russia, but about the reforms in post-Soviet Georgia. The government there dismissed the entire corrupt police force and recruited anew; beginning with the traffic police. Interestingly, road accidents declined during the handover month when there were no traffic cops! Public confidence in the police (polling at 3% before the reforms) has risen steadily since and corruption has, he claims, been eliminated.

Under the Shevardnadze regime, taxes were both heavy and numerous. It was impossible to do legal business profitably, as the whole system was designed to drive businessmen into the arms of corrupt officials. There are only six taxes in Georgia today (Income Tax, Corporation Tax, Value Added Tax, Customs, Excise and a local tax to fund local authorities). Income tax is flat and the results would, His Excellency claimed, "...put a smile on the face of Mr Laffer of the famous curve." GDP increased 12% in the year after the tax reforms and even now, post-crisis, was running at an annualised 8.5% in the first quarter. One of the questioners from the floor asked, "Could your government send ours a manual?" Quite.

I am not a member of The Freedom Association. After my flirtation with the Libertarian Party (of which I am no longer a member) I am in no mood to join any non-mainstream group at present (though I may venture a bit of Libertarian entryism shortly). Perhaps I should be braver, but I simply don't want to hang out with any weirdoes who might, by association, undermine the credibility of the common-sense political ideas I wish to advance. I was therefore curious to see what manner of folk might be found in TFA's ranks. There were a couple of eccentrics among the 20-30 attendees, including a splendid character in hiking-boots, bush hat and Union Flag tie, but most of the mixed crowd of all ages seemed well within normal operational parameters for the human race.

TFA does good work and - whether or not you decide to join - I commend its events to you. Now I am a Londoner again, I shall probably go to more of them myself.

Liberty -vs- Spending

It's the liberty, not the spending, Stupid!

I am sure that nothing in this report - even though it emanates from a branch of what conspiracy-theorists call "Them" - will change minds on either side of the political divide. As the Adam Smith Institute comments, 
Strange the way we have to keep repeating things we've known for 235 years really.
But is it that strange? Laziness is a basic human vice. It's why scams of all kinds are so successful. Prudent mothers bring up their offspring with the wise words;
If it sounds too good to be true, it isn't
...ringing in their ears, but the likes of Bernie Madoff still find their victims easily enough. Most people are all too keen to believe in "money for nothing" and possibly even "your chicks for free." Yet the report is clear (if dry) enough;

...a one unit change in the initial level of economic freedom between two countries (on a scale of 1 to 10) is associated with an almost 1 percentage point differential in their average long-run economic growth rates. In the case of civil and political liberties, the long-term effect is also positive and significant with a differential of 0.3 percentage point.

In addition to the initial conditions, the expansion of freedom conditions over time (economic, civil, and political) also positively influences long-run economic growth. In contrast, no evidence was found that the initial level of entitlement rights or their change over time had any significant effects on long-term per capita income, except for a negative effect in some specifications of the model. These results tend to support earlier findings that beyond core functions of government responsibility—including the protection of liberty itself—the expansion of the state to provide for various entitlements, including so-called economic, social, and cultural rights, may not make people richer in the long run and may even make them poorer...

Many of us prefer politics to economics because the former is more fun and less work. Angela Merkel even asserted the primacy of politics over economics as a moral imperative. That is just as stupid as saying that justice is more important than medicine, so sick people can't die because that wouldn't be fair. Socialism is simply, in every sense of the word, lazy thinking. For so long as any tentative acknowledgement of economic reality is regarded as cruel, then we may as well get used to "the lowest barbarism" Adam Smith explained was so simple (if not easy) to avoid. Of course it's one thing to inflict it on ourselves, but quite another to force it on the Third World as a consequence of our so-called "aid."

Wild and Free?

Wild and Free Pigs of the Okefenoke Swamp | Network for Education Opportunity.

I wonder if any of the sneering leftists who now have the #rallyagainstdebt Twitter hashtag virtually to themselves could see the point of the linked parable?

...the younger pigs decided that it was easier to eat free corn than it was to root out roots and catch snakes.  So the very young began to eat the corn first.  I did this every day.  Pretty soon, even the old pigs decided that it was easier to eat free corn.  After all, they were all free; they were not penned up.  They could run off in any direction they wanted at any time.

I have seen few better explanations of how the British population has been coralled into servitude to the clients of an over-mighty state. As one person living on benefits recently sneered in public, "You paid for this camera, you pay for my benefits, you're basically my slave." As I have observed before on this blog,  how true.

h/t @Offshorebelle

April's fools?

Government borrowing hits April record | Business |

David Cameron is still rebranding the Conservative Party by his odd technique of never doing anything that Labour might not also have done. This makes life hard for Milliband, who is reduced to attacking what everyone knows would have been his own economic policies (give or take a few basis points). Politics is a game and it's fun to watch your opponents struggle, but surely this tactic cannot last for long. It's pointless anyway. The moment Cameron implements a Conservative policy the cries of "nasty party!" from the BBC and the Guardian will simply be more triumphant.

Playing games is all very well, but there is a job of work to be done. The government's income is falling as the private sector continues to be squeezed. The coalition has made no meaningful cuts at all. Not implementing those new expenditures dishonestly promised by an outgoing government simply does not count. I might as well claim I am cutting my costs by not buying the Ferrari I have always promised myself. This government will only really be cutting costs when it does something that would be recognised as such by a business fighting for survival or a household struggling to make ends meet under the pressure of rising taxes.

Please note that the Guardian is quoting figures adjusted to exclude "support for banks and other 'financial interventions'", so you can ignore the reflex Labour cry of "blame the bailout." Indeed, the position is worsening despite one-off "special factors" that have increased tax receipts by £3.5bn this year. A better-informed reader may correct me, but aren't those "special factors" Alistair Darling's and Gideon Osborne's levies on the wicked banks?

I don't blame the public for not understanding the dark realities of the national finances. Cameron himself, in yesterday's speech in Milton Keynes, confused reducing the deficit (i.e. the rate at which government debt is mounting) with reducing the debt itself. Yet the facts are simple, stark and alarming. The government's income is in decline. The government's expenditure is still growing. The unproductive sector refuses to share the pain and Cameron is too weak to confront state employees who are now paid 43% more, on average, than their productive counterparts. In consequence the national debt is mounting at a terrifying rate and there is a serious risk of the UK's credit being exhausted.

It's time for Cameron to stop playing games. His country needs him to be a real Conservative now, even if it means some sneers from his champagne Socialist friends.