Saturday, December 02, 2006

Adapting vs. Curbing Climate Change #1

David Cameron has endorsed the Slow Food movement. One reason he cited: "And it matters greatly to the environment – not least because of the carbon emissions that come from air-freighting food around the world." The question of the contribution food air-freight makes to carbon dioxide emissions is one I have no real inclination to tackle in this post. Instead, I just think it is important to note that Stern was having an absolute tiz about the effect global warming would have in lowering agricultural production.

The Slow Food movement's doctrine, like that of organic farming, is a response to modern farming methods but these methods weren't created by industry because they thought the idea of filling planes with tomotoes was funny or they had a rather sadistic relationship with certain insects. They are all designed to increase yield. Now, if our problem is declining agricultural land the most plausible response is increasing yields further through technologies, like genetic modification speeding up the old processes of breeding improved plants and lifestock, as these improvements have allowed us to escape Malthusian Traps before.

The idea of trading secure food supplies at their current level and the possibility of further increase in yields as technology continues to improve for the marginal reduction in emissions brought by the Slow Food movement is not sensible.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Sometimes it can be hard to take Latin America seriously...

In Mexico they're actually having fistfights in parliament over the disputed Presidential elections:

"Brawls broke out between the two parties, which have both been holding their ground in the assembly for days, bringing in sleeping bags and taking shifts to prevent the other side from seizing more areas."

It is very hard to take Latin American socialism seriously when their politics is so thoroughly silly. Back when the Russians were giving them warheads maybe they could create a stir but now they're the Islamists' comedy accompaniment.

Chavez is another example; the War Nerd on his arms purchase:

"Think about what weapons you'd buy if you were a Leftist, anti-American leader with unlimited oil money to spend, like Chavez. Assume your goal is to bleed the Yankee invaders bad enough to make them think twice about invading you. Take your cue from successful local guerrilla armies like Hezbollah. And assume you're buying from the Russians.

My shopping list would start with surface-to-air missiles, especially light, shoulder-fired weapons that can be dispersed to militias, and (thanks to that good ol' Soviet engineering) even buried in the back yard for a year or two and still fire up first time.


What he did buy with his $3 billion was 24 Sukhoi Su-30 fighters and 53 helicopters. Against a US invasion, all that hardware would be an instant writeoff. If you want to beat the US armed forces, you don't buy fighter jets, because they'll just get shot down. More likely, the USAF will turn them into modern art inside their hangars before they even get warmed up. And those 53 choppers, if they ever get into the air, will just be dessert for any US pilots who didn't get the chance to kill your fighter planes. You know how those fighter jocks are, itching to stencil another kill on the fuselage."

Regime change would be like kicking a diseased squirrel baby.

Friedman and Galbraith

Via Catallarchy, via Worstall.

"We met at his favorite restaurant in San Francisco, where I showed him a picture of him standing next to John Kenneth Galbraith, the premier Keynesian and welfare statist of the 20th century. Galbraith towered over the diminutive Friedman. Beneath the picture was a funny line by George Stigler: “All great economists are tall. There are two exceptions: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman.”"

Thursday, November 30, 2006

New Link

Lizzie Fison, a friend from the LSE Conservatives, has started a new blog. Very sound and very brilliant; if she sticks to it she should make quite the blogger.

One to watch and add to your blogrolls.

Atheism versus the Mormoms

This video is very funny. Via Andrew Sullivan.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The End of the United Kingdom

The SNP are set to record significant success in the coming elections, new polls for the Telegraph suggest that a narrow majority of Scots want independence and the same poll suggests that the English have no real attachment to the Union either.

This result can be confirmed by taking an anecdotal sample of opinions on the Union, some from e-mail and some from ConservativeHome's comments:

"I am so happy - now for a richer more confident and prosperous England and no more subsidising workshy Scots bastards. Worse than that Socialist workshy Scots bastards whos contribution to the country since the 1950s has been to make the country worse. All the benefits of intelligent Scots moving south would be achieved without a union in fact more of them would move south and we would benefit even more because we could reduce income or corporation tax further. When Scotland goes I have a bottle of Champagne ready. They dont support us anyway - they support any team but England - glad to once again be in the majority of English people - see Telegraph poll - who say good riddance."

"My personal view is 'Stuff the Scots'. Their ungrateful conntry is full of the socialists that keep this scummy government in power.

So let then go and good riddance."

"God how out of touch you blues really are, time to face the facts and leave the past behind. The union is dying, it has done nothing for England in 300 years, we have been used and abused and NOW is the time for England and her people to stand up and be counted."

While others remain attached to the Union it is pretty clear the way the wind is blowing. Having been told for so long that they were oppressing the Celtic fringe and being increasingly aware of the subsidy sent North and West the English sentiment can be summed up as "good riddance". The Scottish parliament has not made a lasting contribution to undermining a desire for Scottish independence and may well have had the opposite effect in the medium term as Major originally warned.

It seems unlikely that Scottish independence will happen in the near term. The Labour party has too much to lose and can stall a separation by giving Scotland's devolved institutions new powers. However, with English opinion swung against the Union we cannot expect the commitment to prop it up which might have allowed for compromise before. Unless this changes Scotland will, sooner or later, become a state.

It will be a sad day. The best states are not the result of borders being well matched to ethnic or cultural divisions. That the Scots have their own identity does not mean they should necessarily have a separate state. Generally the bar, as in Israel, the Balkans and elsewhere, for not being able to live in existing states is genocide or ethnic cleansing. Successful states like Britain involve all manner of minorities and there seems no reason we cannot live together. There is no coherent case that the Scottish have really been abused within Britain for some centuries.

Equally, I am unimpressed by those English who, in order to reduce the extent their vote is diluted or reclaim some funds spent on the Celtic subsidy now would see their nation torn asunder. Such an argument would be a fine case for the South East and London leaving the Union as the North/South income differential is, I believe, far larger than that for Scotland/England. Surely such narrow, mercenary, concerns are not how a conservative would wish to choose their state?

If conservativism can be defined at all then it is the view that human reason is limited and that faced with tasks as complicated as building a state we would do better to rely on the accumulated knowledge of ages.

To quote Burke:
"We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and ages."

In the United Kingdom we have the state that played a serious part in defeating Napoleon, the Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler and Stalin, built the world's largest empire, abolished slavery, set up the international economy through an early push for free trade, spread institutions and infrastructure around the world in the biggest overseas investment ever and provided a unique environment which incubated the first Industrial Revolution and modern economic growth. Now, it may be that we don't think this was dependent upon the United Kingdom so much as it was on England, luck, coal or some other quality. However, it seems far more plausible that the geographical security and cultural variety of the United Kingdom were a serious asset which there might be unintended consequences to losing.

Finally, there is something unutterably, aesthetically, sad about the death of an institution with the history of the United Kingdom. I fail to see how anyone of conservative instincts could not feel heartbroken that in our lives, on our watch, the United Kingdom, the old House of Lords, the Law Lords and Britain without a written constitution may all have died. There are statues of four of the noblemen who imposed the Magna Carta at the corners of the chamber of the House of Lords, still watching over the monarch. One of their descendants is still in the house. After the best part of a millenia these long traditions are being broken.

My New Description

"'I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.'

- H. L. Mencken

An account of arguments I agree and disagee with and of the yield from my own fertile imagination."

I knew that Mencken would have a suitable quotation although I was surprised by how earnest the excerpt I came back with was.

I quite like my own little description although I may reword it some more over the next few days.

Womyn and Free Speech

Alykhan highlights the Carleton University Student's Association bid to ban all anti-abortion ("anti-choice" in Canadian politically correctese) activity on campus. Apparently the Womyn's Centre is pushing this after an anti-abortion group organised a debate, of all things, and this upset campus feminists. The ban's proposer told the local paper "[These women] were upset the debate was happening on campus in a space that they thought they were safe and protected, and that respected their rights and freedoms"

For anyone lucky enough not to have come across the term "womyn" yet it is apparently used by ultra-feminists because "women" suggests they are somehow subsidiary. I think this all highlights how ridiculous feminism can become once the pressure of justifying making a simple campaign against discrimination an intellectual movement begins to tell. To quote Alykhan:

"How utterly shocking, that these fair young ladies are forced to listen to opinions they may disagree with. How ever will they cope and avoid fainting from the trauma?

Read about the silliness here, and ponder whether the feminist infantalization of women is empowering or, well, infantalizing."

Feminist crusades like the Womyn's Centre's absurd drive to ban debate hurts the credibility of the sensible movement to defend legal abortion and fight genuine discrimination. They hurt the chances of women being treated as able to participate in a discourse with men as equals.

Labour and the Unions

The Conservatives yesterday released the following:

"• Almost 90 per cent of Labour's donations now come from the unions, up from 34 per cent in the same period last year and still rising from 74 per cent in the previous quarter.
• In addition, new analysis shows that Labour is £2 million in debt to a trade union bank. The bank is 73 per cent owned by trade unions with senior union officials making up over half the non-exec board."

Labour's finances are now in such a dire state that they are effectively returning to being, at least in financial terms, the political arm of the Union movement.

Blair's big legacy is unlikely to be in international affairs or any particular change to the British state. Instead, it seems most likely that his most important achievement will be the change he made to the Labour party and British politics by ending the long twentieth century class war. Through the Clause IV moment, the rejection of most initiatives to reverse Thatcher's curbing of union power and his appeal to Middle England Blair killed the socialist dream of revenge for the long years of Tory domination and announced the end of class war politics.

Now look at the two parties: The Conservatives leadership is dominated by Old Etonians and Labour are being bankrolled entirely by the Unions. Despite this the parties are managing to maintain an impressive veneer of centrist respectability. The question has to be how long this can last if the unions manage to turn their financial interest into political influence. If it breaks down the potential for fiery class rhetoric is huge and could turn British politics very ugly, very quickly.

This also makes the Union Modernisation Fund, which I wrote about for the Little Red Book of Labour Sleaze, even more morally questionable. If the Labour party is almost entirely dependent upon the Unions then introducing legislation to give them state money is an even less honest idea than when they were only providing a third of Labour's revenue. Francis Maude's statement that this is "very, very direct sleaze. That is buying influence and buying taxpayers' money" has become an even more accurate description of what is going on.

Finally, anything which significantly increases the power of the unions is a very bad thing for the country's future prosperity. Britain's unions were our economic nemesis through most of the twentieth century and it was Thatcher's confrontation of them through the coal strike and privatisations that allowed labour to be shifted to where it was most needed and working practices to be reformed. That Labour's dishonest fundraising in the past is presenting an opportunity for the unions to make a comeback is a true indictment of that party's leadership. Look at their political priorities now and you'll see the potential for economic harm; limits on working hours, extending regulation to agency workers and a tax and spend state.

The Labour party's increased financial dependence upon the unions is a deeply worrying trend for British politics. The Conservatives are absolutely right to raise the alarm.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Matthew Sinclair MSc

I checked the boards today and I have secured an LSE Master's degree in Economic History (Research) with Merit. Huzzah!

Dalrymple on the Suicide of the West

I missed this in September when it was first published but it is brilliant (from the good Dalrymple). It captures brilliantly how the extent of the Islamist threat renders Steynesque caricatures utterly unnecessary.
"This is not a strong position from which to fight people who, by their own admission, hate you and are bent upon your destruction, brought about preferably at your own expense. First, you can't take them seriously; second, you suspect they might in any case be right."

"Both Bawer and Berlinski insist that one great difference between Western Europe and America is the survival of religion in America, which gives Americans a moral backbone (for want of a better term) that Western Europeans do not have. For myself, I am somewhat skeptical of the strength of American religious feeling compared with the breadth of the religious affiliation that they claim. If Americans were to experience a loss of confidence in their country's power, whether objectively justified or not, the crisis of meaning and purpose might strike them too. After all, pusillanimity is not even now confined to Western Europeans, though it is no doubt at its worst among them; the American response to the Danish cartoon crisis was little short of disgraceful, both in the government and the press. Indeed, the French for once were considerably less cowardly."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Apologising for Slavery

Apparently Blair is to stop short of issuing an apology for slavery but will express his regret at our involvement. I think that a note of regret at the awful treatment of the slaves and a UN resolution to honour those who died at the institution's hands are both worthwhile objectives, however, an apology would miss the point over the Empire's role in the slave trade.

Slavery is about as old as humanity. Not just the Greeks and Romans made slaves of each other but also just about every other people on Earth. It was certainly endemic in Africa before Europeans arrived. Those that didn't were usually those where it was not necessary due to the extent to which all were slaves of some tribal chief, king or emperor.

What was unique about the British Empire was that it made a moral decision to abolish slavery, first at home with the immortal line that:
"England was too pure an air for a slave to breathe in."
And then abroad: In a venture which was as imperialistic as any annexation Britain used its naval power to do its, considerable, best to enforce an international end to slavery. Paul Stephenson, who sees Blair's move as acknowledging the evils of the Empire, may never realise it but the British Empire in both ending the practice in the quarter of the globe it ruled and making it far more difficult elsewhere the Empire may have been as much a force for less as more slavery over its history.

Of course, all this would be different if there were a group around who had clearly suffered from slavery, questions of relative crimes and achievements would become rather abstract and morally unimpressive in the face of immediate suffering. However, while those who were slaves clearly suffered their descendents tend to have advantages like living in the States and it seems unlikely they are, net, worse off than had their ancestors not been taken as slaves and had remained in Africa. While they are worse off than those of European ancestry in the States this is hardly the correct counterfactual.

An apology for slavery would be innapropriate.

The 35 Hour Week

Well, they've finally found it. The policy groups have finally found an idea that would make me vote Labour were it to be adopted by the Conservatives (via ConservativeHome). Even Iain is getting angry. It is utterly illiberal; plenty of people who work far longer than 35 hours aren't exploited at all. It is based on the logic that more work must mean less happiness which is an awful denial of purpose in our lives. Finally, the economic impacts would be utterly horrendous as it makes British workers unable to put in the extra hours needed in certain very valuable careers; do you think the investment bankers work long hours because they're poor and exploited?

Fortunately, I don't think they will wind up adopting this policy as a poll for the Financial Times back in August (the source for the graph on the left) suggested that a majority of Britons do not think the government should limit working hours. Interestingly, this opinion is even stronger in those countries where it has already been introduced like France and Germany; clearly those who have seen working hour limits find them unpleasant.

What worries me is that Gummer considers this an issue he should let the polls take the lead on: "We have got to know what people think about it. It is one of the issues we are trying to tease out." Why on Earth is this an issue that comes down to opinion polls? Can the Conservative Party not decide anything is a bad idea on their own anymore?

Note, in particular that the question he poses is "Would you be in favour of the introduction of a 35-hour working week?" is different to that the FT poses which is "Should the government have the ability to limit the number of hours a worker can work in a week?"

This is important because a common failure of opinion polls is that people do not take account of opportunity costs; they answer as if in the best of all worlds. For example, they will happily answer yes to more spending on every service and lower taxes. Now, in this case they may answer Gummer's question as if it were "Would you like to have more free time?" I'm sure a great many would; however, they might also not like the costs to that free time of losing income and losing job satisfaction. By contrast, the FTs question focusses on the more important issue of whether they feel that their time in work should be limited by government.

This is a sad day for the Conservative Party.