Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I'm not anti-American...

...but if I was this article from the peerless alt-magazine for expats in Moscow - the Exile - would explain why. Hysterical.


Chris Pope, a friend working at the AEI, provides a fine example of why I seriously dislike Obama:

"Like all Obama's stuff, it is very eloquent, at times beautifully emotive, but where it verges on policy it dives into nonsense:

"Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many."

Well, actually, the unfolding chaos is caused by a housing market bubble.

Any fool who has been paying attention to the news over the past year knows this. Obama knows this. we all know this. Trying to scapegoat corporations, accountants, lobbyists and "the few" is demagogy that is as deliberate as it is mendacious, and as dangerous as it is unserious."

On the same subject, Andrew Ferguson has an absolutely brilliant, must-read dissection of Obama's speeches. My favourite section, although the article should be read in full:

"That's a clue, anyway. The sentence may not have any positive content, Walker seems to be saying, but it does have an indirect meaning, an implication, as a kind of self-referential gesture for the people who claim it. When Obama's supporters say "We are the ones we've been waiting for," what they mean is that in the long roll call of history, from Aristotle and Heraclitus down through Augustine and Maimonides and Immanuel Kant and the fellows who wrote the Federalist Papers, we're number one! We're the smartest yet! Everybody--Mom, Dad, Gramps and Grandma, Great Grandpa and Great Grandma, maybe even the Tribal Elders--they've all been waiting for people as clued-in as us!

Is this what Obama means too? No one who's wandered through an Obama rally and heard the war whoops and seen the cheerful, vacant gazes would come away thinking, "These are the smartest people ever." I'm sorry, they just aren't. What is unmistakable is the creepy kind of solipsism and the air of self-congratulation that clings to his campaign. "There is something happening," he says in stump speeches. And what's happening? "Change is happening." How so? "The reason our campaign has been different is about what you, the people who love this country, can do to change it." And the way to change it is to join the campaign, which, once you join it, will change America. Because this is our moment. The time is now. Now is the time. Yes, we can. We bring change to the campaign because the campaign is about change. We are the ones we've been waiting for. Obama and his followers are perfecting postmodern reflexivity. It's a campaign that's about itself. The point of the campaign is the campaign."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Quasi-revenue-neutral tax reform

Polls suggest that voters increasingly want lower taxes, even if that means lower spending. Tax cuts are popular. This poses quite a conundrum for politicians who aren't willing to take serious measures to control spending and have no room to borrow.

Revenue-neutral changes to the tax system seemed like the way out for a while but they are a political nightmare because the losers will hate you for it and the winners will prove fickle and ungrateful.

The new solution politicians appear to have hit upon is the quasi-revenue-neutral change. The most politically successful example was the Conservative increasing of the Inheritance Tax threshold 'paid for' by a new flat rate charge to non-doms. The secret is to find a change that is revenue neutral from the Treasury's point of view but a tax cut from the perspective of ordinary people.

There is a problem with all this. It's quite hard to get large sums of money out of the rich 'other'. There aren't very many of them, they leave or use the advantages that made them rich to hide their money from you. Charges on non-doms, of whatever political colour, appear unlikely to raise money. Attempts to crack down on tax avoidance drive ordinary people to bankruptcy but don't yield much by way of revenue. In order to finance their plans Menzies Campbell's Liberal Democrats had to define "rich" down to £35,000 each, in a two-earner household.

With his Vehicle Excise Duty proposals Alistair Darling must have thought he was onto a winner. He could raise revenue from "gas-guzzlers" and give it to the working poor. Unfortunately, there aren't that many Hummers out there and they're already heavily taxed. In order to get substantial amounts of revenue he had to increase VED on the kind of cars ordinary people drive. We crunched the numbers and once it started to be reported that cars as humble as a Nissan Micra would be paying more tax the political logic of the changes looked a lot more suspect. To find out how much your car tax will go up visit

Darling's plan failed and the Budget became a disaster. As the News of the World reported: “for the first time since Labour came to power in 1997, support for the government has SLUMPED after a Budget”. This is another example of quasi-revenue-neutral tax changes failing to deliver the political goods.

Cross-posted from CentreRight.Com

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Universalist conservatism

While I am no apologist for the BBC I think that Conor Burns is being a little too aggresive in his attack on them for calling the victors of Iran's election "conservatives". Conservatism can be understood as a passion for institutional stability - a wish to preserve something in an established order. In that sense, a conservative in one country could favour free-markets and democratic governance and, in another, theocratic tyranny. There is no universal conservatism and a conservative could be a man of good sense in England but not in Iran.

Hayek's critique of conservatism is rooted in this problem. If your passion is for preserving then you concede the future to your enemies; if the fight is between conservatives and socialists you will move slowly to socialism. That is why I think that conservatism needs liberalism (in the European sense of the word).

I think that the Iranian "conservatives", clearly defending an established order we would not want to defend, highlight a dilemma for all conservatives. At what stage is there too little worth conserving? At what stage do we concede that conservatism needs to be set to one side in favour of the more radical medicine of liberalism?

I set out the ideas in this post, in more detail, a while back on TCS Daily.

P.S. All this doesn't mean that the BBC's article isn't sloppy. Whether or not the Iranian election victors were 'conservative' or 'reformist' doesn't get at the crucial distinction among Iranian hardliners - clerics or soldiers? The BBC's analysis is weak because they don't draw that distinction so can't properly analyse what the change means for Ahmadinejad. That leads to false enigmas like this one: "However, many of the conservative winners are critics of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Cross-posted from CentreRight.Com

The politics of the Budget - the results are in!

Apologies for the lack of posts. Still, it appears that I got the politics of the Budget just about right.