Why Review The Morning Star?

So why do programs like Newsnight review the Morning Star headlines?

Historical reasons really. There\’s a newspaper pack that goes to each Cabinet Minister. Every day, anywhere they are in the world (read by flunkies, of course).

Back in the late 90s it had 14 newspapers in it. Including the Morning Star. The TV programs are basing their reviews on the papers they know that the Ministers get.

Trivia bonus point. The Queen gets the same pack (I once delivered said pack to her through a snowstorm, pottering across Red Square to do so).

So you can amuse yourself with the idea of Brenda reading the commies over her tea and toast every morning.

Mr. Dillow

And the boss won\’t be more expert. Why buy a dog and bark yourself? The division of labour that makes companies efficient – in so far as they are – is also a division of knowledge. It\’s just impossible for a bank boss to continually know more than every employee does. Ignorance, therefore, isn\’t a failing of a particular individual but an ineliminable fact about any organisation.

But voters don\’t have such an easy answer. SocGen shows us that big organisations can\’t always be run effectively, even when managed by highly intelligent and diligent people. So why should politicians pretend the opposite can be true of the State?

Quite, minarchy here we come!

Mr. Freedland Speaks Out!

Please Jonathan, learn what words mean:

The Black Monday of 2008, which saw £77bn wiped off London share values, was matched at one point yesterday on Wall Street, where even a drastic emergency cut in interest rates could not prevent wild volatility.

Volatility means changes in prices. Both up and down. The aim of cutting interest rates was in fact to increase volatility: they wanted to make share prices go back up again after they had fallen. So they didn\’t in fact want to prevent wild volatility, they wanted to cause it. Sheesh.

For they suggest turbo-capitalism is not just unfair – it is dishonest and dangerous. If that sounds excessive, focus, if you will, on the banking sector at the heart of today\’s mess. It was the reckless gobbling up and selling on of shaky subprime loans – mortgages given to bad-risk customers – by American banks, and the threat that those debts would never be paid back, that triggered the entire loss of confidence that stopped banks lending to each other and caused the run on our own Northern Rock. Those sub-prime debts were dodgy, but they were wrapped up and sold on as if they were triple-A-rated, pukka debts, as solid as a government bond.

That was dishonest – and you need only look at the cost to the taxpayer of Northern Rock, £24bn in loans and another £30bn in guarantees, to see how dangerous it has been for our economy and, given the diversion of public money that could have gone elsewhere, for our entire society.

The American banks have already owned up to $100 billion in losses on such products: those who made the mistake (the dishonesty if you must) have paid the price: we\’re not going to see this particular mistake repeated in our lifetimes. Please also note that all of this has happened before the bureaucrats have finished sharpening their pencils. Yes, markets do go wrong, as does any other system inhabited by human beings. The question is, what system clears up such mistakes best? Markets or those guys still working away with the penknives on their pencils?

As to Northern Rock, I\’ve not heard that their own loans sold on (the Granite paper) have defaulted. That was a different mistake, one of borrowing short and lending long (which all banks do) on a larger scale than was prudent. What\’s made that problem greater than it could and should have been is precisely that we\’ve got the pencil sharpeners looking for a political solution. Twenty years ago there would have been some City heads knocked together (if indeed NR hadn\’t been stopped from pursuing the path it did in the first place) and we\’d have had a messy, but adequate, solution back in August.

You could argue that capitalism is always like this, parasitical on the state.

Well, some of us do indeed argue that, that capitalism, in the form of big business, always tries to be parasitical on the State. Seeking rents and privileges. Which is why we argue that the State should not have the power to grant such rents and privileges. But that\’s not I think what you are arguing.

Whether it\’s the internet businesses that would be nowhere had it not been for the government research and development that created the web,

Grr, grr. The internet and the web are two very different things. The internet was indeed trialled by the US DoD. The web was something very different indeed, knocked together by one man over a week or two. That Sir Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN at the time is pretty much irrelevant.

or the vast agribusinesses and others dependent on the "corporate welfare" of state subsidy – an estimated $92bn a year in the US, according to the libertarian Cato Institute – it\’s time to admit there is no such thing as a free market.

No one rational ever tries to state that there is, ever has been or ever will be a free market in anything. Markets are always constrained: it might be by customs, by law, by habit, but there are always constraints. There must be, for how can you have a market without a delineation of property rights?

The argument isn\’t "free markets" or "not free markets". It is always "freer markets" or "less free markets". And one very important part of the argument for freer markets is that we want to reduce the ability of people, whether they be unions, corporations, individuals, classes, professions, whatever, to seek rents and privileges from the State.

It is of course lovely that you quote Cato: but it would be interesting if you understood the point that they\’re trying to make. Archers Midland Daniel is as much a danger to, a leech upon, freer markets as the minimum wage or the UAW. And Cato (along with people like the ASI) are one of the few groups who proclaim this evident truth loudly enough that even you should be able to hear it.

Publishing Press Releases

I do wonder sometimes:

They are famous for their sculpted bodies and minuscule bathing suits but Brazilians are getting fatter, according to a study.

More than half of all adults are overweight, said the report by the Brazilian Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

Bariatric surgery being that one where they staple your stomach smaller so that you don\’t eat as much. Has, I\’m told, a 1% death rate fom complications of the surgery. So now we take our statistics on weight problems in the population from the trade organisations of those who benefit from scaring people about weight problems in the population?

Polly on the BBC

Three points:

1) "Top-Slicing." The idea that the licence fee should be spread out amongst all public service broadcasters, not just the one.But aren\’t we all supposed to be becoming more Continental, ever closer to our European partners? The tax here in Portugal (which is, bizarrely, part of your electricity bill) is spread amongst all such. So why not in the UK?

2) "Three independent recent polls show the licence fee is not only acceptable, but a majority of people would pay more than the current level to keep the BBC." Excellent, so let those who wish to pay do so. Allow those who do not not to do so. Abolish the licence fee altogether and make it a subscription service. After all, Polly\’s argument is that it would be able to make more money that way than it does currently.

3) And this comes from the very depths of my cynical heart. The BBC is pretty much alone in paying talking heads to appear on it. £50 or so for 15 minutes on a Radio 4 programme, £3,000 or so for Question Time (if that\’s the right name for the TV show where four political types exhibit their wisdom on the issues of the day with Dimbleby). Certain Guardian journalists (no names, no pack drill) appear quite often on such shows. It couldn\’t possibly be true that defense of the licence fee is motivated by that small part of it that works its way through the system to those doing the defending. No, absolutely not, that\’s too cynical even for me.

But an interesting question does arise. Would Polly like to tell us how much she has been paid by the BBC over the past 12 months? Just to start things off, I\’ll reveal my number. £108 (from memory, an all too fallible thing I\’m afraid)


Stealing Tractors

Hundreds of tractors are being stolen in an extraordinary crimewave that is worth £3 million a year and affects most counties in rural Britain.


They are particular about their pickings, and have a penchant for the distinctive green and yellow tractors of the John Deere brand. John Deere tractors usually cost between £63,700 and £75,000, and even second-hand models can be sold for up to £50,000. Some top-of-the-range tractors cost more than £100,000.

Taking that second hand value £3 million a year is 60 a year. So that "hundreds" looks like a tad of hyperbole, don\’t you think?

More Sir Ed

Sir Edmund – God bless the man – came from a simpler, earlier age. His subsequent mission to the Antarctic with Vivien Fuchs, incidentally, provided The Times with its most inadvertently entertaining headline ever, for which we might also remember him: “Hillary Fuchs off to the Pole”.

Hari on Public Services


Let\’s start with the health service. The NHS is, in effect, a very wide health insurance scheme.

No it isn\’t. It\’s a combination of a health insurance scheme and a health assurance scheme. As your basic analysis is wrong at the very start of your argument the rest is also incorrect.

To explain. Insurance is where you pay to protect yourself against the effects of something that might or might not happen. Fire insurance for your house, car insurance for the risk of your maiming someone else while driving. You don\’t think these things will happen but the effects if they do (replacing your house, paying for the 50 year care for a quadriplegic) are so impossible for you to bear without some risk pooling that you are willing to pay a monthly premium to protect you against said low risk but possible effects.

Assurance is something different, it\’s paying into a savings plan (or if you prefer, a pre-payment) for something you think probably will happen. It might not, for sure, but the probability of it happening is somewhere between odds on and nearly dead certain. A savings plan to pay for your funeral is assurance: you\’re almost 100% certain that you\’ll need a coffin or a crematorium at some point (there are always those few who are lost at sea etc). A pension plan is a form of assurance: you\’re pretty sure you\’ll live to draw it, you certainly hope you will, but there\’s always a chance that you\’ll pop your clogs the day before you retire. This difference between pensions as assurance and insurance is why the State pension age should rise to the average life span: the state pension being insurance that you\’ll outlive the assurance that you have rationally bought (no, not a right wing idea, comes from Brad Delong, a Clinton Admin official).

Turning to health care, the NHS is a mixture of both of these things. Yes, it\’s an insurance scheme for if you get cancer, if you need to be scraped up off the road with multiple injuries. And in this case, yes, the total population probably is a very good risk sharing pool. That doesn\’t mean it needs to be organised as it is, a Stalinist centrally operated both insurer and provider, but there\’s certainly a decent argument to be made for tax funded such insurance over the whole population (one I agree with BTW).

But there\’s a whole another level of health care which is much closer to the assurance model. Routine health checks, seeing a GP, needing a new knee perhaps, vaccinations if you want to travel, vaccinations of children say. These are predictable costs (to an extent) and they\’re also not high costs. The assurance model is thus a better fit. The risk pooling part is much less important. An individual could rationally purchase private insurance or prefer to pay out of pocket for whatever they consume. But there is no argument that this part of health care has to be pooled, for insurance risk purposes, over the entire population.

Making this difference is one of the things that people identify as making the French system work so well (routinely called the best value system in the industrialised world). Cancer care (and a few others) is 100% paid for from the insurance you pay as a deduction from your wages (very like NI, although the system that spends the money is very different from the NHS). Routine medical care is paid 70% or so from said insurance, the balance being paid by the patient: and the vast majority of the French take out private insurance to cover that as well. Note though that even when the State will pay, it\’s not free at the point of consumption. You pay first then get it back.

So, to wrap up, Hari\’s argument does (arguably) hold for catastrophic care, but not for all health care. Which means that it doesn\’t hold for the NHS, which is both.

Technology is similarly making the case for the BBC all over again. Soon, a majority of TV viewers will have automatic recording technologies such as TiVO and Sky Plus, so your favourite programmes are sitting there waiting for you when you switch on the box. One of the many advantages is that you can simply fast-forward through the adverts: I don\’t think I\’ve watched a single one since I got mine six months ago. TV advertisers are waking up to this drying up of their audience, and demanding lower rates. Commercial television is going to have drastically smaller budgets as this trend deepens – and the quality will inevitably deteriorate.

So how will good TV shows be paid for in future? One alternative revenue-stream was going to be phone-lines on shows like The X-Factor – but the British TV industry just tossed that option into the shredder by famously ripping off their callers. Then there\’s the option of subscription channels you have to pay for monthly. But if we\’re going to do that, doesn\’t it make more sense to retain the ultimate high-quality subscription channels for just 36p a day, through the BBC licence fee?

Sure, as long as I\’ve got the opportunity to opt out, as I do with Sky, Setanta and any of the others. No opt out allowed and it isn\’t the same at all, is it?

Oh Dear

The Telegraph has run that story from Oxford Economics about UK living standards surpassing those in the US.

But, and here\’s the crucial part, they\’ve entirely dropped the caveats about market exchange rates and PPP. Simply missed them out.

Shame, Ms. Lucy Cockcroft, shame on you. You\’ve entirely missed the point of the whole story.


Comment is free is based at:

Guardian Unlimited
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London EC1R 3ER
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Please contact us whenever possible by email: comment.is.free@guardian.co.uk

Well, yes, I mean it\’s possible for me to contact you right now. My computer is on, the email program is running. It\’s just that I\’m not sure I\’ve got anything to say to you right now.

Janet Street Porter

Columns in The Independent are surely the musings of the socially inept, those people you sidle away from at parties after a couple of stabs at conversation. They are the product of the system that has given a "voice" to people who have nothing to say apart from the fact that we\’re all doomed, it\’s capitalism\’s fault and by the way, I met someone famous recently. Thousands of hackneyed opinions about books, politics, the environment and society written by people who can\’t use a logical argument or recognise a fact. Endless reviews of this and that tapped out by idiotarians who\’ve never experienced any culture other than the one within their own heads.

Random Survey of the Day

Well, it\’s one way to get your name in hte papers. Conduct a survey, make up an interesting factoid and fax it out.

Divorce lawyers are expecting their busiest day of the year today as the pressure of Christmas and the New Year holidays finally blows rocky marriages apart.

The period just ended is probably the one time of the year when the family is indeed all together, at home (rather than abroad on hols).

Just goes to show, eh? Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Glory Be!

The Observer is now being infested with some of the glorious feminist nuttery of The Guradian!*

Even those female friends who are determined to keep their surname concede, in most cases, that their husband will keep his own and pass it on to their children.

These are women I would call feminists. They want successful careers, comparable salaries and partners prepared to share the childcare. Yet here is one custom that many of them have never questioned. Nor have their partners. Adam is the first man I have come across who would happily change his surname to that of his wife.

\’It\’s traditional; it\’s expected; it\’s the way I imagined it would be,\’ my friend Rosie explained after I brought it up over a drink. An hour later and we had not come up with one good reason why. The only point that had any logic to me was the notion of a \’family name\’ for parents and children, but then why should it be the man\’s?

Given 30 seconds I managed to come up with a reason: we know who the mother of a child is, we don\’t (always) know who the father is. Thus the name signifies who we think it is.

I\’m also rather amused by this insistence that women should not give up their family name….one which, in the course of things is in fact their father\’s, not their mother\’s.

But where did it come from? In his book Face of Britain, The Observer\’s Robin McKie writes that surnames were introduced during Norman times, when authorities wanted a way to assign ownership of business and property. The surname became an ancient form of the identity card, McKie argues, and the reason that it was passed down through the male was simple: men owned everything and women inherited nothing.

That\’s a pretty odd view of British history. In those times when land ownership was strictly tied to military service (something which didn\’t last all that long) it also wasn\’t strictly tied to inheritance. And I\’m not sure that there has ever been a time when "women owned nothing" nor when "women inherited nothing".

We\’ll be getting Polly in the paper soon enough, you mark my words.

* There is something of a battle going on in the two papers, merging their quite distinctive voices into a rolling 7 day operation. So expect more of this to happen, modern liberals taking over what still is, in many ways, an historically liberal paper.