Tim Worstall

Choice Editing

Ooooh, lovely, here\’s the latest idea from the man who brought us food miles. "Choice Editing".

But the professor who, almost two decades ago, first coined the term "food miles" says that it is folly to present the notion that consumers hold all the cards, and instead argues for much more "choice-editing" by the major retailers. Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London and a prominent figure in Britain\’s food industry, questions why the consumer should be the one left in the supermarket aisle to agonise over complex issues such as animal welfare, carbon footprints, workers\’ rights and excessive packaging, often without any meaningful data on the label to inform their decision-making. Instead, he wants the retailers to take more responsibility by making most of these decisions on our behalf before the produce even reaches the shelves. Ideally, our only choice would be between "good" products, as opposed to worrying that we might be making a "bad" choice.

Translation: you\’re all too stupid to make the choices that I think you should so therefore you shouldn\’t be allowed to make the choice.

But if choice-editing is to be adopted, can we trust the editors? This is the shadow that looms over the whole concept. Lang says that this is where our elected representatives must be much bolder. "Yes, there has to be far more involvement and regulation by those in power."

And of course we can\’t trust business either, so politicians must make the choices for you. This is fascism, pure and simple: you will be allowed to have only what we, the powerful, think you should have.

Tell me, do they actually make a rotisserie large enough to stick a professor of food policy into? Fo the public\’s amusement, to be basted live outside Tesco\’s?

Protectionism, Protectionism!

Oh, how lovely. The Soil Association once again acts as the trade union for British organic farmers. It does so by insisting that farmers in other countries face higher costs:

Food air-freighted to Britain from developing countries will only bear an organic label in future if it can be shown that it was produced to fair trade standards as well as high environmental standards, the Soil Association said yesterday.

The new ethical standards, which are similar to those that apply to Fairtrade products, will demand that organic food producers in developing countries contribute substantially to the social needs of communities and workers, and guarantee wages and good working conditions.

There\’s nothing wrong with having fair trade standards, just as there\’s nothing wrong with having organic ones. If they make the consumer happier, well, that\’s the point of the whole economy anyway, to increase the happiness of the consumer.

But combining the two is not OK, it\’s protectionism in favour of the British farmer and against the foreign. Oh how liberal they are, making sure that the poor cannot compete with the rich!

For, of course, one of the competetive advantages that such poor places have is that labour is cheaper: and when you\’re growing organic vegetables, for example, labour can be one of your major costs on inputs. So, insist that the farmers pay higher prices for that labour than the local market insists upon and thus reduce their ability to compete. And all in the name of helping the poor eh, by driving the employers bankrupt. Clever scheme, eh? My how they must be hugging themselves with glee over at the Soil Association! A wealthy peer, owner outright of hundreds of acres of prime British farmland,  worth millions, gets protected from some runty peasant trying to scrape a living. And he\’ll be praised for it!

Inequality Kills!

I have no doubt that we\’ll see Polly insisting that this latest report shows that we must redistribute incomes even more:

Middle-class professionals such as doctors and accountants are outliving builders and cleaners by as much as eight years, according to official figures.

People from all social classes are living longer, data from the Office for National Statistics showed yesterday, but variations in the age at which people are dying indicate Government measures to reduce the gap between rich and poor have failed.

See! See! The rich live longer!

The thing is, the researchers don\’t seem all that sure that it is income. Rather,. social status and the freedoms that provides:

But the nature of people\’s jobs also has an effect. If you have autonomy and control over what you do, you tend to be in better health.

Now if greater equalisation of incomes were to lead to greater autonomy, then perhaps (perhaps!) greater redistributive taxation would in fact help. But we can also make the opposite argument: more things provided by the State, more capturing of income, more one size fits all services,  would reduce autonomy…thus, reducing life spans. OK, that argument is a bit of a stretch but at the extreme it\’s valid.

But if it is, as is said, autonomy and control which leads to the longer life spans, then redistributive taxation isn\’t going to change that and thus the justification disappears.

The Bin Tax

So, some sense at least:

Gordon Brown has been forced to intervene to shelve controversial Government plans to levy "pay as you throw" bin taxes on millions of households across Britain.

Excellent. It would simply have led to an increase in fly tipping and thus a decrease in public health at the same time as increasing the total costs of the rubbish collection and disposal system. However, there\’s one further problem:

However, the decision to shelve the plan will infuriate local councils who face fines of up to £3 billion under EU laws if they fail to increase recycling.

How are these targets to be met and these fines to be avoided? I\’ve still not been able to find an argument in favour of these taxes in the first place. Other than "we must save resources" which is, as anyone who actually looks at the problem knows, drivel.

Can anyone tell me why they are being imposed? Anyone at all? Anyone point me to a justification of them? Don\’t get me wrong, a certain amount of recycling makes very good sense. Steel, copper and aluminium cans, for example, make straight economic sense all on their own. That\’s where we get the results from the WRAP report from: not, as many assume, a reduction in CO2 emissions from what we "will" recycle under the new schemes, but a counting of what we already acheive with what we already recycle. But because it makes sense to recycle some things does not mean it makes such to recycle all things. My consumption of a couple of thousand calories a day to keep body and soul together does not thus mean that my consuming twice or thrice that is a good idea now, does it?

There are things where, because of externalities, simple market pricing does not lead to the optimal calculation: for example, pricing in the methane from things rotting in landfills. But we\’ve solved that because now we collect said methane. We\’re also not running out of land for landfills, not in any way.

There are also things which cost more in emissions and in money to recycle than landfilling them would: these are things which make the environment worse if we do recycle them. Even WRAP tells us that green glass for roadfill is one of these.

So, other than the idea that the EU is a group of know nothing control freaks, why will we be fined if we continue to use the best, both economically and environmentally, method of waste disposal, landfill?

Seriously, is there anyone out there able to tell me why we have this lemming like rush to recycle? Willing to argue the point?


Delighfully accurate, becoming splenetic and ending with this:

Then stuff the shit-covered corpse with spoiled ballots and wheel it in to sit at the next Cabinet meeting as a warning to all those other shits. You work for us, you ….

Sara Welch

So, a model called Sara Welch falls through a catwalk at a fashion show. 1,5 million people have watched this so far on You Tube.

I dunno: sure Sara Welch is good looking and all, but I\’m not so sure what\’s so funny about her falling over.

I\’ve seen from one news report that the runway was built over the hotel\’s swimming pool and that if Welch hadn\’t stopped herself with her hands, she\’d have gone right in and had to swim out.

Now that would have been funny.

Or am I evil for thinking so?

The Register.

As Matt says, a spectacular missing of the point.


It\’s always possible that the man is merely being comical in some leaden economist fashion.

Err, yes, that is a possibility.

Err, Sir Brian?

Via Tim I see this letter in the Times.

Sir, You say that anything more than administrative changes in the EU treaty “must require a referendum and therefore a referendum is required” (“Cold Calculations”, leading article, Oct 23), and the Tories taunt the Prime Minister with the accusation that his reason for refusing a referendum is his fear of losing it.

In fact, that’s one, although not the only, perfectly rational and honourable reason for not holding a referendum. Not only the Tories but much of the Europhobic press would exploit the worst kinds of anti-European xenophobic prejudice to secure a “no” vote, not out of any genuine opposition to specific provisions of a treaty whose main purposes you yourself admit are necessary after EU expansion, but in the unacknowledged hope of bringing about Britain’s eventual exit from the EU.

If that is their aim, they should come clean about it: a referendum on British membership, as now advocated by the Lib Dems, could be a healthy way to lance the boil.

But for the UK, probably alone of all EU member states, to reject a treaty regarded by every single EU government as sound and necessary would make us the pariahs of the union, and may well result in our expulsion from it, an outcome that only a minority of the electorate seems to want.

Brian Barder
HM Diplomatic Service, 1965-94
London SW18

Now I don\’t just want the UK to leave the EU: I want the EU to not exist. Certainly, that makes mine an extreme opinion. But what would, despite it coming from such an acknowledged extremist such as myself, make the federast case a great deal stronger would be a proper cost benefit analysis of the UK\’s membership.

Like, perhaps, this one done by Patrick Minford?

Ah, sorry, my mistake. The reason that a cost benefit analysis is not done by said federasts is that it wouldn\’t support their case: the costs are vastly higher than the benefits. Thus we should leave, whatever else the Continentals want to get up to. If they wish to impoverish themselves then it\’s a free world, isn\’t it? No good reason that we should follow them down the plughole though.

Immigration, Immigration

An interesting little note for those worried about immigration.

There\’s really only four types of immigration.

1) From other EU countries. In law, we can do nothing to change this, as all EU citizens have an absolute right to live in any EU country.

2) Asylum seekers. Not a lot we can do as asylum is governed by UN measures.

3) Family reconciliation. This we can change if we should so wish. It would be instantly decried as racist (on pretty good grounds as well).

4) Primary migration from outside the EU. This is currently something which the UK does control. It\’s pretty small as compared to 1 and 3 but it is something which the UK Govt controls.

For the moment:

A single European work visa, to be known as a Blue Card, will be introduced alongside a global advertising campaign to attract thousands of “highly skilled” migrants, EU officials announced yesterday.

The visas, coloured blue to match the EU flag, are intended to rival the American Green Card by offering permanent residency anywhere in Europe after five years’ work.

The card will be targeted at qualified migrants who will be able to bring their families with them after a 90-day application period as part of a programme to meet an estimated short-fall of 20 million skilled and non-skilled workers by 2030.

“We will have a shortage of labour in the future and this is already true of some sectors,” said José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, announcing details in Strasbourg yesterday. Plans for a common EU approach to non-skilled workers are also in the pipeline to combat illegal immigration.

Of course, the Govt says that it has an opt out from this: one that actually means nothing as once someone is in the EU and legally so for two years then they can move anywhere else in the EU.

I\’ve no worries about the actual meat of the program: it\’s a points based one just as Canada or Australia run. Rather this is a heads up to all of those who do worry about immigration. If you actually want to be able to do anything about it, you have to understand that the only way that anything can be done is by leaving the EU.



Christmas Tree Shortage

OK, so subsidies were cut in Denmark leading to a drop in planting, leading to a shortage in this country of Christmas trees. OK, fine. So prices here should go up. Which they are.

Although Nordmann firs are grown on plantations in Britain there are not enough to meet the annual demand. The British Christmas Tree Growers Association is advising its members to limit price increases to 20 per cent. The extra cost will be passed on to customers at garden centres and markets this Christmas.

Err, hang on a minute. A central trade body offering recommended price rises? Isn\’t that, err, a cartel? As in illegal collusion to screw the consumer?

Why aren\’t they being prosecuted?

Political Corruption

Yes, they are all corrupt:

The culture of self-interested denial is rooted in Labour\’s success in characterising John Major\’s government as being sleazy. New Labour\’s victory, leading ultimately to a third term, was not just associating all Conservatives with the dishonesty of Neil Hamilton (linked to the "cash for questions" affair in 1994) and Jonathan Aitken (imprisoned for perjury in 1999), but also in exploiting Lord Scott\’s critical inquiry into the government\’s approval of sales of weapons to Iraq as a manifestation of Tory deceit.

Drawing lessons from that success, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown decided that they would never repeat John Major\’s mistake of appointing an intelligent, independent-minded lawyer like Scott to investigate their own conduct. Since 1997 every official inquiry into alleged government misconduct has been entrusted to loyalists, patsies and payroll wallahs. The parallel success has been to silence Tory criticism about Labour sleaze.

As the Devil says, Hang Them All.

Regulation and Incentives


The number of childminders has fallen by almost a third over the past decade. In 1997, there were 98,500 registered childminders in England. Today, according to the National Childminding Association, there are 69,925.

So, do we want more or fewer child minders?

Childminders are quitting in their thousands because of the bureaucratic "lunacy" governing their work.

Should the regulation be as it is or be relaxed? For it would appear that we can\’t have both the strict regulation and more child minders. Clearly, we\’d like to have both perfect regulation and the exactly right number of child minders but then we\’d all like a pony as well.

So which is it? Oh, and why is it that the bureaucrats seem incapable of realising that there is in fact a choice that has to be made, that regulations are not costless?

Please Do Talk: But Don\’t Say Anything

El Gordo shows he\’s not stopped the spin yet:

Gordon Brown will block moves today by his own business advisers to debate controversial Treasury plans to raise capital gains tax by up to 80 per cent.

The Prime Minister\’s high-level Business Council for Britain will meet for the first time this afternoon. But its high-powered members —including Sir Richard Branson and Sir Alan Sugar — will not be able to raise the proposed changes to capital gains tax (CGT), which it is feared will undermine British enterprise.

Instead, the meeting\’s agenda will focus on "high-level issues" including globalisation and climate change.

It is understood members of the council have been told that the meeting is not an "appropriate forum" to raise topics like tax policy.

Isn\’t that wonderful, he\’s "listening" to business. Just not about anything important.

Tee Hee

Oh yes, most good:

The shocking preponderance of Blondes in key decision-making positions at half back and centre should leave an impartial observer in no doubt as to the fascist nature of team selection process. In a shocking echo of Philip Toynbee\’s observation, Mere dark-haired men of potentially un-aryan extraction are left to do the donkey-work in the tight five, leaving blonde-haired, blue-eyed men to garner the glory in key half-back and central positions. Indeed it is noticable they rarely pass the ball to the back 3 (two thirds BoEM) who are used as tackle fodder in defence. This is a shocking and unacceptable echo of the atrocities of the Third Reich, which used gypsies and Jews and other dark haired people as slave labour to further racially exclusive goals.


Polly Today

So, what\’s the ol\’ gel got for us today?

Great lies, bold, bare-faced and unapologetic, are relayed every day by every orifice of the media in ways that would make Kim Jong-il proud.

Which orifice is publishing your essays then Pol?

Badaboom tish. Yes, thank you, I\’ll be here all week and I recommend the fish special.

The latest crime figures suggest an opposite story: crime has plummeted since the mid-1990s in a way unknown for generations. We live in extraordinary times, with less theft and less violence.

Isn\’t the whole argument here over which crime figures we look at? Reported crimes or the annual population survey?

Regular viewers of the increasingly sensationalist BBC "flagship" news programme might not glean that firearms offences fell by more than 600 last year, or that serious injury from gun crime fell by 11%.

I\’ll admit I\’m no expert in these figures but didn\’t gun deaths rise? Ah, yes, they were up by 18% year on year.

A horrible spate of teen-on-teen slaughters needs reporting – but news editors prefer powerful anecdote to inconvenient contrary facts.

Columnists too it seems.

But these fairly self-evident complexities are not the problem: it is opposition politicians, their press and sensation-seeking news desks who cherry-pick and distort shamelessly. If the Press Complaints Commission were not the proprietors\’ patsy, it would proactively censor and fine misreporting of crime figures designed to deceive.

I beg your pardon? Fines for not offering the public the revealed truth? I\’m sorry, did a liberal columnist seriously just suggest that you should be fined for exercising your right to free speech? Put aside the fact that it would be our Polly who would be dragged up in front of such a body twivce a week and think rather of the enormity of the very suggestion. The free press of a free nation should be fined for what they say? Has she finally and entirely lost the plot?

The Office for National Statistics should forbid this deliberate abuse of official figures:

Will they do this for everyone who abuses ONS numbers? Like, perhaps, the writers and reporters for a certain left of centre newspaper who continually insist that women working part time earn 37% less per hour than men? When in fact it is that women working part time earn 37% less than men working full time….and 11% less than men working part time. Figures which come from the very same ONS tables that are used to calculate the first number? Or those who use such numbers and refuse to point out that there\’s an age distribution to the gender pay gap (in women\’s favour at the start, pretty much neutral until the prime child rearing years, then wide, then closing again)? You mean that sort of distortion of the numbers then Poll?

Britain spends more per capita on criminal justice than any other nation worldwide.

We do? Looks like the US and Switzerland to me you know.

The prison population soared again last week to a new high of more than 81,000. And yet Home Office research shows that prison has a negligible impact on crime figures.

Gosh, lessee: prison numbers up and as Poll insists, crime numbers down. And, err, prison doesn\’t work?

Why is crime falling here and all across the west? Cars and homes are locked up better, but mainly it\’s the economy, with less youth unemployment. The Home Office watches economic growth figures more closely than police numbers for its predictions: it warns to expect flattening or rising crime over the next years of tighter spending and lower consumption.

Now that part is true. It\’s a very strong argument against one of Polly\’s bete noires: that increasing wealth, the growth of the economy does not make us happier. Actually, as she says, growth reduces unemployment (which very much does reduce unhappiness) and it also reduces crime (ditto). So, growth makes us happier.

Gordon Brown\’s Economy

Not really a great validation of the way he\’s acted over the past decade:

"Judging by the fiscal deficit trend, the UK is now in worse fiscal shape than almost any other major Western country. In the event of an economic downturn, the UK now has little leeway for stimulus," it said.

If we were to have followed Keynesian type management of the economy then, at the end of 15 years of uninterrupted growth, the public sector finances should be hugely in surplus, we should be payin back the debt, as Lawson was back in the late 80s. Clearly we haven\’t been doing that, we still have huge public sector deficits and if there is indeed a recession coming then we don\’t any longer, have the option of borrowing and spending our way out of it.

Quite simply Brown left the spending taps too open too long.

If that recession does indeed come in the next year or two (for there will be one sometime, no one really thinks we\’ve abolished the business cycle) then it really ain\’t gonna be pretty. Could even be that the next election is one that you want to lose, not win.