Tim Worstall

Simone de Beauvoir

The Guardian has been running a series of pieces about Simone de Beauvoir. I\’ve sadly missed the part where they note Sartre\’s comment:

Hell is other people.

Sartre, of course, lived with Simone.

Cornish Coffee

The main one being it has taken so much work to turn the cherries picked at Eden just before Christmas into cups of coffee. "I\’ve put hours into it," said Stephenson. "If I was charging by the number of man hours I\’ve put it into it, I would have to charge £20 a cup."

That\’s why we\’ve got trade and the division of labour, Bubba.

Simon Heffer On Drugs

I do wonder what he\’s been taking.

I make no apology either for being so uncharitable towards the drugs culture, or for hectoring a government that refuses to deal seriously with it. It causes, on a conservative estimate, 70 per cent of the crime in our country. Mugging, burglary, prostitution and most other forms of vice are linked to it. It provokes violence and murder. Poverty, misery and broken families are its result. So, too, as this report shows, are numerous health problems, notably mental illness. The drain this puts on our public resources, whether in the NHS or the social security bill, runs into billions of pounds that could be spent on useful causes – education, care of the elderly, or more police and better hospitals. That toll of money and human misery is what our rulers choose to pay for the drugs menace in this country: or, rather, they choose to have us pay it.

The evil that drug dealers do cannot be adequately punished under our present law; I would take a leaf out of China\’s book, and have them taken out and shot in the back of the head. That isn\’t going to happen. But using the laws we do have more effectively, applying them with zero tolerance, and making junkies pay – literally – for the damage they do to society would be a start. I fear, though, that it is already too late.

Everything he\’s desscribing there is a result of the illegality of drugs, not the existence of drugs themselves. And yet he insists that drugs should not be legalised (or decriminalised) and that we should have a zero tolerance approach: that is, make the problems of illegality worse. As the late great Uncle Milton said:

You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society. You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are tearing asunder our social fabric, ruining the lives of many young people, and imposing heavy costs on some of the most disadvantaged among us. You are not mistaken in believing that the majority of the public share your concerns. In short, you are not mistaken in the end you seek to achieve.

Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favor are a major source of the evils you deplore. Of course the problem is demand, but it is not only demand, it is demand that must operate through repressed and illegal channels. Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords; illegality leads to the corruption of law enforcement officials; illegality monopolizes the efforts of honest law forces so that they are starved for resources to fight the simpler crimes of robbery, theft and assault.

Drugs are a tragedy for addicts. But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike. Our experience with the prohibition of drugs is a replay of our experience with the prohibition of alcoholic beverages.

Social Mobility

Aha! Something of a gotcha moment here I think.

Men\’s chances of rising up the social scale in Britain have stalled because of greater competition from women and a slower rate of growth for top jobs, a study published yesterday reported.

The studies from which comparisons of social mobility (when in fact they mean economic mobility for they measure wages but that\’s another story) specifically and deliberately exclude women.

We focus here on sons so that results are less directly influenced by women’s labour market participation decisions

Now, take a step back and think about what is the largest change in the labour market of the past three or four decades? It\’s the entry of women into it on equal (or very nearly equal, as compared to the past) terms. The majority of undergraduates, the majority of trainee lawyers, the majority of trainee doctors, are now women. That\’s a vastly larger change, I would submit, than the decline of unions or whatever else one might use to explain social mobility.

So these studies which show a decline in social mobility are not really very accurate. They\’re measuring a decline in social mobility for men, yes. But that is then being interpreted as a decline in total social mobility, which isn\’t actually what is being measured at all. And the decline in male social mobility is being described, but without reference to the largest change in the labour market, the rise to equality of women.

Soi perhaps the next time someone starts to whiffle on about the decline in social mobility, perhaps the appropriate response should be that they\’re talking bollocks? For they\’re not taking account of the huge rise in womens\’* social mobility?


* To a large extent, before these labour market changes of recent decades, women\’s social mobility was promoted by marriage. No, I\’ve no figures, but I would guess that this has decreased as the potential for doing it under their own steam has risen. Certainly there are those who insist that the rise in income inequality at the household level has to do with assortative mating, professionals marrying professionals, to a larger extent than in the past.

Adopted Twins Meet and Marry

Given the ever more complex family (and non-family) arrangements, you\’d think that things like this would happen more often:

Twins who were separated at birth have married each other, unaware that they were brother and sister.

Each had been adopted by a different family, with neither being told they had a twin.

We do tend to be physically attracted to those we are genetically close to. The reason we\’re not all hillbillies (the old joke is that a hillbilly virgin is one who can run faster than her brothers) is that there seems to be a mechanism whereby those who actually grow up together switch off that physical attraction bit (there are various thoughts about how this actually happens).

With the rise of IVF, sperm and egg donation etc, it does actually seem entirely sensible that this bcomes law:

"The right for children to know the identity of their biological parents is a human right.

"There will be more cases like this if children are not given access to the truth. The needs of the child must always be paramount.

"If you start trying to conceal someone\’s identity, sooner or later the truth will out.

"And if you don\’t know you are biologically related someone, you may become attracted to them and tragedies like this may occur."

I\’m not sure about human right, but as a matter of practicality. There\’s already a limit on the number of children a sperm donor (8 I think it is) can sire to reduce the possibility of such things happening.

Sir Edmund Hillary

Not all that many of us will be granted an obituary quite so identifying us as good people:

He could be brusque, tendentious and dismissive, but he was also kindly, direct, and both decent and incorruptible to a degree seldom found among those of great fame.

That is what Knights are supposed to be…..

A Taxpayers\’ Charter

Interesting to see into Richard Murphy\’s mind here. A report that a taxpayers\’ charter might be introduced. Murphy offers his draft.

Note that there\’s absoutely nothing at all about what care and attention the tax authorities have to the taxpayer: the obligations and duties all run one way only.

Not even a vague wave of the hand that the tax money collected will be spent responsibly.


Via Crippen, they do seem to come out when health is discussed.

…Medical scientists including myself have been developing a safe alternative to antibiotics in the form of non-ionic silver-charged water which inactivates most viruses and bacteria. When ingested orally the silver atoms act only as a catalyst in the body (human and animal) and are excreted unchanged since even hydrochloric acid cannot dissolve silver…

No ill effects, eh? Man turns blue perhaps?

Suing Your Drug Dealer

Hmm, OK, so this was a default judgement (he wouldn\’t give up the name of his dealer) but I wonder how this would fly here:

A former addict has opened a new front in the war on illegal drugs by successfully suing her dealer for selling her crystal methamphetamine that almost killed her.

What\’s the argument? Not fit for purpose? Not of merchantable quality? I might see that you could argue those things if it was bad shit, but what if it\’s actually good stuff, exactly the material that you did order?

Polly Discovers Economics!

The most serious objection is not safety but "nuclear blight", the probability that government and energy firms\’ cash, engineers and project management capacity is swept up in this great nuclear South Sea bubble and nothing is left for other renewables.

Halleluljah! Polly has actually managed to grasp an economic concept. And she\’s even grasped the correct end of the stick!

This is opportunity cost. If we decide to go down one path then we cannot use these same resources to go down another.

Of course, this applies to everything, not just nuclear: if we go down the renewables path then we face exactly the same problem. The things that we use to do that cannot be used to go down any other paths. Which means that it\’s not quite the killer argument she thinks it is. It becomes, instead, which is the best use of those resources….and I would argue that nuclear is it.

You can of course disagree with my conclusion, that\’s not a problem. As long as you\’re willing to agree that any path taken leads to exactly the same result, that we can only do one thing with the resources we have available, at least we\’ll be having the discussion about which is the best.

Most Absurd Anti-Nuclear Argument of the Day

Step forward David Thorpe:

The ore is crushed and then stacked on a heap leach pad with a capacity of 30m tonnes, 2.2 square kilometres in area, where it is leached with a sodium carbonate/bicarbonate solution. This leachate will be able to spread into the environment. After leaching, the spent ore is placed on unprotected waste dumps and/or back in the pits, and fresh ore is placed on the heap leach pad.

This leachate: for those who don\’t quite get mining, the leachate is the liquid after it has passed through the pile opf rock and ore. What you\’re trying to do is to get the metals that you want dissolved into said liquid, which you then collect. Then you cart it off to a refinery and you take out the metal that you want (almost certainly via ion exchange). So while it is indeed possible that said leachate will spread into the environment, the actual point of what you\’re doing is to stop it doing so. It\’s the product that you\’re trying to collect, after all, the thing that you\’ve dug up that 30 million tonnes for in the first place. Your incentive is to not allow it to spread, as it\’s the very thing you\’re spending all that money to get.

Further, think about what the actual complaint is even if it does leak. There used to be lots of uranium in the ground here. Now some of it has gone back into the ground. Scary, eh?

Finally, that dumping of the spent material back into the mine. Think again of what is happening. We nice people are coming along, digging out the nasty radioactive (and chemically poisonous) metal and then putting the earth back, having taken out all the nasty stuff that can kill you. Quelle Horreur!

Petey Lad?

Peter Hain, the work and pensions secretary, admitted in an interview with the Guardian yesterday that he had solicited most of the 17 donations totalling £103,155 which his deputy leadership campaign had failed to register with the Electoral Commission. He said he knew about the controversial donations, but not the precise point at which they came in.

He added that no one in his campaign team was able to explain why they had not been declared before.

Perhaps no one can explain why they weren\’t declared because you didn\’t tell them about them?

Anyway, now that we know that he\’s incompetent to run a £200,000 election campaign within the law, why is he still there running a £billions Ministry?


A teenage boy who hacked into a Polish tram system used it like "a giant train set", causing chaos and derailing four vehicles.

The 14-year-old, described by his teachers as a model pupil and an electronics "genius", adapted a television remote control so it could change track points in the city of Lodz.

Just how secure are all these systems then?

Blair\’s £ 2 Million a Year

As the red in tooth and blood capitalist bastard that I am of course I\’m delighted that our ex-PM is earning loadsa wonga advising a US bank.

Tony Blair will earn around £2 million a year in his part-time role as adviser to the Wall Street bank JP Morgan without ever having to go into the office, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.

The salary – far higher than reported so far – is proof that Mr Blair is well on course to becoming the richest former prime minister in history.

It aids the balance of payments, brings money into the country, he\’ll pay tax here on money earned off septics….all good things.

However, I do wonder slightly about the figure itself. $4 million a year? Or has someone made a slight error in translating the figures? The original claims were of $1 million a year….which if you get your exchange rates upside down, gives you £2 million a year, rather than the £500,000 everyone else has been reporting.

But no, of course, a newspaper wouldn\’t get that bit wrong, would it?

New Cannabis Figures

These numbers do not, I think, show what they purport to show.

Since cannabis was downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug, the number of adults being treated in hospitals and clinics in England for its effects has risen to more than 16,500 a year. In addition, the number of children needing medical attention after smoking the drug has risen to more than 9,200.

What you\’re supposed to take away from that is that these people require medical treatment for the effects of smoking cannabis. This doesn\’t look to be quite true:

The health authority figures show that 16,685 adults were treated by English hospital trusts after abusing cannabis in 2006-07. The previous year, it was 14,828 – up from 11,057 in 2004-05.

Ah, what we\’re actually saying is that this number of people were treated after they had smoked cannabis. Not from the effects of the drug itself so much as from all of the things that they\’ve done having smoked it.

The figures suggest health authorities are treating more people for cannabis abuse than there are patients who have heart bypass operations or treatment for colon cancer. Some 21,000 people a year have a bypass operation and colon cancer is contracted by some 22,000 people a year.

The correct reference point is thus not those who have suffered a disease as a result, like these colon cancer figures (where, amusingly, pot can be therapeutic, increasing appetite during chemo) but rather, say, the number of people needing treatment after having driunk alcohol. We\’re not talking about people needing liver replacements either, rather the number of people who need an ice pack after they\’ve fallen over. A very different number (anyone know what it is?).

Doctors say cannabis abuse can contribute to mental health problems including forms of psychosis, paranoia and schizophrenia.

Yes, we saw that report a few months back. The rise was some 500 cases a year: and there was one glaring error even in that number. It\’s well known that incipient schizophrenics self medicate. No controls were used to try and find out how many of those suffering from such problems had them anyway and were smoking dope to get rid of the voices and how many of them had the voices caused by the smoking of the dope.

Unfortunately these numbers were compiled by The Telegraph itself: so we\’re not likely to see a decent report explaining all of the assumptions. So what we\’ve actually got is a nice piece of "Aieeeeee!" propaganda rather than a balanced factual addition to the debate.


Hurrah, Hurrah!

The owner of a small German computer company has fired three non-smoking workers because they were threatening to disturb the peace after they requested a smoke-free environment.

The manager of the 10-person IT company in Buesum, named Thomas J., told the Hamburger Morgenpost newspaper he had fired the trio because their non-smoking was causing disruptions.

Germany introduced non-smoking rules in pubs and restaurants on January 1, but Germans working in small offices are still allowed to smoke.

"I can\’t be bothered with trouble-makers," Thomas was quoted saying. "We\’re on the phone all the time and it\’s just easier to work while smoking. Everyone picks on smokers these days. It\’s time for revenge. I\’m only going to hire smokers from now on."

If you\’re alowed to fire people for smoking, why not?