Tim Worstall

Organic Food Better For You!

I have to say that I\’m still on the fence over this report that organic vegetables are better for you. Yes, if the facts change I will change my mind but until I can actually read the report itself (I\’ve not found it online as yet) then I\’ll continue to fence sit. However, that won\’t stop me from insisting that Peter Melchett is talking the most arrogant nonsense.

But it\’s not that surprising if you know that in the period since the second world war there has been a massive decline in the nutrients in the food we eat. The decline has been so serious that you would have to have eaten 10 tomatoes in 1991 to get the same level of copper as you would have got from one tomato in 1940. Between 1940 and 1991, apples lost 66% of their iron, broccoli lost 75% of its calcium, and in news that would dismay Popeye, even spinach lost 60% of its iron.

Right, and we know that such micro-nutrients in the soil are a scarce resource. We\’re told so often enough, after all. So what you\’re saying is that modern farming methods are vastly more efficient at turning these scarce resources into food than older farming methods? Good, tehnology advances then.

In the case of wildlife, we know from a number of major scientific reviews that organic farms in general have about 50% more wildlife and 30% more species.

Right, so organic farms are more inefficient then? As a farm is a place to grow food for human consumption, having more species (ie those we don\’t eat) and more wildlife (ie, what we don\’t eat) is direct evidence that the land is being used inefficiently for the production of food for human consumption.

Government research shows that organic farms employ about 30% more people than non-organic farms.

Jesu C. This is a cost of organic farming, not a benefit. "Creating jobs" and employing more people to do something than is necessary means that we become poorer! We loose whatever else it is that those people would have produced if they weren\’t weeding the peas by hand!

In addition, we now know that many chemicals that a plant produces to help it fight off insects and diseases are the same chemicals that nutritionists reckon are essential for good human health. Spraying a non-organic crop with chemicals to protect it from insects and disease means the plant doesn\’t need to activate its own self-defence mechanisms, and the chemicals which would naturally be present in the plant, and from which human health actually benefits, are not there.

Now this is the bit about organic farming that I\’m prepared to believe. That flavinoids are indeed the plant\’s natural chemical defenders, that (some of them at least) have been found to be beneficial to human health and that the non-use of pesticides means that the organic plants produce more of them. The one thing I do want to know about though, from this recently announced research, is whether the same varieties were actually planted in the organic and conventional fields. Anyone know the answer to that?

It is not surprising that food grown more slowly, with less stress to produce the maximum yield, in more natural conditions, is likely to have higher levels of beneficial minerals and nutrients.

Umm, Peter laddie? You\’ve just claimed above that the presence of these beneficial nutrients is in fact because of the increased stress upon the growing plants! The immune systems are turned on because they\’re not protected by pesticides! One or t\’other please, but not both!

It really should be a simple matter for the non-organic food producers to acknowledge that their cheaper food inevitably delivers fewer benefits, both to the environment and to human beings. That wouldn\’t be unusual for cheaper products.

As, by bringing price into it we have something of a further problem. Say that the increase in nutrients is 20%. Say that the price is 30% higher ^(just examples). That means that the cheaper food is actually better: for we get more nutrients in total for our buck. Your statement is equivalent to stating that a Ford Fiesta is worse than a Bentley, something which is true, but when we add in the price constraint, Fiestas are in fact better for the vast majority of people than Bentleys are.

As Professor Leifert says, the differences between organic and non-organic fruit and vegetables are so marked that organic produce would help increase the nutrient intake of people not eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Nope, we\’re still on that pesky price thing. Got to, got to, remember that. What we\’reinterested in is not the nutrient content of a tomato, but the nutrient\’s we can buy for a £. That\’s the bit you still haven\’t quite shown to be better, that we get more nutirients for our scarce resource.

Joschka Fischer on Climate Change

Well, yes, this is exactly what is needed:

But the solution to the challenge of global climate change is as plain as day. The only chance of improvement is to decouple economic growth from energy consumption and emissions. This must happen in the emerging countries, and even more urgently in the old industrial economies.

This is known as decreasing carbon intensity. And who is doing this the best? Why, it\’s the USA.


Thomas Palley really does come up with some beauties.

The current global exchange rate system is a sub-optimal arrangement. There are many theoretical reasons explaining why foreign exchange markets are prone to mis-pricing, and the empirical evidence shows exchange rates persistently depart from their warranted fundamental levels. Moreover, the system permits strategic manipulation so that some countries (particularly in East Asia) actively intervene to undervalue their currencies. That has made for a lop-sided world in which half play by free market rules and half are neo-mercantilist, creating threatening tensions.

OK, right, agreed even. Current exchange rates are influenced by governments and this leads to imbalances. Sure.

Beyond such realignment, there is need for systemic reform to avoid recurring misalignments. That suggests a system of managed exchange rates for major currencies in which countries cooperatively set exchange rates.

So we should give more power to governments to influence exchange rates and this won\’t lead to imbalances.


Good News, Surely?

I\’m not sure why The Guardian is all exercised over this:

Britain faces the prospect of power shortages and soaring prices this winter after the National Grid warned of a shortfall in electricity-generating capacity yesterday. The alert coincides with a surge in gas prices, which are now 40% higher than in continental Europe, and the confirmation that a vital import plant in South Wales will not be operational this winter.

And it emerged last night that the energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, met power providers and users last week to discuss mounting concerns that the UK was heading into another winter of soaring prices and power shortages, similar to the one that forced some manufacturers to shut down capacity 24 months ago.

It means lower energy usage and thus lower emissions doesn\’t it? Just bringing forward a little what they keep telling us we have to do anyway?

Err, Jeff?

Yes, I know that small business is important, but this much so?

Small businesses employ more than 10m people, nearly half the private-sector workforce, and contribute almost £1,000bn to the British economy.

The British economy is what, some £1,2 trillion? And we\’re saying that 50% of the private sector workforce alone is providing 83% of that? Don\’t think so, somehow. That\’s the sort of number that should set journalistic alarm bells ringing, surely?

David Frost is an Idiot

No, not that geeky one on the TV, this one:

David Frost, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, has found himself in hot water with women’s business groups at the launch of Small Business Week.

Speaking at the release of a report on the growing popularity of homeworking and what the Government could do in response, Mr Frost questioned the merit of encouraging what he called “lifestyle” businesses at all. “What are we trying to achieve at the end of the day?” he asked. “Do we want 50 million self-employed businesses or do we want some growth businesses.” It seemed a valid question, even if he already knew his preferred answer.

I\’m not sure I\’d agree with everything said in response but there\’s truth in it:

Maxine Benson, co-founder of women’s network Everywoman, blasted back that “lifestyle business” was a derogatory term and anyone, including women, choosing to set up a business that allowed them to balance their desire for stimulating and financially rewarding work with their family responsibilities should be praised and supported and not criticised.

What Frost has missed is that we don\’t actually care all that much about "growth" is such if growth is to be measured purely in financial or monetary terms like turnover, GDP and the like. What we care about is growth in utility, in that grab bag mix of the satisfaction of individual human desires. This is one part where the Greens are indeed right, we shouldn\’t objectify GDP growth above all other things (although there are any number of entirely valid reasons to reject their actual proposals, the largest being that what they propose might increase their utility in a sort of millenarian rural socialism, but that\’s what most of humanity has been trying to escape for the last 8,000 years), we should indeed look to the wider scene.

Another way of putting this is that "growth" isn\’t the desired end. Growth in utility is and "stimulating and financially rewarding work with their family responsibilities" certainly meets that goal. Growth in GDP, the growing of small businesses to large, "growth businesses" are means to that end, certainly, but they are not the end itself.

But then by concentrating the argument upon utility I am of course betraying my classically liberal mindset. As the determinants of each individual\’s utility are known only to that individual we have to bugger off and let them do as they wish, subject only to preventing them impinging on the rights of others to pursue that goal. Which is the real reason that Frost is an idiot: "we" are not trying to achieve any goal that he can either help us with nor, from his comments, even recognise.


Legalise Drugs Now!

Another sign of the silliness of the current regulatory regime for drugs:

Spending of hundreds of millions of pounds on drugs treatment programmes has failed to improve the success rate of addicts coming off heroin and cocaine, according to a report.

The budget of the National Treatment Agency (NTA) has increased from £253 million in 2004-05 to £384 million last year, it said. But the number who emerge from programmes drug-free is still small.

Last year, 5,829 users were cured of their addiction, compared with 5,759 three years ago.

Given that pharmaceutically pure heroin costs less than the price of a prescription for a day\’s worth, we could provide those 6,000 or so addicts with their supply for £10 million or so a year.

Academic Selection

Yes, I understand Labour\’s (perhaps "the left\’s" is better) hatred of private schools, I can even get my head around the dislike of Grammars (a single competetive exam at 11 years old might not be the very best way of predicting future academic success, for example) but this is astonishing:

However, the Department for Children, Schools and Families insisted that grammar schools left poor children behind. "The Government has never been in favour of academic selection and never will be," said a spokesman.

That\’s vastly stronger and as such near insane. Not even selection within schools? A math prodigy is to be taught the same syllabus as someone who will never be more than marginally numerate? If we are to have no academic selection at all then I guess that means the end of special needs education, doesn\’t it? The end of schools specialising in the arts? Stage schools and the like?

Am I reading too much into that one phrase or are they really that barkingly egalitarian?

Great Britons

So the Telegraph is running something to try and find the Great Britons. One suggestion:

Or John Gummer and Zac Goldsmith who brought the Conservative Party up to date on green issues – and duly had some of their policies pinched by Labour?

They\’ve clearly lost their minds then.

Maybe the Housing Market Will Fall?

I don\’t normally see much TV but just caught 10 minutes or so of something on Sky while fleaing (or is that defleaing?) the dogs. No idea what it was called mind.

But it was about how to sell your house.

I thought all the shows were about how to buy a house, or how to do one up? Something\’s changed if they\’re telling you about how to sell it, hasn\’t it?

Is this what they call a tipping point?

Or am I simply laughably ill informed about popular culture (or TV, to taste)?


Neil Harding Says Something Sensible Shocker!

Yes, really:

David Cameron has today moved the Tories back onto their familiar core territory with a pledge to cut the number of pensioners in the country.

He said \’while there is nothing wrong with pensioners per se. – we do need to cut the net increase\’. He said \’it is recognised they are by far the biggest drain on housing, energy, the NHS and other core public services\’.

Cameron is proposing a cull of numbers to the dismay of Labour, which has called the cull \’unethical\’.

Indeed, it would be a very good idea indeed to cut the number of pensioners. The way we should do it is by raising the pension age. The State pension was, at the outset, a system of social insurance. It was insurance against outliving your weatlh. As such it was set at roughly the expected lifespan. Everyone paid in and roughly half got the pension and roughly half didn\’t. That\’s what insurance means, that you protect yourself against an unexpected event.

The old age pension now is social assurance. Expected life spans are 12-20 (depends whether you\’re male or female) years longer than the pension age. So everyone expects to get it. This is no longer insurance, as we all expect to live to such ages.

The answer is thus to return the system to what it was: the pension age becomes the average age of death of that age cohort (although for practical reasons you\’d actually make it the average life span of the previous age cohort).

The very basic idea here has indeed seeped into the political consciousness, as the pension age is at least being talked about as something to raise.

Unfortunately, Neil meant his comments as satire. Pity really, isn\’t it, that he\’s only sensible when he thinks he\’s making a joke?

Rickets Returns

At least they\’re not trying to cover up (sorry) the cause here:

Rickets, a softening of bone tissue often characterised by bowed legs, is caused by a vitamin D deficiency and was associated with Victorian slums. But a study found that there were 56 suspected cases between 2003 and 2005 in the catchment area of two primary care trusts that cover Blackburn with Darwen and Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale, in Lancashire. A large proportion of the cases came from the Asian community of Blackburn with Darwen.

Public health officials say that the problem is genetic and cultural. The religious imperative to use a hijab to cover up in public means that some women are not exposed to enough sunlight. Dr Ellis Friedman, the director of public health for East Lancashire, said rickets “is caused by a combination of skin colouration, diet and dress, not poverty”.

There\’s a reason why us adapted to northern climes have pale skin: yes, it makes us more liable to skin cancer, but less so to rickets. Add in, as they say, the covering up and….well, the usual "cure" for rickets is to drink milk isn\’t it? Something not part of the traditional South Asian diet?

The Last Taboo?

Slightly odd way of putting it:

A female truant officer who admitted having unprotected sex with a 15-year-old boy was jailed yesterday.

Glenda McKenzie, 44, a married education officer, started the relationship when she kissed the boy as she drove him to school. When the teenager ended the relationship, McKenzie sent him a succession of text messages in which she said that she loved him and threatened to kill herself.

The judge at Hull Crown Court told McKenzie, who has a teenage daughter, that she had broken “one of the last sexual taboos” and sentenced her to 12 months in jail.

Is not using a condom now that last taboo?

Reminds me of the idiot who wrote in to The Guardian when little Leo was born. "What sort of message, what sort of role model, is the Prime Minister when he has unprotected sex?".

With his wife? Sheesh.

Royal Gay Scandal: Day Two

This Royal Gay Scandal has certainly taken an interesting step forward:

A royal aide boasts about his fling with an MP in a tape at the centre of the sex-and-drugs blackmail plot concerning a member of the Royal Family, a lawyer claimed yesterday.

The assistant to a minor relative of the Queen also claims that the true medical cause of death of a member of the Royal Family may have been concealed from the public.

Bumped off by MI5 at the instigation of Prince Phillip were they or something? It\’s not Mohammed Fayed on the tape is it?

George Monbiot Today

Apparently George has read a novel and we\’re all doomed, doomed I tell you.

"Water scarcity is already acute in many regions, and farming already takes the lion\’s share of water withdrawn from streams and groundwater." Ten per cent of the world\’s major rivers no longer reach the sea all year round.

Buried on page 148, I found this statement. "If present trends continue, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two-thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress." Wastage and deforestation are partly to blame, but the biggest cause of the coming droughts is climate change. Rainfall will decline most in the places in greatest need of water. So how, unless we engineer a sudden decline in carbon emissions, are we going to feed the world? How, in many countries, will we prevent the social collapse that failure will cause?

Ever thought of pricing it appropriately George? You know, this strange, almost laughably lunatic idea that scarece resorces are best managed by markets?

Polly\’s Crackers

Yes, yes, I know, Tim\’s reading The Guardian so you don\’t have to.

OK, management pay is up strongly. Much more so than worker\’s pay.

The bigger question is this: how can Labour ever abolish child poverty if they dare not face down the underlying forces fracturing pay scales all the way through and accelerating the country into ever greater inequality?

Well, actually, there you\’ve got me Polly. The definition you use of child poverty, of poverty in general, is one of relative poverty. OK, but the actual definition is less than 60% of median income. And one of the things about medians (as opposed to means) is that they\’re not affected by what happens at the extremes of the distribution. If the pay of the top 500 CEOs, or the pay of the top 5,000 Great and the Good, goes from, say, £200,000 a year to £2 million a year, the median income in the country hasn\’t actually changed. Thus nor has the 60% of median income.

And thus, unfortunately for your argument, nor has child poverty.

Yesterday the government set up a new child poverty unit: Ed Balls and Peter Hain, the two ministers involved, know their 2010 half-way mark to abolishing child poverty will be missed by miles on its present trajectory. Barnardo\’s are joining in – but their director, Martin Narey, wonders what they can do with no extra money. Only 48p a week extra went to child tax credits this year, subsidising low-paid jobs.

Actually, we can go further. The income tax system is progressive (weakly so, but it is) so when high earners make more this translates into more tax revenue than if low earners were to receive the same sum gross. So, errr, it\’s actually those very runaway wages at the top which are providing the money to pay that 48p a week.