Saturday, February 28, 2009

Go Me

I appear to have made Tim Worstall's lefties to snipe list.

Jolly good eh.

Joining Compass

Last night, I went to the launch of Norwich Compass, it was quite an impressive turnout, a lot of young people as well which is something your don't see that often outside of London. Lots of good discussion and a few people trying to push a more socialist agenda (Andreas has a copy of Socialist Appeal). I said my own little piece which I thought was a little panicky and incoherent, but other people said they liked.

I did sneak in the phrase "Tyranny of the Sensible" which Zoe Gannon said she'll be nicking, although to be fair I did credit Tom Miller as the first person to use it (Tom, if your reading this, it's a great soundbite and one well worth using lots & lots). All in all, a good little evening and enough to get me to part with my cash and join Compass. I'll also be adding Jonathan Clark, who organised the thing to the blogroll, I do hope he can find the time to blog again.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Causes of the Global Financial Crisis

Hopi Sen is reckons there's just not enough discussion on the causes of the current economic crisis being led by politicians. I'm happy to oblige with my own bit of muddle headed opinion.

It's basically all about the US, the UK and (to a lesser extent) Europe acting as the great demand in the sky. The countries of East Asia on the other hand have oriented their economy towards producing exports in the belief that the great demand in the sky would continue to suck it up. Japan in particular is suffering the most from this since it exports a hell of a lot of high value goods (cars) which tend to be the first thing to go when people stop spending.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cliche Fatigue

My political comfort zone is where the ideals and values that I hold closest to my heart lie. When a politican tells me I should move out of it, I feel like shooting them.

Against Royal Mail Privatisation

I think the government is making a serious mistake with it's latest plans for the post office. While I'm most certainly sold on the need for new investment the whole privatisation aspect of it seems really quite bizarre.

I'm not utterly opposed to the idea of privatisation, but I do think that the reasoning force behind most privatisations for a good long while has been ideological rather than practical. I'm also not particularly happy with the way that the government botched some recent privatisations (CDC and QuinetiQ in particular). I think that probably does put me in the "hostile" camp.

The big worry though for this privatisation is first that a time when levels of private investment are very low the government is unlikely to get a good deal from a potential buyer due to the difficulty in raising private capital. Second, a part sell off will remove a lot of the future decision making power from the government. The consequence of this is that in future political concerns over the post office (read branch closures).

I'm very worried by the "Privatise or the pension scheme gets it" spin since there does appear to be one very major unexplored avenue in the form of state aid. The Hooper report rules this out but only with a very brief summary suggesting that it has too many strings attached. This is true, since the use of state aid is limited by the EU, however, since some EU leaders are calling into question the level of restrictions on state aid, there is now a stronger case for it.

All in all then, I think the Labour rebels are right to oppose this move. I think it's a case of Mandelson's bloody minded ideological bias along with lobbying by certain vested interests that are driving the current plans, not the wider interest in the long term health of the post office.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Linkage

Not been blogging much recently and I'm fresh from the strains of canvassing in the Bowthorpe by-election and having encountered more a few more unfriendly faces than I'd have liked (the folks in West Earlham yesterday were great, apart from the one who said "sod off socialist") I've decided that that internet amusment is the way to go, so, may I present:

  • A Daily Mail article about fruity young Chloe Madeley including amusing use of quotes around the words "chills out" and "weed". In classic Daily Mail style it features lots of photo's of the lady in revealing outfits in order for their readers to fully understand the level of her debauchery (she looks rather nice in the glowing sphere thing).

  • A kind of disjointed article by James Quinn on Financial Sense, I don't agree with all of it, but it has a good few statistics and makes good use of the Robert Schiller graph.

  • It would be nice if that Gordon Brown could inject a little more life and personality into his articles.

  • Bob Piper points out that the man teh Daily Mail name as "Labour's Bin Baron" is in fact a Tory Council leader.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Stability and the Anglo Saxon Economy

Chris Dillow reckons that based on the effects of the recession so far on various countries, Britain and the US, the Anglo Saxon countries are doing better than the eurozone. He goes on to suggest that this indicates that the Anglo Saxon model (as in debt, lightly regulated financial services and such)is not as unstable as you might think. It's especially pertinent given the economic news from Japan.

I have something of a disagreement with this viewpoint. The main problem is his use of the UK and the US, I believe that due to their size, since they are the worlds first and fifth (or maybe sixth) largest economies (according to wikipedia at least) as well as the diversity of their economies that they are in fact quite stable.

In a lot of this talk about various financial crises and such a lot of people have forgotten that there is a signifigant portion of our economy that isn't based around financial services and that continues to tick over, the same is true of the US. Both are big economies and can weather the financial storm, it's smaller economies that are going to really feel the pain, here is where we'll see the problems. Iceland and Ireland both of whom have set to expand their financial services have discovered the error of their ways.

I would also argue that there is some level of cause and effect here. There is no doubt that it is the financial services industries in these two countries, with their various "innovations" gave birth to the problems we are facing now. The resulting recession with it's effects is not only affecting the US and the UK but also the many nations who depend on the US and the UK as consumers.

To conclude then, I don't think the current relatively mild downturns in the US and UK can be considered a vindication of the anglo-saxon model.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Jumping into the Compass-Progress Wars

I generally prefer a more consensual and comradely approach to inter party squabbles, I tend to prefer just letting them be, but I'm still a little annoyed with Luke Akehurst (who has still not offered any kind of response to me). However, I came across the blogging debut of some chap called Matthew Cain and his attack on Compass I note Tom Miller has stuck his oar in here.

I'm going to be a bit less delicate, because I've had quite enough of the vacuous James Purnell soundbites doing the rounds and to be honest I've got serious concerns that many of the policy suggestions coming out of Progress are not pragmatic, but defined more by some kind of supine middle ground ideology with a craven fear of sounding left wing.

James Purnell likes to claim "pragmatic means, progressive ends" but to me this is vacuous nonsense, there is a word for policies that aren't pragmatic, it's "crap". Any policy, left, right or centre should be designed with a view to accomplishing certain aims, that's just common sense. Progress policies seem defined less by pragmatism and more by a need to avoid anything associated with old Labour. You'll find little mention of such terms as redistribution, centralisation or state ownership in a Progress pamphlet, you'll find lots of use of words such as radical, decentralised, private sector and choice.

The thing is that often, sprinkling a little right wing ideology on a policy doesn't make it any more pragmatic. Giving certain sections of work to private sector contractors often has the difficulties with managing the new arms length relationship. The banking crisis is another example of this kind of thinking (not really specific to Progress), the government dropped the ball on regulation because of a desire to appear business friendly. A lot of those who expressed concern over what was going on in the banks did so for pragmatic reasons not just due to ideological predjudice against the moneyed classes, we're more than a little annoyed our views were not deemed "politics for grown ups".

The ultimate point I think is that Progress is nowhere near as pragmatic as it thinks it is, it does not hold the intellectual high ground and it should bloody well stop pretending that it holds the monopoly on sensible practical policies.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nick @ Capitalists on Bank Regulation

I don't agree with the writers of Capitalists@Work on very much, but I've got to say that this little snippet based on the Select Committee hearings from Nick Drew is spot on:

And this is why we need regulators that are permanently ready to intervene. And this is why politicians who instruct regulators to turn a blind eye (Brown, Blair, this means you) are utterly, utterly culpable.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

A Few Links

Don Paskini points out the folly of scrapping section 106 of the Town and Country planning act. I agree 100%.

I have a big long debate with Comrade Snowflake5 about protectionism.

Hopi Sen does some kind of LOL cats thing about the banking crisis.

Ha-Joon Chang, mild mannered Korean economist defends protectionism on yesterdays today programme. I'm going to keep saying it, the man is a legend and everyone on the left should be taking notice of him. Buy his books folks, they're fantastic.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

More Thoughts on Protectionism

It's lonely being one of the few people banging the drum in favour of protectionism, but I'd like to think there is some goof in my refusal to be an ideological fashion slave. I'm glad to see I am at least in good company for one of my arguments, that protectionism was not the cause of the great depression. Stephanie Flanders, the BBC's economics editor makes the case here, Oliver Kamm adds a little more over here.

I would like to think that that puts that little argument to bed and it's safe to say: Protectionism was not the cause of the great depression

On the Obama plan, I'm very cynical about some of the protectionism accusations. $800 billion is a lot and it's not surprising that international companies are angling for a slice of the pie. I have a worry that some of this anti-protectionism rhetoric is actually a PR offensive on behalf of multinationals looking for a government handout. I happen to think that Obama's concession is incredibly generous given that this the US government's money and they really should be able to spend it how they like. With the concessions it becomes more of a world stimulus package.

What I'd like to see is a less obviously dismissive attitude towards protectionism, protectionist policies can be harmful but it is worth evaluating them on a policy by policy basis. I'd also like to see politicians calling a spade a spade, when Gordon and Wen talked about the need not to resort to protectionism I thought it massively inconsistent, China has strict currency and investment controls while the UK is spending £2.1 million bailing out it's car industry, if that's not protectionist, I don't know what is.

A little less grandstanding, a little less misinformation and a little more throught, is that too much to ask?

WebMarshall has spoken..

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Leading Lights on Lower Corporate Taxes

Given the Derek Draper - Taxpayers Alliance smackdown (with various comrades chipping in) going on at the moment I thought it might be worth taking a closer look at a country that actually followed the TPA’s low tax prescription.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Socialist=Protectionist=Facist or Whatever

Notwithstanding the complete (although very amusing) madness this thread has descended into, I suppose I should follow Tom's lead and say something serious on the subject of whether this whole BNP=Left Wing madness:

If the BNP were to announce as part of their policy programme and increase in the road maintenance budget, road maintenance would not suddenly become a facist policy. I think the same can be applied to many of the left wing policys that have found their way into the BNP stable.

Since Iain also mentions centralised command and control, trade tariffs and state owned businesses, I feel I should address this too. There are a couple of views coming to the fore, one inaccurately portraying the role of protectionism in the great depression the other associating protectionism with facism. As one of Labour's few advocates of protectionism I feel I should write a few words in it's defence.

As I often like pointing out average tarriffs in the US in 1875 the US's average tariffs were around 40-50%, they were 44% in 1913, 37% in 1925. The Smoot-Hawley tariff raised them to 48% which although higher is not outside of historical levels. The role of protectionism in the great depression has been seriously overstated.

On the idea that protectionism=facism, I reject it completely. Yes, protectionist policies can be used dangerously but that applies to any number of policy tools available to the government. There are plenty of examples where strategic use of protectionism has worked wonders in improving the livelihoods of a ordinary people, anyone who thinks that's not a whacking great positive needs their head examining.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Linky Randomness

Henry Porter's column this week has some of words that I always enjoy reading:

I won't try your patience with my generation's failure on rights and liberty

I was looking over the Taxpayers Alliance for something to lay into and found this report on the Common Fisheries Policy. I hate to say this, but as far as I can see it seems like a very good and well researched criticism of what seems to be a very poor multilateral policy (although I'm not sure about the figures in their press releases).

Paulie has had one of the maddest bloggertarian comments I've ever read.