Category Archives: Bit of politics

Facebook discussions with an old socialist

My dad’s friend Martin is an old-school Labour man. I’m his friend on Facebook. It’s nice being in touch with such people. Whilst they’re not always right, sometimes they are.

[Martin R]: The poor are dangerous.

Some people: “this is patronising”. Me:

The poor *are* dangerous. This is clear from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Western liberal-ish states were built on understanding that, understanding that Marx wasn’t wrong, and transferring enough of the money to the working class to stop the poor being actively dangerous. Note the extent to which governments started serious wealth-transfer schemes after WWI, once the USSR had emerged as a serious threat.

Enough Republicanism/Conservatism, and the poor will become dangerous again. There’s only so far things can go before revolutions start happening.

Other chap, who’s not wrong:

The poor can also be wrong. They are most dangerous when they resort to fascist ideologies

Me:

…and they’re most likely to resort to fascist ideologies when living in deeply unequal and unfair societies, where fascists lie that they’re poor because of [Jews/Blacks/Muslims] and that’s the reason why they’re poor. And most likely to be engaged with society when the benefits of economic growth are shared with everyone across the income scale.

Martin:

Arguments about fairness are different. And I don’t suggest that people are right because they are poor. But poor people have little to lose. They can rise up if pushed hard enough. They may not vote, or participate in the political process, but guarding against the possibility of revolt is and undercurrent in every political system. This government seems to have forgotten it.

Sometimes, I think that those of us on the liberal/libertarian side of things forget this. Liberal politics is fundamentally borne out of the desire of both the upper class and the wealthier classes to not have our heads cut off. Yes, if you’re a computer programmer, or an accountant, or any kind of middle-class private sector job that’s going, you pay some tax, and people who are poorer than you don’t, and many people who are poorer than you even get paid benefits from the tax that you pay – but do bear in mind that as a result, they aren’t marching through the town with your head on a spike.

Which, if you take the sheer “fittest will survive, others will fail” creed of right-libertarianism at its word, is what will happen.

I’m quite happy to have a well-paid job and pay a sizeable amount of tax. Not only for the sheer, base point that in Somalia, I’d be unlikely to have an internet connection and sell anyone business advice [*] but also for the extra “non-scary” points that living in a Western country buys you.

I respect the US position of taxing you on your global income (minus taxes already levied in non-hostile countries) on the grounds that it’s the difference between “fair tax” and “danger money cos we’re gonna get you out when you’re in trouble”. The way I’d modify that, were I in charge of taxation for anywhere, is “tax is on your global income ignoring anywhere you’re a citizen of”, given that anywhere you’re a citizen of, you don’t get any help defending you from.

So in Libya – we had a bunch of people with British passports out of there. Awesome; skills. They were being paid US$100k+ tax-free, meanwhile, the average UK taxpayer earns less than GBP25k per year. Should we have left them to die? Hell, no. Is it reasonable that the operation was subsidised by the average UK taxpayer and they paid nothing towards it? Hmm.

This piece is a giant ramble; I’m aware of that. But I have a blog and that’s what Having A Blog is for. And whatever the state may be for, I’m pretty convinced it’s not about ensuring that people who mostly don’t believe in The State can go to foreign places, dodge tax, and then be rescued by gunships at The State’s expense.

[*] I live in Australia, but the taxation regime is very similar to the UK’s and I spent the previous 10 years paying a fair amount of UK tax, and will happily defend any points based on difference to the death.

Alcohol-related stupidity

Alcohol is famous for its ability to cause stupidity. As with most other drugs, this property doesn’t solely apply to chronic abusers – it also applies to policymakers and opinion writers, even the sober ones. Drugs and alcohol are second only to immigration as a leading cause of utterly stupid articles.

Now, I’ve written plenty on this blog in the past about how nannyist fools lie about the levels of drink-related violence and disease, and adopt completely the wrong policies for cutting alcohol consumption even if it were a good idea to do so.

So, in the interests of balance, today I’m looking at a piece from Harry’s Place that opposes a minimum price for alcohol. Now, there’s nothing wrong with opposing a minimum price for alcohol, mostly because it’s an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. But the piece in question manages to seize upon all the stupidest grounds for doing so that it possibly could.

Its starting point is that alcohol is price-inelastic:

Certain products – the classic example being alcohol – do not respond in the typical way to price changes in the market. A price increase does not lead to a significant drop in demand. People simply grin and bear the price increase.

There’s only one small problem: this is bollocks. According to actual evidence (Table 7), the price elasticity for alcohol is around -1; in other words, a 1% rise in price leads to a 1% fall in consumption. While the various studies vary in terms of total magnitude, all show that price elasticity is significant. A rise in the price of alcohol does, empirically, lead to a cut in alcohol consumption.

Impressively, the article goes on to get worse:

Far from reducing alchol-related social ills, arguably, it may even have the opposite effect. It will make social drinking at pubs even more expensive relative to wholesale drinking. People will end up drinking more at home, quaffing back the artificially inflated (but still cheaper) supermarket booze in the environment most likely to encourage them to destroy their livers, beat up their spouses and neglect their children, and to cause accidents at work even more than before.

The problem here is that alcohol minimum pricing proposals that have been made for the UK by even vaguely serious organisations have been talking about a minimum price to the consumer.

Let’s assume the minimum price at retail is set at 50p a unit. If I’m a manufacturer of gin, I don’t have to worry whether Tesco are paying me 50p a unit when they buy a truckload of gin from me to sell in their shops, and I don’t have to worry whether Mitchells & Butlers are paying me 50p a unit when they buy a truckload of gin from me to sell in their pubs. Rather, it’s Tesco’s responsibility not to sell you a bottle of gin for less than GBP14, and it’s M&B’s responsibility not to sell you a shot of gin for less than 50p.

Now, at the moment you can buy a bottle of gin for way under GBP14 in any supermarket, but you certainly can’t get a shot of gin for under 50p in any pub. The same would apply to beer as well: a 50p/unit minimum price would ban pubs from charging less than GBP1.25 for a pint of Kronenbourg, which none of them currently do, while banning supermarkets from charging less than GBP1 for a tin of Kronenbourg, which all of them currently do.

In other words, there’d be a significant impact on supermarket prices, but no impact on pub prices. So there’d be a significant decline in home consumption, but no decline in pub consumption. Which, if you believe that there’s a binge drinking problem with evil effects that are made worse by drinking at home (not, of course, that any evidence is produced for this one either), would be a good outcome.

Rather depressingly, Tim cites the HP piece as an example of lefties understanding economics. Which I suppose is true, in that it’s using the cargo-cult sense of economics that glibertoonians often base their arguments on – relying solely on half-remembered theory from the sixth form, missing obvious theoretical points out (whether because they’re inconvenient or because you’re slapdash, who can say?), not testing your theory against empirical data because you can’t be bothered, not doing sums because they’re hard, and coming up with clownish bullshit that even a GCSE economics teacher would grade as “F minus, see me”. In that sense, it’s absolutely spot on.

There’s still no (update: a case, but a weird one) against Julian Assange

I woke up this morning ready to issue an apology, on reading the headline that a UK court had remanded Julian Assange in custody on rape charges.

I assumed that the Swedish prosecutors had actually produced some evidence (to be clear, victim testimony would absolutely count as evidence) that he’d either had sex with someone without her consent, or that he’d continued to have sex with someone after her consent was withdrawn. Because, y’know, when you’re dealing with responsible adults, that’s what rape is.

What the Swedish prosecutors have actually dug up is:

1) “using his body weight to hold Miss A down in a sexual manner” (note: outside of the imaginary world the Swedish prosecutor lives in, this doesn’t actually mean anything).

UPDATE: Crikey’s Guy Rundle, the only journalist who’s actually managed to report coherently on this case (and who was in court yesterday), says:

The first [count] is one of rape — that Assange used his body weight to lie on her, pushed her legs open and forced sex.

In light of this clarification, I’ve rewritten the conclusion to this post to avoid being misleading or unfair.

2) “sexually molesting” Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her “express wish” one should be used (note: there is no suggestion here that Miss A told him to stop).

3) “deliberately molesting” Miss A on 18 August “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”. UPDATE: Rundle clarifies that this relates to pressing his erection into her back when they were sharing a bed. If you think that should be illegal, then I’ve got a one-way ticket to Afghanistan and a Taliban membership card, just for you.

4) having sex with a second woman, Miss W, without a condom while she was asleep (note: the context is that they’d had sex earlier that night and he’d stayed over in her bed. Again, there is no suggestion that Miss W told him to stop – rather, she woke up, understandably, and consented to sex)

UPDATE: To clarify on 4, it is completely unclear from anyone’s statements whether Miss W was awake or not at the time of penetration, but it is clear from both sides’ statements that once she was awake, the sex was consensual. If Assange penetrated Miss W before she woke up, and Miss W had then not consented on waking up, Assange could possibly be considered guilty of rape even if he had stopped immediately on being told to stop. But that isn’t the claim being made: rather, the claim is that Miss W did consent on waking up, whether that was before or after penetration – and then objected afterwards on the grounds that Assange hadn’t been wearing a condom.

[everything below has been updated]

Now, the events that were disclosed in the media (both by the prosecution and by Assange’s lawyers) prior to the trial solely concerned charges 2-4. When I published my original piece, it was substantially correct on the facts as disclosed (which was the ground being argued on). As far as those charges, which have been discussed and documented elsewhere go, he is a cad, but not a rapist, and wouldn’t be prosecuted for them anywhere other than Sweden

The first charge, introduced yesterday having never previously been mentioned, is different. Unless the prosecution is simply making it up, which is possible given the farcical nature of the rest of their case to date but not probable, we need to assume that Miss A has testified that Assange raped her (under the definition of rape held in English law). This also means that – unless Assange’s lawyers can somehow demonstrate pre-trial that Miss A’s testimony is so compromised that there is no realistic prospect of conviction – Assange should face a trial to determine whether or not these claims are true.

None of this farce does anything to dispel the massive stench of politics-over-justice and rampant incompetence that surrounds the Wikileaks case. But now that Rundle has clarified the first charge, it seems that the English judge was correct not to drop the charges against Assange (I’m not convinced the remand in custody is justified).

I’m so young and you’re so old; this my darling I’ve been told

When I was 15, I was a deeply unattractive specimen. I featured most of my current drawbacks – the arrogance, the lack of height, the fact that without serious gym work, my body tends towards the Tony Hancock look more than the Daniel Craig look – but without the positives that have come with age, wisdom, wealth and Internet celebrity.

[yes, quite.]

But I was also friends at school with a fair number of young gentlemen who weren’t relying on “maybe at sixth form, liking the Smiths will impress some girls” for their romantic lives. Rather, they had Pretty Girlfriends, and recounted their Mostly Made Up Tales Of Sexual Awesomeness for the delectation of us lesser beings.

And in either case – whether it was one of the boys of my caste, or one of the boys of the “has actually put his finger in a girl’s parts” caste – if we’d scored with a reasonably attractive lady in her 30s, that would have been a SUPERDOUBLETURBOMEGAWIN. Kudos would have been given, right up until the end of time.

So I find cases like this one deeply curious. OK, 15-year-old boys are actually pretty revolting specimens; 15-year-old girls only score with them on the grounds that they’re mildly preferable to creepy paedos, and everyone grown-up is embarrassed by the fact that they were once one, or that they scored with one on the grounds above. So a 30something lady fancying 15-year-old boys is a bit weird.

But hell. If we’re going to have any kind of harm-based justice system, which I’m assuming is roughly what a justice system should be (I know that the War On Some Drugs is a counterexample, but even that has a vague deterrent philosophy that “if people are thrown in jail for choosing what to do to their bodies, it’ll deter them from putting stuff in their bodies which turns them into mad granny-robbing loonies”), then how on earth does nicking someone just for having the insanely niche taste of “spotty boys who don’t really know what they’re doing” fit? They’re delighted; their mates are amused and jealous; and nobody else in their right mind gives a fuck.

In short – 15-year-old JB getting some action from a medium-attractive 30something Asian babe – hell yeah. On the other hand, if the woman in question would have gone to jail for the action she gave me, then I’d have been pretty distraught. At 15, everything feels like your own fault; indeed, the main thing you haven’t mastered at that age is “realising that the world is way beyond you, and that you don’t really matter all that much”.

So what we have here is the law taking something odd but harmless, and turning it into something which not only ruins the life of the woman concerned and her kids, but that will also shroud the boys involved in a cloud of depression and guilt forever.

And even Bystander, who isn’t usually an idiot, has fallen from the We Must Destroy The Children In Order To Protect Them bullshit on this one, and thinks that jailing the woman in question is fair play. All very odd. Given that your average 15-year-old boy would fuck the crack of dawn if it had hairs on it, a (bizarrely) willing older lady seems like a reasonable induction, all things considered.

More fun with marginal tax rates

Here’s Felix Salmon Justin Fox standing in for Felix Salmon, on the economic impact of the socialist Truman government’s evil confiscatory tax policies:

During the Korean War, Congress enacted an excess profits tax meant to keep military contractors from, well, profiteering. In its infinite wisdom, Congress defined excess profits as anything above what a company had been making during the peacetime years 1946-1949.

Boeing was mostly a military contractor in those days (Lockheed and Douglas dominated the passenger-plane business), and had made hardly any money at all from 1946 to 1949. So pretty much any profits it earned during the Korean conflict were by definition excess, and its effective tax rate in 1951 was going to be 82%…

It being 1951, Boeing instead sucked it up and let the tax incentives inadvertently devised by Congress steer it toward a bold and fateful decision. CEO Bill Allen decided, and was able to persuade Boeing’s board, to plow all those profits and more into developing what became the 707, a company-defining and world-changing innovation.

(I’ve deleted some of his sarcastic commentary about how a government enacting a similar measure today would be described, so that mine sounds cleverer.)

No, it’s not your bleedin’ money

Money and property rights are both creations of the state. If the state were abolished, neither would exist. The ‘money’ point is obvious, but the same applies to property: the fact that you happened to own a nice house would be irrelevant, because someone bigger than you would come along and tell you to get out of it or he’d kill you [*].

In other words, when people complain about the money that the state takes off them in taxes, comparing it to their pre-tax paycheque, they’re talking complete and utter nonsense. The correct figure for comparison is the amount of money that they’d have in Hobbes-world. Which, apart from musclebound psychotic thugs, would be vastly less than they’d have under any plausible liberal-ish-democratic-ish society.

Now, I’ve met a fair few right-libertarians, and I can’t help notice that they generally fit better into the “amiable geek” mould than the “musclebound psychotic thug” mould. So, all things considered, their take on life is a bit weird.

I wonder if the popularity of the belief “I’d do better in a world with no state”, despite its falsehood for the vast majority of people who believe it, is down to the same kind of overestimation of personal ability that makes people on modest incomes oppose taxes on the rich because, against all evidence, they believe that one day they’ll be in that group?

Or perhaps it’s even more primal than that, going back to playground fantasies of ninjas and sword-battles. Which could possibly explain why libertarianism is rather more popular among men than it is among women…

Probably worth signing off with the obligatory disclaimer that I’m arguing against a specific ideological position about property and taxation, not for a society where the most extreme counter-position holds. Obviously, I don’t think it’d be a good idea for the government to levy tax at a level that left people at [the same level of income they’d have in Hobbes-world + delta], because that would be a terrible idea from the point of view of maximising overall welfare.

[*] what would actually happen, based on historical evidence from all eras, is that eventually people would get pissed off with Hobbes-world and support whichever appalling violent thug was willing to enforce some basic rules that meant they wouldn’t just be murdered and robbed at will – i.e. a hugely authoritarian government. But let’s assume that Hobbes-world is some kind of sustainable equilibrium, for argument’s stake.