Looks like @LouiseMensch is making a play for today’s worst person in the world

Nadine and Frank we already know are making unsubstantiated attacks on people doing difficult jobs. Louise has decided that she should support their attacks and also make up lies about her parliamentary colleagues while she’s at it.

Attacking MPs I can forgive, party politics is such fun after all. But what really tipped the scales in her favour was supporting the restriction of choice in abortion advice in the name of increasing the choices of women.



What do you call a Liberal who Opposes Abortion?

While I’m talking about abortion, I’ve always wondered why certain liberals are so opposed to abortion.

So we have a couple of strands to liberalism which I think make good public policy and good personal philosophy.

The key thought – and although most proper philosophers think Mill overrated, he is the go-to guy for my-first-liberalism-workshops – is that you shouldn’t harm other people or restrict their actions unless they’re going to harm you or someone else. Even if they are doing something which you think is a bad idea, like smoking, you should leave them to it. A lot of the debates on abortion really hinge on whether you think a Zygote, Foetus or Embryo is a person who needs protecting or not.

But the harm principle isn’t really the foundation of liberalism, the foundation is the thought “what if I’m wrong?”

That is why we shouldn’t interfere with the actions of others, because my judgement is, in general, only likely to be as good as yours. In specific cases your judgement about your life is, as a rule, going to be better than my judgement about your life.

I don’t have the necessary information to decide things on a case by case basis for you, so it should be left to you. I think that abortion is one of those subjects where even the most voracious critics really have to consider “what if I’m wrong? What is a Zygote/Foetus/Embryo isn’t a person”

Decisions should generally be left to those with the most information and the best incentive to get the decision right. This is a pretty basic, even Hayekian, point. That means, especially with respect to abortion, the woman involved. I don’t think anyone has any more incentive to become au fait with the morality and practice of abortion than a woman considering one.

You might disagree with the decisions of women who choose to have abortions, but they are in a much better position to make that decision than you. Opposing abortion is in much the same ballpark as supporting the smoking ban, the absolute certainty that an outsider knows the best.

Nadine Dorries and Frank Field on Abortion

So Nadine and Frank, I hope I’m on first name terms, want to restrict women’s rights to an abortion. They aren’t being honest about their intention, nooooooooo, they’re only thinking about the women! They are leading with mendacious attacks on BPAS and Marie Stopes who provide both abortion and counselling to those considering abortion.

Nadine and Frank’s argue that this is a conflict of interests and that BPAS and Marie Stopes actually hate women and manipulate women into having abortions when they don’t really want them for ideological and pecuniary purposes. A pretty vile accusation, even by Nadine’s standards.

About 20% of women who get advice from BPAS don’t get abortions, I will take Nadine and Field seriously when either 1) Hell freezes over or 2) They provide a serious study quantifying the effects of this conflict of interest. If BPAS and Marie Stopes are providing bad advice it will show up in the number.

Basically put up (some empirical evidence) or shut up (and leave us alone).

My name is Luis Enrique and I’m a Tax Avoider

Guest Post by Luis Enrique.

About 5 years ago I moved out of the flat I half-owned, and sublet it while I attended university in another city. I made sure to sell my share in the flat before a three-year deadline after which I would have been liable for capital gains tax. I did this to avoid paying tax [1]. Feel free to call me a looting scumbag.

Corporations cannot avoid choosing how they classify their sales and costs, how they price internal transactions and so on. It is inevitable that they will make choices that minimise their tax liabilities within the boundaries set by current laws, just like me timing the sale of my flat. It’s crazy to expect otherwise and some would argue anything else would be a dereliction of duty to shareholders.

This, incidentally, is why many tax experts believe that tax allowances to encourage certain activities usually aren’t worthwhile. If, for example, you decide to give a tax break for investment in R&D, corporations are going to classify as much of their costs as possible as investment R&D, with the result that the quantity of foregone tax is usually much greater than estimates of pre-tax-break R&D spending would have led you to expect, and the cost-benefit picture doesn’t look good (‘cost’ being foregone tax, ‘benefit’ being the increase in genuine R&D activity).

However, we all know that tax avoidance can take more extreme forms than merely thinking “hey, I can probably get away with classifying this cost as an R&D investment and claiming a tax rebate on it”, and involve hiring expensive lawyers and accountants to devise clever wheezes to exploit loopholes in the law [2], sometimes making use of tax havens. Clearly there is no hard and fast dividing line between acceptable tax minimization within the law, and activity of this sort [3].

I am perfectly happy with creative lawyer-devised tax-dodging wheezes being regarded with moral opprobrium, and I’d like to see the legal system and tax collectors coming down on it like a ton of bricks when they have a good case the law is being bent out of shape. And obviously we want vigilant legislators shutting down tax law loopholes and tax havens. I’m all for aggressive policing of corporate tax dodging shenanigans – ideally we would have a situation in which corporations look at the cost/benefit of such behaviour and decide not to bother.

What I cannot understand is the popular view, on the left, that all varieties of tax avoidance are the moral equivalent of theft [4]. I do not believe I stole money from the tax payer when I sold my flat before the capital gains liability deadline. I don’t believe companies claiming R&D tax allowance are either.


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Another day, another post from people who care about poor people lamenting the fact that poor people are getting richer

IPPR‘s report is significantly less provocative than the post promoting it on Liberal Conspiracy, but I still don’t like the framing. The IPPR argue that challenges from BRIC nations mean that Britain faces some sort of new and particularly challenging economic policy dilemma. [1] Britain’s problems are well documented:

  1. Low and skewed business investment
  2. Weak skills base
  3. Less innovation and lower productivity
  4. Limited presence in emerging markets

There is a long and ignoble tradition in British politics of despairing as our trading partners overtake us in terms of income or technological prowess. The above bullet points from IPPR would need address even without the BRIC economies growing. But, in fact, some of those will be mitigated by the growing wealth of our trading partners.

1) At the end of the nineteenth century the UK was the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. However, Britain was being overtaken in terms of living standards and productivity by both the United States and Germany.

There were a number of reasons for this. One often overlooked reason for this was that Britain had a lot of accumulated capital in various industries and it just didn’t make sense to ditch it and replace it with shiny new machines from Germany and America. However, the main reason Britain fell behind was technological.

The chemical industry needed vast economies of scale to run successfully, both because it was capital intensive and because the processes were easily scalable so there were massive returns to scale. Germany cartelised this industry creating huge unwieldy firms, but their unwieldyness was offset by their scale efficiencies. Britain’s market was too competitive so no one firm could reach the necessary scales of production or produce high enough profits to take the lead in R&D.

The other leading sector was mass production, especially in cars. The US led in this industry for a couple of reasons. The most pertinent reason being the scale of the American market, which was larger and more homogenous than any other in the world. The technology fit the surrounding market. Nothing like River Rouge would have been economically viable in Britain. No economic policy could have made it so.

 So one lesson we have to learn is that sometimes certain countries will see productivity booms which others won’t. Creating cartels is often not a good idea so British competitive capitalism was a sensible bet ex ante. Likewise, the US had the scale to be the first mass-market, maybe only India and China have the scale to be the first hyper-market. We shouldn’t sweat smallish differences in economic performance, they are inevitable and efforts to “correct” them may only be counter productive.

Adopting anti-competitive practices in the 1940s-70s meant that terrible managers could run companies badly without being forced to stop. The cartelisation strategy which worked so well for Germany decidedly didn’t when adopted under different circumstances. More competition helped restore the British industry to ruder health.

2) A significantly less rosy picture I have for Britain’s NEETS and unskilled. Those jobs will come back. As BRIC countries become wealthier it will make less sense for low productivity jobs to be located far away, there,  from the market for their goods, here. So having an unevenly skilled population in the UK won’t matter, because as poor countries get rich, rich countries will get poor jobs. Not nice, but it mitigates against the worries that we will have an economy of unqualified do-nothings and latte-sipping computer coders.

3) Luckily I have nice news on productivity. A lot of productivity gains, especially in IT has goes unrecorded. The story goes like this. Purchasing a lot of IT supplies, programmes and paraphernalia is expensive, but it is investment and should pay off.

Another thing which is expensive is reorganising firms to take full advantage of potentials for improvements from using your IT investment better. The hiring and firing, the organisation flow diagrams, the endless, endless meetings! Those all go down as consumed resources, not investment. However, they are investment, subsequent IT upgrades will be easy to adopt and new technology will fit into the reworked organisation. This means complimentary investment which accompanies IT projects is often systematically understated.

This is especially true in services where a lot of value is added by the organisation working efficiently. Britain is a very service orientated economy so the good news is our lack of investment has been understated by more than other countries. I would personally like us to move away from finance, but I have to say we have invested in this sector more than official figures suggest.

4) Britain does have limited presence in emerging markets but that is a long-term problem which will affect us immediately only if our trading partners over on the other side of the channel implode. I don’t have the data to hand, so treat this graph from John Ross as illustrative only.

Even developed economies growing slowly add a lot of value. Look at Canada’s 30 million people add nearly as much extra as Russia’s 130 million. In absolute terms Canada is beating on Russia too. Not working in emerging markets is not a huge problem yet. Working there is dangerous, the rewards are uncertain, they culture is alien, the risks are high, and the rewards are not necessarily significantly larger than those available in developed, wealthy, safe countries.

So long as British firms get a toe hold in emerging markets they will do fine, being first mover in economies as fractious and turbulent as those in the developing world is not always an advantage. Benign neglect may well be the best policy towards encouraging firms to expand overseas for the time being.

Sorry this is all a bit of a ramble, but I hope my point is clear. What happens elsewhere in the world matters for all sorts of things, but it probably doesn’t matter ex ante for what good economic policy will be. We might wish in 30 years we had nationalised all Broadband suppliers and heavily subsidised super-duper broadband across the land because it would have produced an unbeknownst productivity miracle. But that doesn’t mean we should do it.


[1] More worthwhile they also point to the disruptive impact that the internet is having in all sectors, but I have nothing to add to what is discussed in their report other than “innovation and experimentation is important so lower barriers to entry where lots of innovation and experimentation is important.”

Feigning Outrage and winning the Feminist argument

George Osborne didn’t even seem particularly perturbed by the fact that he broke the law in failing to carry out a gender impact assessment of the spending budget.

No Shit! I don’t think it is a useful tactic to pretend to be outraged by the fact that George Osborne didn’t think to assess the gendered impact of his budget.

Most modern philosophy and statecraft is entirely gender blind. Or rather, it is as it has always been with “and we’ll treat women fairly too” added on. Justice, Gender, and the Family (H/T) outlines that much of the canon of western liberal thinking has developed in a world which was deeply unequal with respect to gender and that is inherent in much of it. Women have been excluded from centuries of thinking and discussion on what liberty and freedom mean, as Yglesias argues, adding “and we’ll treat women fairly” doesn’t really cut it.

So when George Osborne releases a budget and ignores whether one gender is to be worse hit than another feigning outrage is a stupid thing to do.

Public Sector workers tend to be female, single parents tend to be women, etc. that means that reducing the size of the Public Sector and reducing benefits and so on will impact women harder than men. However, that isn’t necessarily because George Osborne doesn’t like women.

These cuts are going to impact women more harshly not just because of the structure of the cuts because of the structure of society.

You are more likely to be a women if you are a teacher or working in many of the “caring” professions. You are more likely to be a women if you are a single parent. You are going to be stuck with the child rearing if you are a woman for a number of reasons, and that will lead, at work, to a less senior position and a more vulnerable labour market position (you’ll be more expendable if you’re on the eve of maternity leave or have spent 5 years raising kids rather than raising up the greasy pole).

Making sure that policy takes account of gender is a good idea. However it is not necessarily an obviously good idea, people remain to be convinced that each policy needs to be examined from the position of gender equality. While feminists may see the need to discuss public service cuts from the point of view of the gendered division of labour within the family, this doesn’t sound terribly relevant when discussing a budget.

Righteous indignation and high-faluting, self-felating comparisons with Suffragettes are not helpful when trying to convince people that feminism has relevance to most aspects of their lives or politics.