Thursday, 31 October 2013

Why Politicians don't "tell the truth".

Because they can't.

Every utterance is not reported on its merits. When asked a question like "are green taxes good for the economy" the answer, as anyone who's looked at this, or any other issue knows, "it depends".

Politicians will therefore be asked to elaborate. I'm going to answer that as if I was a junior minister in the Department for Energy and Climate Change:

"So there are some good taxes, and some bad taxes. For example, I am in favour of fuel duty because tax has to come from somewhere, fuel duty's fair, provides an incentive to drive less, slower, in a more fuel-efficient car and so reduces pollution and congestion; but think the VED is ridiculous. Green Levies on utility bills are regressive and distortionary, but taxes on extracting Oil and Gas from the ground aren't. There's a case for state subsidy of renewables & nuclear, but wind-power is ridiculous"

That answer will piss EVERYONE off. The anti-tax, anti-green band of conservatism exemplified by the Taxpayers' Alliance will focus on support for Fuel Duty. The Daily Mail will report it as "Minister wants you to pay MORE for your petrol", but the Guardian will contrast the "greenest government ever" with support for cutting green levies on utility bills. In the media hive-mind WINDFARMS=GREEN POLICY so a politician trotting out the summary of my opinions above will risk being branded a "climate-change denier" which will mean being ignored by about a third of the electorate from that day hence.

Papers report politicians in a way to ensure politicians are even less popular than Journalists (which is incidentally why politicians are beating up blameless utility companies right now - the abused victimising those even more hated), by focussing on the comments which will annoy that paper's readership the most. Everyone thinks the politician in question is "an idiot" who "doesn't know what he's talking about". Everyone's prior assumption of politicians being stupid, ignorant arseholes, who're only in it for themselves, or possibly their mates in the Union lobby/city/big business/EU (delete according to taste), is reinforced.

So politicians don't answer the question. Instead they position themselves on whichever "side" of the debate on which they wish to be reported as being by the media, and utter the soundbite they wish to get into the papers.

And that, in a nutshell is why politicians don't answer anything to the satisfaction of economists, experts, bloggers or,indeed, anyone paying attention. They can't, because Journalists don't report in enough detail. A politician's comments might get 30 seconds of broadcast news. Even newspaper journalists don't report in enough detail because we, the public, aren't that interested in politics. And so we get the politicians (or the caricature of them presented by the media) we deserve.

Meanwhile politicians actually do try to create the best legislation they can, according to their beliefs and principles. And everyone will hate them for it, despite the UK being a reasonably well-governed, orderly and pleasant place to live. Our politicians are obviously doing less wrong than in much of the rest of the world.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Every kilo counts: a guide to packing your bags

Sick of struggling with over-laden bags as you attempt to board your plan? Find yourself cursing extra baggage fees when you go over the allotted allowance?

Packing is a common headache for travellers with everything from getting items into the suitcases to getting the suitcases on the plane throwing up their fair share of issues. Here we offer a brief guide to packing you bags, proving that every kilo really does count.

How much can I take with me?

The average checked-in luggage allowance you’ll likely be allowed when travelling long haul or on short haul European flights is around 20kg while domestic flights will be around 15kg. These are only basic guides though and can vary from airline to airline so it would be wise to check with your carrier before travelling.

You will also usually be permitted to carry on one piece of hand luggage on the plane with you, dimensions of which will be available from the airline you’ve booked with.

To avoid any nasty surprises at the airport remember to weigh your bags on a pair of bathroom scales before you travel. Firstly, it will give you the opportunity to take out any non-essentials or, if you feel there’s nothing you can do without, then it gives you the chance to buy additional allowances from your carrier before you depart.

What should I take?

The most important thing is the luggage itself. The weight of your suitcase is included in your allowance so try to choose a lightweight suitcase or even a hold-all if you can get away with it as this will leave you more to play with when packing.

Sort what you’d ideally like to take into three piles: essentials, wants and luxuries. Once you have the piles ready, pack your suitcase in that order.

Try to make the most of your luggage space by placing your shoes flat, side by side. Also ensure you check the airline website for prohibited goods, these are normally things that will be confiscated if found or will stop you from flying so don’t take any unnecessary risks.

Anything else I should consider?

How long are you going away for? A week? 2 weeks? Longer? Does your accommodation have a washing machine or is there a launderette nearby? What’s the weather going to be like while you’re there?

All these questions need to be asked when packing to determine just how much you need to take. For instance, if you were booking flights to Istanbul from Pegasus in January then temperatures can average at just 8°C so you won’t need to worry about making room for your summer sorts or flip-flops.

Even if booking a trip to somewhere with almost guaranteed sun it is important to go prepared. The weather in any location is variable so make sure you check the forecast for the period you’re travelling and pack a light jacket or cardigan to see you through any cooler times. 

Monday, 28 October 2013

You Don't have to be a 'Climate Denier' to Hate Wind Farms.

For the record, I accept the scientific consensus about Anthropogenic climate change. I also accept the economic consensus about what we should do about it (CO2 pigou taxes, etc...). The political "consensus" that we all need to put on a hair shirt, tax ourselves into penury, provide enourmous subsidies to wind and give up the advantages of modern life, because "the environment reasons" is just Watermelon nonsense. It's an attempt to stifle capitalism by people who've never liked it, but who now use a different excuse to demand capitalism shut itself down. Dialectic materialism has been replaced by dialectic environmentalism, but the prescription is the same: economic planning. They were wrong last time, they're wrong this time.

There are many things we can do to make our energy supply less polluting. And we should pick the low-hanging fruit first. In the UK, much of our energy (39% at the time of writing) comes from coal. Much of this could be replaced with lower-carbon, cleaner, safer Natural Gas. This will require widespread fracking but will allow the UK's CO2 footprint to go down quickest in the short-term. If you are going to go with wind, Gas can be cranked up and down quicker than coal can.

But it's not even clear Wind Turbines are good for the environment, even in Narrow CO2 Terms. Turbines have high embedded energy: they have to replace an awful lot of coal to justify the CO2 used in their manufacture, taking over a year to 'pay back' the energy used in their manufacture. Solar Photo-Voltaic generation is tumbling in price. It will not be long before such power generation will be competitive with fossil fuels, without subsidy. At this point, everyone will be mad to not have a solar panel or two on their roof. Instead of letting the market do its work, Government has done its usual job of picking a winner, littering the countryside with unsightly, noisy, unpopular, expensive, vibrating wind-farms, next to which those politicians will not have to live; but by which they will force others to live in order to demonstrate their "green" credentials but the cost of wind energy is NOT falling. These wind farms will never produce cheap energy.

In Germany, where they have a lot of wind power, when it's windy it overloads the network and barely have sufficient base-line capacity when it's not. On a cold, still day, without French nuclear capacity, Germany would suffer blackouts. Today, it's windy, they will probably get 60% of their energy needs from wind, and will not find a market for their Gas-produced power (much of which must stay on all the time...). This distorts the wholesale energy markets across Europe.

Wind turbines kill birds. I am pissed off by this, even if you're not.

The much touted subsidy (a price guarantee) for recently negotiated for new nuclear capacity is about a third that given to wind power, though it lasts longer. Subsidy is money taken from the surplus generated by productive endeavour, and given to unproductive endeavour and is unarguably a bad thing. This is what the market finds out and the market is working -Solar feed in tariffs are falling as the price of cells falls and their efficiency rises. It has long been accepted the up-front costs of nuclear are so vast, state guarantees are needed for new capacity to be built, but it seems likely Nuclear will be competitive, if the wholesale energy price rises at least in line with inflation as it has in the past. Wind however doesn't generate useful electricity at an affordable price, even where it's enjoyed massive investment and has an arguably net negative effect on the environment. People will pay to not be near them.

So, assuming you want to cut your CO2 output, 1) switch to Gas and Nuclear for base-line power. 2) encourage Solar PV generation. Encourage biomass CHP projects. Wind is an expensive, stupid, ill-thought out sideshow; an economic basket-case which has absolutely no chance whatsoever of solving the energy problems of the 21st century. There are much more effective technologies: Predictable Tidal flow, less intermittent wave power, solar PV rapidly falling in price, Nuclear for the base-load and one-day solving everything, fusion power.

The most important thing to ensure a good environment is that the economy grows healthily. If the economy is growing, people will feel they have a surplus to spend on luxuries like "the environment". And at this, the eco-mentalists will squeal "but the environment is not a luxury". It is, if it's a choice between a job and a windfarm people will choose the former. Most reject the latter, even when they're feeling rich. When times are tight, the people will demand an end to environmental costs and foreign aid. Central to anything looking like a healthy economy is the absence of subsidies, though there is a case for time limited price guarantees to "encourage" development of technologies, this would better be achieved by a simple emissions tax on the polluting power rather than the complex levies which distort the energy markets at present. Look at the economic mess Egypt is in where Governments  are struggling to Govern largely (though not entirely) over the issue of state fuel subsidies which make up 12% of GDP. Such subsidies have a habit of growing like a cancer. Germany is in a similar boat with its enormous subsidy to wind power.

Wind turbines have costs paid by rural dwellers (especially feathered ones) for the green consciences of urbanites. They make no economic sense, and little environmental. Let's follow France, whose nuclear power stations keep Europe's lights on when the wind's not blowing, and in the meantime, FRACK BABY FRACK.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Why not Nationalise Grangemouth refinery?

Twice in the last couple of days, I've been asked to talk to the Media about Grangemouth. Twice I've been asked the same question by the BBC: Should it be nationalised? The first time I was surprised by the question, and answered with waffle about there not being a case for the refining business, but the petrochemicals plant is important as the centre of a manufacturing hub. The second time I ducked it completely. "not my area of expertise".

Strategic infrastructure?

This is cowardice on my part. Of course Grangemouth shouldn't be nationalised. The manufacturing businesses surrounding Grangemouth will have to find other sources of supply or close. Tough, but better than the alternative, even though this manufacturing hub makes up 10% of Scottish GDP. The problem is the refining and petrochemical business suffers from overcapacity accross the whole of Europe. This is in part because Governments sometimes have seen refineries as "strategic" and intervene whenever they get into trouble, and in part because of simple competition from newer, bigger refineries and petrochemical plants elsewhere, particularly in Asia and the USA.

You'll see a lot of waffle in the media about "fuel security". The best security is having multiple sources of supply, and being rich enough to afford the prices of market fluctuations. Of course it's nice if your domestic supply can be exported, but even this has problems. You'll also see fearmongering about petrol prices. There was little noticable effect on petrol prices from the strike in 2008. While there may be disruptions to supply to forecourts in remote areas of Scotland, the fuel companies are likely to have contingency plans, and any disruption is likely to be short-lived and local. Remember the biggest fuel store in the UK is that in everyone's car. But the main reason this won't affect prices is because we already import nearly half the UK's diesel, and export 20% of petrol. The supply chain is already diversified and robust.

European refineries built after the war produce too much petrol, demand for which is falling thanks to more efficient cars, fewer miles driven and a switch to diesel. They produce too much fuel oil which no longer heats our homes and powers our industry, the cleaner, cheaper gas does. They produce too little diesel and aviation fuel, which the UK must import. We struggle to find a market for our glut of petrol and fuel oil, because everyone's refineries have the same problem. And there are simply too many of them in Europe.

Grangemouth is not the only European refinery closing this week. Mantova in Italy has also been mothballed. European refineries, old, with a nameplate capacity of, in Grangemouth's case, 205,000 barrels of oil a day, which is turned into stuff for which there is no market. It's unsurprising they're struggling against big, new American and far-eastern refineries which have capacities over twice that. American refineries pay (at present) $15 or more less for their crude (the WTI/Brent spread) too and produce the stuff the market (currently) demands.

If the plant is nationalised, the Government (whichever one, Scottish or British) will have to pick up the tab for a business currently losing £150m a year, with a pension fund £200m in deficit. The plant is said to need £300m in investment to set the plant running to produce what the market actually demands. So we're looking at a measurable, whole-integer percentages of the Scottish Government's budget of £27bn, when they're already running a 10% deficit. Good luck sustaining that.

The difference between Ineos and the Scottish Government is the former has lots of experience in building, running and managing petrochemical plants. The Scottish Government has none. It's impossible to conceive of Alec Salmond running a nationalised petrochemical business better and more profitably than private sector managers. I doubt the Scottish Government (soon to be independent?) could find the money to wear the inevitable losses in perpetuity without cutting back elsewhere. So everyone in Scotland will have to pay taxes to keep 800 people in jobs and be much poorer as a result of the direct transfers.

Then there's the precedent. Having secured nationalisation for "key infrastructure", which is what the unions want, they will want to get the same result for every other big business which starts to find the competitive pressures of the Global economy a bit much. With the back-stop of nationalisation for any factory employing 500 or more Scots, unions will be tempted to drive a harder bargain. Scotland becomes a little less profitable, and receives less and less investment each year as a result.

Because investment drives productivity, and productivity drives wages, Scots will find themselves getting poorer if the Government caves in to Unions' demands. The laws of compound interest mean this happens slowly at first. But Scotland lacks the resources of the UK's diversified, trillion-dollar economy to stand the pressure for long. Even with the resources of the UK, it took massive "nationalisation of the means of production" less than 30 years to cripple Britain. The Scots are far, far to the left of the rest of the UK, and British business after the war was profitable to start with. If they get what they, and the BBC appear to want, nationalisation, the Scots will see why nationalisation doesn't work much, much quicker than that.

So next time I'm asked "should Grangemouth be nationalised?". I'm going to say "No. Of course not, though there's a case for helping with the investment needed, but I don't think even that's a good idea".

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Nuclear Deal

Q: Why do we so desperately need new power stations?
A: Because Labour calculated that the blackouts wouldn't happen on their watch, and new power stations aren't popular and nuclear ones especially so. Therefore Labour, despite advice, only gave the go-ahead for renewables.
Q: Why do we need the French and Chinese to build our power stations?
A: Because Labour shut down a successful domestic nuclear industry in 2002.
Q: So isn't there a huge subsidy?
A: Yes, probably, but much less than offshore wind (though wind's guaranteed price is for a shorter time). A subsidy through a guaranteed price is likely to be cheaper than the Government bearing the risk of building costs, and may even be free (ish) if energy prices rise in line with inflation as expected.

Prediction, Labour will have a field day pointing out the "expensive" energy procured by the Government, then will not change anything, or indeed take any decisions at all about power stations, should they ever get into power again. Because Labour prefer being noisy sound-bite ranters than seriously dealing with the energy shortage to which the UK is extremely close.

Labour: Utterly irresponsible student union politicians. This is why they break the country every time they get power.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Al Madinah School "In Chaos"

The first disaster of the Free Schools program is the Al Madinah school in Derby. Of course this doesn't have the impact the lefties hope it will because it's a free school. And it's a Muslim school, that most parents wouldn't have sent their kids to under any circumstances.

Kids were segregated at meal-times because (snork) "the canteen is small". Female staff were forced to wear the veil. And the teaching was crap. Most parents will see "Muslim school fails" not "free school fails" (hard-core lefties will see the opposite) and everyone will feel their prejudices re-enforced.

It scored the lowest mark, 4, in all the categories measured.

The only problem is in the reporting I have absolutely no way of putting that in context. How many traditional state-schools get put in 'special measures' with such a score. Do we not hear about it because it's relatively common? Google is your friend. Though I cannot find statistics, it's clear there are plenty of standard state-schools in special measures.

So. How many traditional schools are there? How many are inadequate?
How many free schools and academies are there? How many are inadequate?

Of course, a school has to be good before it was allowed to become an academy, so there's a selection bias there. None of these issues are addressed by any reporting on the issue. Just a lip-biting insinuation that this Free-school failure is a disaster not just for the kids, teachers and parents of the school, but for the free schools program. Labour say x, but Michael Gove says y. This isn't balance. This isn't reporting. This isn't analysis. The media is failing at its basic task of holding our elected representatives to account.

Labour say this is a disaster for free schools. It's not. Not any more than the King Charles School in Falmouth or Stimpson Avenue primary in Northampton are disasters for State education. There will be experiments amongst free schools. Some will fail and will be found out quickly. By killing off failed experiments, standards improve. Muslim fanatics trying and failing to set up a decent school and being found out, is a feature, not a bug of the policy.

Of course, the NAS/UWT and NUT are on strike today, partly to make it harder for inadequate teachers to be sacked. The fact this attitude prevails in parts of state education is the real reason for most failure. The school's relationship with the local authority is probably irrelevant. But I suspect free schools will be more responsive to parents, and less tolerant of bad teaching. Time will tell. But the failure of the odd school here and there is part of making the system as a whole better.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Left-wing Myths.

Of course people have left wing views when they're ignorant of such concepts as Tax Incidence and have opinions formed around myths like "world inequality is rising", which went unchallenged on "thought for the day" this morning. Of course, with the Chinese, Indian and much of African economies growing at 8-12% (thanks to the much maligned free-trade) the number of people living on less than $1 a day is falling faster than at any time in history.

Even within western countries, inequality isn't rising that fast. The UK's GINI numbers are skewed by the presence of the international super-rich in London, a feature which probably affects New York, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Monaco, Paris and Cape-Town. Otherwise, the middle class is growing, and the working class is shrinking. Inequality is mainly between welfare-recipients and those who work. I argue that our poorly designed welfare state with its manifest disincentives to finding a job represents a trap.

Vodafone doesn't pay tax? Vodayfone may have successfully won a case against HMRC, and had £4.8bn written off, but it otherwise paid the tax due. Does anyone argue that a company isn't allowed to challenge the Revenue in the courts? Because the left is dangerously close to arguing for retrospective and confiscatory taxation. It's there in the report and accounts - they paid 27% of £9.8bn operating free cash-flow in tax (compared to a headline corporation tax rate of 24%). It may have been aportioned in different years, resulting in a figure in the profit & loss account of 17% on £8.5bn of operating profit but the CASH is the actual amount paid to the revenue and the equivalents around the world in that year.

Lefties often reject widely accepted economic concepts like tax-incidence, the idea that the economic burden of a tax doesn't always fall on those writing the cheque. If corporation tax was abolished, some of the extra money would go to shareholders who pay CGT and income tax on dividends (at a slightly lower rate), however much would go to customers in the form of lower prices (does anyone argue that the mobile phone market isn't competitive?) with the money spent (and taxed elsewhere) or workers in the form of higher wages, resulting in a much higher rate of tax. The result of abolishing Corporation tax would probably be rather small overall, at least in the long-run.

The idea that Corporate Tax avoidance is THE problem is ridiculous. Avoidance involves using the legal means to keep your tax bill to the minimum. It's up to the Revenue to challenge "abuse" in the courts. If the court agrees, you pay the difference. The problem the revenue faces is that the UK is now pretty much at the limit of what the people (and the companies they run) will take. People will not pay very high marginal rates. They will hide income offshore, they will move, they will take lower wages, bring forward capital expenditure. Many will think that the rewards of running a business are simply not worth it, and retire.

Left wing myths are so deeply embedded, it's difficult to challenge all of them, all the time. But these myths result in a slowly strangled economy. Because the solutions that fall naturally from left-wing myths: more investigations, tighter regulations and stronger enforcement are so poisonous to economic endeavour. This is why Labour break everything every time they get power.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Who advocates for the Poor?

It may surprise you to learn I am not against generous benefits, or even the principle of redistribution.

Much of your wealth or otherwise is down to luck. There are moral and practical reasons for supporting redistribution. The best is based on one simple fact: It's just much, much easier to get rich if you start with wealthy parents, good nutrition, high IQ, an education costing half a million pounds, height above average (if male) good looks (if male or female) and no regional accent. Start with these advantages, and you're most of the way to getting into the top 10% of earners straight out of university, which your parents, of course were able to afford. Of course some have some or none of these advantages and succeed, but very few. Those who succeed support those who don't through redistributive taxes and benefits. This is fair because many of those struggling do so because of bad luck.

There's a utilitarian argument. The poor have a much higher marginal utility for money than the rich. This is the argument for progressive taxation. A pound on benefits matters more to its recipients than a pound on taxes to a higher-rate tax-payer. So society is better off if some money is moved from one to the other.

Finally, if you make sure everyone has enough money to eat and keep a roof over their heads, there's less likelihood they'll pick up pitch forks and re-distribute by force. Think of the benefits bill as insurance against being on the end of a gibbet come the revolution.

So your taxes, about a third of which go to paying working-age benefits, about a third in pensions, and the rest, everything else are part of a decent society in which everyone's helping everyone else. Or they would be if the system wasn't comprehensively broken, failing at all the significant tasks the welfare state is supposed to achieve. The welfare state is supposed to prevent poverty. It is, in fact, its major cause.

The problem is one of incentives, and not just those faced by the poor themselves. It's obvious to anyone who isn't paid handsomely to farm the poor, that for many people, it's simply irrational to work. Once they've paid for taxes, clothes, transport and lunch, they're considerably worse off than they would have been had they stayed in their pyjamas and watched Jeremy Kyle. Why would you take a miserable, boring, unpleasant minimum wage job instead of existing on benefits? The job insecurity at the bottom of the pyramid and the bureaucratic complexity of informing the authorities of a 'change in circumstance' is a further barrier. So when when the low-waged is "let go" after a couple of weeks, he's got to re-apply for Housing benefits, Job-seekers' allowance, Council Tax Benefit, income support and so on, from scratch. He may be genuinely destitute as a result of payments stopped, then restarted again too late, thanks to an abortive effort to "do the right thing". Is it really any wonder so many feel trapped?

So, who benefits from this system? Certainly not those getting the benefits many of whom are comprehensively trapped in a life they wouldn't have chosen. Not the Children of those getting benefits, who learn no other life thanks to the distorted incentives faced by their parents, but in whose name the benefits are paid. Certainly not the people paying the bill, John Q. Taxpayer, who thanks to the system face a sullen and resentful underclass, some of whom spend their non-working lives looking for ways to relieve you of your easily saleable property in order to buy sufficient narcotics to break the tedium for a few hours.

The main benefit of the benefits system accrues to those employed on secure graduate salaries to administer the system. These people are the farmers of the poor. This is not just the civil servants and local government employees who administer the system, but also the charity employees who don't see the homeless and destitute (they outsource this to unpaid volunteers). It's the police who are part of the state-crushing of the spirit of the young who find themselves trapped in this hell. The that the poor exist at all causes fear in the hearts of the affluent, and justifies the need for a police force. The Bureaucracy is an excellent provider of jobs. Which is why none of the solutions suggested by the Left of the political spectrum would ever reduce bureaucacy or police numbers, or the benefits bill. For that would involve firing sub-paying members of Unite or the PCS, and Unite is by far the biggest funder of the Labour party.

The Conservatives, Iain Duncan-Smith especially, are aware of the above. They were just unprepared for the sheer effectiveness of the poor-farmers at defending their state-financed do-gooding jobs. The Tories tried to cut the number of benefits, simplifying the system. They have tried to work on the incentives by reducing withdrawal rates. And they have tried to limit benefits. No-one should be richer out of work than in.

The problem is the Conservatives blamed the poor for responding to incentives quite reasonably. The Left have a nice handy boogey-man to scare their charges into continuing to voting for a machine which is actually enslaving them. The poor are still trapped. Some policies that might have worked are only half-implemented. And life goes on. Unite the Union gets bigger, the bureaucracy gets more opaque.

So now I'm going to sing the praises of another surprising character: Nye Bevan the architect of the welfare state, who saw precisely the outcomes described above. Which he saw benefits as being low and universal, where possible, and contributory where not. Basically, everyone got a bit, and if you needed more, you had to have paid into the system at some point. Worklessness for life was simply not an option, so it didn't really happen. Bevan would have been horrified at what his system has become.

People need to advocate for the poor. What do they actually need? Options. And what does the system remove from them? Options. They cannot choose where they live, whether they prioritise transport or housing, food or clothing. They are given a house. Their housing benefit bill, incidentally distorts the housing market for everyone else too. They are made a pawn in someone elses game which involves stats and targets and certainly not the aspriartions of a human being at the bottom of the pyramid.

The only way we can ensure a decent standard of living for everyone is to provide a basic income below which it has been decided that no-one can fall, in perpetuity, for life. No work done will see that basic income withdrawn. So there's no disincentive to find what work is available. In return, we scrap the minimum wage, which prevents the poor and low-skilled having any means to improve their lot through effort. We stop taxing income and profits altogether reducing the costs of hiring people. We replace income tax, NI, council tax and corporation tax with a proper land value tax and a few pigou taxes. This means the poor will be able to escape taxation almost entirely, if they wish to live far away. And we stop demanding the poor account for their choices to people who want to help, but actually trap them in a bureaucratic hell.

The losers from this policy: The tens of thousands of civil servants who administer the thousands of pages of tax-rules. The hundreds of thousands of civil servants and local government employees who administer the benefits system (some of whom will be needed to administer a LVT). The winners are the poor, who will have real options once again and won't have to submit to the whim of the bureaucrat or fill in endless forms. This will also give options to the rest of us, and hopefully make the country a much, much better place to live.

The poor have the same Hierarchy of needs as the affluent. Would a system which didn't seek to crush their self-actualisation and didn't put barriers in the way of the social and human contact be better, not just for the recipients, but all the rest of us too? The problem is the system serves best those employed by it. It gives them a secure, well-paid job, and power over fellow humans. The poor deserve better. With options, you can bet few would choose the trap they're currently in. By freeing human talents from the trap, we're all wealthier. Give the poor what they need. And then leave them alone.

More redistribution. Less Government.

Where are the Right-Wing Comics?

They exist. They just don't shout about it, perhaps due to not wanting to be associated with 70's throwbacks like Jim Davidson. There are many who'd not describe themselves as "right", especially at the Libertarian end of the spectrum.

The problem is that comedy should always "punch upwards" taking aim at people in power. Conservatism is Traditionally about the defence of the status quo. The spectre of rich, smug people denigrating the choices of poor people is often cited as a reason for there not being "right-wing comedy", but this is a staple of left-wing comedy: Think of Labour-supporter, Harry Enfield's "The Slobs" or much of Little Britain. Indeed the assumption that rich people are the only people to benefit from "right wing" solutions, is part of the problem. People commissioning comedy don't mind laughing at the chavs, if there's a Labour supporter doing the laughing.

Listening to the 'now show' on BBC radio 4, where the song (series 41, episode 3, about 8 minutes in) lamenting the privatisation of the Royal Mail, was basically a paean to nationalised industry. Surely there are comics out there who can write a gag about how totally useless the Government's been at running everything, and why do they still run ANYTHING? If only for balance.

"But Labour are the butt of jokes too..." as they are. However attacking Labour from the left, and the Tories from the left isn't balance. It's advocacy. When Ed Miliband is the butt of jokes, it's about him being weak, or giving into right-wing policies. Tory policies and politicians are routinely derided as stupid, ignorant and heartless. This isn't balanced at all. What is political comedy for if not for challenging the entrenched ideas? Laughing at the Conservatives as they try to shrink the state bit is simply bullying by the new establishment, from a position of power. It's little better than the jokes about blacks moving in next door, from the 1970s.

Thanks to Labour, the state now spends 50% of GDP, borrows more than any peace-time government in history, and despite the cuts, is still doing so. The idea that all would be ok if only the Government had more to spend, has been tested to destruction yet comedians still set up their gags with the assumption that the cuts are unnecessary and evil.

We're the 6th largest economy on the planet, giving nearly 25% of GDP in direct fiscal transfer to the poor. Instead of this vast transfer of wealth reducing poverty, it has entrenched it. Surely naiive, but well-meaning social workers not ACTUALLY solving anything lest they lose their jobs could be the butt of the occasional joke? Surely left-wing politicians cynically fixing it so the poor are worse off in work, to ensure their nicely concentrated vote, could be the butt of a joke or two? Instead of comedians swallowing the Labour line about the 'bedroom tax' and regurgitating it for laughs, maybe, just maybe, they could point out the hypocrisy of the Labour position (they introduced a near identical policy for private tenants)? Or is that too much to ask?

There are ideas challenging the status quo - attacking corporations, not from a profit-shy left-wing perspective, but an anti-corporate welfare, small government perspective, which are crying out to be turned into comedy. Maybe, just maybe, the butt of the joke could not be a rich, posh guy after profit, but a spiv, abusing regulations to avoid competition? The predictable, but unintended consequences of popular but simplistic policy could surely be turned into comedy?

"Alternative comedy" in the 80s worked because it attacked the new power - Thatcher. The Ben Eltons and Alexi Sayles and the remaining political comics of the UK are too stuck in this narrative. It's Lazy to blame Thatcher and business for everything when she left power nearly a quarter of a century ago. The time is ripe for a new Alternative, attacking the lazy assumptions of a bloated state and asking where half our money goes, and why it achieves so little of what it sets out to do. Perhaps a comedian could find another punchline than "profit is bad" when talking of business?

Had I any talent at all at stand-up, I'd give it a go myself. In fact, there's an 'open mic' slot at my local... anyone want to help me write a few gags....

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