Friday , October 18 2019
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Tim Worstall

Tim Worstall

Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

Articles by Tim Worstall

We entirely agree with Bernie Sanders

1 day ago

Bernie Sanders has hit the nail right on the head here. This is entirely correct: For too long, these greedy corporate CEOs have rigged the tax code, killed market competition, and crushed the lives and power of workers and communities across America.Well, OK. perhaps not entirely. But we do agree that killing market competition is a very bad idea. It’s the abnegation of everything that makes an economy work too. Sure there are problems with Bernie’s analysis:While the corporate profits that presently go to a small number of ultra-wealthy families are at or near an all-time high, wages as a percentage of our economy are near an all-time low.The American statistical system has its faults. One of which is that overseas profits earned by American corporations are included in that profits

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If only Extinction Rebellion actually understood matters

2 days ago

An interesting report in The Guardian:The world’s rising reliance on fossil fuels may come to an end decades earlier than the most polluting companies predict, offering early signs of hope in the global battle to tackle the climate crisis. The climate green shoots have emerged amid a renewable energy revolution that promises an end to the rising demand for oil and coal in the 2020s, before the fossil fuels face a terminal decline.The looming fossil fuel peak is expected to emerge decades ahead of forecasts from oil and mining companies, which are betting that demand for polluting energy will rise until the 2040s.But energy experts are adjusting their forecasts as clean energy technologies, including wind and solar power, emerge faster than predicted and at costs that pose a direct threat

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It’s a happy, but incorrect, thought

3 days ago

If only this were true:Free-market capitalism is supposed to be hard-wired into Tory DNA; the Conservative constant in an ever-changing world.There’s nothing either conservative nor Tory about free market capitalism. Obviously not conservative, for rather the point of the free market part is that the old must be open to being destroyed by the new. We’d also hesitate to describe capitalism as being dear to Tory hearts, given the social opprobrium so long aimed at those in mere trade. It was, after all, the Liberals – back that century and more – that were the party of trade and industry rather than land and reaction.Another way to look at much the same point is to note the battles Maggie Thatcher had with the Wets. Wet being rather the definition of not in favour of free market

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Mumsnet and Flora – in favour of consumer boycotts

4 days ago

We should note that we’ve no particular favourites in this race. Trans or anti-such, butter replacements or websites. We do insist though that this is how a liberal society works.The makers of Flora face a furious backlash after the company stopped advertising on Mumsnet because campaigners claimed the parenting website was transphobic. Mothers across Britain are now boycotting the firm that owns the margarine brand, which had responded to complaints by a ‘handful’ of transgender activists.As we say, we’ve no specific rider in the race but this is how the sport should be conducted.If you disagree with the morals, the stance, the activities or speech of some provider of whatever then you should indeed stop spending your money there. Mumsnet is a supplier of advertising services to Flora,

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Even The Guardian can’t be this ill-informed, can it?

5 days ago

It would appear that, yes, The Guardian can be this ill-informed. Ill-informed to the point of idiocy:With their huge monopoly markets and guaranteed rates of return, California utilities are attractive businesses for investors.They’re talking about PG&E here. They also mention:PG&E made shutting down its grid in dry, windy weather a core part of its wildfire management strategy in 2018, after the company faced $30bn in liabilities for their role in sparking two of the deadliest and costliest fires in California history. PG&E filed for bankruptcy shortly after.Bankruptcy is not normally thought of as attractive to investors. We could also note that PG&E was bust between 2001 and 2004 as well.Bankruptcy twice in two decades is attractive to investors? Seriously Guardian, get a grip. Media

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How terrible to be right about climate change

6 days ago

The Guardian wants all to know that it’s just terrible, horrible, that think tanks and the like might say the right things about climate change. Even, that people give money to people who say the right things about climate change:Google has made “substantial” contributions to some of the most notorious climate deniers in Washington despite its insistence that it supports political action on the climate crisis. Among hundreds of groups the company has listed on its website as beneficiaries of its political giving are more than a dozen organisations that have campaigned against climate legislation, questioned the need for action, or actively sought to roll back Obama-era environmental protections.Actually, the argument is over what to do. One example of this horrendous denialism is given

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Karl Marx’s solution to the Bangladeshi sweatshops

7 days ago

Much agonising over in The Guardian about whether the economic development of Bangladesh has truly brought benefit to the workers. Yes, lifespans are longer, diets are better, incomes higher. But, truly, have the workers benefited? The answer yes, you blithering fool, because incomes are higher, diets are better, lifespans are longer, is perhaps too simple for modern sophisticates. Or, as one of us noted after a trip there, the young and poor are significantly taller than the generation before them – that childhood nutrition has obviously got a lot better.But it’s worth applying properly Marxist logic to this situation. Karl himself pointing out what it is that raises the workers wages. When there’s that reserve army of the unemployed then anyone requiring more labour can just go and hire

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Why we shouldn’t be happy about the Stirling Prize

8 days ago

Of course we’re unlikely to enjoy the results of an award for new architecture given those standards of new architecture. There’s far too much still of the machines for living than there is of desirable homes. Still, perhaps this year’s winner of the Stirling Prize is different? One hundred years since the 1919 Addison Act paved the way for the country’s programme of mass council housing, the prize for the best new building in the UK has been awarded to one of the first new council housing projects in a generation. Goldsmith Street in Norwich represents what has become a rare breed: streets of terraced homes built directly by the council, rented with secure tenancies at fixed social rents. And it’s an architectural marvel, too.This ticks so many fashionable boxes. Council owned and built!

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Just what should a good progressive do here?

9 days ago

We just note, with modest glee*, the problems that can arise from being a good little progressive these days. Who is it that should be supported here on those banners when the march takes place to Trafalgar Square? Indigenous protesters have paralyzed roads around Ecuador and blocked a main highway into the capital in a fifth day of action against government austerity measures that have sparked the worst unrest in years, resulting in 477 arrests. The umbrella indigenous organization Conaie said demonstrations would continue until President Lenín Moreno withdraws last week’s measure to eliminate fuel subsidies.The problem being that protests against austerity are, from that progressive standpoint, obviously to be supported. Protests by the indigenous – which never does seem to include

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A puzzling thing to worry about

10 days ago

We’re told, in The Times, that there’s a certain gender segregation online:Online, men and women are often segregated, leading to regressive cultural views and threatening hard-won equalityIt’s also obvious that this is thought to be a bad idea. Which is ever such a little problematic.We’re back to that old economic point about expressed preferences and revealed. That point being that when we wish to know how people value something – anything – we should not be looking at what they say, rather what they do. It is only the second that reveals that true valuation.So, here. When able to freely associate by interest and style of conversation men and women tend to – always tend, this is never about an individual but averages – sort into different groups:YouTube and Reddit are mainly male

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What, exactly, do we expect about bank branches?

11 days ago

The Sunday Times tells us that as bank branches close they do so disproportionately in poorer areas of the country. Or among poorer people perhaps. Well, yes, we suppose so. What would anyone expect to be happening?Abandoned: how the poor lost bank branches but the rich kept theirs There has been a shocking rate of bank closures in Britain’s hard-up and less well-connected areas.We have a new technology which is a substitute for the old. True, internet banking isn’t exactly the same as the physical kind but then no substitutes are perfectly so.Some part of the old way of doing things will give way to the new. Obviously enough it’ll be the less profitable part of the old which switches over to that new.That banking to those with little money is less profitable than banking to those with

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It’s only ever the excuse that changes

12 days ago

We’ve another of those calls for global economic management and control. For the transfer of rich country resources to poor. A reminder that it’s only the excuse that changes in this matter:As our climate emergency unfolds with the economic and ecological instability that it wreaks, we need to again consider a host of new pan-national institutions to tackle this threat. The effects of the climate crisis will be most extreme for people in the global south. It requires massive investments, as much as an additional $2.5tr per year, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which current financing and institutional arrangements appear unable to fulfil. We would need to ensure financial stability and a mechanism for the transfer of resources through an international

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Pecunia non olet laddie

13 days ago

The BP-funded scheme provided 16 to 25-year-olds with £5 tickets to RSC productions. That’s a noble cause but in 2019 BP looked like an odd sponsor. Why should young people accept free theatre tickets from a company that is contributing to the destruction of their futures?One answer being that pecunia non olet – money has no smell. If cheap tickets are of value then it doesn’t matter where the money is coming from. But rather more important is that it’s not BP doing the damage. It’s the people using BP’s products that are – whatever damage that may be. It is not the person who extracted the petrol responsible for the emissions of my driving to the shops. It’s me, the person doing the driving to the shops.The youngsters taking a diesel powered bus – a fossil fuel produced electricity

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The entirely trivial effect of formula milk on climate change

14 days ago

We’ve much huffing and puffing about the costs of formula milk. That, instead of the human draught kind, creates the emissions that damage the environment when used to feed babies.Breastfeeding for longer could help save the environment, scientists have said as they reveal Britain’s poor rates cause the equivalent of 77,000 cars worth of damage. Experts at Imperial College London have for the first time calculated the harm to the planet from infant formula.They found that, not only does it produce significant amounts of greenhouse gas due to the in creates for dairy cows, but it also depletes water and electricity, as well as producing waste.Everything has costs as well as benefits. The important question is what’s the balance between them? The Imperial team calculated that breastfeeding

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Censorship powers will be used to censor, obviously enough

15 days ago

As the folk wisdom has it, be careful what you wish for because you might get it.A common enough refrain these days is that people really shouldn’t be allowed to say that. The “that” changes with the person doing the insisting but transphobia by misgendering, climate denial, absolutely anything at all that can be twisted into a definition of racism and so on. Those who use their Twitter, or Facebook, other social media accounts, to do so must be purged from that town square.To the point that some are insisting that the platforms must be out under strict responsibility to make sure that such things cannot be said on them. Be careful: Singapore’s new law to combat “fake news” has come into effect despite criticism from tech giants and activists, who labelled the tough rules a “chilling”

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Worth pondering what actually would make us bad ancestors

16 days ago

An argument being deployed to insist that we must do everything, right now, to beat climate change:Bad ancestors: does the climate crisis violate the rights of those yet to be born? Our environmental vandalism has made urgent the question of ethical responsibilities across decades and centuriesAn interesting question to ask and one that deserves an answer. A compete and correct answer including all the other things we might do for our descendants. For example, we might bequeath them a much larger economy so that they are richer. Being richer is generally thought to lead to living a more comfortable life after all.We can also look back and think of what we’re happy we have been left by our own ancestors. Most of us here in the UK are pretty happy with the idea that absolute poverty – that

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Why you might not want to get your economic analysis from the New Statesman

17 days ago

There are limits as to how far into the wilds even we’re willing to go in order to study economic incomprehension which is why we’ve only just discovered Grace Blakeley, economic correspondent at the New Statesman.Her analysis of what ails Britain makes the usual British left wing mistake of confusing the capitalism/socialism divide with that of markets and planning. The first is about who owns and there’s no doubt that swathes of the economy do work better if it’s the people doing the actual work. What is self employment, or even a partnership, other than worker ownership? Equally, the workers in a steel plant or oil refinery are going to have serious trouble in raising the capital for the tools they work with. Outside capital is a necessity and that’s capitalism. The second is really

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Finally The Observer gets something right

18 days ago

Sadly it’s in the letters page but still, an advance on matters as usual:Stop killings: legalise drugs Deaths from drug turf wars will continue until we legalise drugs (“How London tourist hotspot became a flashpoint for drug gang killings”, News). Drugs should be treated like cigarettes. They should be legal, they should be taxed, packaging should show graphic health warnings, the strength (and, of course, purity) should be controlled, making them safer, and there should be no advertising. Banning drugs does not stop consumption; it merely hands over a massive business to criminals, making it impossible to tax and impossible to regulate.Richard MountfordWe would add two things. The first being that there’s that liberty and freedom argument. The one we consider rather important. Freedom is

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When public policy collides with reality

19 days ago

It’s usually reality that wins when there’s a conflict with what those making public policy would wish were true. This being a useful lens through which to consider proposals for public policy of course:Mr Goldsmith said: “The fight against trophy hunting of endangered animals matters. It is clear that it is morally indefensible and that is why I am delighted that the Conservative Government will consult on a ban on the import of these trophies. By placing a higher value on animals alive rather than dead, we will begin to turn back the tide of extinction.”The last sentence works. We humans work that way which is why it does. Things that are of higher value we preserve, even produce more of them. So, yes, we would like to make those endangered animals worth more. Banning trophy hunting

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Of course The Guardian would put it this way

20 days ago

Boris Johnson’s pledge to raise the threshold for the top rate of income tax from £50,000 to £80,000 would cost £8bn a year and boost the incomes of the highest-earning 8% of the adult population, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The policy would take 2.5 million people out of paying higher-rate tax, more than reversing the increase over the past three decades, the tax and spending watchdog said. About three-quarters of the tax benefit would go to the highest-income 10% of households.It’s the word “cost” in there which is misapplied. Not taxing someone, or some group, is not a cost. It might well be a reduction in the public revenues but even that is not a cost. It is, of course, a benefit. The price of government weighs more lightly upon the shoulders of the population.It’s

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About that 7 degrees temperature rise by 2100

21 days ago

Ambrose Evans Pritchard tells us of new climate change research:We have a choice. Either we fight runaway climate change with liberal market policies and capitalist creativity, or we cede the field to Malthusians and the Green Taliban. Retreating into denialism – or more corrosive these days, into shoulder-shrugging nihilism – will not cut it. Last week the France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) warned that global warming could reach seven degrees by the end of the century under current policies.As we’ve been saying for a long time now – and as people shout at us for saying – something is going to be done about climate change. The political head of steam exists and the idiots are going to enact something or other. The task therefore is to push that enacting over to

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The problem with Orkambi

22 days ago

Orkambi is a very expensive drug to treat a relatively rare condition, cystic fibrosis. Jeremy Corbyn is suggesting that a Labour government would break the patent and manufacture a generic version. There’s a problem with this idea:Labour has pledged to create a publicly-owned company to make cheap versions of medicines the NHS needs but cannot afford, such as Orkambi, which is denied to thousands of children and young people with life-shortening cystic fibrosis.The problem being exactly the argument that is being used in support of the plan:Orkambi campaigners welcomed Corbyn’s speech. Christina Walker, Luis’s mother, said: “My child’s future is being put in jeopardy by the behaviour of one pharmaceutical company: Vertex. “But it’s not the first or the last time that excessive profits

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We’re quite taken with this idea of making ecocide a crime

23 days ago

Michael Mansfield has an idea for us all:That late-night kebab might be considered a guilty pleasure, but could it one day be seen as a crime against the planet? Will the time come when the only means of procuring a slab of Aberdeen Angus is from a dodgy dealer with a cool box? The barrister Michael Mansfield has suggested that we should have new laws against ecocide – practices that destroy the planet – and that under them, meat could be targeted. “I think when we look at the damage eating meat is doing to the planet, it is not preposterous to think that one day it will become illegal,” he said.The thought is that people who destroy the environment – that’s the ecocide – should be prosecuted and jailed, along the same lines as those who commit genocide.We do see the merits to this. The

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The seeming absurdity of a Hayekian welfare state

25 days ago

Or perhaps not so absurd, this is a point that we’ve been making around here or some years now. There’s a difference between a high tax and high redistribution society and one in which government actually tries to do things. The second, once government goes beyond what really must and can only be done by government, doesn’t work well. The first is rather more to taste.To explain the coexistence of economic freedom and big government, this paper distinguishes between big government in the fiscal sense of requiring high taxes, and big government in the Hayekian sense of requiring knowledge that is difficult to acquire from a central authority. The indicators of government size in measures of economic freedom capture the fiscal size but ignore the Hayekian knowledge problem. Thinking about

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Carbon abolition misunderstands the entire climate change problem

26 days ago

Talk about entirely missing the point:It is time to do this for climate change: to make human carbon pollution illegal in every country in the world. It is time for a “carbon abolition” movement, to put an end to emissions.The justification for this is:Human-induced climate change is a moral wrong. It involves one group of humans harming others. People of this generation harming those in future generations. People in the developed world harming those in the developing world. Each of us is emitting carbon that is harming those caught in climate-driven superstorms, floods, droughts and conflicts. And there’s the greatest moral wrong of all – the mass extinction event we have triggered that harms all life on Earth. Yet until recently, climate change has not been argued as a moral issue.

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The actual problem with the Green New Deal

27 days ago

Both here and in the US there’s this thing called the Green New Deal. A vast and transformative project to, well, actually, to move the world over to an entirely different economic structure. The claimed justification being the need to deal with climate change. Caroline Lucas is to launch the proposal for legislation. There’s a problem with it though:It’s been more than 10 years in the making, and is the top demand of the youth strikers gathering on Friday for the UK’s largest ever climate protest – which is why Friday is also the first attempt in Britain to put legislation in place to make a Green New Deal a reality for our country. Working with the Labour MP Clive Lewis, I am launching the full version of a Green New Deal bill (formal title, the decarbonisation and economic strategy

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George Monbiot falls for a spoof – and is wrong to boot

28 days ago

The advantage of a newspaper over whoever just publishing stuff on the internet is those teams of editors who have a look at stuff before the print button is pushed. Well, sometimes:The most expensive yacht in the world, costing £3bn, is a preposterous slab of floating bling called History Supreme. It carries 100 tonnes of gold and platinum wrapped around almost every surface, even the anchor.That’s actually a spoof press release from 2011 rather than an extant boat. Still, at least The Guardian manages to spell its own masthead correctly these days. Most days.Sadly the credulity doesn’t stop there.Immense wealth translates automatically into immense environmental impacts, regardless of the intentions of those who possess it. The very wealthy, almost as a matter of definition, are

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Sirius Minerals and the imminent global shortage of potash

29 days ago

One of the usual claims from the wilder shores of the environmental movement is that the world is about to run out of potash. This would be a problem, if true, because that’s the way that we get water soluble potassium into the soil so that we can grow plants to feed us all. The alternative is to try organic farming, using manure, and also ploughing up all the land we currently leave nature to thrive in.As we’ve discussed before the claim is nonsense in itself. Because the measurements are being used are those of “mineral reserves”, the definition of which is “here’s what we prepared earlier for us to use in the near future”. What mineral reserves aren’t is “here’s all that we can use”. The most obvious point about this being that our using up, in the near future, what we’ve prepared for

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Why not, you know, just spend less money?

September 18, 2019

A report that tells us that farming globally is hugely subsidised. Also, that such money should be spent in another manner. We agree, it should be. $1m a minute: the farming subsidies destroying the world – report ‘Perverse’ payments must be redirected to measures such as capturing carbon, report saysWe do have a slight and small quibble with the insistence there though.The public is providing more than $1m per minute in global farm subsidies, much of which is driving the climate crisis and destruction of wildlife, according to a new report. Just 1% of the $700bn (£560bn) a year given to farmers is used to benefit the environment, the analysis found. Much of the total instead promotes high-emission cattle production, forest destruction and pollution from the overuse of fertiliser.The

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The interesting implication of Baumol’s Cost Disease

September 17, 2019

Sadly, letters to The Times need to be short:BAUMOL’S THEORY Sir, Harry Wallop (“Going shopping? Here’s the proof that you’ve never had it so cheap”, Sep 13) wonders why university, theatre and healthcare have risen in price while women’s shoes, calculators and tennis rackets seem to have fallen. It’s called Baumol’s cost disease. As a society gets richer manufactured items will fall in price relative to services. It’s one reason why the NHS budget has to increase faster than general inflation every year.Tim WorstallSenior fellow, Adam Smith Institute, London SW1It’s the “what do we do next” part of this which is so interesting.The observation is that wages – the costs of labour – are set by the general level of productivity in the society. Further, that it’s easier to increase

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