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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

The government declares that gas boilers are better than heat pumps

13 days ago

The government has just announced that gas boilers, that old technology, are better than heat pumps, that new, green and wondrous technology. That’s what is actually meant by the newly announced ban:Gas boilers will be banned in all newly built homes within three years under the government’s plan to tackle climate change.If the heat pump option was in fact better for consumers then there would be no need for the ban. Everyone would naturally gravitate to the better solution because that’s how us humans work. It’s also how technological advance works. We observe, ooooh, that looks good, we adopt and that’s how change happens.The very insistence that the older technology many not be used is an admission, a declaration even, that the newer is not better.Media enquiries: 07584 778207 (Call

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It’s rare to see things so explicitly stated

14 days ago

Owen Hatherley tells us of that exciting future when there’s more council and social housing:We have long known what to do about a crisis of housing affordability: have local authorities build housing at social rents. The pandemic hit at a time when council housing had started to have a modest revival, including in Bristol, where several councillors are members of Acorn renters union. It’s possible that a mixture of council housing programmes, co-operatives and councillor support for tenants’ organisations could presage a future for the Labour left among those who rent their homes.That seems odd – why would people vote left to gain stuff if they’re already gaining the stuff to be gained by voting left? The answer:Whether you own or rent your home is a surer indication of voting preferences

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You first mateys, you first

15 days ago

The insistence that we should all go do something that the proposers, themselves, are not willing to do can make sense at times. Then again, it can at times be evidence of more than usually woolly thinking. We’re in that second part of the logical diagram here: Politicians from the UK, Germany and Spain have written a letter to Boris Johnson, calling for a four-day week to be implemented “now” so countries can begin the process of combatting the economic consequences of Covid-19.As the article itself refers to, in a point we’ve made before, there’s a problem here. Shorter working hours are something we do when we’re richer, leisure being a luxury good. Covid has made us poorer, this isn’t an obvious time to be considering working less.However:“For the advancement of civilisation and the

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To return to the costs of bureaucracy

16 days ago

Yesterday we noted that excessive health and safety bureaucracy leads to a reduction in health and safety. Today there is an international example of the same thing:A new polio vaccine has now been created to deal with these cases. It also uses a weakened live virus, but it has been genetically engineered to prevent it from mutating and becoming harmful. This new vaccine is now being tested, with funds provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others. However, the vaccine is not yet licensed. Not surprisingly, this is causing frustration as vaccine-derived polio cases rise alarmingly. As a result, many doctors and scientists are now urging the World Health Organization to use its emergency-use listing process to give them the go-ahead to use the vaccine now.We have the new and

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It’s possible to have entirely too much safety

17 days ago

On that Hayekian basis that knowledge is local, an example from the frontlines of rail safety: Network Rail has in place a scheme for managing track safety training and assessment. This is overseen by an outside body contracted by Network Rail – the National Skills Academy for Rail Engineering. On the face of it, this is a sensible scheme as the whole thing is designed to prevent fraudulent access to the track. Yes, back in the bad old days, track safety tickets were being bought and sold in the local pub, so something had to happen, hence the Sentinel scheme.The problem, however, is that eventually a system can become too top heavy. There then becomes a conflict between getting the job done and the onerous requirements for a safe system of work with its plethora of paperwork. I recall

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Lockdowns aren’t all that effective

18 days ago

A central contention of those who rule is is that we must be told what to do. For we are not wise, nor omniscient, while they are. Or at least closer to such distinguished states than we are. This does rather grate with Hayek’s great point, that knowledge is local, not centralised. So, in times like these, times of grand management of society by those oh so knowledgeable rulers, we’d like the occasional empirical test of either side of the contention.Which is just what we’ve got and the answer is that lockdowns – being told what to do with that firm thwack of central power – isn’t all that effective.Our analysis indicates that older cohorts cut their expenditures on high-contact goods and services indeed by much more than younger cohorts in all epidemic months (see Figure 1). For example,

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The importance of property rights

19 days ago

There’s something entirely true being said here:However, free markets do not exist in a vacuum and need a legal framework that includes strong property rights and freedom from corruptionQuite so, quite so. Property rights meaning, in the end, the ability to dispose of said property as one wishes. If you can’t do that then it’s not really, fully, yours. If, for example, it requires the voted agreement of the workforce to be sold then in an important manner ownership is split with the workforce. If it requires the acquiescence of the government then ownership is split with whatever group of baby kissers happens to be in office. This week, the Government introduced the National Security and Investment Bill (NSIB), which will allow it to block the takeover of companies in 17 key sectors,

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An error of logic on climate change

20 days ago

Well, this is good news:Reaching net zero carbon emissions in the UK is likely to be much easier and cheaper than previously thought, and can be designed in such a way as to quickly improve the lives of millions of people, a senior adviser to the government has said. Chris Stark, the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, the UK’s independent statutory adviser, said costs had come down rapidly in recent years, and past estimates that moving to a low-carbon economy would cut trillions from GDP were wrong.“Overall, the cost is surprisingly low – it’s cheaper than even we thought last year when we made our assessments. Net zero is relatively low-cost across the economy,” he said.Leave aside whether it needs to be done at all. If it does then it being cheaper is good, if it

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Pfizer’s vaccine is something of a blow for the Mariana Mazzucato thesis

21 days ago

Mariana Mazzucato tells us that technological advance comes from wise investments by the omnisicient and beneficial state. Her proof is that some technological advances have come from investments by the state. One answer to this is that given the state’s appropriation of 30 to 40% of everything we’d rather expect to gain the occasional snippet of a public good in return. That not in fact being a reasonable justification, instead we want to know whether state directed research and development is an efficient manner of gaining those desirable technological advances:“If it fails, it goes to our pocket. And at the end of the day, it’s only money. That will not break the company, although it is going to be painful because we are investing one billion and a half at least in COVID right now. But

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Spotting drivel in The Guardian from Tom Kibasi

22 days ago

Well, spotting innumeracy in The Guardian is not that unusual and full blown drivel has been known to appear. But when people propose a change to the tax system it really is incumbent upon them to understand the tax system we’ve already got, the one they’re desiring to change. This not being something apparent from Tom Kibasi here:That’s why it’s time for a simple but radical and fair reform to tax: tax all income in the same way, whether it comes from wealth or from work. It goes against basic fairness that tax rates on income from share dividends or capital gains are much lower than those from employment. A large share of the costs of coronavirus could be covered: abolishing capital gains and share dividend tax and instead putting all income on the income tax schedule would net around

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Protecting cultural heritage or stealing?

23 days ago

The preservation of culture, a culture, has its value, of course it does. A useful indication of this being when people, voluntarily, pay the necessary prices to preserve said culture. As and when the external culture changes, so that the society around decides that such preservational prices are no longer worth paying then, by definition, the preservation isn’t worth it by the standards of that surrounding society.Of course, it’s always possible to disguise this:Barcelona council has come to the rescue of some of the city’s most emblematic and best-loved bars by adding them to the list of protected sites and buildings. However, thanks to Covid-19 restrictions, you won’t be able to get a drink in any of them for at least the next few weeks. The city has added 11 bodegas to the list of 220

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Clarity of thinking is essential

24 days ago

We note this not to be mean to Mr. Colville for Robert is a thoroughly nice chap on the right side of most questions. However, this cannot pass without comment:On financial services, for example, the EU is not going to give us unrestricted long-term access to its markets…That’s not the right way ‘round to think of it. The purpose of trade is to be able to consume those imports. Thus the correct viewpoint is not will they open their markets to us but whether they will have access to the lovely things we make.The City is the prime financial market in Europe and arguably the world. The question is not whether those financial firms can sell in Europe, it’s whether Europeans gain access to the financial services they desire.This is true as a larger point about all trade restrictions, be they

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Surfers against sewage

25 days ago

We’d suggest that Surfers Against Sewage do a little work and acquaint themselves with the basics of cost benefit analysis:Water companies discharged raw sewage into bathing water beaches almost 3,000 times in the past year, polluting the environment and risking public health, new analysis shows. The discharges took place all over England and Wales, including at some of the most popular beaches.The study by Surfers Against Sewage, which publishes data on sewage releases as they occur, examines the notifications by water companies of effluent discharges over 12 months.The claim is that this led to 156 cases of gastroenteritis and the like. The solution to which is: Our ambition at Surfers Against Sewage is to end sewage discharge into UK Bathing Waters by 2030.More specifically, they are

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It’s easy – and enjoyable – to make fun of Johnny Foreigner

26 days ago

An amusement from France:Sales of foie gras fell 12 per cent last year and the pandemic has made matters worse. Producers are expecting a 20 per cent drop this year compared with last year. In response, the government has allowed unlimited cut-price offers on foie gras, while outlawing advertisements for the cheap deals.You may sell at any price you wish but cannot tell anyone about it. The contorted logic continues, as this is a rule that applies only to fois gras. Other comestibles may not be discounted in this manner:Retailers were banned from selling more than a quarter of any product at a knockdown rate or at less than 34 per cent off their list price.The reason why:The law was designed to ensure “a fair price” for farmers and “healthy, sustainable food accessible for everyone”. It

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It’s the management of the NHS that fails

27 days ago

Of course, having a near Stalinist bureaucracy is unlikely to lead us to a well managed service. But recent findings about the impact of Covid on cancer treatments should give pause:However, new analysis published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that increasing the wait to surgery from six to 12 weeks would increase the risk of death by around nine per cent. The scientists at Queen’s University in Ontario and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that even a delay of less than four weeks could not be justified.The calculated a four per cent increased risk of death for a two-week delay for breast cancer surgery.Across a wider range of cancers, a month’s delay to the start of treatment more broadly, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, was associated with an

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How excessively cool is this?

28 days ago

Simon Jenkins is terribly excited by a new website where it is possible to pay full price for books. We share that excitement:Good news from the high street. We don’t often read those words, least of all courtesy of the internet. The UK opening on Monday of the Bookshop website is a blood transfusion for independent bookshops and one from which all retailers can learn. The website is a mail-order circumvention of Amazon, selling books under the flags of more than 130 independent booksellers. Buyers order their book at a slightly discounted price after “entering” their chosen front door on the site and the shop duly receives the 30% bookseller’s margin.Isn’t that good news? Not that we would recommend you use the site, nor that you don’t. It’s something entirely for you to decide for

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One of those weird occasions when we find ourselves agreeing with Polly Toynbee

29 days ago

Quite which time honoured phrase to use here – from the mouths of babes and sucklings or possibly something about emperor’s new clothes – doesn’t matter so much as the actual point being made. I doubt the British government has learned the lesson: never again run down the country’s public health defences.Entirely so, we too think that government won’t learn the lesson here. Which is that communicable diseases are a problem, one that needs management and the state an its employees are a vital part of that solution.Which means that whatever – and whoever – it is that replaces Public Health England should be restricted to working upon the problems that stem from communicable diseases. Rather than the recent decades long haranguing us all about lifestyle diseases. What we smoke, eat and drink

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A wondrous piece of illogic

November 3, 2020

This is from across The Pond but we have our own domestics making much the same argument:Assemblyman Phil Steck has been leading the charge to stop sending the revenue back to Wall Street from the minuscule transaction tax. Such an act could net the state up to $19 billion a year. …."The tax is in sum and substance one quarter of one percent, it’s nothing . . . and according to data from Tax and Finance it was $1.6 billion in June alone," Mr. Steck said during a phone interview. "The present circumstances demand it . . .Teachers are being laid off . . .grant-based programs have been withheld. Upstate some of our education funding is all grant-based."This is indeed the argument made about a financial transactions tax (or the Robin Hood Tax) here. It’s a teensie, tiny, tax but it’ll raise

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The more incompetent government is the more libertarian we should be

November 2, 2020

There’s a certain logical confusion on display here in The Observer. Not that that’s unusual of course. The first claim is that to be concerned with the economy above lives is a mark of libertarianism: Understanding how this catastrophe occurred is of critical importance – for it cannot be allowed to happen again. Some may be tempted to conclude that our leaders took their eyes off the ball momentarily. It is not an argument that stands up to scrutiny, however. In fact, the causes of this month’s dramatic surge in Covid cases have their roots in policy decisions made by a government that has shown itself obsessed with libertarian issues since the start of the pandemic. This obsession led it to consistently play down Covid’s threat to our health while constantly highlighting its potential

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Dropping the degree requirement for lawyers

November 1, 2020

This is obviously a good idea:School leavers will no longer need to go to university if they want to become lawyers after regulators approved the biggest reform of legal education for a generation. Under the changes, which take effect from next September, people can join law firms as apprentices under the government’s “trailblazer” scheme. Then, after gaining mandatory work experience, they will be able to sit a new two-part solicitors’ qualifying exam to become fully qualified.As the article goes on to point out this is rather a return to the past. It used to be possible to do articles without having a degree. Instead something akin to an apprenticeship was done followed by the exam. Licensure still existed – you had to have the chitty to be a lawyer – but the degree wasn’t necessary to

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A clash of beliefs over food standards and imports

October 31, 2020

Varied media types who play at being farmers have decided to write to Ministers and MPs about standards for food imports. At the heart of their insistence is a clash of beliefs.No, not our beliefs against their or anything, but an irreconcilable illogic in their own beliefs:Importing low-quality agri-food products could force British farmers out of business as well as further degrade the environment. Neither we nor the public want this, as several surveys and petitions have shown.The problem here is that the importation of such “low-quality” foodstuffs doesn’t threaten the business of British farmers one iota nor whit.The purchase and presumably subsequent consumption of such items by British consumers very likely would.The claim is that said consumers don’t desire this cheap food may or

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The Anti-Slavery League did rather well actually

October 30, 2020

The Guardian reviews a new book discussing the abolition of slavery rather than the earlier killing of the slave trade. The implication of the review at least is that it took an unconscionable long time. In moral terms indeed, and yet as a political movement we disagree – it worked with stunning speed.The Interest is the story of how widespread and deeply rooted such attitudes were, how powerfully calls for abolition were resisted and why the British parliament nonetheless voted at last in 1833 to end slavery in its West Indian and African territories. In 20 brisk, gripping chapters, Taylor charts the course from the foundation of the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823 to the final passage of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.Only a decade? How quickly does anyone think societal change normally

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Those special laws will only ever be used in special circumstances, Oh Yes.

October 29, 2020

It is indeed true that there are at times special circumstances which lead to the need for special laws. There is also that slippery slope to be glissaded down. That second can indeed be a logical fallacy, for it to be true requires that the second and subsequent steps will necessarily follow.Which, we would argue, is true of those special laws for special times.Raniere was prosecuted under a law that was previously used to bring down the leaders of mafia organisations. Prosecutors said he maintained relationships with about 20 women who were ordered to lose weight and were not allowed to have sexual relations with anyone else. He was convicted last year on charges that included racketeering, sex trafficking and child pornography.RICO as indeed involved:The Indictment charges him with

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Which role of the state in the economy?

October 28, 2020

Whether there should be more – or a continuation of the current level of more – state intervention into the economy rather depends upon which problem we’re talking about and which state role in the economy. From Tom Kibasi:In economic terms, the pandemic is best understood as an epic, simultaneous supply-side and demand-side shock. Demand has collapsed as incomes have dropped and workers fear for the future, and at the same time the labour market has ground to a halt as normal working patterns have been disrupted. Structural shifts – such as the move away from high streets and hospitality to home entertainment and online shopping – are set to destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs, probably for ever. This is why the V-shaped recovery predicted by the Bank of England in May is nothing more

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Devolution works only if it’s actually devolution

October 27, 2020

John Harris argues for more devolution – we’re fine with the idea that decisions are taken at the appropriate level even if we do normally argue that that’s by the people, by individuals, rather than some level of government. Harris though hasn’t quite grasped the implications of what he’s demanding:Consider, for example, the southern German town of Rosenheim, which has a population of around 65,000, and was one of the virus’s early German hotspots. To quote the country’s health minister, as the authorities there got to work, “there were really no instructions from Berlin. Decisions were made locally, on the spot.” This is the very opposite of the approach taken here, a difference reflected in the fact that the UK’s death rate is around six times higher than Germany’s. But will anyone

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Entirely true, yes, and?

October 26, 2020

That Donald Trump fixates on manufacturing as some symbol of the health of the economy is true. That he’s not expanded it is also true. The correct reaction being yes, entirely true, and? The point being that the fixation itself is incorrect:Manufacturing, a centerpiece of Mr. Trump’s promise to Make America Great Again, sits at its smallest share of GDP in 73 years of data.This is used as a gotcha against Trump’s policies and actions. When the criticism should be of the concept itself. There is nothing special about manufacturing. It is not the foundation of all wealth creation, it is not something an economy must do in order to be able to do everything else. Manufacturing is simply one manner of combining scarce economic resources to produce value. If we find that we’ve other

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The British housing problem in a nutshell

October 25, 2020

Apparently there’s a thing called “garden grabbing”. Which is where people who have land a house can be built upon build a house upon that land. Tsk and don’t we just have to invent a phrase to condemn such behaviour? With the recent changes in planning law announced more people are inquiring about how to do this. Which seems, neatly, to tell us that the recent announced changes in planning law are going to lead to more housing. Within this report there is this though:The planning process is protracted and expensive, but if you can secure permission, the rewards could be big. Homeowners can increase the value of their land at least 10-fold by getting the green light to build on it, said Mr Bainbridge. “Say you had an acre paddock worth £10,000, if you got planning permission for one house,

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That planned economy nonsense again

October 24, 2020

As you may be aware we here are not grand fans of the idea of a planned economy. On the simple grounds that a planned economy never does provide what is the aim of any economy, that the people gain more of what the people want. By definition planning can only ever provide what the planners think the people might want or, as it actually turns out, what the planners insist the people should want. This inevitably leading to some pretty weird ideas of what should be wanted and what won’t be planned for as a result of an insistence that people shouldn’t want it.The most recent example being the lockdown in Wales. Wales lockdown: Supermarkets told to sell only essential itemsWell, what is an “essential” item? Supermarkets will be unable to sell items like clothesClothes are not essential items.

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It’s really important to understand value

October 23, 2020

This is from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation but it’s a common enough error out there. Common and pernicious: The textiles system operates in an almost completely linear way: large amounts of non-renewable resources are extracted to produce clothes that are often used for only a short time, after which the materials are mostly sent to landfill or incinerated. More than USD 500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilisation and the lack of recycling.This is nonsense. There is that foolishness about non-renewable resources of course. Cotton, flax, wool, silk, they’re all things that grow and so are renewable. As for the oil derived plastics the current complaint is that we’ve more of that raw material than we can allow ourselves to use. If we’re going to talk about water

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London has low damages from air pollution

October 22, 2020

The Guardian is, strictly, correct here:The health costs of air pollution from roads are higher in London than any other city in Europe, a study has found. Two other urban areas in the UK, Manchester and the West Midlands, have the 15th and 19th highest costs respectively among the 432 European cities analysed.The Guardian is also being horribly misleading even as they are that, strictly, correct. For they are telling us the gross amount of damage to human beings from that air pollution. Which, given that London is, by far (between two and three times larger than the next on the list studied, Berlin) the largest group of people being looked at seems reasonable, that it should be so. Even if the damage were 1 penny per person per year London would still be top of the list of shame of gross

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