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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

Fischer–Tropsch

7 days ago

Not that we are making a prediction here, just pencil sketching in a possible route to viability. Andrew Orlowski points out that electric ‘planes, even hydrogen ‘planes, might not really work:Hydrogen can’t power the green flight revolutionAviation is an unforgiving battleground – review the physics and reality bites very quicklyWe’re willing to agree for the point of argument. But only up to the point that the suggestion is that the hydrogen go up with the ‘plane.Imagine that we do get to cheap, green, hydrogen. No, just imagine. If solar gets cheap enough then this will indeed be possible. Really cheap electricity from solar power, electrolyse water and there we are, cheap, green, hydrogen. What then? Fischer–TropschWe know how to do this. If we’ve hydrogen – and we know there’s no

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It is to giggle at the plans of bureaucrats and planners

8 days ago

We’re not holding out the Mail On Sunday as wholly and entirely accurate readers of the complexities of the insurance markets but:New rules requiring insurance companies to stop discriminating against loyal policyholders have unleashed a wave of industry-wide price increases, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. Customers are being hit by inflation-busting 20 per cent-plus premium hikes on home and motor policies renewing this month. The dramatic increases make a mockery of boasts made by the City watchdog that its rules would save loyal customers more than £4billion in premiums over the next ten years. Evidence collected by the MoS shows the price hikes are being imposed on those who have a longstanding policy with their insurer – the very people that the regulator says its rules are designed

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A little point about the costs of renewables

9 days ago

The International Energy Authority says that the solution to not having enough power from renewables is to build more renewables:Electricity prices and carbon emissions will keep rising unless more money is invested in renewables, the International Energy Agency has warned.Well, yes, although we’re not sure how having more windmills produces more electricity when there’s still no wind. However, snark aside, there is an important point here. One solution to the intermittency problem is said to be deliberately overbuilding. Say, sometimes solar only produces one third of rated power. Cloudy days say, or short winter daylight hours. So, overbuild by a factor of three.We have seen this seriously suggested. But here’s the problem. Rather the point of renewables is that near the entire cost is

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The British Museum and NFTs – exactly why we use markets

10 days ago

We do understand, it is the job of the newspaper columnist to suck teeth over the way society is going. And yet there’s a significant point to be made about the British Museum and their issuance of NFTs:The British Museum should think again on NFTsWe agree entirely, they – or it – should.Institutions could come to regret joining the rush to cash in on collections by issuing digital art tokensWe think that entirely possible.Leaving that debate aside, the two most likely outcomes are that NFTs soar in value, in which case those that sell them may face accusations having offloaded them on the cheap, or they crash in value, in which case sellers may face accusations for duping buyers. I will leave others to decide which of these two eventualities is more likely.We’d not agree that those are

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In praise of Freecycle and Buy Nothing groups

11 days ago

One can see the waved – and clenched – fists, hear the whoops of joy, as the hippies and communalists get one over on us capitalists and free marketeers:There are 7,000 Buy Nothing groups with more than 5 million members worldwide. But their appeal goes beyond the chance to swap everything from nettles to power toolsSee? People freeing themselves from the confines of hyperconsumerism!…but what distinguishes the Buy Nothing project from Freecycle, Freegle, Olio and their ilk is that the emphasis is less on stuff, per se, and more on community. In what Buy Nothing describes as its “hyperlocal gift economies”, users are encouraged to let items “simmer” rather than giving them away to the first person who asks, perhaps suggesting they share a joke or provide a story explaining why they would

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Just when we could be free

12 days ago

Brexit is, of course, a controversial subject. Something that should not be controversial about it is that food prices within the EU are higher than those outside it. On the grounds that the entire Common Agricultural Policy is designed to make this be so. With food the EU is a zollverein – yes, a seamless market inside but with high walls to keep the outside out there, outside.At which point we get this:But as an island nation outside of the Continental trading bloc, the UK is going to need domestic farmers more than ever, while the pandemic was a wake-up call to the importance of food production self-sufficiency.The correct conclusion is of course entirely the opposite. We are now free of that zollverein. It is possible for us, as it wasn’t before, to tear down those tariff and quota

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Bernard Levin told us to beware the Single Issue Fanatics

13 days ago

Not that we intend to pose as experts upon diet but:Analysis of the government-funded National Diet and Nutrition Survey revealed that 11 per cent of males aged 11 to 18, 54 per cent of females aged 11 to 18 and 27 per cent of females aged 19 to 64 consumed less than the minimum recommended level of iron. Only 2 per cent of males aged 19 to 64 consumed less than the minimum recommended level of iron. Red meat is a source of iron, though it is also found in beans and nuts.Givens said iodine deficiency was particularly worrying in young women approaching child-bearing age because it was essential for foetal health.He said milk was the biggest source of iodine for most people but relatively few plant-based milk alternatives were fortified with the mineral.We do grasp that idea that many have,

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So, how was the housing crisis solved then?

14 days ago

A rather good article by David Olusoga* contains this:While the 1921 census is a record of a moment of unique trauma, it arrives in the public domain at another fraught and disorienting point in British history, making it impossible not to draw comparisons between then and now.The nation of 1921, like that of 2022, was afflicted by a deep and socially corrosive housing crisis.The 20s didn’t in fact solve that housing problem although there was much trying to do so. There were advances, a possibly apocryphal story has Bath City Council declaring that a working man needed a garden large enough to grow the family’s vegetables plus the room to keep a pig. It is true that there are council built houses on the south of Bath today built at that time with enjoyably large gardens and they’re highly

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Petitio principii in defence of the NHS

15 days ago

One of the CEOs of one part of the National Health Service tells us that: These are the advantages of a single, taxpayer-funded, national system. A system with a proper national and regional infrastructure to support local trusts to work together to meet collective patient need, free from the requirement to maximise individual organisational profit.Ah, no, that is petitio principii, or begging the question. Assuming what it is necessary to prove. Health systems everywhere have dealt with covid these past couple of years. It is possible that the NHS, with its centralised, single, taxpayer-funded and no profit motive, system has done better than others which do not share those attributes. It is also possible that it has done worse. In order to praise that NHS structure – even to assume that

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We don’t believe a word of the ONS wealth statistics

16 days ago

Or rather, we’re entirely willing to believe the numbers presented, we just insist they’re not the relevant ones for decision making.The richest 1% of households in the UK each have fortunes of at least £3.6m, according to new official figures that show the inequality gap was yawning even before the pandemic struck.At the other end of the scale, the poorest 10% of households have just £15,400 or less, with almost half burdened with more debts than they had in assets, according to figures released on Friday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).It means the gap between rich and poor has widened to the largest in more than a decade. The ONS said the income inequality gap as measured by the Gini coefficient had “steadily increased to 36.3%”, which was “the highest level of income

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You can’t get the rich to pay for everything, they’ve not got enough money

17 days ago

Or, perhaps, you can’t get enough money purely off the rich to pay for everything without their leaving, or working less, or running into other of those inconvenient Laffer effects. This matters, more so for some dreams than others. Polly Toynbee starts out by insisting that we all really must be willing to pay more for the NHS. To which our answer is, as it always has been, that if the NHS is such a wondrous system, both more efficient and also more fair, then we should need to pay less for the same level of health care as other countries. The insistence that we must pay at least as much as others is, we insist, evidence that the efficiency claim cannot be true. However, Polly then goes on:In this forever undertaxed country the tax revenue is 33% of GDP, while the 14 EU states pay an

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History is a set of mistakes to avoid, not examples of stupidity to repeat

18 days ago

The worst of the varied attempts at electricity deregulation is probably California’s. The mistake made was to allow wholesale rates to move without control, while insisting that retail rates be capped. Worse, retail volumes were not, while prices were capped. This was such foolishness that it drove the once mighty Pacific Gas and Electric into one of its bankruptcies.Consumers in Britain have so far been spared from a surge in their bills because of the energy price cap, although this has had the side effect of triggering a wave of bankruptcies because suppliers were unable to pass higher costs on.It’s not a side effect, it’s an inevitable consequence.There is an argument in favour of having generalists in power. They might have a more rounded view of life than the mere economic

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Fake it ’till you make it

19 days ago

The Elizabeth Holmes trial – we have no problem with that or the verdict – is leading some to crow about the end of “Fake it ‘till you make it” as a guiding ethos in Silicon Valley. Something we insist is a mistake. For every act of entrepreneurship is exactly that. To a markedly less criminal extent of course, but the entire process of getting something new up off the ground is a wizardry of levitation: Holmes verdict an indictment of Silicon Valley’s ‘fake it till you make it’ ethosThis does not depend upon whether it is the state planning something or the individual get rich quick merchant flying a kite (kiting cheques is where it might stray over into being illegal).Consider, say, Concorde. It is possible to build supersonic aircraft but does the world want them? As it turned out the

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So Nick Stern was right in his Review – we’ve got to do it the cheap way

20 days ago

Agreed, this is only polling evidence but still:Soaring energy bills put Britons off paying higher taxes to save the planetThis is a point that the Stern Review addressed in some detail.Sixty per cent of Britons say that they are not willing to pay higher taxes on their energy bills to help reach the Government’s net zero targets, according to a poll.That people dislike paying more is not a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to the behaviour of human beings in the past. But then this is exactly the point that Stern made. Humans do less of more expensive things, more of cheaper. That’s how we derive those lovely demand curves. So, if we do the fighting the climate change the expensive way then we’ll do less fighting climate change. Simply because people – they being humans with this

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Isn’t the world becoming a better, cleaner, place?

21 days ago

From The Guardian:It’s an encouraging start to 2022. In an informal census – or perhaps a sort of watery award ceremony – the Wildlife Trusts’ marine review of 2021 has pointed to humpback whales off the north-east coast of Scotland and England, increasing numbers of seal pups being born, and seahorses in protected beds of eel grass off the Dorset coast.As has been noted, London’s air is now cleaner than it has been since 1306 and that first delivery of sea coal from Newcastle. Or, the environmental Kuznets curve is a real thing. As Maslow’s Pyramid points out humans have an hierarchy of needs and desires. Full bellies come first, then shelter, clothing and on. It’s only when baser desires are sated that attention turns to other desirables. Like, say, being able to breathe without

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We spy that cakeism the Prime Minister is so fond of

22 days ago

If we are to avoid the problem of trivial earthshakes from fracking (‘quakes is far too strong a word) and also to have our energy domestically produced we’ve got to put the windmills and the solar panels somewhere: Countryside campaigners have warned that swathes of rural southern England face being ruined by “massive industrialisation” if plans for one of the country’s largest solar farms are given the go-ahead.The approval of plans for a large solar power plant in Oxfordshire has sparked fears of a “tidal wave of solar farms” despoiling rural areas.There are now proposals for another four huge solar farms covering between 160 to 340 acres each, close to the Chiltern Area Of Outstanding Beauty and the north part the Oxford Green Belt.We have been known to recommend the blowing up of the

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Stop making laws about it, abruti

23 days ago

There is little we can do here except shake our heads in wonder at the fools just across the Channel. This goes beyond goofy and is accelerating through half-wittedness:A law banning plastic packaging for large numbers of fruits and vegetables comes into force in France on New Year’s Day, to end what the government has called the “aberration” of overwrapped carrots, apples and bananas, as environmental campaigners and exasperated shoppers urge other countries to do the same.Emmanuel Macron has called the ban on plastic packaging of fresh produce “a real revolution” and said France was taking the lead globally with its law to gradually phase out all single-use plastics by 2040.This does, specifically, include cucumbers. Which is something of a problem. One hand of the argument is that the

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This isn’t an entirely new observation

24 days ago

That conflict between political visions and actual economics: What if monetarists are right and German headline inflation – currently at a euro-era high of 6pc – proves stubbornly persistent?Germany faced this level of inflation during the Reunification boom of the early 1990s. The Bundesbank crushed it by raising rates 500 basis points to 8.75pc, and in the process blasted sterling out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, with potent political consequences for Britain’s relations with Europe.This time the ECB is persisting with negative rates even as Germany hits full employment and full capacity, and even as the ECB’s own staff union demands a 5pc pay rise.The central bank is continuing to soak up eurozone budget deficits with QE bond purchases on a vast scale, essentially shielding a string

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Just one of those little things that confuses

25 days ago

Yes, OK, EV revolution, save the planet, blah blah. And yet:Yet there are 25 gigafactories planned for the continent by 2030, according to BMI, as the industry races to keep up with soaring demand for electric cars. Nine of those are owned by Asian manufacturers, which control most of the global supply.The UK is arguably further behind the rest of Europe, with plans for only two gigafactories.It’s this idea that if you don’t, in fact, make it yourself then you’re behind. We have checked behind the sofas and all that and we here at the ASI seem to be remarkably short of steel making capacity. And yet we’ve never faced an inability to find some steel when we’ve wanted some. Seem to be shops all over the country piled high with the stuff in fact. Barring the possible odd tree at Kew the

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This is entirely vile from The Guardian

26 days ago

It’s difficult for us to constrain our anger at this suggestion:An alternative African strategy would see governments spending on public services and on increasing food and renewable energy sovereignty, while cracking down on corruption.This provides a way out of the current development trap. In their book Africa’s Last Colonial Currency, Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla suggest that, instead of importing food and burning through foreign reserves, African states should produce food at home, as land, work and knowhow are abundant. “If they financed the development of their agriculture, they wouldn’t reduce their foreign exchange reserves; on the contrary, they would save money.”State-owned enterprises and a competitive domestic private sector would help Africa evade activities demanded

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So, £20 billion seems to be the cost of current energy policy then

27 days ago

That combination of the price cap – a ludicrous idea – plus no fracking and the dash for renewables seems to have caused a £20 billion cost: Energy bills could treble unless the Government sets up a £20bn fund to help companies spread out the cost of soaring global gas prices, ministers were warned on Monday.That idea of the government setting up a fund to pay that bill – spreading it over all taxpayers – doesn’t decrease the cost of the policy mess of course. In fact, it would increase it. If people were facing higher costs for their energy consumption – absent the price cap – then they’d reduce their energy consumption making the cost lower.Ministers are under growing pressure to protect households from soaring energy costs as they face the threat of their bills doubling in a year.It’s

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Amazingly, we don’t believe Christian Aid about climate change damages here

28 days ago

We’re entirely happy to specify that if climate change is happening then there will be damages from climate change happening. Even, that if the process is getting worse then so will the damages. However, we don’t think that excuses this tosh from Christian Aid: The 10 most expensive weather disasters this year caused more than $170bn in damage, $20bn more than in 2020, a British aid group has found.Christian Aid said the upward trend reflects the effects of manmade climate change and added that the 10 disasters in question also killed at least 1,075 people and displaced 1.3 million.Each year, the aid group calculates the cost of weather incidents like flooding, fires and heatwaves according to insurance claims. In 2020, it found the world’s 10 costliest weather disasters caused $150bn in

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If only Will Hutton were able to make the necessary logical leap here

29 days ago

Will Hutton tells us that neoliberalism – capitalism and markets – is terrible, no good, horrible, because self-interest. And he then divines the truth of human nature:On the other hand, are the “we firsts”. They are equally passionate in their insistence that salvation lies in the group and society and convinced, whether on the climate emergency, hi-tech monopolies, crippling uncertainties about living standards or just the evident truth that we humans are altruists as much as individualists, that to follow the “me firsts” is the road to perdition. What is crucial to us as social beings is the group, society, the commonweal and belonging as equals. After all, it was associating in groups that was fundamental to our evolutionary capacity to hunt and to see off predators. That primeval urge

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We really shouldn’t be taxing companies at all

December 26, 2021

Current political philosophy is that companies should be taxed and then given tax breaks on things that politicians would like companies to do. This makes sense to politicians. A better suggestion might well be just not to tax corporates in the first place. There exists a large set of well-identified studies demonstrating that targeted R&D tax policies – such as R&D tax credits, deduction possibilities or subsidies – indeed increase firms’ R&D activitiesTax something, you get less of it. Tax privilege something you get more of it. This is not a great surprise. But now comes the next question:In contrast to this large literature, little is known about the possible disincentive effects of general profit taxes, which – unlike R&D tax credits – are in place in almost every country. From a

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Just a little note on that boy child thing

December 25, 2021

We note that there’s a complaint about how male focused health care is. Women are simply ignored:Finally the UK has noticed its rampant sexism in healthcare. What now?Analysis: acknowledging the shocking female health gap is only a first step – ministers must put money into reversing itThe 50% of men who die with prostate cancer (note, with, not of) might observe the funding concerning breast cancer and emit a little hollow laugh at that. In many countries men face greater health risks, but not in the UK. A study from Manual, a wellbeing platform for men, has found the UK has the largest female health gap among G20 countries and the 12th largest globally.Now that is an interesting finding given that the largest gaps against females are found in those places with the greatest equality – the

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Bless, Owen Jones has only just noticed

December 24, 2021

We’re not quite sure whether to applaud here – Owen Jones has noted reality – or hiss given how long it’s taken him. Public support for lockdown measures is disintegrating – a new approach is neededOwen JonesWell, yes. This is, of course, the basis of the Swedish approach. Us folks out here will only put up with restrictions on how we wish to live our lives for so long. So, limit such restrictions to when they are absolutely and wholly necessary. For use of them on the precautionary principle, just in case, will exhaust that willingness and we might in fact really, really, need it at some point.This must be why so few examinations of how Sweden has done through all of this are performed.But the point is rather larger and we do wonder whether Jones will be able to recognise the logical

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Costs don’t go away you know

December 23, 2021

The collapse of Bulb Energy – largely through not disposing of wholesale price risk to the speculators in The City – is leading to government carrying some rather large costs:The cost to the taxpayer of running Bulb, the failed energy supplier, could spiral by £1 billion or more as gas prices hit fresh record highs, according to industry estimates.The point we want to insist upon being that those costs don’t go away simply because someone else – in this case government – owns it. The idiot price cap means that the gap between wholesale and retail prices is there. Someone, somewhere, has to carry those costs. This principle is of wider application too. George Monbiot was earlier this week wittering about free health care. The NHS isn’t free, it surged through a cost of £150 billion a year

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This sounds like an excellent idea to us

December 22, 2021

The usual suspects are complaining and yet: In a joint letter to the foreign secretary, the group criticises the rebranding of the UK’s development investment arm, which will see the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) become British International Investment (BII) next year.“This new strategy and name change appears to repurpose BII as an institution that focuses solely on private-sector investment and profit-making, rather than development goals and poverty reduction,” write the 12 organisations, including Global Justice Now, the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (Cafod) and Unison.The last 40 years has seen the greatest reduction in human poverty in the entire history of our species. The cause has been the spread of capitalism and markets

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Ideological blindness is a terrible thing

December 21, 2021

Sonia Sodha, in The Observer, wants us all to know that the NHS really isn’t the national religion, that’s just a cheap jibe from Nigel Lawson. We may puff our chests in pride about it, fail to think rationally, but it’s not a religion, oh no. She also tells us this:The real story is this. Until 2010, the NHS had historically been given real-terms funding increases of 4% a year on average: not a sign of inefficiency, but of the fact that countries spend more on healthcare as they get richer, cutting-edge health technologies become more expensive over time, and ageing societies have more people who need more healthcare. However, over the past decade, the NHS has received the tightest funding settlement in its history, way below this average.Health care is indeed a luxury good – meaning that

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Imagine a world where the climate models are better than the covid ones

December 20, 2021

As we all know economists only make predictions to prove they’ve got a sense of humour. There is though one thing that economists do in fact get right about their models – probability.Fraser Nelson over at the Spectator finds that the covid modellers at Sage haven’t grasped this. Those Sage models and results are not adjusted for the probability of outcome, they are instead simply the results from extreme ends of the spectrum of possible outcomes.We do see exactly the same thing in much of the hyperventilating about climate change. Results from the RCP 8.5 model (A1 FI in the earlier SRES) are what drive all those tales of imminent droughts, London underwater (at the same time too) and the immediate turning of the Earth into Venus. They’re also wrong, in that we know that RCP 8.5 isn’t

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