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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 terrors of British land ownership

2 days ago

A report trying to warn us about how unfairly, terribly, land ownership is distributed in Britain. Why, the place is still owned by aristocrats!Half of England is owned by less than 1% of its population, according to new data shared with the Guardian that seeks to penetrate the secrecy that has traditionally surrounded land ownership.The findings, described as “astonishingly unequal”, suggest that about 25,000 landowners – typically members of the aristocracy and corporations – have control of half of the country.To claim that corporate ownership is a problem is itself problematic. For what do we mean by a corporation?The list is headed by a large water company, United Utilities, which said that much of its land consisted of areas immediately surrounding its reservoirs.UU is ultimately

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Our bet is that this study about ocean plastic pollution will be misused

3 days ago

A new study talking about plastic pollution in the oceans. This is about “macroplastic”, the bits that can be seen and felt. We would lay good money at even odds that this study will be misused by campaigners:Plastic pollution has got 10 times worse in seas around Britain since 2000Sounds bad:Plastic in the North Sea is 10 times worse than at the start of the century, a study by British scientists has found.Researchers looked at records from a plankton sampling mission which has been trawling the North Atlantic and surrounding regions since 1957.They found that before 2000, the little torpedo shaped collection device would become snagged on large bits of plastic rubbish on fewer than one in 200 outings.But now researchers are forced to untangle plastic bags, fishing equipment and other

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The fracking earthquake rules aren’t a mistake, they’re the point

4 days ago

Jim Ratcliffe at Ineos is threatening to take his ball home over the rules about earthquakes and fracking. As of course he’s every right to, if the conditions for investment are unattractive then entrepreneurs can indeed go and do something else and elsewhere. This being one of the points that sensible people continually make, make taxes too high, regulation too restrictive, and new things won’t be appearing any time soon. Over time the country will be poorer than if taxes were lower, regulation less restrictive, as a result of that onward march of the application of technology which doesn’t happen.With respect to fracking though this is the point of the regulatory regime:Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos has launched a stinging attack over the way fracking is being regulated, claiming the

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How to reduce available rental housing and push up rents

5 days ago

The terms upon which a contract is struck do rather change the price at which it is concluded. We just say this with the Stagecoach/Virgin negotiations over a rail franchise. Being left with unknown and possibly open ended charges to fill a pensions deficit meant that no price could be reached at all.Which is the sort of thing that should be kept in mind when contemplating this:Landlords will no longer be able to evict people at short notice without good reason under plans to create “open-ended tenancies”.Theresa May will bring an end to "no fault" evictions which give tenants as little as eight weeks’ notice after their fixed term contract has come to an end.Landlords will instead have to take tenants to court and provide “legitimate reasons” for removing people from their properties.The

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A certain failure to grasp the basics here

6 days ago

That there is a long line of people desirous of social rentals is taken to be evidence that there’s a shortage of social rentals. Demand far outstrips supply that is. Well, yes, but that is to miss that very basic point about the trifecta of demand, supply and price. Of course there are many people desirous of something at half market price:Yet, according to housing charity Shelter, there are there are more than 1.1 million households on social housing waiting lists in England. Fewer than 273,000 homes at social rents, which are typically half of market rents, were made available in 2017/18 – a difference of more than 840,000 homes.That market rent is the price of providing that housing. Including opportunity costs of course and if we’re not going to consider opportunity costs then

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This seems perfectly acceptable to us too

7 days ago

This is about American practices but still:When my kids started pre-kindergarten in New York last year, the school issued parents with a long list of items to buy and bring in. This was not, as in state school in Britain, a list of uniform and PE kit requirements but rather necessities including paper towels, glue sticks, a year’s supply of paper plates and plastic cutlery, cups, napkins, board markers, crayons and packing tape. Classroom supplies, in other words.These donations were discretionary; no one was going to yell at you if you didn’t bring them in. And in the sheer volume of stuff being asked of each parent – for two kids in separate classes, it was way too much to be carried in on a single trip – the tacit understanding was that those who could afford it were providing for those

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The effects of Big Tech on competition

8 days ago

As we can observe – and it’s not just Elizabeth Warren making stuff up over in the US to give her an election campaign issue – there’s an awful lot of concern about the monopolistic effects of Big Tech out there. Regulate, break up, above all proffer more power to the bureaucracy than to those private market actors.At which point we can try to consider the actual effects of Big Tech on the only human economic unit of any importance, the household. Has the irruption of online into the marketplace increased or reduced competition? For, sure, we can observe large companies out there and assume we’ve greater market concentration. But does that hold at that household level? One cute possibility is to look at the UK supermarket industry. Over the years we’ve had several investigations into

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The correct question in the modern world is “Are we being cynical enough?”

9 days ago

Paranoia definitely exists and so too is it true that sometimes they really are out to get you. Of course, why shouldn’t the State have a duty to ensure that all children are educated? But there’s also that possibility that those doing the educating will have more than just the 3 Rs in mind when they define what is an education. Possibly – and we mention this only as a bat’s squeak of a maybe – there is a thought that propagandising to the young will force them into growing up with certain viewpoints. Say, that the radical transformation of society is necessary to stop climate change. Or that absolutely everything must be recycled in violation of any commonsense rules.Thus there would be an insistence that certain parts of said education must be enforced, so as to make sure the entire

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Asthmatics, use that inhaler whenever – those climate change emissions are trivial

10 days ago

The latest alarm over climate change is that inhalers used by asthmatics – you know, to stop them dying? – produce the sort of emissions which contribute to that climate change. And sure enough they do, as do near all the other things we do to stay alive. The important question here is always, well, how much? And what is the cost of those emissions and what the benefit? The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has issued new guidance urging sufferers, where possible, to avoid using the most popular type of inhaler, known as a metered dose inhaler (MDI).Making up around 70 per cent of inhaler prescriptions – approximately 26 million a year – MDIs contain propellants known as hydrofluorocarbons, which are powerful greenhouse gasses.The first time Nice has assessed the

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The French appear to be rediscovering Colbert

11 days ago

France might have discovered an interesting truth here. That it is possible for taxation as a whole to be too high for the society to willingly carry.France must slash taxes, fast.That, according to the French prime minister, is the main message from an unprecedented three-month “great debate” in the wake of anti-government “yellow vest” protests.Unveiling the findings from two million online contributions and 10,000 hours of town hall debates around the country, Edouard Philippe said on Monday that “huge exasperation” over the level of taxation was a prime concern."The debate clearly shows us in which direction we need to go: we need to lower taxes and lower them faster," Mr Philippe said in a speech in the Grand Palace in Paris.Well, yes, when you’ve some hundreds of thousands repeatedly

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Social workers on agency rates – we need to abolish national pay scales

12 days ago

The Guardian tells us that local councils just can’t find the staff these days. Social workers are being hired through agencies, on locum conditions, rather than being directly employed by the correct social services. We don’t doubt their data but they do seem remarkably uninterested in the reason why this is occurring, that essential precondition to being able to design an answer: Local authorities are having to spend millions of pounds on social work agencies as they struggle to recruit permanent staff, with some authorities employing nearly half of their children’s social workers through private companies, a Guardian investigation has found.Data obtained through freedom of information requests shows that many English councils are routinely spending tens of millions of pounds – a total

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Well done to the unions, entirely missing the point of contracting out

13 days ago

The complaint here is that NHS pay is at one level. Because, you know, Our Angels in Blue and all that. But those who are cleaners and washers up in the NHS doesn’t get these rates of pay because they’re contracted out. Yes, this is the point of the contracting out:Tens of thousands of NHS workers are struggling to get by on the minimum wage because their private sector employers are failing to match public sector pay rises.The estimated 100,000 low-paid cleaners, porters, security guards and catering staff who work for private contractors in hospitals across England are being treated as “second-class employees”, thanks to a growing pay divide between public and private sector workers, according to the country’s leading health union….The union wants everyone employed within the NHS to be

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Compare and contrast with Freakonomics

14 days ago

The Times tells us that those estate agents which charge a higher commission tend to overvalue properties. This is so as to gain the contract to sell said property of course.Estate agent chains are overvaluing properties by up to a fifth in a practice that can mislead sellers into paying higher rates of commission, an investigation by The Times has found.Analysis of more than 200,000 properties listed online reveals that overvaluations are rife, with the biggest agents the worst offenders.The data suggests that agents with the highest commissions are over-valuing properties the most to attract homeowners. The properties then sell at lower prices, but the agents take big fees. Nearly two thirds of homes listed by Foxtons, the biggest agent in London, have to be reduced from their initial

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The difference between legal drugs and legal trade in drugs

15 days ago

We’re really rather firm in our belief that drugs should be legal. Ingesting adults should be able to ingest as they wish – that’s what being consenting and adult means in a free and liberal society. This is also one of those areas where the Good Fight is being won and we are returning to Victorian levels of liberty. However, there’s a great deal more resistance to our second insistence upon the subject, that this must also mean the freedom for people to produce, package and market those very same drugs. As an entirely legal enterprise.This being a good example of why:Buying, selling and importing cannabis is against the law in Spain, as is using it in public – although it is technically legal to grow it for personal use, provided it is not publicly visible, and to consume it in private.We

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Time to boogie – English declining as the language of pop

16 days ago

We could mourn the manner in which English is decreasing in importance as the language of pop music. Our gift to the world now declining in importance in a sad reminder of our own relative decline – but we’ll leave that sort of stuff to the worrywarts on the opinion pages. We would rather point to what a glorious event this is: English losing crown as unofficial language of pop, as streaming sees Asian and Latin American music climb global chartThere are two ways to explain this:Songs performed in Spanish, Chinese and Korean are enjoying rising success worldwide, an industry report found.A report from the International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry (IFPI) found that while sales of music in Europe grew a very modest 0.1 per cent in 2018, Latin America grew by 16.8 per cent and

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Sure, air pollution’s a problem. So, what should we do about it?

17 days ago

A report telling us that large areas of the world suffer from air pollution. The thing being, well, what should we do about this?The life expectancy of children born today will be shortened by 20 months on average by breathing the toxic air that is widespread across the globe, with the greatest toll in south Asia, according to a major study.Air pollution contributed to nearly one in every 10 deaths in 2017, making it a bigger killer than malaria and road accidents and comparable to smoking, according to the State of Global Air (SOGA) 2019 study published on Wednesday.Perhaps the first thing is to understand what the report is actually telling us. For example, the highest exposure over a large area to the PMI stuff – the little bits that get stuck in the lungs – is in and around the Sahara.

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So, how much of this government stuff should we have then?

18 days ago

An interesting if not wholly entire paper looking at how much government is actually necessary. The answer is, which will surprise those to the left of us, not just more than we have. In fact, about 35% of GDP is all that is necessary. Which is, amazingly, about the amount we have and rather less than many of our soon to be no longer confreres in the European Union.Governments across the rich world squander billions every year on inefficient spending and could slash budgets without harming either services or the economy, new research has found.Good performance in almost every area, from health and education to infrastructure and economic performance, can be achieved on relatively low levels of spending.Efficient government can provide the best of both worlds with a budget amounting to less

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We seem to have solved that diabetes problem then, no need for more laws

19 days ago

A standard point around here is that the existence of some problem does not justify yet more action to solve that problem. What we should – and need – to be doing is to look at how much of that problem remains after whatever it is we do to reduce it. Only then can we see whether we need to be doing more, less, or just carry on, in our solution to the ailment.For example, looking at market incomes tells us nothing about how much tax and redistribution should be done to reduce inequality. It is only looking at post-tax and post-benefit incomes, and by preference moving over to looking at consumption not income, that can possibly tell us that more needs to be done or not. Climate change may well mean that we’d prefer there to be fewer coal fired power stations in the future. But that requires

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It’s amazing what we don’t get told at times

20 days ago

Phillip Inman tells us that it’s all very bad indeed, the manner in which “austerity” has been exported from the rich countries to the poor. The thing is, he uses Mozambique as one of his examples:It is in this atmosphere that the west has turned away from even the most emotional pleading, such as the calls for Mozambique to be supported with a debt write-off following the devastation left by cyclone Idai. According to the IMF, Mozambique is among six out of 35 low-income countries in the region that are in “debt distress” – in default and unable to service outstanding loans.Well, yes, very poor place, badly hit by that cyclone, very high debts too. Except, except, therre is more to this, something we should know:Mozambique’s Minister of Economy and Finance, Adriano Maleiane, has said the

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Factortame probably did have something to do with Brexit, yes

21 days ago

Factortame was an uninteresting case over who could access fishing quotas. Factortame was also a hugely important case concerning who rules? The answer being that it’s them over there, Brussels, which does. This does indeed have something to do with where we are now with Brexit:Carl Gardner, a former government lawyer who has negotiated for the UK and defended the government in the European courts, says that while the decision came as a shock to the British legal system, it came as “even more of a shock to the political system”.He suggests that along with the Maastricht Treaty in the early 90s, the decision in Factortame helped stoke Euroscepticism.“The experience made politicians more defensive of sovereignty,” he suggests. He also believes the “scars Factortame left” are reflected in the

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The problem is that the algos, the robots, the AIs, they should be biased

22 days ago

We’ve a fundamentally flawed movement over there on the left concerning this brave new world of algorithms, robots and artificial intelligences. For there’s an insistence that they must all be coded so as to be non racist, non-discriminatory along any of the currently fashionable axes. This being entirely the wrong idea of course.The root of the demand is that age old insistence that we can make the world to be something other than it is. As Brecht said, elect another people, or await that New Soviet Man that would actually make socialism work. That’s not actually how human societies work: For people directly harmed by the fast-moving and largely unregulated deployment of AI in the criminal justice system, education, the financial sector, government surveillance, transportation and other

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If only Waterstones staff read the authors they sell – say, Adam Smith

23 days ago

At least we assume that Adam Smith’s works are sold in Waterstones. Even if not it would be worth the staff currently complaining about their wages having a read. For one of the points that Adam Smith makes is that all jobs pay the same.Not, obviously, all and exactly, there’re skill levels, training and so on to think about. But more generally, the conditions, the enjoyability, the stimulation, of a job are going to be negatively correlated with the cash pay for that job. This is why 99% (OK, perhaps 90%) of all would be actors make nothing from it ever, as prancing on the stage is most enjoyable therefore there are many who’ll do it for no cash. Dustmen don’t make good money because it requires great skill and application but because it’s a noisesome line of work, dunnikin divers even

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If only our rulers understood the numbers they use to rule

24 days ago

This particular example is from Caroline Lucas but similar examples of not having a clue abound:The UK is also host to grotesque levels of inequality. More than 4 million children are living in poverty. Two-thirds of the country’s highest earners live in London and the south-east,The measurement of poverty is one of relative poverty. Less than 60% of median household income. But note, importantly, that it’s a measure of national income.Yes, it’s entirely true that the high earners are concentrated where earnings are high. But it’s also true that costs are higher in that SE of England. On the general basis that people having more money puts up prices.If we do as we should, which is measure the only sort of poverty that can be of any importance, that of consumption, we find that British

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Sit down, relax, you’ll save the NHS money as you do so

25 days ago

It gets more than a little annoying having to keep pointing out the same basic facts about reality. Surely just the one exposure to our wisdom leads to the world changing its mind? Or perhaps not. The particular point here being that people dying young saves the NHS money, not costs it. This is true of smoking – not treating someone as they die of lung cancer is cheaper than another 20 years of hip implants followed by Alzheimer’s care. So too of obesity, heart disease and so on.It is the chronic diseases of old age which cost the fortunes to treat, not the imminently life ending catastrophic ones. We have a health care system which at least claims to offer lifetime care thus dying young – although after retirement and that date when we stop paying into the NHS – and quickly saves the

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Incentives to house vulnerable people – if this is what it costs this is what it costs

26 days ago

A complaint that local councils are having to make extra payments to landlords to house vulnerable people:Cash-strapped London councils are paying private landlords more than £14m a year in “incentives” simply to persuade them to house homeless people, the Guardian can reveal.The sweetener payments of up to £8,300 each were made to landlords more than 5,700 times in 2018 to house people who were either homeless or considered at risk of homelessness, freedom of information requests have revealed. The payouts are made in addition to rent and have been branded as ludicrous by housing campaigners and intolerable by councils.If this is what it costs to house people then this is what it costs to house people. “It is ludicrous councils have to resort to handing out cash sweeteners to secure

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Well of course HS2 should be cancelled, it’s a ghastly waste of money

27 days ago

The argument in favour of national, democratic and political, control of parts of the economy is that decisions can and will be made on more than purely private profit grounds. Things such as the public interest can and will be considered too. The argument against national, democratic and political, control of parts of the economy is that decisions can and will be made on more than purely private profit grounds.Which is how we get HS2:The Treasury chief who initially signed off on funding for High Speed 2 has called for the £56 billion project to be scrapped, saying that it would fail a "rigorous cost-benefit analysis".It fails even a reasonable one. The sums depend upon the value of time saved by the faster train set. Which is calculated by assuming that people on a train can do nothing

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This might be harsh but perhaps there shouldn’t be a funding stream for this

28 days ago

We wouldn’t say that this is an entirely and fully baked suggestion. Rather that this is something that does need to be thought about. If we create a dedicated fund, funding stream, to compensate for a certain form of criminal activity, aren’t we then reducing the pressure to reduce this form of criminal activity? Banks are lobbying to introduce charges on the vast majority of money transfers to fund payouts for fraud victims, Telegraph Money understands.The industry has agreed that victims of bank transfer fraud who did nothing to put themselves at risk should get their money back. It is now under pressure to agree where this money will come from.This week it emerged that the number of reported cases of bank transfer fraud, where someone is tricked into authorising a payment to criminals,

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Yes, lovely theory, now how about reality?

29 days ago

We’re told that the privatisation of water was a big mistake, we really must take it all back into public hands. Because:Our water supply belongs to all of us. Having our water industry run by public servants who are elected and are accountable to voters means that we can reinvest money in technologies, maintenance and systems that will ensure our water supply’s viability – instead of giving huge payouts to shareholders. Nationalising the UK water industry is what works best for consumers and what will ensure the conservation of our water supply for the next 25 years – and beyond.It’s a great theory. Society’s impartial technocrats will optimally allocate resources to all our benefit if only they were freed to do so. Like all theories this has to be tested against reality. So, what did

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Opposing nuclear because of the land it uses looks very odd indeed to us

March 22, 2019

That varied people oppose nuclear power is both fine and a fact of life. That, in our opinion, near all do through not understanding the issue might be more about us than them. But to oppose nuclear because of a blot on the landscape seems absurd even then:A coalition of actors, broadcasters and entrepreneurs is warning that building work to replace Sizewell nuclear power station will “lay waste” to swathes of Suffolk’s most idyllic landscape.Bill Turnbull, the broadcaster; actors Bill Nighy and Diana Quick; the novelist Esther Freud and renowned sculptor Maggi Hambling are among those voicing their opposition to the movement of tons of construction materials and waste to and from the site.They say the plans could mean 1,500 lorries a day thundering through the quiet Suffolk countryside,

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So how do we decide about changing technology?

March 21, 2019

Apparently it’s now possible to build perfect artificial surfing lakes where once stood golf courses. This is a result of a change in technology:Putting greens and fairways from London to Edinburgh are being sized-up for conversion to inland surfing parks by a new breed of non-Pringle wearing entrepreneur.Advances in computing have – after decades of trying – finally made it possible to create an endless supply of perfect surf waves in inland lakes and dozens are now being planned and built across the world.Well, how do we decide which should be converted? Or none or all? We could allow those who did PPE at Oxford to decide for us. Yet there’s a certain hesitance to thinking that those who did PPE at Oxford know how many people would prefer to surf than golf. The only really logical method

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