Today, I am in my usual last Friday of the month tizz, because this evening I have an event in my home, and I am, as usual, behind in my preparations. This particular event is more than usually tizzual, on account of it being not a sit-down talk but a stand-up performance, by Dominic Frisby. Frisby is honouring my home with an early dry run of his forthcoming Edinburgh Festival show, Let’s Talk About Tax, which he will be performing in Edinburgh from Aug 3rd until August 28th.
I am not doing this blog posting because I need more people to come to my home this evening. I can fit in a few more, but I already have a decent number of acceptances. Nor am I doing this blog posting to tell you what a brilliant show this is. It is being done by the always entertaining and always thought-provoking Dominic Frisby, so I expect it to be entertaining and thought-provoking. But meanwhile, I haven’t yet seen it.
No, what I want to do here is simply to praise Frisby for the fact of this show. Even if – worst case – it flops in Edinburgh, which I don’t think it will, but even if it does, … well played sir! The fact that Frisby is sallying forth to the Edinburgh Fringe, one of the key facts of British showbiz life where would-be upwardly-mobile entertainers all vie with one another to make their mark as writers and performers, and that he will there proclaim the sort of pro-free-market notions and crack the sort of pro-free-market jokes that seldom get spread or cracked in this arena or similar arenas, is cause for praise in itself. The way to get anything started is to start, and this is a start. In the illustration above, Frisby is wearing a hat. Were I now wearing a hat, I would take it off to him.
I did an earlier posting here, praising Frisby’s excellent book Life After The State. Today is, see above, a busy day for me, so to save me the bother of making the same point in different words, please allow me to quote myself and make a point I made in that earlier posting, in the same words:
If we think that showbiz people typically proclaim bad political ideas, then our task is to persuade such people to think better and to proclaim better ideas, rather than us merely moaning that such people somehow have no right to be heard opining at all, about anything except showbiz. Maybe it is in some ways true that celebrity opinion-mongers shouldn’t be paid attention to, as much as they are. But they are, if only because being paid attention to by lots of people is the exact thing that these people specialise in being very good at. Maybe people are foolish to get their foolish political ideas from politically foolish showbiz people. But many do. Whether we like it or hate it, recruiting at least a decent trickle of showbiz people is a precondition for us achieving any widespread public acceptance of our ideas.
I rather think that this show marks a new moment in Frisby’s career. At his website, he describes himself as a Financial writer, comedian, actor of unrecognized genius and voice of many things. The “voice of many things” bit concerns his voice-over work, often to be heard on British TV. But note the “financial writer, comedian” bit. Hitherto, Frisby has tended to keep these two activities distinct from one another. As a speaker and writer on libertarian friendly matters he is always witty and entertaining, but he hasn’t, when doing that stuff, gone straight for laughs. He has basically been arguing and informing. Yes, with a smile on his face and plenty of reader and audience amusement as well as thought-provocation. But basically, he has done comedy for laughs and when being serious he has been serious. This Edinburgh show, on the other hand, looks like it may mark the moment in Frisby’s career when he seeks to combine his financial thinking and talking and writing with comedy.
I wish Dominic Frisby all possible success in this enterprise, and hope that others follow where he is leading.
“Lootings are becoming a common occurrence in Venezuela, as the country’s food shortage resulted in yet another reported incident of violence in a supermarket—this time in the Luvebras Automarket located in the La Florida Province of Caracas. Videos posted to social media showed desperate people falling over each other trying to get bags of rice. One user claimed the looting occurred because it is difficult to get cereal, and so people ‘broke down the doors and damaged infrastructure.”
– Robert Tracinski
Almost a month ago now, I attended an event, organised by Christian Michel, at which another friend, Professor Tim Evans, spoke about the public and private supply of public goods. You attend such events in the hope that they will make you think things that might not otherwise have occurred to you, and Tim’s talk had this effect on me. What follows is based on what I mostly wrote the day after that talk. I had intended to finish writing this and then post it here before going on a recent expedition to stay with friends in the South of France, but travel preparations got in the way of this. However, nothing in what I wrote then had to be said then or never, if you get my meaning, so here is what I put, suitably polished and amended, now.
Tim Evans’s theme was how, over the centuries, institutions for the supply of such things as healthcare, roads, lighthouses (mention was made in that connection of Ronald Coase), education, and suchlike seem to have oscillated, rather slowly and in timespans often long enough for most of those involved not to be aware of them, between private or charitable supply on the one hand, and government control and government provision on the other.
Tim’s other big point (assuming my recollection is about right – I took no notes) is that the perpetual game of political ping-pong that now rages with statists on one side and anti-statists like me (and like Tim) on the other sometimes does scant justice to the complexity of the institutional arrangements involved. So, for instance, arguments about healthcare are routinely presented, on both sides, as an argument between a total free market and total state control, when in reality medicine has long been a very mixed sort of economy. In the USA, typically held up by anti-free-marketeers as an example of what happens when there is no government control at all, the government is heavily involved with (the phrase “in bed with” also springs to mind) those quasi-political entities which determine what a qualified doctor is and who may or may not practise as one.
I like to think that I may have planted the seed of that last notion about governments and medical monopolies in Tim’s head, with a Libertarian Alliance effort of mine from a quarter of a century ago now, entitled How And How Not To Demonopolise Medicine, about which Tim has often said admiring things to me. I just re-read this, and many of the themes in Tim’s talk were alluded to in that also. At around the same time I wrote that piece, I recall expressing, in another Libertarian Alliance piece, a rather jaundiced view about charity, something Tim also mentioned quite a bit but rather more admiringly, particularly in the matter of healthcare.
Which got me thinking about the incentives faced by very rich people, and how these incentives are not the same as they are for regular people. For the super-rich, a charitable donation which is huge by anyone else’s reckoning is liable to be small change, for a start. But just as significantly, I surmise that the super-rich actually think differently from the rest of us, not just because thinking differently is probably what made them super-rich but because being super-rich then induces them some more to think differently.
→ Continue reading: Thoughts on the altered economic and ideological incentives faced by the rich and famous
Indeed, one of the advantages of tax havens is that they help hold governments to account. They make it possible for businesses to avoid the worst excesses of government largesse and crazy tax systems – including the 39 per cent US corporation tax rate. They have other functions too: it is simply wrong to say that they have no useful purpose. It is also wrong to argue that, if only corrupt governments had more tax revenue, their people would be better served.
– Philip Booth
There are many, many reasons why the UK economy remains skittish and the global recovery extremely patchy – and almost all of them predate not only this referendum campaign but even the announcement the UK electorate was to be given its first say on our relationship with Europe since the mid-1970s. Yet, while real investors fret about the prospect of another sub-prime style meltdown, a lack of genuine banking reform, the implosion of the eurozone, the lunacy that is negative nominal interest rates and now, we’re told, “helicopter money” – a kind of quantitative easing on steroids – it suits a wide variety of political and financial interests to blame every blip in the British and broader European economy on “the prospect of Brexit”.
– Liam Halligan
A nice riposte to the “we don’t make anything anymore and those evil Chinese sell us stuff and take our jobs” line that comes from both Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and quite a few politicians in other parts of the world:
On the trade front, American manufacturing continues to expand and thrive — an absolute economic fact that is, perversely, unknown to the great majority of Americans, who believe precisely the opposite to be the case. Americans have false beliefs about manufacturing for a few reasons: One is that while our factories produce much more than in the past, they employ fewer people; another is that we tend to produce capital goods and import consumer goods — you won’t see much labeled “Made in the USA” at Walmart, but you’ll see it on everything from the aircraft flown by foreign airlines to the robotics in automobile factories overseas. Another factor, particularly relevant to the question of manufacturing and trade, is that a large (but declining) share of those imported consumer goods comes from China, a country with which we have a large trade deficit. That isn’t because the Chinese are clever, but because they are poor: With an average annual income of less than $9,000, the typical Chinese household is not well positioned to buy American-made goods, which are generally expensive. (China is a large consumer of U.S. agricultural products, especially soybeans.) Add to that poorly informed and sentimental ideas about what those old Rust Belt factory jobs actually paid — you can have a 1957 standard of living, if you really want it, quite cheap — and you get a holistic critique of U.S. economic policy that is wholly bunk.
– Kevin D. Williamson
Eric Raymond, over at his Armed and Dangerous blog, makes this excellent point about the mixed bag that is the Trans-Pacific Trade deal:
The thing about creating political machinery to fuck with free markets is this: you never get to be the last person to control it. No matter how worthy you think your cause is, part of the cost of your behavior is what will be done with it by the next pressure group. And the one after that. And after that.
I find this self-evident:
Patrick Minford, a professor of economics at Cardiff University, said Britain should rely on tariff levels agreed at the World Trade Organisation, and that scrapping the EU’s external tariffs would lower consumer prices by 8 percent, and boost gross domestic product by 4 percent after around 10 years.
The benefits of bilateral trade deals were overrated and a lot of foreign investment was drawn to Britain by its underlying competitive strengths rather than its access to the rest of the EU, Minford said at a news conference in London organised by economists who support a so-called Brexit.
“There is no need for us to go off chasing a million trade deals with the rest of the world. They are irrelevant,” he said.
But given the flood of pro-EU scare stories that Reuters tends to run, I was a bit surprised to see it get some pixels there.
“One of my top scientists has four kids. How is he going to provide for his kids without profit?” So says Martin Shkreli on this week’s Milo Yiannopoulos Show. Shkreli is supposedly the most hated man in America for raising the price of the drug Daraprim from $18 per dose to $750. The way he tells it, it was like buying a wine company that was selling wine for $2.50 cents per bottle but losing money, when all the similar wine was selling for $100 per bottle. He saved the business.
He described being interviewed on CNBC, a business news channel.
I went on there and it felt like they were shaming me for raising the price of Daraprim and I’m sitting there saying, “all fucking day, 24 hours a day all you talk about is profits, and my profits are inappropriate?
Milo laments the regression of America from a place that celebrated success to one where the media and the government like to punish rich people. Shkreli pointed out how people used to love to hate Bill Gates, but they do not any more, now that he is giving he money away. “What else did they think he was going to do with it?” he asks, pointing out that once you have one billion dollars, you can no longer really spend any more on yourself.
Shkreli has been arrested on fraud charges. He says the charges against him make no sense, given that his investors are making lots of money.
In the interview he comes across as a fun guy who annoys the right people. His Twitter feed is entertaining, too.
Update: There is something of an Ayn Rand novel about his questioning from Congress.
I am being nudged by Simon Gibbs, who is organising it, to say something here, now, about this Libertarian Home event, about and against taxation.
This event will happen on the afternoon of Saturday May 14th, in Holborn, London. The speakers (see the list here) will include: Yaron Brook; Anton Howes; and a couple of new names to me, “Janina Lowisz, BitNation and Julio Alejandro, Humanitarian Blockchain”. Sounds intriguing, in a twenty first century and good way. I’m guessing that the gist of what they may say will be that the internet makes it possible for things to be crowd-funded and micro-financed and generally supported in ways that not long ago were impossible, and that modern life thus offers even greater opportunities to chip away at and to improve upon the tax-and-spend state, both ideologically and in practice. You could sum those speakers up by saying that there is no need for high taxes in the future (Lowisz, Alejandro), there was no need for high taxes in the past (Howes), and there is no excuse for high taxes ever (Brook).
That nudging I mentioned at the start of this posting is worth emphasising. Based on how a similar event in October 2014 went, which Simon Gibbs also organised, Simon will do whatever he needs to do, having already lined up some good speakers for May 14th, to get also a good throng of people to listen to them and to mingle with and to network with one another. The cost of a ticket is, if you book now, £12, and there is a basic sense in which attenders will be paying their £12 for all that nudging that Simon is now doing, to ensure that this event is a success. The most helpful way that you can support Simon and his nudging would be, if you now know that you want to attend, to book your own ticket, now. To tell Simon, now, that you will be attending, go here, and click on the bigger and lower of the two red rectangles saying: “Join us!”
I could expand, on the wrongs of taxation, on the particular excellence of Anton Howes as a speaker and as an up-and-coming libertarian historian and intellectual, on how interesting and how well organised and welcoming that October 2014 event was (at which Yaron Brook also spoke), and how many attended it, and so on and so forth, but Simon wants the word on this latest event on May 14th to spread now, and he wants this posting to go up now. So, up it goes, now.
Taxation is of course a very topical subject just now. If you want more tax talk here, try this.
The recent controversy about the potential closure, by India-headquartered Tata, of the steelworks in Wales (formerly owned by Corus) has revived old memories of when the UK government (ie, the taxpayer) owned steelworks. It was an unhappy episode. The picture of middle-aged men, in “tight-knit communities” (the cliches write themselves) losing their jobs with not much immediate prospect of getting another job (such men are, apparently, incapable of doing this), is politically toxic. (Interestingly, the role that anti-carbon policies, enacted to prevent global warming, have played in hurting such industries isn’t getting all that much attention as far as I can see. Does. Not. Compute.) Never mind that tens of thousands of bank staff (not all “fat cats”) have been given their P45s in recent years – when steelworkers are given the bullet, it has a visceral effect on the public imagination of a kind that is very different. People can easily visualise the value of making steel, used as it is in many modern industrial products; they cannot so easily figure out the worth of people processing interest rate swaps transactions, for example. Also, the bank bailouts of 2008-09 mean that for a new generation of voters, the idea of bailing out a failed set of institutions, while unpleasant, isn’t off-limits. If we must bail out banks, so the argument goes, let’s bail out steel. (Just as, in the US, the same kind of logic was used to justify bailing out GM, shafting GM creditors in the process.)
Momentum is building for the current government to nationalise the steel factories, a prospect that no doubt would have appalled the late Margaret Thatcher. The present Business Secretary, sometimes billed as a future Conservative Party leader, has said that part-nationalisation is an option. One of the arguments used to make the prospect more palatable to people otherwise wary of the whole notion is that Britain needs a core capacity to make steel, because we need to be able to build weapons in times of war, for example. (A similar argument is sometimes used to defend protection for forms of agriculture; the UK imports many foodstuffs but has been vulnerable to blockades and attacks on shipping in previous world wars.)
But if this military-need argument really is as strong as is made out, then there is a case for saying that the most cost-efficient (from the point of view of free market economics and taxpayers’ interests) isn’t nationalisation, or the alternative of just shutting down plants, but a sort of strategic reserve. To some extent, in a free market where there are futures and options markets for commodities such as iron, etc, those much-maligned speculators will hoard steel/other during a market glut and wait for prices to rise before selling, and vice versa. If there is a more pressing military requirement that cannot be easily slotted into this market argument, then a “strategic steel reserve” might be an idea, as the investment advisor and former Comservative Party parliamentary candidate Douglas Hans-Luke says. (I don’t endorse all of his views, I should add.) It is an idea worth considering, and arguably, just as an individual should keep a first aid kit, flashlight, water purifier, set of knives, screwdrivers and fire-lighting items and other emergency tools handy, and learn how to use them, so should a country. It is, arguably, a basic requirement of even a minimal state to have that “emergency toolkit” in the cupboard, just in case. Even better, in a healthy civil society, the public should have these things, and be encouraged to learn how to use and store them. And of course that includes firearms and types of working knives, a subject about which the UK lost the plot years ago. It is, I understand, a crime to carry a Swiss Army knife in your pocket in the UK, for instance. Ironically, such things are made out of high-grade steel from places such as Sweden.
An emergency steel reserve sounds a lot easier to defend than nationalisation, not least because it is rational on its own merits. I’m ready to be convinced otherwise. How about every schoolkid gets taught how to make steel and weld during science class?
At the weekend, the left-wing firebrand Polly Toynbee lamented the “extraordinary growth of inequality”. She has previously described it as “soaring”. The Observer columnist Will Hutton has said that the income gap is “ever-increasing”. It has become a factoid that the income distribution is widening year-on-year, especially after the financial crisis. And yet, these claims are just not true. To uncomfortably paraphrase Ronald Reagan and Mark Twain, the trouble with our left-wing friends is not their ignorance about inequality in the UK, but that they know so much that ain’t so.
– Ryan Bourne.
The final paragraph of this article has a lovely sting in the tail.