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A BBC radio day

By the end of today I will have been on BBC radio of various sorts twice. I just did a little spot on a Radio 2 talk show about taxes for or against. Guess which I was. I played the consumer electronics card. This is the one that says that since quality in things like computers and music boxes has in recent years skyrocketed and prices have sunk like so many stones dropping out of the sky, but that in the public sector this great stuff hasn’t happened, private sector hurrah public sector bah. Governments are catastrophically bad at spending money. The rapacity of governments in collecting money and the damage that does had already been covered, by George Trefgarne.

As usual in this sort of radio, I could have done better and I could have done worse. You land a few punches, give a few tried and tested memes a bit of a dust-over and maybe give some less familiar ones an outing. In among that you do some unnecessary um-ing and aah-ing and waffling. Then you put the phone down and get on with your life, which in my case now means boasting about having done this on Samizdata.

And then, tonight at 8pm, I will be contributing to a Radio 4 programme called “The Commission”. The Commission has a similar format to The Moral Maze. They have regular panellists, and irregular “witnesses”, of whom tonight I will be one. Tonight’s show (8pm London time) is on the subject of organ donation, organ markets, and related matters such as whether it is good for people to be poor (I say no), and whether life for poor people would be improved if, for their own good, they were forbidden to do business with rich people. ( I say that would keep them poor for ever.)

Tonight’s performance by me is likely to be a little more fluent than the one I’ve just done, because it will have been pre-edited. But will not the biased BBC edit out my best bits? I don’t think it works like that. In that matter, I do genuinely trust the Beeb. BBC bias in my part of the radio landscape doesn’t consist of the BBC silencing me. It merely consists of them having the damned gall to also have lots of other people on their radio shows who don’t think as I do. But so long as I get to do a few of my memes, as I have over the years, I am content.

The Radio Times features this show as one of its two radio choices of the day, with a little write up:

Nick Ross returns with a new series examining major public policy issues, starting with human organ donation. From a doctor who says we should have to opt out of donating our organs after we die, to the mother of a boy whose organs were retained in the Alder Hey scandal and a current kidney-transplant patient, each witness provides thought provoking tesimony – from both sides.

And me. And me. (Bias!!) How about that market in organs that I argued for, and will, I believe, be heard arguing for tonight? Oh well. I guess they prefer in-the-flesh experiences, so to speak, to theoretical abstractions however provocative.

Just one final point, about what I am trying to achieve by appearing on shows like these, aside from a little pocket money. I believe that a mistake often made by people trying to spread ideas is that they spend too much time and effort trying to be liked and agreed with, and too little time and effort trying to be understood. They confuse, that is to say, idea spreading with party politics. I would far rather be sworn at for saying what I do think, than liked and agreed with because I said nothing nicely.

19 comments to A BBC radio day

  • Dale Amon

    Brian: Have you read the Larry Niven “Known Space” SF books? If you have not, do so.

  • Dishman

    Particularly “The Patchwork Girl”.

  • Rob Read

    I like Larry Niven idea of execution for persistent bad parkers.

  • mark holland

    To hear Brian on Radio 2 this lunchtime go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/, click listen again, click Jeremy Vine. I kept clicking skip 5mins up to 01:10 or so to get to the tax debate. Brian comes in at 1:40:00

    Brian was fine, got his point across, maybe shocked the audience but some ideas might stick. Oh and that Tommy Sheridan the Guardian fella were a pair of plonkers weren’t they?

  • mike

    Who is that Sheridan fellow? Is his point of view taken seriously over there. Sheesh.

  • Ian

    Ah, nice to put a voice to the face, Brian. I had no idea that there were any positions to organ donation other than ‘keep the status quo’ or ‘I should be able to trade in my own body parts.’

    Opting out of a compulsory organ donation? and a national database? Phewee!

  • Andy Wood


    Have you read David Friedman’s book Law’s Order? He briefly discusses a market in organs at the end of chapter 15.

  • Kelli

    Whatever do you mean, the government doesn’t know how to spend wisely? Consider this news item from my hometown, an affluent suburb outside Washington, DC. We are currently replacing our old wastewater treatment plant with a state of the art, very expensive one. That’s fine. But under a new ordinance (who voted for this?) we are required to spend %1 of every big ticket item on “public art.” What’s that, you say, public art and sewage don’t mix? But you’re wrong! Think pathways with crushed oyster shells wending through tanks (of sewage, natch) bedecked with trellises and rooftop gardens. Why, there’s even an information kiosk for all the tour groups expected to come for a visit. What, no snack bar? Well, there’s time yet, there’s time. Total cost to county taxpayers: $2 million.

    Where’s the voting booth? Revenge will be mine.

  • Tim Haas

    Brian, in the Radio 2 piece, I was interested to hear you come out for no taxes at all, and then backtrack to “single digits, maybe” toward the end. Was this a conscious tactic to get the maximum meme value out of the short time you were allotted, or, had it been a more leisurely discussion, would you have started off and kept with a minarchist line?

    I ask because I found myself in a similar situation when I was being interviewed by a newspaper editorial board during my run for Congress last year — I led with the extreme position, as an educational and a conversational gambit, and then tried to fill in with something more “reasonable”, but as the subsequent editorial endorsing my opponent showed, I tripped their mental breakers with the extreme and never regained traction after that. (Not that I ever expected them to endorse a Libertarian over a six-time Democratic incumbent, but the dismissive way they did it makes me think I took the wrong tack.)

  • Brian Micklethwait


    I spoke my mind. I am genuinely unsure about whether it is possible to achieve zero taxation. You may have that in name, but there may be what amounts to tax being paid to what amounts to a de-facto if not self-proclaimed state. In the sense that if you don’t pay it, you either get punished and made to pay or you have to leave, and what you have to leave is a quite big place. I don’t know that this would happen, but it is very possible, I think.

    Also, I am very happy about being in alliance with convinced minarchists, who argue strongly for single figure tax, and who oppose zero tax. So for practical purposes, I do go along with the idea of single figure tax.

    It’s possible that if I did ever see a tax rate of say 5%, I would then have big arguments with minarchist conservatives. But even if it was possible to lower tax to zero, I might get bored with that, because the extra effort might not be worth the extra gain. Dimishing returns, and all that.

    But, bear in mind that I am not running for political office, the way you were. Maybe you did indeed do the wrong thing, given what you were trying to achieve. I don’t know. Sounds to me like you did okay.

    As for me, I am trying to spread ideas, and the way to do that is to be absolutely honest about what you think, including honest about what things you are unsure about, the way I am unsure about just how low the level of tax can really be or should be. I am very sure that the 50% that we ahve now is far too high, but am unsure about the exact final destination.

    I really don’t care if, by mentioning zero percent as an enticing if perhaps difficult tax destination, I cause some people to dismiss my ideas, so long as I get to express them honestly, which I believe I did. Being thus “dismissed” (the louder the better) is just another way that ideas get spread.

    I hope that helps.

  • There I was listening to Jeremy Vine, and listening to the hard left socialist, and the wimpishly defensive right-winger, discussion taxation. So I said to the wife: “You know, I’ve never ever heard anyone in one of these discussions ever say – why the hell should I pay tax anyway? If people want health care they can damn well pay for it themselves”.

    And then Mr. Vine said: “Next up, we have Brian Micklethwait, from the Libertarian Alliance”.

    I said: I know that bloke!

    There is a God, and he is a capitalist.

  • Guy Herbert

    The organ discussion was interesting in many ways, not least the summing up of the committee, who, in a manoeuvre that’s second-nature to bureaucrats everywhere, immediately attempted to fit map the complex of issues onto a linear continuum (with Brian pegged as one “extreme”), then found somewhere in the middle as their preferred option.

    Lots of things unconsidered, of course.

    I’d be perfectly happy with my executors selling parts of my dead body for my estate, but I’m uncomfortable about the idea that my creditors and the tax authorities might want a floating charge over my marketable organs.

  • Guy Herbert

    … while I’m still alive. That’s one logical consequence of treating one’s body just as one’s other property.

  • Andrew Duffin

    I don’t think the argument is really about the market – or lack of it – in donor organs.

    It’s really about the fact that the state (and by extension the NHS) thinks it already owns our bodies, and should therefore be allowed to do whatever it wants with them, without of course paying because, well, you don’t pay for what you already own, do you.

    Wonderful illustration of this a few months ago. Maternity hospital, kidnap of newborn, (usual “walk out the door” stuff), hospital spokesperson (sic) speaks to reporter and says “Of course the hospital is very upset that it has lost one of its babies”. That was the quote, the baby belonged to the hospital you see, not the parents or even him/herself as an independently existing person.

    That’s the mentality that means you don’t even need to discuss markets.

  • A_t

    Andrew, rubbish! you’re reading too much into the vocabulary. By the same logic, all of us who are not self-employed are slaves, since our employers can (& probably often do) refer to us as “their” employees. A private hospital could have phrased their response exactly the same.

    & “the state” may be opressive in many ways, but it doesn’t think it owns our bodies… where’s this nebulous state? Find me a representative or ideologue to confirm that that’s what they personally believe. Even one single beaurocrat, & I might take your claim a little more seriously.

    In the meanwhile… do you own your own body once you’re dead? It’s not “the state” that’ll benefit from your organs, like some crazed organ-fuelled machine, it’s another individual like yourself. Do you have the right to deny them access to relatively-useless-to-anyone-else, but lifesaving for them, natural resources, which are sitting around, from beyond the grave? In cases of life-or-death, where freely available resources are being arbitrarily witheld, I think few would question the use of force… “it was me or him”, but for some reason this is different?

    Again, i’m not saying there’s no debate here, but this simplistic “it’s the state, so it must be bad” approach doesn’t clarify anything.

  • R.C. Dean

    Personally, I like a hospital that takes a certain protective, even proprietary, attitude, toward its residents. I should hope they would think of the babies as theirs. Would you really prefer that they say something like “Oh, someone’s baby was taken from here, but they were going to be discharged in a few hours anyway, so what’s the diff to us, eh?”

  • Guy Herbert

    A-t: In the meanwhile… do you own your own body once you’re dead?

    As I understand it, yhe traditional view in English law (from a case in Coke) was that there is no property in a body–it could not be owned and could not be stolen. So presumably not its parts either. Since Tony Kelly and an accomplice were convicted of theft this view appears to have changed, but it is unclear whose property it was they stole.

    I’d like to think that my body belongs to me while I’m alive, and that therefore I can dispose of it after I am dead as I see fit. However, you can’t dictate your funeral. (Even if you leave clear directions, the funeral is up to personal representatives.) And if there’s a possibility of transplant or other use, the medics will ask your relations who can set aside your wishes either way.

    I don’t myself care much what happens if I’m dead. But I can imagine people who have very strong views about what should be done with their body, which might easily disagree (indeed be chosen to disagree) with their relatives.

  • Cydonia


    “& “the state” may be opressive in many ways, but it doesn’t think it owns our bodies… where’s this nebulous state”

    Whaat? Your definition of ownership has something wrong with it. Ownership means the right to control something as you wish, subject to not unduly harming others. So if I own my body, how come:

    1. I can’t put recreational drugs into it?
    2. For all practical purposes I can’t end my life when I want, because I’m not allowed to consent to somebody else killing me?
    3. I’m not allowed to choose the medicines I want to use?
    4. I’m not allowed to buy cheap and dangerous products, but am forced to buy expensive and safe ones?
    5. I’m not allowed to get medical treatment except from people whom the State has approved?

    The list goes on ….

  • A_t

    cydonia…. ’tis true; all these are effectively asserting ownership, or at least some kind of stewardship over your body (oh, & mind, i might say, as for instance you’re not permitted to view an erect penis aside from in an “educational” context). I think most people, representatives of the state and supporters of the above measures included, would stop short of actually claiming that the state owned, or had any claim to your physical body or any of the organs therein. However, I have to concede you have a very good point.