The Envy of the World

I don’t get angry very often. I am concerned about a number of things, and although issues such as land planning use (housing) could be solved relatively easy and would make my own life, as well as tens of millions of others, much better off, I don’t get angry about high rents and a seemingly unaffordable aspiration like a mortgage.

The Times, however, is leading with a story that is infuriating.

“HIV drug puts other care at risk, warns NHS” The highlight being a drug which is used to treat children, starting from 2-5 years old, who suffer (and I mean suffer) from Cystic Fibrosis. It improves their lung function and reduces the amount of mucus that build up in their lungs. As someone who has an undue amount of mucus in my lungs, that sounds like a great prospect, and if you can make kids live much longer lives by reducing the damage done to their lungs from an earlier age, then do it. At £180,000 per year per person, Ivacaftor costs a lot of money and although I can’t put a price on it, I can say that CF is thoroughly miserable. My lung function was as low as 38% last year. If you extrapolate that out, then you don’t live very long.

Now the NHS in England, after reversing its initial decision to fund PrEP, has now been told by the High Court that is must do so. PrEP is a treatment, and Truvada is a drug used in that treatment which lowers the chances of getting HIV, which in purely monetary terms costs about £350,000 per person per lifetime. Not cheap, but cheaper than Ivacaftor currently costs. I say currently costs, because for both drugs, there are cheaper alternatives coming down the pipeline. The £5000 pp py cost of Truvada should be cut by buying a generic version which costs 80% less in around a years time – good.

As someone who is living with a death sentence, being given one is not something I would wish on anybody. Of course, HIV is no longer a death sentence, but the dread that someone must feel in waiting for results is something that I haven’t had to endure, I have always known. I wouldn’t like to find out what that feels like. We aren’t talking about hedonistic gay men when we are talking about PrEP, we are talking about people who are at risk of HIV infection, and they tend to be very vulnerable indeed.

So for NHS England to come out and say that they can’t afford treatments, and to in essence “blame it on gays” is not “unusually blunt”, but nasty and infuriating, because it is pitting very ill people and the people who care about them against one another.

I don’t think the NHS is a terribly good idea, and I although I know that this sort of thing, with a limited amount of funds being available, would eventually happen, I think it is beneath contempt to raise this issue of rationing when gay men are involved, and oh, we will pit them them against children who struggle to breath.

If it starts a rational conversation about how we fund a health service, which it will not in the slightest, then the officials at NHS England have done a good thing. But, in an alarming absence of pigs plus wings, then the people who briefed The Times should tale a long hard look at themselves.

There are a number of very sensible reforms which we could do to make us live longer and save the Taxpayer money, some of which I will link below.

I will end this by quoting The Times;

“Children with cystic fibrosis will be refused a drug to help them to breathe”

Hardly the way to start talking about healthcare in the UK, is it?

Kristian Niemietz on the NHS and it’s underfunding.

Anton Howes, on Patient led Commissioning Groups.

Book Review – The National Interest in International Relations Theory – Scott Burchill

In my quest to read as as widely and as much this summer, I asked for a collection of good robust International Relations texts to get stuck into. The first one I’ve read is The National Interest in International Relations Theory, by Scott Burchill.

What is the national interest? Of course this is such an open question, so Burchill tackles it by presenting the main schools of thought in IR (Realism, Liberal, English School, Marxist) and how they have defined and thought about what the national interest is, how it has evolved and what it can tell us about how states direct foreign policy.

Broadly speaking, the layman’s answer of “I don’t know” applies here. The different schools of thought ask pertinent questions of one another, and Burchill does effectively illustrate what the different approaches think should be the National Interest. In doing so he demonstrates that the different approaches have so many good questions of one another we are left with little clue as to how to effectively define the national interest, but that we can see it under different auspices, and “it” being practised by different states at different times in history and contexts.

The Marxist approach negates the idea of such a thing as the national interest, and declares it is like many other ideas and institutional arrangements; merely a cover for the oppressive class in class war. It doesn’t provide convincing dialogues for interstate relations and war, and the general Marxist idea of moving towards a progressive utopia through revolutions caused by internal contradictions in capitalism along a historical narrative is of course what it says on the tin – a general Marxist idea. It so far hasn’t proven to be true, and although many hold up Marx’s ideas as just one day more it’s contribution to the understanding of National Interest is a critique, rather than useful tool to understand and develop policy. (Unless you want to overthrow the capitalist system).

Burchill outlines the realist approach, which has for the most part been a little too unrealistic to be a definitive answer. If the State is only about survival at any means, then the amount of cooperation rather than subordination in the world undermines this view. As Burchill says “the national interest is no longer national” with integration challenges such as terrorism and climate change. (As to how much of a threat these are, no comment, but these are commonly defined by states as such).

The Liberal approach further detracts meaning from the national interest. As many liberals see the benefits of globalisation, capitalism (the history of economics in theory and practise isn’t particularly rich or fulfilling here, but since this is a general problem I might write about this at a later date) and “democracy” the national interest declines in relevance – the liberals would generally accept this to be a good thing because of the insular nature of states.

Perhaps their weakness in this argument is the unequal benefits that have thus far arisen during globalisation, as larger states acting in their national interest have been able to accrue many benefits without many losses; that the “liberal” states haven’t been very liberal after all. However, assuming that national states can improve economic outcomes, and rectifying this by only pursuing a national economic strategy independent of integrating into global market processes is I think a weak one, but this isn’t the main point of the liberal approach to the national interest.

The English School perspective seeks a middle ground between the two, and should be based on enlightened self interest – yes survival, but cooperation between states as well as promotion of markets and other social bonds.

With this book Burchill goes beyond my flippant “I don’t know” remark and demonstrates that the national interest is not a particularly useful term to understand foreign policy.

In all, I enjoyed the book, and was a relatively short read at 212 pages. Probably worth a read if you have interest in IR, but not an absolute must by any means, particularly due to the price.

Here it is on Amazon, I borrowed my copy. There might be a link to a PDF file somewhere.


The lie of the ground post 23rd June.

Well, 52% of the electorate voted the way that I did. I previously argued that I was a reluctant Brexiter, and I think so far I am right in thinking that the major danger of leaving is increased State control and direction in a “independent” Britain. Mrs May isn’t exactly a free-marketer, nor can it really be argued that she is much of a liberal, what with that awful snoopers charter.

It remains to be seen as to what will happen with that, but of course the major politicking will be over Brexit for the next few years. We now have a Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and a Secretary of State for International Trade. Machiavellian arguments have been made that the new PM is setting them up for a fall, particularly with Boris at the FCO, but setting up in essence two new departments isn’t something that is done lightly. For the moment, Brexit means Brexit.

Away from the “politics” the UK faces fairly significant challenges. The Government will have to rebuild areas of competency (stop laughing) in areas taken over by the EU, not just in trade negotiating but in fishing, environmental regulation and lobbying for international rather than just single market standards, which is what some would say is the point of leaving the EU is all about.

There may well be little scope for shrinking the size or role of the state (why do planning reform when you can cut the amount of immigrants –  its all them immigrants taking the houses, right) but actually we don’t know how the dice might fall. The Workers Councils that have been suggested by the PM don’t work particularly  well, but cutting corporation tax has been broadly welcomed – if the right arguments are deployed we might be see a Government that respects market processes.

A definite success that can be pointed to is the fishing regime in New Zealand, a discussion of which can be seen here. Also, the success of NZ in eliminating  agricultural subsides is an out of the box success story – here guys, do it! (But do it gradually, like NZ did, otherwise we might have plenty of very angry and suicidal farmers, and end up with a worse agricultural policy than we have currently).

But, here we don’t need to despair about possible wrongs that are going to be committed. The EU has the potential to mess things up to a much greater extent if we were inside of it, and with little to no recourse since the council and commission are the power bases.

And although there is an argument that Brexit will accelerate an integration process I don’t think this is a very good argument – we may never know the counterfactual, but if the UK had voted to remain it would have lost its main bargaining chip, that it would one day vote (or otherwise) to leave.

Much more to go into here, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.


Voting to Leave, but with not with any joy.

On Thursday, if you haven’t seen the snarky and petty videos that have been popping up on Facebook, there is a referendum on whether the country stays or leave the EU. I have spent a long time listening to the arguments on both sides, not just suffering through the debates, and the God awful quirky fun videos showing how lol super awesome fantastic everything is, but the more serious stuff too. I was quite prepared to vote remain but I have come to the conclusion that Britain will be richer and a better place to live in the long term if we Leave.

Im not doing this because I am stupid, or racist or confused, in thrall to the right wing media, under the spell of Rupert Murdoch, that I only like the “right sort” of immigrants, want to go back to the “Glory Days of Empire”, or I am under the illusion that leaving will lead to a free market utopia; and I am certainly not a fascist. The bile that has been slung by both sides has been awful. If you are voting to remain, you are not a traitor, nor stupid, nor any of the other insults that have been thrown at you. We just disagree, thats all, and its the summer; the Olympics will be on soon, so can’t we all just calm down a bit?

I think this because the EU, far from being an organisation that wants to open doors, is an insular organisation obsessed with closer integration, with an air of superiority and high handedness which is incredibly off putting. There can be no leading in the EU without joining the Euro. I very, very much doubt that there will be reform the EU, to make it more accountable, to have a Parliament that can initiate and repeal legislation, if we vote to stay.

I don’t think democracy is the best thing since sliced bread. Most people are not interested in politics, and from the way this campaign has been run, I can see why. But if we have a system in which there is no accountability for seriously screwing up, then why think about anything else apart from closer integration? What the EU lacks isn’t just democracy but a liberal, democratic culture, where people are listened too. I don’t disagree that this is being lost in the UK (stupid racist northerners, don’t we know better than them!) but this has never been a thought within the EU’s mindset. The worst thing about this political age is that ‘We know, and are better than you”. The EU exemplifies this mindset.

The EU has quite frankly fucked up every major crisis that has come its way. In Bosnia, it was “the time for Europe”, which then sat back and let tens of thousands of people die. It was told repeatedly that the Euro was an awful idea, it surged ahead, and to protect that project it has crushed Greece and the rest of the southern Mediterranean, and destroyed a whole generations hopes and dreams. It had a large part to play in messing up in Ukraine (this is not to absolve Putin from what he did, which many Leavers are disturbingly happy to do). It was quite frankly obvious that there was going to be a migrant crisis in 2015, I was at a conference at the start of the year where we were told by an organisation that had already saved thousands of lives the previous year it was only going to get worse. The EU had no plan, no response, it categorically failed to think and did not listen.

Life won’t come to a halt on the 24th if we vote to remain (but we might have World War Three and another Great Depression if we leave, right?). The EU is a broadly liberal place, and stops lunatics like Corbyn from implementing utterly ruinous policies like nationalisation, which is good, but has no mechanism to prevent the EU messing up on an even larger scale.

The biggest risk to leaving, from my point of view, is that the controlling aspect that I want us to escape from in the EU will be replicated here. No, socialism, collectivism, leftism, whatever you want to call it, is not the solution to our problems. Simply more democracy isn’t either, but I think that the arguments and solutions that classical liberals have will win through, the optimist I am.

I don’t think a major danger if we leave is that people stop trading with us. Business is done by individuals, not politicians, but there will undoubtably be a shock to markets, and frankly, I don’t know how bad or mild it might be.

In regards to immigration, some of my best friends have come from outside the European Union, and being outside of it has not stopped them coming here. But then again, the rest of my friends are from inside the EU – I want an open immigration system. If we leave, and choose to centralise, restrict and control, it wont just be us who suffer the consequences, and it would be an utterly stupid policy to stop people coming here to make their and our lives better. If we leave, we will have to demand better from our decision makers, and because the buck will stop with them rather than them palming issues off to the EU we might even get some better decisions.

The choice is not between the status quo, the lack of mobile phone roaming charges and the slightly cheaper holidays, the witty tweets of celebrities that have too much money to really care about anything except fighting the good fight against those they see as racists.

The choice I see is between closer integration (which may well turn out fine, but judging by the past record, probably wont), or a situation where, if we want, we can take ahold of the opportunities that lie open to us in the world. If we fuck it up, we might be able to slip in with all those American refugees fleeing to Canada in the next few years.

Anyway, I am going back to reading, away from all the fucking John Oliver videos.

Lidl is doing sweatshop workers a favour

By employing them of course. Look, sweatshops are not places that we would like to work. The dimly lit, poorly maintained rooms where workers produce the clothes of the west are places which we would probably baulk at before stepping in, never mind working in, but these are the conditions of what many of the (mostly female) poor workers face up to and around 12 hours a day.

Therefore is is an outrage that the German owned supermarket, Lidl, is selling jeans at £5.99 for a pair, highlighted here by the Guardian. They could have only been produced by ruthless capitalist exploitation, and the pittance that the workers receive in return (“as little as 2p”) is of course an offence to all right minded people, i.e. Guardian readers.

Now, despite the fact that Guardian readers wouldn’t be seen dead in Lidl, and that they have forgotten about the UK’s poor who probably wouldn’t be all too squiffy about being offered lower priced goods, is this claim of exploitation true?

The notorious right wing, free market absolutist Paul Krugman once wrote an article “In praise of Cheap Labour” with the subtitle “Bad jobs at bad wages are better than no jobs at all.” Now, Krugman may have since called for better working conditions (globally, so unrealistically) after a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed and killed around 1200 people, but the economic evidence is on Krugman’s original position.

There is plenty of evidence that ‘sweatshops’ benefit workers and local industries. To quote John Miller “Not to believe that demand curves are negatively sloped would be tantamount to declaring yourself an economic illiterate.” The demand here, being that of labour. If as many calls to raise wages are heeded, then workers loose their jobs. This is really bad when we consider “We find that workers perceive factory employment to provide more desirable compensation along several margins.” If sweatshops are so bad, then why are people so willing to work in them?

One reason might be that the wages are much better than they would be getting elsewhere. Foreign owned firms in particular pay higher wages (here and here) than the domestic competition, and the wages are higher than the national average in the majority of countries. Even the protested wages, which are deemed the worst of the worst by anti-sweatshop campaigners are generally above the national average, and in some countries are multiples of the averages. The wages then, are pretty good.

In the case of Bangladesh, which the article is attacking, protested wages at a 40 hour week are near 100% of the average earnings. In the UK, this is around £28,000; these people are doing well by comparison.

There is also the compensation packages that many firms offer their workers. They might seem like small things to us, but providing shoes for children, or a lift to work is a big thing. Since the workers tend to be women, getting them out of the house and gaining skills is crucial for them and the longer term health of the economy.

So, the Guardian may well be outraged that Lidl is offering poor people a good product made by poorer people who are earning good wages by comparison, but I’m afraid that for me it is pretty hard to be offended. We might not like sweatshops, but they are much better than the alternatives, and are making those who make our clothes better off too.


What exactly is wrong with this?

In case you haven heard, last year Star Wars was released. The owners of the brand, Disney, are reported to have “got” £31 million from the UK Government last year. Of course they didn’t, they just got tax relief, so the correct way of putting it across would be that the Government didn’t take millions of pounds from a company that made a very successful and enjoyable film.

POLITICO strangely gets this all wrong, with “the government’s contribution to The Force Awakens” particularly standing out; no they haven’t contributed, they just haven’t taken tax from the first 25% of £20 million, and 20% afterwards of production costs. It really isn’t like the British government is paying for lightsabers, it it?

One of the reasons that Disney decided to make the latest Star Wars in the UK was of course that they weren’t going to be taxed the full amount on the production. But I can’t see anything really wrong with the UK government offering tax incentives for films to be filmed. Obviously it would be better for lower taxes all around, but this is demonstrating again that incentives in the right conditions work.

I am pretty skeptical of multiplayer effects, but the claim is that it generates £12 per pound offered in a tax incentive. And, like with google, just because the production company is paying less tax than the high minded but typically ambiguous “fair sharers” would like does not mean that tax isn’t being paid overall. There are plenty of very well paid people who pay income tax here, and without such a vibrant film industry they more than likely would not be employed here, and therefore not pay tax. Nicht gut.

The trend towards conflating Government support with lack of Government intervention makes me very uneasy. Those who tend to point it out (not having a go at POLITICO here because they aren’t in this instance) also seem to like arguing for more Government intervention in the economy with the cry of ‘aha! But it was that clever State led industrial policy what did it.’ No, it seems that a lack of intervention and regulation can be a recipe for success. Who would have thought it…

Banning smoking in prisons is a stupid idea.

Good news, at least for a while, because the Court of Appeal has ruled that the 2007 ban doesn’t apply to state prisons. Why is this good news? Oh yeah, because riots are a really bad thing.

Perhaps even worse than riots though is self harm in prisons. Why do I mention this? Because many of the prisoners in the UK’s overcrowded prison system are essentially on a 23 hour lock down, and the ones that aren’t suffer from a shortage of staff and productive things to do. We haven’t had a prison riot in years, but what we have seen is a huge increase in self harm. (This of course could be the subject of another blog post, but what good is done simply locking prisoners up for such long periods? Do you think that they will be come productive members of society?)

With this in mind, what on earth do you think banning prisoners from smoking will do? “The number of self-injury incidents recorded in prisons in England and Wales rose by 21 per cent in the 12 months to the end of June 2015. The number of serious assaults on prisoners and staff rose by 31 per cent and 42 per cent respectively over the same period.” There are around 24,000 self harm incidents in UK prisons annually out of a population of 80,000.

I think therefore there are bigger things to be worrying about than smoking in prisons. Around 80% of prisoners smoke, with a large part being that there is nothing to do in prison. Socialising with a cigarette (when allowed too) is a good coping mechanism, which is why so many prisoners do it.

The same is of mental health hospitals, where “If you didn’t join the smokers on the bench outside you ended up feeling pretty isolated, she (Sophie) says.” Despite being told by the Kings Fund in 2006 “to those who are concerned that the proposed Health Bill infringes smokers’ rights, it is important to point out that the ban will prohibit only indoor smoking and that patients will still be able to smoke outdoors” there is a push to ban smoking outdoors as well. Why on earth would you want to be so cruel?

These two issues of course being different, but similar in a crucial way; giving up smoking is incredibly stressful, and being in prison or a mental health hospital is not the right time to think about forcing people to do so. When the Government says that the ruling mean “means it can carry on with its plans to roll out a ban gradually ‘in a safe and secure way’ rather than rushing it through.” I hope it means in a very long time indeed, and tackles the more pressing issues in mental health hospitals and prisons before it bans smoking completely.

Well it’s probably got nothing to do with gender then, does it?

“Women working for the Conservative minister responsible for closing the pay gap are paid an average of almost £2 per hour less than men, it has been revealed.”

So, the Indy has it that Nicky Morgan’s Department of Education (who has a dual brief as an education and equalities minister) is paying women £3000 a year less than men. Except, as usual, this is is wrong. Grouping the pay of all women vs the pay of all men doesn’t tell you anything in particular, but it does bore most people because they know that it will lead to a pointless discussion about sexism that doesn’t exist. (I am also not so sure why they are attacking Morgan when it is the responsibility of the Treasury to administer pay.)

As with all of these things, it is illegal to pay men and women differently because of their sex. It is entirely legal to pay people differently based on experience, years worked, etc. This is what we find whenever we look behind the headlines on this issue.

What we really see is that there is a motherhood pay gap, because of the enormous amount of time and effort it takes to raise a child, particularly in the early years (there is also the interesting fact that fathers earn more than non fathers). This is also compounded by having multiple children (obviously). Not to say that having children isn’t a joyous experience for many, but it is a simple fact that women will have to take time off to have children.

Shouting sexism or racism all the time doesn’t help anyone at all (tagged by the Indy under sexism), so get onto the point and for crying out loud, have a debate about compensating mothers for having children, because that is what is really about.

Remittances in China aren’t all they are cracked up to be


There are huge amount’s of people moving around in China, and moving around for work; up to 274 million people. Like most migrants, they tend to go to earn higher wages, and this add’s up to a lot of money, with estimates of to 300 billion yuan being sent back by economic migrants to their families. A presumption that can and is made is these higher wages are beneficial for the children left behind because they are being sent back, and then have more money spent on their education. This however, might not be the case..

“When it comes to budget components, we find that remittance-recipient households allocate a smaller share of their budget to education than non-recipients do, and we thus add evidence to the possible negative effect of migration on education outcomes of children who stay behind.”

The households with migrants leaving spent on average 325 yuan per child, whereas households where the parents stayed spent nearly 500 yuan per child. Although households which are receiving remittences are spending more, this is going on consumption and not being invested in human capital. Now while we may well enjoy the increased consumption, we would probably enjoy the benefits of more education and therefore more wealth in the future a great deal more.

“The ones left behind are less likely to value education, and therefore less likely to spend on this particular expenditure component. This could be the case when migrants are parents who leave their children behind, under the care of (less educated) grand-parents.”

It is also strange that result isn’t repeated in other countries which have large recipient communities, such as Ghana, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria and Eritrea. This may well be that the benefits of education are touted more often in these countries, it might be because of the effect that motivated and skilled parents can have on their children (influencing them to do better but having lower wages themselves as a result) or might be because the returns to higher levels of education are not so easily recognised by the carers for the children. This is an important point to think about as we usually tout the benefits of remittences, and see them as generally quite effective in promoting growth.


What is driving the African growth miracle? Capitalism

I love it when you read an abstract that reaffirms everything you know, because I quite like an easy life. “What is driving the African Growth Miracle?” is a paper I have come across again recently, and generally confirms what we know about developing economies, or rather, the process by which they develop.

We show that much of Africa’s recent growth and poverty reduction can be traced to a substantive decline in the share of the labor force engaged in agriculture.”

The agricultural labourers losing their jobs is of course a good thing; it tells us that we don’t need to put as much labour into feeding ourselves, and therefore we can go off and be much more productive elsewhere.

Agriculture doesn’t need that much labour to feed us all, what with mechanisation and more efficient farming methods we can enjoy much more food with half the workforce. This is of course what the definition of increases in productivity means; more for less (and usually a better more).

As many other have argued, one of the great strengths of Capitalism is that it continually improves productivity and thus makes us all richer. Smith said it, Schumpeter said it and no one now disputes it because it is true. More from the paper;

This decline has been accompanied by a systematic increase in the productivity of the labor force, as it has moved from low productivity agriculture to higher productivity manufacturing and services.

Good. Agriculture is a low productivity sector, and industrialised jobs produce more. This not only makes people who live on the African continent richer, but us richer too, as we can trade higher value items, and enjoy the benefits of those trades too. Here is to more exploitation of Africa!