21 April 2010

The BNP's Economic Banality

I think it's probably wise that opposition to the BNP focuses on its racism, but it does mean that they tend to a get an easy time on their other policies.

Take the one they're trying to sell in this BBC piece:
The British National Party have called for restrictions on imports from China to protect British jobs.

Leader Nick Griffin told BBC Radio 4 British industry faced "disaster" unless something was done to halt the flow of cheap goods into the country.
It's the Corn Laws for the 21st Century!

Like so much of this kind of nonsense, it focuses on the interests of the producer and ignores the interests of the consumer. The consumer will be turned into a captive market to be exploited by domestic producers, because in the fascist and Stalinist approaches (I struggle to decide which category the BNP fits into), that's all that matters; to them, we as individuals don't exist to enjoy and experience, we just exist to produce in order to enrich and empower the state.
He denied reciprocal restrictions would hurt the British economy, saying trade with China was a "one-way street".
If it were a "one-way street", it's wouldn't be trade, because there would be no exchange. The correct term for a movement of goods which is not reciprocated is "aid".

In spite of what the BNP claim, I'm fairly confident that no significant number of Chinese manufacturers are operating in order to give the British aid and even if they were, only a total moron would suggest that the Chinese giving the British free goods is inherently so bad for the British people that it must be legislated against.
We have got eight million adults of working age not working in Britain and if we protect certain sections of our industry to create jobs we would get these people off the dole.
And of course, replace them with the workers in the exporting business which you would be crippling. Welcome to the world of unintended consequences.
He said his party was not "isolationist"
I decided to ask my correspondent out in the field for his reaction to this claim:

20 April 2010

The Big House of Lords Ballot

The Guardian on reform of the House of Lords:
The paper says a reformed second chamber would be 300-strong, with the Commons retaining primacy, and members elected by an open list, proportional system


They would be elected from 12 electoral regions, with nine in England and the other three in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The regions would be drawn up by May 2012.
For those who aren't as interested in the minutiae of electoral systems as I am and aren't aware, this is how open list systems generally work:
  • Each party submits a list of candidates to stand in the seat.
  • Each voter votes for a specific candidate.
  • The total votes for each party are added up and the parties win seats in proportion to their share of the vote.
  • The elected candidates for each party are the candidates with the most votes for that party.
So, as a very simplified example, in a constituency returning 10 representatives, if party X's candidates got 30% of the votes, the 3 candidates from party X with the most votes would be elected.

For those familiar with the mechanics of the European elections in Great Britain, which use closed lists, it produces the same results in terms of the number of seats won by each party, but it puts the decision about who gets elected for each party in the hands of the people voting for that party, rather than allocating them in the order of the list submitted by the party.

In general I prefer open lists to closed lists, but looking at the proposal on offer here, I see a potential problem - the constituency size.

If we're talking about electing 300 people (the initial proposal that the article refers to is to elect two-thirds of the members as a first step, but the implication is that a fully elected house is the end goal) from 12 electoral regions, that means an average of 25 members from each region. On that basis, even if you required a deposit from each individual, rather than the party as a whole, I'd expect the larger parties to average at least 10 candidates, a number of smaller parties averaging at least 5 and a wealth of minor parties fielding 1 or 2 candidates. It wouldn't be exceptional to see constituencies with 80 or more candidates, each requiring space on the ballot paper and a box to put a cross in. That would mean either very small boxes or very big ballot papers.

19 April 2010

Anarchism, Minarchism - or Lessarchism

Over at Counting Cats, Ian B posted a piece contrasting anarcho-capitalism and minarchism, coming down in favour of the latter. This prompted responses from, amongst other, Jock Coats and DK. I thought I'd chip in by explaining my own position, which to some extent is inclusive of both and which I tend to describe as lessarchism.

To properly understand anarchy and minarchy, you first have to understand archy. It means rule generally by the state. So what in essence is the state? The most accurate description I think you can make is that it is a protection racket; it is an organisation which forcibly takes money on the pretence of offering protection, when in reality, the primary protection on offer is from the racket itself. At root, the state is a coercive organisation which operates on the basis of violence and the threat of it.

Given the nature of the beast, the obvious question is, why would anybody want to tolerate any archy whatsoever. I think there are two primary answers to that, which can be observed in the changing nature of the state over time.
  1. The state incorporates more people into the racket, by offering privileges to those who could potentially threaten it. It's a complex area, but it's one that can be observed through, for example, the gradual inclusion of merchants in what was previously an aristocratic state. When the effect is spread widely enough, it gives rise to the effect Bastiat is alluding to when he describes the state as "the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else."
  2. The state maintains the appearance of being better than any alternative. This is the driver of changes such as expanding the franchise and instituting constitutional restrictions. These are concessions which are generally granted by an existing state in order to defend itself. If revolution is in the air, it can be mutually beneficially for the existing state to agree to constrain itself in that way. The top brass of the existing state (be they aristocrats or politicians) get to maintain their power, all be it diminished, rather than being completely deposed. The people living under the state get improved circumstances without the risk of a new state arising which is significantly worse than the previous.
Looking at the two reasons, I don't view the first as being any kind of moral justification for tolerating a given state. Moving from the outside to the inside of a protection racket might make things look more pleasant from your own perspective, but it doesn't make it any less oppressive or abusive. The second reason, on the other hand has something to recommend it. Just as you might tolerate a protection racket if you believed the alternative was a far more violent neighbouring protection racket coming into the area, it might make sense to tolerate a relatively benevolent state if the alternative is a military dictatorship or an oppressive invader.

This is where I tend to depart from many (although, by no means all) who describe themselves as either minarchist or anarchist. Both, to me, appear to be terms which focus on an end position. One asserts that the optimum amount of archy is that which has a small state limited to certain purposes, the other that the optimum amount of archy is no state at all. When I look at the minarchist position, I ask myself if it is really possible to have a limited state which won't gradually expand to become a over-bearing and the answer I come up with is, I don't know. When I look at the anarchist position, I ask myself if it is really possible to have a stateless society without either a state, or something operating like a state, taking over and the answer I come up with is, I don't know.

That is why I would describe myself as a lessarchist. To me, it implies a focus on a process, rather than a focus on an end position. I don't know what the optimum arrangement is, but I do know that in any given situation, I want less archy. I want less oppression, I want less aggressive violence, I want less coercion and compulsion and more voluntary and consensual action. It may be that at a very low level of archy it might be infeasible to significantly reduce any further that which is left within the state without opening the door to an aggressor who will bring more archy than was their before. Or, it might not. It might be that once there is so little archy that the last bit can't survive, given the prevailing mindset of the population. I don't know, but at this stage, I don't think it's that important, mostly because I don't think there will ever be a definite end position; arrangements will always be in flux, eternal vigilance will always be the price of liberty. I'm less concerned about where we can be tomorrow than what we can chip away at today.

Odd Strategy of the Day

From the BBC:
For Labour Lord Mandelson warned a hung parliament might give "disproportionate power" to the Lib Dems.


He warned: "A hung parliament may seem attractive to some but it may give disproportionate power to a small party holding the balance of power and bring its own danger. Important legislation, for example on fighting terrorism which the Lib Dems are likely to oppose, would be difficult to get through."
If you are a member of a political party which, at the last general election, obtained 55.2% of the seats with 35.3% of the vote, it would appear wise to avoid raising the issue of disproportionate power. Also, if you want to stop people giving their support to another political party, claiming that voting for that party will give them disproportionate power doesn't seem like the smartest way of doing it; it's a complete reversal of the "it's a wasted vote" strategy.

17 April 2010

Testing Online Vote Matchers - Part 2

Following the test drive of two vote matchers I performed, I decided to see if any of the parties had similar tests and if so, if they are skewed towards getting more votes for them. The first one I came across was the Green Party Test, which gave me these results:

So, bizarrely, while the Vote Match test rated my agreement with the Green Party at 62% and the Who Should You Vote For test rated my agreement with the Greens at 51%, the highest of any of the parties, the Greens' own test rated my agreement with them at a lowly 35%.

I think there are two possible explanations for this:
  1. The Green Party have tried so hard to stop their test appearing skewed in their favour that they've ended up going in the opposite direction and skewed it against themselves.
  2. The questions the Greens have included in their test relate to the policies which they think are mostly likely to appeal to voters, which, in the main, are the policies on which I have least agreement with them.
I'm leaning towards number 2.

WTF? of the Day

From Michael Gove:
The greater degree of scrutiny these policies have, the more that people will realise that while Nick Clegg is a very attractive individual in many ways, the policies of his party are outside the mainstream and a little bit eccentric
If the cosy closed shop within the political establishment is so narrow that even the Lib Dems are being considered as outside the mainstream, then things are worse than I thought.

16 April 2010

Testing Online Vote Matchers

Out of interest, I decide to test drive two of the websites which claim to be able to tell you who to vote for based on the answers you give to questions on a range of issues. The two sites were Vote Match and Who Should You Vote For.

My initial results for Vote Match looked like this:

However, after you’ve completed the questions, they offer you another five questions to refine your search, which changed my results to this:

So, strangely, after the extra five questions, I seemed to agree with every party more!

My results for Who Should You Vote For were:

Liberal Democrat50
UK Independence13
Your recommendation: Green

My general feelings about the quizzes are:
  • Both quizzes seem relatively unbiased and give a conclusion which doesn’t seem completely unreasonable to me.
  • I’m a little surprised at how highly the Green Party rates in my results, but I suspect that the choice of questions has resulted in the similarities in terms of ID cards and digital rights outweighing the differences in terms of market liberalism. Of the two quizzes “Who Should You Vote For” had more questions relating to civil liberties, which probably goes some way to explaining why it gave a higher ranking to the Greens and a lower ranking to Labour, when compared to the “Vote Match” results.
  • I was initially surprised at the relatively good ranking given to Labour in the Vote Match quiz, but there were quite a few questions on electoral reform, which is probably where a significant amount of the agreement lay.
  • With the exception of the BNP, the big two of Labour and Conservative ranked below all the other parties on both quizzes, which does tend to make a mockery of the approach taken by the media of using one representative from each of the big two to represent balance and a range of opinions.
  • Only the Vote Match quiz included the BNP and it seemed to show that, if you take the racism out of the equation, which the quiz did, the BNP are in the same ball park as the big two. That highlights something I’ve believed for some time; beyond the overt racism, their claim to represent something different significantly different to the status quo is nonsense.
I think they’re both interesting and potentially useful tools, but from a personal perspective, I’m in such a safe seat that any choice about if and how I vote will be more an issue of strategy than expecting my vote to get someone elected.

15 April 2010

Facebook Button-gate

I've steadily warmed to Bill Thompson's technology articles on the BBC. When I first started reading them, he took a fairly strong state socialist line, to the point of suggesting a heavily regulated "walled garden" internet for Europe, to promote socialist principles. Recently, however, his tone has become noticeably more liberal; the promotion of internet regulation has been replaced by the promotion of a free, user defined internet.

One of the bits of writing which has impressed me most recently is this excerpt from a piece about selling the benefits of the internet to those who choose not to get online (emphasis is mine).
I do firmly believe that the internet is one of the best tools on offer to create a better world, and that we need to work harder to get this point across to those who see Facebook being bullied into adding a "panic" button to its website and believe that this is all the network can give us.
It’s the first time I’ve seen some in the mainstream media describe the actions of CEOP as bullying and I think it’s a brave move.

I agree with Bill. The move by CEOP comes across as a muscle-flexing attempt to assert dominance over Facebook, especially given the threat issued by Jim Gamble, the chief executive of CEOP that:
If they don’t adopt the button we are simply not going to go away.
I don’t believe for a second this is just about child protection. The desire to have their own "panic button" placed on every Facebook page has more than a hint of CEOP attempting to raise their own profile by getting a prime advertising spot. It isn’t as if Facebook doesn’t have a reporting facility; it has even put a system in place to pass reports on to CEOP at the user’s request. The continued objections by CEOP increasing look like a fit of pique because Facebook haven’t meekly given them prime billing and allowed them to create the impression that a report direct to the state is the only available avenue. In terms of continued stability, I prefer Facebook’s solution. Government departments come and go, especially when power changes hands, so having a consistent reporting mechanism built into the site’s own processes, rather than relying on a third party mechanism which my change without notice, would seem to have some advantages.

One of the more pragmatic comments on the issue comes from the BBC's home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw:
Other independent child protection experts say it's time to call an end to the dispute.

They say that Facebook is relatively safe, and further damaging publicity could drive users to seek contact in more risky online environments.
I think it’s a valid point which CEOP would do well to consider.

08 April 2010

Quote of the Day

An oldie, but a goodie, from Bastiat:
The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.
Always worth keeping in mind in the run up to an election.