Month: March 2011

Why you should be a reactionary

March 12, 2011


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Why I am not has disclaimed the label of “reactionary” I put on him when I linked to him. Fair enough, it is a clumsy label (perhaps “Sith” as used by MM is better), and the title of his blog suggests a certain wariness of labels in any case.
Concretely he goes on to paint a more optimistic view of conservatism than you will get from us reactionaries. 
Frankly, my lifetime (I was born in 1981) has seen progressivism dragged behind conservatism, as the right has progressively neutered the left and so the progressive need to stand on some of the middle ground has forced them ever rightwards. The current Labour Party is far to the right of where the SDP stood at its formation.
I think that is his mistake. It is true that since the 1970s we have seen privatisation, liberalisation of international trade, and reduction in top tax rates.
But those were just a blip in the tide of advancing progressivism. Even leaving out the nationalisations resulting from the financial crisis, the regulatory state, backed by employment, equality, competition and environmental laws, exerts as much control over a lot of “private” business as the 70s state did over nationalised industries.
Top marginal tax rates are pushing back towards 1970s levels, and for most people the tax burden is much heavier than then.
Voluntary co-operation has been all but wiped out by crowding out from government services and from state-sponsored fakecharities, and also by regulation, most egregiously the protection of children laws, but with health & safety, occupational licensing and so on doing their bit. The coalition has rolled back a tiny fraction of the last decade’s impositions, but the expectation is that, like other governments, that is the lot and it will then turn round and start adding on further restrictions. (Remember that Labour on coming to power started by liberalising pub licensing hours — a typical “opposition” policy that looks totally out of place against their subsequent approach).
Voluntary association is also hamstrung by the nationalisation of virtue — the idea that only the state is entitled to distinguish moral and immoral behaviour.
As for “ending the progressive war on the family” — that is long ended; the war on the family was won decades ago. With illegitimacy rates near 50% and most marriages ending in divorce, family life is now a faintly eccentric choice, rather than an expected norm.
In all these areas, everything except international trade, that is, the current Conservative party is far to the left of the 1970s Labour party. And I can say with confidence that the Conservative party in 20 years will be further left still.
So what of the trade question — why is that an exception to the general leftward drift of the Zeitgeist: a mysterious consensus, which changes over the decades? The only answer is that occasionally reality made itself felt. In the post-war period, protectionism was believed to be generally a good thing across left and right.  Reality occurred in the 70s, free trade got a good jump in the 80s, and has been fading ever since. We get as much state as we can afford, but just occasionally the left gets ahead of itself and we get a level of state destructiveness that physically cannot be sustained. In that circumstance, and only that circumstance, are rightists allowed some small victories. To claim those as victories for conservatives is to underestimate reality. (In fact, I seem to recall that in its last days even the Callaghan government was moving towards some Thatcherite policies, as the situation so urgently demanded them).
The best understanding of the place of conservatism in Britain today comes from Peter Hitchens (e.g. The Cameron Delusion, as well as his blog.  I have not come round to his views on drugs, but otherwise I consider his analysis sound.  (Remedies are another matter, but there we are all floundering to some degree.)
Only reactionaries realistically oppose progressivism.

Two points from Ezra Klein

March 12, 2011


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Common Mistakes Made By Economists

1. Political power matters. There are many outcomes that are economically efficient in the short term but lead to a dangerous imbalance of political power in the long term

I wouldn’t use the word “imbalance” – balances can be dangerous too, but otherwise the most overwhelmingly important point in politics.

8. Policy arguments are often conscripted for political purposes…

This is a great sighting near the surface of something so deeply assumed that the assumption is normally invisible: policy is the opposite of politics.

Klein’s strapline is “Economic and Domestic Policy, and Lots of it”. But politics is only allowed in when it forces itself, by point 1.

I have only seen the view of politics being opposite to policy stated so clearly by critics, such as in Mencius Moldbug’s Explanation of democratic centrism

99% chances

March 4, 2011


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Another sensible article by John Kay, this time about financial models. He mentions the Allais Paradox, which relates to what I called folk probability.

I have a quibble though: Kay says “There are no 99 per cent probabilities in the real world”. Clearly, there are. That doesn’t mean, though, that you or I know what they are.

The real point is that at very low probabilities, the chances of your model being wrong dwarf the chances you’re predicting. If you model a probability as 20%, but there’s a 2% chance that your model’s significantly wrong, the true probability is somewhere in 20±2%. That’s useful to know. But if you model a probability as 0.2%, that doesn’t magically make your chance of having got the model wrong a hundred times smaller. What you really have is a probability of 0.2±2 %. It might as well be 1±2% or 0.000001±2% — the question of how sure you are about your model is far more important than whether the model says 1% or 0.1%

More comments on John Kay pieces: ICI rents climate, copyright


March 3, 2011


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I don’t have a strong opinion toward what voting system future General Elections will use. I don’t think that who gets elected is very important:  voters don’t have any control over immediate policy; they only have influence over the long-term direction of policy, and that doesn’t depend on who wins any given election.

However, I used to be very interested in voting systems, and I have an intense dislike of bad arguments. The bad arguments in the AV debate come mainly from the No side.

The silliest is the cost argument. They claim that a switch to AV would cost 250 million pounds. That is highly improbable, and includes the cost of the referendum itself, which is a sunk cost in any case since the referendum is now going to happen.  But just take it at face value for a moment.

Assume AV is an improvement — if it is not then the cost argument is irrelevant.  250 million is about five pounds per voter. The average voter will probably have the opportunity to vote in another six or seven elections. If a significant improvement in the value of a vote is not worth a quid, then what is a vote worth? The only people who should be influenced by the cost argument are those of us who believe that voting is worthless anyway.

There is also talk of voting or counting machines; that is a much bigger and easier argument than AV itself.  Introducing machines is a huge mistake. FPTP hand-counted is far superior to AV with machines, since there is no reason for anyone ever to trust the machines.

A bizarre gem came from John Redwood, who wrote on his blog, “we think it undesirable that elections are settled by the second preference votes of those who vote for minor or unpopular parties”. He doesn’t say why. If you like your local independent, or Green, then the fact that you also prefer Conservative to Labour should therefore be of no interest?

A more cogent objection is that AV would produce Labour/Lib Dem coalitions into the indefinite future. I do not dismiss that, but I think it is mistaken. For one thing, the current situation shows that the support for the Lib Dems, being as it is a historically-produced random collection of highly disparate groups, with no policy positions in common at all, cannot survive the Lib Dems actually holding any power. But more to the point, the biggest effect of AV is within the parties themselves.

In 1981, a handful of senior Labour figures broke away from the party to form the SDP. That was only possible because of the utter failure of the previous Labour government, and the sheer disarray that the party was in. The SDP held a handful of seats for a few years, then merged with the Liberal party.

But imagine how much easier the job of splitting a party would be under AV. The problem the SDP faced was that for most Labour supporters, voting for the SDP instead of Foot was more likely to produce a Conservative MP than an SDP MP. AV greatly lessens that effect: if 50% of voters prefer Labour to Conservative, it is almost impossible for the Conservative to be elected because of the Labour vote splitting between two rival factions.

In fact, other factors might turn out more important than the voting system itself: in the face of the threat of splitting, I would not be at all surprised to see steps taken to defend the leadership of parties from internal dissenters. Pay particular attention to rules on party funding or ballot entry.

I think AV would give voters slightly more influence than they have now. I am quite unsure as to whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing: the Establishment in this country does damage in internal competition and through its religious attachment to Universalism, but on the other hand it is generally less stupid than the voters. So at the end of the day I am in the Whatever2AV camp.

Car Insurance

March 1, 2011


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The EU car insurance ruling is a thing of beauty because it rules out most of the theories of why the EU does the things it does.

There is no possible ideology behind requiring insurers to ignore risk factors. There is no favoured class which will benefit — even the benefit to young male drivers will be very minor*, and there is certainly no general EU intention to benefit that class. There is no practical benefit. The only reason for the EU to decide to interfere in this particular question is because it can.

And there is nothing irrational in that. The EU wants to interfere in as much as possible, regardless of the lack of any justification, because everything it can touch increases its relevance — its power. This creates jobs for people to check that car insurance rates are in compliance. It creates opportunities for deals, exceptions, opt-outs, and straight out bribes. That is a sound, logical course action for a self-styled government with no country.

*since if the insurers adjust rates to bring in the same revenue as before, the effect will be to discourage low-risk female drivers and encourage high-risk male drivers, which will cost the insurers a lot more in claims — therefore the insurers will have to set the rate much higher than the weighted average of what it charges now, and accept a corresponding fall in business.

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