How to Confuse a Trick-or-Treater

It’s All so Yesterday

Today is, of course, Halloween.

Except that it’s not.

You see, Halloween is in fact the “eve” of “All Hallows’ Day”, otherwise known as “All Saints’ Day”. The legend was that evil would be banished on All Saints’ Day, and therefore had a party the night before.

Now All Saints’ Day is 1st November, so the eve of All Saints’ Day, Halloween, is normally 31st October.

However, the Church has a rule that when a Feast Day falls on a Saturday or a Monday, it is transferred to the nearest Sunday. This year, All Saints’ Day falls on a Monday, and is therefore transferred to the nearest Sunday – which is today.

Therefore, today is All Saints’ Day, and Halloween was … yesterday. Don’t believe me? Here’s a print from my local church newsletter:

All Saints' Day Newsletter

So when those “trick-or-treaters” turn up this evening, you can say, in all honesty:

Trick or treat? You’ve got the wrong day. That was yesterday. Better luck next year!

Liam Donaldson’s Swine Flu Panic Staggers On

Sir Liam Donaldson – Still Worried About Swine Flu

Sir Liam Donaldson used to be Chief Medical Officer. We grew used to his panic-spreading about health scares like swine flu.

And now, he is the lead author of a new paper on swine flu in The Lancet.

Apparently swine flu killed three times as many children last year as “ordinary flu” would have.

Sounds serious eh? And the paper declares boldy:

Our findings support the vaccination of children against pandemic influenza A H1N1. Children at greatest risk of severe illness or death should be prioritised. Our data indicate that risk groups include children with preexisting illness (including chronic neurological or gastrointestinal disease) and those in ethnic minority groups (including Bangladeshi and Pakistani children).

However, our findings also suggest that protection cannot be confined to risk groups as 21 per cent of deaths in our cohort occurred in healthy children.

There’s one problem with that conclusion: it bears no relation to the evidence presented.

First, that “three times as likely”. A reader glancing at the story might think that means swine flu is three times as dangerous to children as “normal flu”. But in fact, it means that six in every million children caught swine flu and died from it, while normally two in every million catch “normal flu” and die from it.

And that is hardly surprising considering that during that mini-epidemic, overall levels of flu in the population were significantly higher than usual. And flu sometimes (very rarely) kills its victims. The truth is that those statistics pretty much prove that swine flu is no more dangerous than “normal flu”.

The total number of children who died from swine flu was apparently 70. And of those, most had pre-existing conditions that made them susceptible. Just 14 were previously healthy. A comment on that Telegraph article points out that these numbers are not statistically significant anyway.

The real situation is that there were more flu cases than usual last year, and therefore a few more people died from it than usual. Awful for the families involved, obviously, but hardly an enormous menace that justifies an immediate mass vaccination programme.

That figure of six children per million dying from swine flu equates to one per 167,000.

By way of comparison, according to the US National Weather Service, around one in every 500,000 Americans are struck by lightning each year.

Thus Sir Liam thinks that a risk that is around three times the risk of being struck by lightning, justifies a vaccination programme for all children.

Good grief, Sir Liam. Time for a well-earned retirement methinks.

Demanding Money with Menaces Ought to be a Last Resort

Dick Turpin – Who Seems to Have His Admirers Today

There was an earnest discussion on Radio 4 this morning about the “drink problem”. The problem is that large numbers of people are drinking too much in towns across the country, and causing trouble while they are drunk.

The discussion on Radio 4 concerned a proposal from America. The idea is that when somebody is convicted of a drink-related crime, then they could have an order placed on them, requiring them to be breathalysed twice a day for a period.

As the discussion went on, the area for debate widened into a general one about how to stop people drinking so much.

The whole debate centred around which approaches would be effective.

The guy from Alcohol Concern said that he applauded the idea of tackling “problem drinking” but he wanted to know whether people would remain sober after their “breathalyser order” had expired.

He was also concerned about whether government funding for this would continue. In fact, he mentioned that just a few seconds after somebody else had mentioned that the people concerned would be paying for their own breathalyser tests. Perhaps he was becoming confused between government funding for this suggested scheme, and government funding for Alcohol Concern.

For the record, in 2008/9 that included £542,000 in government grants, and a further £321,000 from “Consultancy and Training”. They have one member of staff, presumably their Chief Executive, earning over £60,000 per year. Their staff numbers fell from 12 to 10 in 2008/9, but their salary costs went up by 11 percent.

Their annual report states:

The growth in income is largely due to Primary Care Trusts and Local Authorities taking on the Public Service Agreement national indicator at a local level which has required both assessments of their ability to deliver against the target (consultancy) and then train staff to understand and deliver alcohol interventions
(training).

It is unclear from the report how they delivered this increase in their work with a drop in staff numbers, or why that was accompanied by a 20 percent increase in average salary per head in the
organisation.

In the Radio 4 programme, the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, was quoted as believing that “nudging” people to behave properly – by measures like minimum drink prices – was more effective than compulsion. There it is again – discussion of the means to control people, but never any discussion of whether controlling people is actually a morally right thing to do.

All of this, whether it is compulsion or nudges, is funded by taxes. And taxes, remember, are extortion of money with menaces. Yes, they really are. A libertarian would perhaps conclude that taxes are immoral, which is a logical position to hold.

Personally, I don’t take that view. I actually do believe that the government is right to extort money with menaces (i.e. levy taxes) for certain purposes that we all need.

I do actually believe that extorting money to pay for Defence, or the Police, or even the National Health Service, is justifiable. That is because it allows the provision of universal services without the problem of “free riders” that would occur if the services were funded voluntarily. (The free riders are the ones who use the services but don’t ever contribute).

The idea of placing “breathalyser orders” on people convicted of drink-related crimes sounds fair enough – because those crimes affect other people, and people who have been convicted of crimes surely forfeit some of the rights that everyone else has. We accept that when we accept that criminals should sometimes go to prison.

However, it is morally wrong to extort money from people (levy taxes) and then use the money to try and drive their behaviour.

Extorting money with menaces to pay for “five a day co-ordinators”, or even Alcohol Concern, is quite simply immoral. It is – well – extorting money with menaces.

And that’s why the whole discussion on Radio 4 this morning was so completely objectionable. Basically, it represented a self-appointed elite discussing openly what was the best way to use our money to control us.

Mr Lansley please note, whether you call it “nudging” or whether you call it “socialism”, extorting taxes and using them to control people’s behaviour is wrong.

A Little Bit of Good News

The Construction Industry Is Leading the Way as the Economy Grows

The latest growth estimate (which may be revised later) shows the British economy growing by 0.8 percent in the second quarter. This was better than most “experts” had predicted, after recent retail sales and housing market data were weak. (Retail sales went down 0.2 percent in September.)

Growth during the Labour years came from booming retail sales (supplied by imports) and a house price bubble, so naturally if those things are now weak, the experts expected growth overall to be weak. They had assumed that the economy has not changed. And yet, the truth is that we do need to rebalance our economy, with more production, more exports, and less consumption.

These are just one set of figures – but they suggest that this just may be beginning to happen.

The BBC makes great play of the rise in construction output (which grew at 4 percent) and claims this is only because:

The building industry has been dealing with a backlog of work that had been postponed from the beginning of the year due to bad weather.

which conveniently overlooks the fact that if this is true, then the strong figures in the previous quarters were achieved in the face of a drag from that same poor weather.

There are other positive indications in that same BBC report that give some cautious grounds for optimism.

Manufacturing grew by 0.6 percent, and services also grew by 0.6 percent.

And the fall in retail sales also points to that much-needed rebalancing.

So the overall picture is output growth in construction, manufacturing and services, with retail sales and house prices both falling.

And those are all the things that we need to happen, if Britain’s economy is ever to be based on something more substantial than ever larger borrowing and artificial asset price bubbles.

These are early days – it’s probably a bit early for George Osborne’s triumphant description of the figures as “a vote of confidence in the new government’s economic policies”. But the figures are all good news. Gordon Brown’s artificial deficit-driven boom may be over, but it seems that a more soundly based growth may be taking root.

Paul Krugman’s Ignorance of History

Paul Krugman – Nobel Prize-Winning Economist, but Clearly No Historian

Paul Krugman reckons the UK government is wrong to cut spending. Mr Krugman is a leading American economist, and indeed a Nobel prize-winner. Here’s what he had to say:

Both the new British budget announced on Wednesday and the rhetoric that accompanied the announcement might have come straight from the desk of Andrew Mellon, the Treasury secretary who told President Herbert Hoover to fight the Depression by liquidating the farmers, liquidating the workers, and driving down wages. Or if you prefer more British precedents, it echoes the Snowden budget of 1931, which tried to restore confidence but ended up deepening the economic crisis.

The best guess is that Britain in 2011 will look like Britain in 1931, or the United States in 1937, or Japan in 1997. That is, premature fiscal austerity will lead to a renewed economic slump. As always, those who refuse to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

Amazing that a Nobel-prize winning economist should be so ignorant of the history of a period that was so significant to economics as a discipline.

The truth is that in Britain, at least, the real economic pain happened from 1929, when the stock market crashed, to 1931. The economy in fact turned up in 1931, and jobs grew steadily in the succeeding years.

As Wat Tyler pointed out in July, between 1929 and 1931, around 1 million jobs were lost. But from 1931 to 1935, 1.6 million jobs were created – so that by 1935, there were 600,000 more jobs than before the crash of 1929.

During that period, the working population grew even faster, so that unemployment rose. But the fact is that 1931 marked a turning point in jobs growth and jobs were created from that point forward.

What’s more, real wages went on growing throughout the period, so that there was, in fact, a great deal of prosperity (though clearly misery for those unfortunate enough to be unemployed, who received a great deal less support from the State than the unemployed do today).

On reflection, we have to hope that Mr Krugman is right, and that Britain in 2011 really will look like Britain in 1931 – which means the start of a period of strong jobs growth and rising general prosperity.

Mr Krugman is the one who has clearly refused to learn from the past. (Not least, he seems to have forgotten the discrediting of economists in 1980/81, who almost unanimously, and wrongly, predicted disaster from Geoffrey Howe’s deficit-cutting budget then.)

On a similar note, there’s a great explanation in a lot more detail of why Government spending does not stimulate economic growth on The Heritage Foundation website. Read that and you’ll see why all that Keynesian magician stuff really, really, doesn’t work.

Ha Ha – You Call That Cuts?

George Osborne Announces His Draconian Plans to Increase Spending More Slowly

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Chancellor George Osborne has unveiled the biggest UK spending cuts since World War II, with welfare, councils and police budgets all hit.

So says the BBC.

Reading on, however, it becomes very clear that what is really meant is a cut in real terms. In other words, budgets will go up by less than the predicted inflation rate. The government is still expecting budgets to rise every single year over this parliament, in cash terms.

We already know that a significant part of these “cuts” will be passed on to the public. The BBC again:

The pension age will rise sooner than expected, some incapacity benefits will be time limited and other money clawed back through changes to tax credits and housing benefit.

And that, of course, means that the real cuts – sorry, reductions in the rate of increase – to the Whitehall Juggernaut are even smaller.

Amazingly, after all the (justified) rhetoric over recent years about Labour’s profligacy and irresponsibility, Mr Osborne was today even boasting that his “cuts” were smaller than the ones promised by Labour.

The private sector, who pay for all this government spending, have been facing not “real terms” cuts but real cuts over the last couple of years. People have faced reductions in pay (reductions, not slower increases); jobs have been lost; companies have cut back on investment.

But all that really nasty stuff is not for the feather-bedded public sector, which continues to behave like the bureaucrats of Imperial China.

Up to 500,000 public sector jobs could go by 2014-15 as a result of the cuts programme, according to the Office for Budgetary Responsibility.

Pull the other one. Given the very limited nature of these “cuts”, it is hard to understand why jobs would need to go – unless, of course, Whitehall is planning to give itself inflation-busting pay rises over the next few years.

The truth is, this was a limited package of measures to restrain the money-gobbling State just a little.

It could be worse I suppose. Labour could still be in power. They accused the government today of

a reckless gamble with people’s livelihoods [which risked] stifling the fragile recovery

I’m beginning to think that the American Right got it right in saying that the only way to restrain the State is to “de-resource” it – i.e. to impose tax cuts.

Chris Huhne – the Bumbling Energy Minister

Chris Huhne, Energy Secretary, Liberal Democrat and Prize Chump

The Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, has announced eight sites for new nuclear power stations – but ruled out plans for a tidal power scheme in the Severn Estuary.

At the same time, he claimed he wanted half of Britain’s new capacity by 2025 to come from renewables – by which he means renewables excluding nuclear.

With or without the Severn Barrage scheme, that target is completely unachievable. Without the Barrage, it is even more out of sight.

Meanwhile, Mr Huhne is still insisting there will be no public subsidies available for any nuclear stations – which may well mean that even they don’t get built.

And without some new capacity being built, Britain faces a a 20 percent shortfall in electricity generation capacity by 2015 – which is just five years away. While Mr Huhne plays at being a Cabinet Minister, we are moving inexorably towards a power shortage and widespread power cuts – which could even start before the next general election.

The Severn Barrage, remember, could generate 5 percent of Britain’s power needs. And not a CO2 emission in sight. The environmentalists, though, are mostly against it, because … well, because they’re against any and all development of anything. (We’ve seen that with some of them even opposing their holy cow of wind power, because of its alleged dangers to birds.)

An expert, Dr Ralph Kirby, is quoted by the BBC as saying:

The barrage has been killed off for the moment by environmental fundamentalism because environmentalists have always objected to the Severn barrage.

It’s quite unambiguous – the Cardiff to Weston (barrage) can only benefit the environment and those who say otherwise are not telling the truth.

Quite. To put it another way, they’re lying.

The Shadow Welsh Secretary weighed in with a statement that scrapping the Barrage would be disastrous for the economy and the environment. Here’s his take on it:

Not only is Chris Huhne turning his back on the proposed barrage scheme that would have created hundreds of good quality green jobs for Welsh people, it appears that he decided to abandon in its entirety the idea of using the Severn estuary as a generator of electricity.

The proposed barrage would have produced 5% of the UK’s energy needs – equivalent to two nuclear power stations.

which is a bit rich considering the outgoing Labour government stalled consistently on building the Barrage throughout its time in office.

The Severn Estuary, which Could Provide Green Electricity to Meet 5 Percent of Britain’s Needs

Another potential issue that was apparently raised with the Severn Barrage is the potential cost of building it – perhaps as much as £30 billion. This is the reason that Mr Huhne gave for not proceeding with the scheme. As the BBC puts it:

Funding a Severn barrage with public money would be “very costly”, he said, and as finding private investment would be challenging, other options should be pursued.

This is also a complete red herring. The cost of building two nuclear stations could well exceed that, taking into account likely decommissioning and waste disposal costs as well as the cost of construction. And if the government doesn’t want to find the money to build the Barrage, fine – why not announce approval for building the scheme in principle and let private investors decide whether to build it? Why is there this ridiculous assumption that civil servants must “plan” and “lead” any power generation projects?

As private investors will see that the price of electricity can only go up in this country thanks to the government’s foolish policies on the issue, I suspect they may be more willing to fund it than the government expects. But the fact is, they haven’t even been asked.

And why does nuclear power get public backing but not tidal power? The Severn Barrage is not some nutty environmentalist’s dream. It is absolutely buildable with today’s technology and nobody seriously doubts that. (In fact, to be accurate, the technology was up to it even 40 years ago.)

While he’s not going for the Barrage scheme, Mr Huhne seems completely unclear about nuclear power as well – announcing new sites but giving sops to the nutters in his own party by claiming there will be no public subsidy involved.

Meanwhile, there are now no new coal fired schemes being pursued, since the Kingsnorth scheme was shelved in 2009.

The politicians, and their civil service advisors, are all over the place with this issue. I am now even more certain that in three or four years time, we will be racing to plan and build gas-fired stations to fill Britain’s energy shortfall before the power cuts begin. And Mr Huhne will be trying to explain to the environmentalists in his party why he is building new fossil fuelled power stations.

The right answer is “all of the above” – we need new nuclear stations to replace the ones that are wearing out, we need the Barrage to make our electricity greener, and we need new fossil stations because otherwise the lights will go out. Neither our politicians nor the civil servants at the Energy Department seem to understand any of this. They will only understand when they press the light switch and the lights don’t come on.

Chris Huhne should be providing leadership on this issue, and cutting through all this nonsense. He is not. He is failing to make any positive decisions on energy production at all. He is spending his time avoiding decisions because any decision might upset somebody. In short, he is clearly showing himself to be unfit to be a Minister.

It is time he was sacked.