Thursday, September 30, 2004

Stiglitz on population, environment...+ Bush

Managing to remain fairly calm despite a slightly unhinged interviewer, Stiglitz still manages a few notable sentences (part 1 + 2):

Bush was wrong for many reasons, from the inexistence of weapons of mass destruction to the links with Al Qaeda. If there had been a proper working democracy we would never have got to this point.

The real anti-American is George W. Bush, who doesn’t provide information about what his Administration is doing and doesn’t even give the names of the people working in it. His actions are against the interests of ordinary people, disregard democratic constitutional principles, as well as principles upholding human rights.

NB: I think it is a translation from Italian.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

McMoralism

Brendan O'Neill makes some good points about the snobbish tone of the anti McDonalds criticism, before lapsing into the usual Marxist nonsense of Spiked:

Of course McDonald's, like every other big corporation, mistreats its workers and puts the maximisation of profits first. But in the faux class war between anti-McDonald's campaigners and the McMasses, I'm on the side of the 'happy eaters' every time.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

In praise of McDonalds

French chef, Olivier Pichot, who apparently has earnt Michelin stars in the past, and now works for McDonalds, injects some common sense into the anti fast food atmosphere:

My view is very simple: for me this business about junk food does not exist...A Chateaubriand steak with foie gras and lashings of butter, with red wines and hyper-fattening desserts, even if the restaurant has threeMichelin stars, that can be 'malbouffe'. ...
There is not more fat in a McDonald's hamburger than there is in a cheesecake, or full-butter croissant, or a luxury pastry by Pierre Herme. ...
Mcdonald's has an American image and that doesn't please everyone, but for me it isn't necessarily associated with eating badly. It's simply a question of being adult and knowing how to eat properly, and after that it's up to you what you choose.

I haven't seen Supersize Me yet, but since I heard of the idea behind the movie, I thought it was a bit shallow. Of course you can eat yourself ill at McDonalds. I am almost certain I could eat myself ill in the same manner at a Michelin starred restaurant that serves classical French food. For example, take a typical French Michelin starred menu or look through Gordon Ramsay's or Thomas Keller's recipe books. To start, I could have some sort of foie gras terrine, for a main course I could have lobster cooked in butter or meat that might be served with pommes puree (which can contain up to 50% of their weight in butter), and then there are the cheese and desserts. Eating this type of food 14 times a week is probably not good for you.

You might have a fast metabolism, be genetically fortunate, or exercise sufficiently to get away with it, but the point is that you can eat unhealthily anywhere. McDonald's does not have a monopoly here. Since it is probably impossible to force everyone to eat + live healthily, and definitely a waste of resources to try, policymakers (and their lobbyists) should focus on reducing incentives to offload healthcare costs, thereby increasing incentives to live healthily.

Anyway, McDonalds is trying to change + diversifying its menus. You would have thought this is a good thing, or will the anti-McDonalds lot only be happy when the evil Ronald is 6 feet under?

Public economic ignorance

Bryan Caplan has a good, concise paper on economic illiteracy: ... economic illiteracy is rampant in the general public.

Here is a representative quote:
One survey item that captures the public's anti-market bias is the question asking why
the price of gasoline rose back in 1996. Is the reason the "normal law of supply and
demand," or is it instead "oil companies trying to increase profits"? An overwhelming
majority of economists - 89% - points to supply and demand. An almost equally lopsided
fraction of the public - 74% - says the opposite. In the minds of public, prices apparently
go up when businesses suddenly start to feel greedier. Economists, in contrast, expect
businesses to be greedy year-in, year-out; but depending on market conditions, greed
may call for prices to go up, go down, or stay the same.


We know now for certain, Bastiat got it right nearly 200 years ago.
(Via EconLog)

Monday, September 27, 2004

Supporting the war in Iraq

In response to this challenge at Volokh.com.

First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?

At the time, and for as long as I have been aware of the situation, I thought it necessary to remove Saddam Hussein based primarily on the suffering he caused the Iraqi people, the tension he caused in the region, and the succour he gave to terrorists (Al-Qaeda or not). Despot is bad, no-despot is less bad. To remove such dictators is the reason we have supra-national bodies like the UN, and if they are not going to do their job, someone ought to. In the real life case of Iraq, time = death because the longer the UN equivocated (to placate French, Russian + Chinese oil deals, or whatever) the more people suffered in Iraq. Doing nothing or taking longer had costs that are rarely mentioned. The seen and unseen as Bastiat might have said.
I still think the same now because I do not believe in using hindsight to alter original beliefs. My concerns now are not whether it was a good idea, because it was at the time, but whether doing it differently would have made any difference.

Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?

On the one hand, I am concerned that so many soldiers and civilians are dying and that the post-war operation was relatively poorly planned. However, I am more inclined to think that the situation would not be very different if the UN had invaded, or if things had been done properly, however defined. When I saw Iraqis looting their own hospitals at the very start of the war, I was shocked. I took this to mean that all was not well with Iraqi civil society - despite all the horrors heaped upon them by the dictator, cannibalising their own society suggests that even the UN would have floundered. Perhaps they would have floundered to a lesser extent, but I have not been persuaded in this direction. Whilst it is valid to criticise the invasion by referencing the problems now occuring, you also have to show how it could have been different, and beyond implying that all would be fine if anyone other than the US had been involved, this angle is in my opinion, not well supported. Furthermore, the more religion is involved in its fanatical form, the less likely it is that any Western force would better US performance.

Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?

Difficult. One would be decreasing body counts, although this could occur for reasons other than Iraqi/terrorist resistance. Second would be the success of fair democratic elections, irrespective of who was elected. Successful democratic elections will maximally legitimise US withdrawal. Over the longer term, the easy indicator to use is economic activity - if the Iraqi economy grows and if money is repatriated + invested, and if migration toward Iraq occurs, we will know we have succeeded. I think the last point is particularly important - we know the US is better, crudely speaking, than Cuba, because no-one risks death to swim to Cuba. Most ambitiously, if Iraq embraces Western values (rather, resists Islamic policies) such as equality for women, we will know we have helped.

I have plenty of caveats and uncertainties that flesh out my position and I am not too far from reversing my view, or just stating that I don't know, so the answer above is a simple framework.

Food alarmism

Toby Moore in The Times manages to say some useful things about the British food culture, if you overlook the anecdotally based evidence, such as the following:

Yet, as our eating alternatives expand, so does our anxiety about eating itself — a “food doctor” in West London has a two-month waiting list.
Do you know any women who aren’t dieting, or at least talking about it? I don’t; it’s all Atkins, South Beach, cabbage soup, blood type, food combining, Beverly Hills, the Zone.


He quotes Deanne Jagger, principal of the National Centre for Eating Disorders:
If we watch television for two hours a night, we’re exposed to 20,000 messages in relation to food in a single year. And these messages are designed to get under our defences and make certain foods alluring. We’re not just sold food, we’re sold the added value of food. We’re not sold pasta, we’re sold Italy, of being there, because that association colours our emotional response to food.

The author then goes on to suggest that this is some type of deception. However, we are sold the added value when we buy pretty much everything, from perfume to cars to clothes, yet pundits seem to pick and choose which to complain about. So adding value to food, via marketing is somehow to be frowned upon, whilst selling cars in a similar manner is fine. There is a growing sentiment amongst journalists and interest groups, that food should be reconnected to locality and seasonality. This disconnect is normally blamed on supermarkets.

Antonio Carluccio (whose hypocritical views I noted here) is quoted: There is nothing super about a supermarket. This is where the disconnect is. There are all the books and television programmes. But in supermarkets they sell pre-cooked food. That is where the money is, you see. Not in vegetables and fresh foods.

In a similarly shallow article in The Telegraph, Alice Thomson stated: Many women know exactly how many calories there are in a slice of bread but have no idea when wheat is harvested.

Trade (specifically big capitalism, supermarkets...) is not the culprit here. Of course, supermarkets shape demand, but they would sell ice to the eskimos if it were profitable. That they do not sell local, organic (or whatever the fashionable criteria are) foodstuffs is testament to lack of demand. Having a relatively poor food culture, British consumers do not drive demand for "good" quality produce. Similarly, although supermarkets are widespread in Italy, "proper" markets are similarly widespread. If you maintain that supermarkets kill food culture, or whatever, and submit Britain as evidence, you must also be able to explain why you cannot submit Italy as evidence. You must also be able to explain why fresh produce in many Italian supermarkets is at least equal to that found in fashionable British foodshops and farmers markets.

A fundamental difference between Britain and Italy (and many continental European countries) is that the latter has an extremely diverse and resilient food culture, due not least to historical and geographical accident, whilst the former is superficial, fad driven and mainly confined to metropolitan areas. Therefore, when supermarkets operate in these different environments, the outcomes are very different. In Britain, supermarkets can get away with selling produce that in Italy would only be stocked by the cheapest stores, and perhaps not even then.
Solutions averred by pundits would therefore be better aimed at the cause, by improving British food culture, rather than treating the symptom.

A final point is that this disconnect, this gap in knowledge, is a fundamental reason why we in the West are so healthy and wealthy today. The division of labour economises on the need for knowledge - to thrive in today's economy you do not need to have deep knowledge about anything other than your speciality. If you are a software programmer it is of secondary import whether you know how + when wheat is grown. Time is scarce, and there is not enough of it to know everything about anything. As Adam Smith showed over 200 years ago, in his famous pin-maker example, it is more efficient to specialise. So today, we can buy from shops that do know about wheat but we do not need that knowledge ourselves. To suggest that this "ignorance" is somehow a failing is to fundamentally misunderstand how our society functions.

The Che cult

Via Johan Norberg, why you shouldn't wear Che Guevara t-shirts. I would suggest this model instead.

Things to be done to your body when you are gone

The Times reports various post cremation techniques, my favourite of which is to turn ashes into diamond. This will cost at least £11,000, and may be one way to counter death/inheritance duties, although selling the diamond on may be tricky.

More on the Christian Aid campaign

Stephen Pollard in The Times: Do you want to help to kill an African? It’s very easy. Just sign Christian Aid’s petition against free trade.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Food photo of the week

Peach and amaretti bavarois, raspberry coulis

Tom Palmer v Lew Rockwell

Probably only of interest to those in libertarian circles, Tom Palmer continues his strong critique of Lew Rockwell and co.
If you hang out with the Rockwell crowd, you're hanging out with people who want to kill homosexuals and heretics (North), give keynote addresses at conventions of neo-Nazi crackpots (Sobran), work directly with the racist and KKK-sympathizing Council of Concerned Citizens (Francis), etc., etc

If Palmer is correct, it is a great shame that the reputation of von Mises has been tarnished so. It is also a shame, and I am certain of this, that the classical liberal / libertarian cause has been soiled by association with such people.
However, there is very little we can do about this, and all political movements have their fringes, and it is these fringes that can draw many people into the more reasonable (and correct) centreground. For example, innumerous people have become classical liberals... after reading Ayn Rand. Some may never have moved beyond her simplistic thinking, but many have progressed to the valuable and rigorous research of Hayek and co.

Recipe of the week

From Heston Blumenthal, Fat Duck, 3 Michelin Stars, + one of the most innovative chefs around. Warning - do not try this at home

Caffe

25 espressi this week - up 1

Friday, September 24, 2004

Has Hitchens lost his way or has he arrived?

Onward Christian soldiers?

Prof Niall Ferguson (R) in The Spectator suggests that the special Transatlantic relationship may be souring. He also pens a phrase bound to be quoted many times:

On they march (Bush + Blair), these two Christian soldiers, each with a Bible in one hand and a bazooka in the other.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Behind the Swedish experiment

Evidence by a LSE academic that Swedish socialism may not be working as hoped

What we all expect - but what is never actually said - about Sweden and countries such as Norway and Denmark is that because they have such a forward-thinking attitude to the needs of working parents, women have a much better deal, are able to work more effectively and to progress better. Wrong, wrong and wrong again, says Hakim. "Swedish women don't have it made - they still end up paying a price in terms of their career or employment. What you find, if you look closely at the figures, is that there is a pay threshold in Nordic countries below which are 80% of all women, and above which are 80% of all men.
What is more, the glass ceiling problem is larger in family-friendly Sweden than it is in the hire-and-fire-at-will US, and it has also grown as family-friendly policies have expanded. In Sweden 1.5% of senior management are women, compared with 11% in the US
...It is difficult, says Hakim, to get accurate figures, but she reckons that Swedish women are paid around 20% less than Swedish men - a similar pay difference to the one that exists in the UK. Interestingly, other EU countries with a lower pay gap don't show a correlation with better family-friendly packages: Italy has a 15% pay gap, Spain a 12% gap and Belgium and Portugal an 8% gap. None of these countries is held up as providers of great family-friendly packages - indeed, some of them, including Portugal, have systems in place that are not only a great deal less generous than that of Sweden, but also a lot less accessible.

I Am Not Us. We Are Not Me.

One of the best blog pieces I have seen - at Cafe Hayek
It looks at why most dicussions over international trade are fallacious because they use meaningless concepts, such as we meaning a country acting as an individual.

Talking about “our” trade with foreigners, or of “our” manufacturing base, or of how much of “our” currency or equity is held by “them” creates a too-ready illusion that each nation is a single, unified economic unit – America, Inc., Japan, Inc., Botswana, Inc.
It isn’t so. It isn’t close to being so.
What matters above all are the circumstances and preferences of each individual -- individual prospects, successes and set-backs, tastes and preferences, and opportunities


Of course, treating trade as the sum of the individual actions of billions of people would make it almost impossible for ignorant/deceitful/misguided journalists to write lazy headlines.

Christian Aid's misguided campaign

From their campaign
So called Free Trade. Our government claims Free Trade is the solution to the world's problems. But that's exactly what you'd expect them to say. Why? Because it allows the world's richest countries and their fat cat companies to profit. It's the cruellest rip-off in history. Millions of farmers in poorer nations are being gradually ruined by free trade. Take the case of the onion farmers of Senegal. With Free Trade forced on them, they're unable to sell their produce because their local markets are flooded with onions imported from Europe. The farmers are helpless to do anything but stand by and watch their crops rot and their livelihoods disappear. Want to do something about it? Help us get Tony Blair to listen by voting for ‘Trade Justice' - here and now.

Comments here and here

Note the way free trade is forced upon farmers. Either this is deceitful or ignorant. The latter because perhaps they do not understand that forced trade is not free trade, by definition. Or the former, because it sounds like Marxist type abuse of the English language: free trade is really forced trade because the workers are not working towards their best interests.... That the campaign is basically Marxist can be seen in the following zero-sum policy suggestion:

Make laws to stop big business profiting at the expense of people and the environment.

The real problem here is that the campaign is partly right yet the solution is woeful. The proper solution is to get rid of subsidies in Europe that harm people in the 3rd world. If this is trade justice, let's have it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The benefits of voluntary collectivism

The Telegraph reports (R) on research (funded by the ESRC) on the social benefits of voluntary action.
Researchers have found that the neighbourhoods with the highest level of voluntary work have less crime, better schools and happier, healthier residents than districts withour community spirit.

I have not read the research, but it would be interesting to find out what promotes voluntary action in communities. How important are factors such as geography, demography...? Is there a correlation between freedom and voluntary action? For example, do individuals with extensive freedoms choose to form socially cohesive communities more frequently and successfully that oppressed individuals?
The answer, if there is a clear one, would seem to be yes.
1. Individuals in despotic countries, particularly Communist/Socialist..., act under unfortunate institutional incentives that destroy social capital. If everyone has to look to the State for succour, in a manner similar to the cover of Hobbes' Leviathan, they are less likely to look to each other.
2. In relatively free countries, such as the US and UK, there is a long history of voluntary provision of public goods, such as healthcare, education, policing... An excellent book on this is The Voluntary City, one the most valuable books I have ever read.

Bush soundbites

From his speech to the UN yesterday

Liberal imperialism:
Now we gather at a time of tremendous opportunity for the U.N. and for all peaceful nations. For decades, the circle of liberty and security and development has been expanding in our world. This progress has brought unity to Europe, self-government to Latin America and Asia, and new hope to Africa. Now we have the historic chance to widen the circle even further, to fight radicalism and terror with justice and dignity, to achieve a true peace, founded on human freedom.

Universal human rights - human nature:
this bright line between justice and injustice -- between right and wrong -- is the same in every age, and every culture, and every nation...The security of our world is found in the advancing rights of mankind.
These rights are advancing across the world -- and across the world, the enemies of human rights are responding with violence...

When it comes to the desire for liberty and justice, there is no clash of civilizations. People everywhere are capable of freedom, and worthy of freedom.

Federalism in Iraq
And under Security Council resolutions 1511 and 1546, the world is providing that support. The U.N., and its member nations, must respond to Prime Minister Allawi's request, and do more to help build an Iraq that is secure, democratic, federal, and free.




Beautiful wildlife photos

Monday, September 20, 2004

Collectivists triumph

'Rich, pampered individualists' lose to the (presumably) rich, pampered, collectivists.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Food photo of the week

Lemongrass poached peach, meringue, rosewater ice-cream (with schnapps syrup + dried peach skin garnish) Posted by Hello

Recipe of the week

Parmesan ice-cream

Very simple recipe for what is really parmesan cream. We serve it in a quenelle as part of a vegetarian main course (photo here) but you could use it as part of a savoury tart (topped with roasted veg for example) or as a layer in a vegetable terrine. Maybe even include it in a cheese course.

Melt 4 parts double cream to 3 parts parmesan cheese (with a tiny pinch of paprika + teaspoon of balsamic vinegar) over a bain-marie. Take care not to overheat or it will split.
When completely melted, cool + put in fridge until firm. That's it.

Caffe

24 espressi this week - up 2

Does banning smoking increase trade?

The Times reports that banning smoking in restaurants would increase trade.
However, the data for this claim seem to be hypothetical: more than 1/3 of the 4000 diners questioned for the 2005 Zagat guide claim they would eat out more frequently if a ban were imposed. The article then rather spuriously suggests that this fact supports a ban.

Does anyone know of any solid research into the effect of smoking bans on trade in restaurants/pubs?
My immediate thought is if this were true, why would restraunts not ban smoking voluntarily? A fair few do ban pipes/cigars and some cigarettes but there seems to be large international variation.
Since some restaurants ban smoking voluntarily, why have these respondents implied they need a ban to eat out more when they can already eat in smoke free atmospheres? Would the ban reduce the cost to them of searching for smoke free restaurants (or do they just enjoy banning things?)

More on hunting...

From the Sunday Telegraph, why according to a Labour MP (R), the ban is revenge for Thatcher v the miners and from a Lib Dem MP, why the debate is not really about animal welfare;

Iraq - the other side

Mark Steyn and William Shawcross on why the Iraq situation is not as bad as the majority of the media portrays it.
No doubt there are problems in Iraq but the successes are reported on less frequently partly because some parts of the media have axes to grind, and also because it is easier to write stories about bombs and hostages rather than less perceptible changes in public opinion, or the completion of a sewerage works or some such.

Why the EU sucks, part XVIII....

From the ">Sunday Telegraph, (the ASI blog also comments) in order to sell artisan cheese legally, a Czech farmer has to sell it under the guise of animal feed.
He earns £97 a week from his cheese, but to comply with EU regulations would cost him almost £64,000!!
This type of lunacy is bad for the EU (and good for those who dislike the EU) because it reduces the legitimacy of the institution in the eyes of those affected by stupid laws; it therefore threatens to undermine the legitimacy of those areas where the EU operates efficiently (I will have to get back to you when I find out what these are); it threatens to reduce cultural diversity by suffocating small producers and boost the black markets by criminalising demand.

How the internet saved books

Via Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution.

Blogging as a Hayekian spontaneous order?

There has been a fair bit of discussion as to whether blogging, specifically the CBS incident incident, is an example of a Hayekian spontaneous order. See here, here, here...

This post at Crooked Timber doubts whether the exposure ofCBS was spontaneous in this sense because the White House leaked the facts in the first place. Still, even if this is true, the facts would probably have been discovered in time and the blogsphere spread and evolved the story extremely quickly.
In this case, the medium is the message. The internet + blogging spreads and evolves information at a speed and in a manner not possible until quite recently. The nature/content of the message is less important than the manner of transmission.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Michael Moore gets a taste of his own medicine

Friday, September 17, 2004

UN oil for food for terrorism?

Would it be a surprise if this were true?

Review of Carluccio's

Being stuck for options, I lunched at Carluccio's in Ealing (west London) today.
£44 for two with a bit of alcohol, coffee, water, 2 mains, 1 dessert, 1 starter + average/poor service.

Pasta con funghi (£5.95) was ok - egg pasta was a little dry, the mushrooms seemed to be exclusively button with scarce a wild or brown in site, and the sauce was water,butter, parsley + garlic, not helped by dry parmesan.
Mains were chicken breasts breadcrumbed + fried with a meagre salad (£8.25). They were badly underseasoned + mine seemed to be on the turn - it had a slightly gamey flavour that I associate with old poultry.
Dessert of a poached peach, cream and peach/amaretti puree (£4.25) was ok - peach was a strange bright red, but the peach/amaretti puree was very good.
Average/good machiatto (no brown sugar though)

Nothing notable either way really except for the pretentiousness of the operation. See the website for evidence of the folksy-yet-modern advertising. I actually like the design of the restaurants, and I like the simple approach to the food, but I do not like the prices and the holier than thou attitude I sense (I commented on this here).
Carluccio made nearly £2 million last year from his business, yet he still goes on about the value of localism/slow food/anti-supermarkets, when in fact his operation is as much a multinational as those he criticises.
As I have said before, if I got this food for €15 in a simple place in Italy, I wouldn't moan too much. But when I pay almost €15 for a tasteless fried chicken breast in a highly designed environ, it takes the piss a little.

All in all though, I think Carluccio has been good for a particular aspect of gastronomy in this country, but it is time to move on and upwards.

Hunting

The hunting debacle continues, and raises issues at the heart of classical liberalism, and any political belief system that is serious about freedom in any meaningful sense - pluralism.

Not liking something is not sufficient reason for prohibition.
Being in the majority is not sufficient mandate for prohibition.
Political belief systems that do not, however loosely, conform to these principles are fundamentally illiberal. That is a bad thing.

If being one of a number of people (who happen to form a majority in a given geographical area) who dislike something (hunting...) were sufficient, we would have all sorts of frankly stupid populist policies. For example, spurred on by Green hysteria, the public would probably ban most forms of modern technology. This is an unavoidable part of the fiction of the democratic consent of the people, but it can be mitigated by respecting pluralism.

I take this to be one of the points Mark Steyn makes in The Telegraph:
For all the talk of vibrant "multi-culturalism", Blair's Britain is strikingly unicultural - diversity of race, gender and orientation, but a ruthless homogeneity of metropolitan modishness imposed by a highly centralised politico-media culture. America is a federal state and thus local majorities prevail: in New Hampshire, we like hunting; in the gay environs of Fire Island, the thrill of the chase lies elsewhere. Each, as I said, to his own.
In Britain, Soho's views on hunting should be no more relevant than Somerset's opinion of gay leather bars. But they are. And those Left-wing columnists who go on about the "climate of fear" in Bush's America ought to remember that, even in their wildest power-crazed dreams, Bush and John Ashcroft will never be able to issue a national ban on centuries-old traditions merely because they offend metropolitan taste.

In The Times, Anatole Kaletsky makes a similar point:
Why, then, do opponents of hunting feel so passionately about saving foxes, but do not worry about the suffering of fish, cows and sheep? Why do many of the same activists attack women wearing mink or sable, but do not give a damn about leather shoes? The difference is not about morality but about class and tribe. Hunting, like fur, is identified with the rich and the toffs. Fishing, like leather and hamburgers, is an indulgence of the urban working class.
While it has not been in the interest of either side to acknowledge the class origins of the struggle over hunting, this nasty reality is going to emerge with a vengeance in the coming months. Viewed in isolation, the poll tax was also a small and eccentric issue. But it sparked a wave of protest which helped to bring down Margaret Thatcher because it seemed to condense in one symbol the injustice and arrogance of Thatcherism, which the country had started to hate.


Thus, there is the procedural point: Why should one group of people be able to tell another what to do?

Furthermore, there are the substantive points, that banning hunting is inconsistent because other forms of worse animal abuse are tolerated, and also, that banning hunting would not increase the welfare of the average fox (see here).

Put these together and you have a policy that is wrong in every meaningful sense, and illustrates one of the main fallacies of democracy: that majoritarian decision making confers legitimacy..

Lastly, should the thousands of soon to be criminals (hunters and associates) continue to protest? Do they have a duty to consent to the law if they consider it a bad law? This touches on legal areas I am not qualified to comment on, but given that all governments rest solely on consent (see David Hume and Etienne De La Boetie on this), and for it to be meaningful, consent must be voluntary and unanimous, the more important question is, why should they not protest and disobey?
The rural affairs minister is quoted as saying: If you don't like this, don't vote for us.
Presumably, the protesters don't like the ban, and won't vote for Labour (and didn't), so what now? The minister's argument is therefore entirely empty. I am not suggesting that unanimous governance is possible or even desirable, but simply that for consent to be meaningful, there must be the ability to dissent. Perhaps the minister is suggesting a new form of democracy: you only get the policies you vote for. Unfortunately, I don't think so.

UPDATE:
Once you get past the toff-bashing, you find that even Polly Toynbee thinks the situation is a preposterous waste of political energy.

Stephen Pollard, despite being against the ban, confuses majoritarianism with legitimacy:
The people have spoken in both 1997 and 2001 and returned landslide Labour majorities and a government pledged to allow a vote. All that has happened is that MPs have now had that vote.
The fox hunting lobby has lost. Sure, they have every right to campaign to have the soon-to-be-law reversed, just as any group can seek to persuade the rest of us of the need for a change in policy. But there is no justification, either moral or legal, for their current behaviour and support for violent tactics.

He is correct to state that nothing unusual is going on regarding parliamentary procedure and law-making (and I agree with some of his sentiments on the political economy of the countryside) but this is beside the point.

Why should the hunters not protest? Democracy ought to be more than inter-class/group bashing: oh well, today I lost these liberties due to the lobbying of these groups, but it's ok, because next week, I'll take some of their liberties from them. This is the road to ruin on which we travel.

Unintended consequences

In the Telegraph (R), an interview with Prof Bogdanor. He discusses the fundamental nature of the European Convention on Human Rights and how in adopting it, the government may have changed the nature of our constitution. Before, our constitution could be summed up as follows: 'What the Queen in Parliament enacts is law'. Now, we are more dependent on the ruling of judges here and in continental Europe.
The author of the piece states: 'Prof Bogdanor thinks that the full consequences were probably not understood' when the government adopted the ECHR.

Such unintended consequences have been documented by Thomas Sowell in his latest book Affirmative Action, (I cannot recommend it highly enough) which shows how well intentioned policies have disastrous effects later on. Not least of these is how preferential politics caused the civil war in Sri Lanka. Hopefully, the ECHR will not turn out to be so deleterious.

Thank you Tony

I think I sort of agree with the sentiment of the thankyoutony website, but....well it just seems a little strange. Perhaps I am on the wrong side of the Atlantic to appreciate it fully?

All the wonderful quotes from Tony, as he might like to be known, on the battle for liberty and freedom motivating the Iraq war would ring truer if his justification (to Parliament at least) were not based on spurious and perhaps mendacious WMD threats.
He should have just said it is the right thing to do and left it at that.

Nuclear power is cool

A potential source of embarrassment for the Greens is that in pushing their renewables agenda via Kyoto...etc, they have also pushed for nuclear power, which in their world view, is the devil's spawn.
Furthermore, some argue that we cannot have nuclear power (even if they accept it is necessary) because it is uneconomic - it requires government subsidy. That may be true, but it is true also of wind power. When is a subsidy not a subsidy? When it is a Green subsidy.

Good piece by Lord May (R) (ex UK government chief scientific adviser) on the political economy of nuclear power and an excellent article by Simon Jenkins on the fallacies of enery politics (I fear the trouble is that Mr Blair does so quake. He regards making a decision on nuclear power as a greater threat to him than global warming is to humankind.)

Great photos

Here, again, via Tyler Cowen

Why economic growth is good for you

Tyler Cowen on the benefits of economic growth

Monday, September 13, 2004

New PERC Report out

The latest Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) report is out here
Notable articles include the risk of reintroducing malaria whilst restoring wetlands, and why in energy research, expansionism is a superior paradigm to depletionism, including a nice citation of Zimmerman: knowledge is truly the mother of all resources

I admit I had never heard of Zimmerman, but this quote is a good summation of Julian Simon and F A Hayek's work.

The benefit of working at McDonald's

If you don't work at McDonald's when you are a teenager, don't expect to manage a McDonald's when you are middle-aged. Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution

Food critics

Fairly lightweight article by BBC online on the business of food critics, which I think follows on the back of Jamie Oliver's restaurant getting slated by Hardens. At the prices he charges (anything up to £30 - 35 for a main course) he ought to be cooking Michelin standard food, not relatively simple cucina povera. Although I have massive respect for what he has achieved with his students, he is taking the piss a little, although if there is a market for it, good luck to him.

Jay Rayner is quoted in the article. My review of his book is here.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Why truth matters

Via Political Theory Michael Lynch gives 3 reasons why truth matters.
1. A heuristic
2. To protect rights
3. To speak truth to power.

Food photo the week

Posted by Hello

Recipe of the week

Egg pasta (long - tagliatelle....) with parsnip

This is a very simple dish borrowed + adapted from Jamie Oliver

For 2
300 - 400 gm pasta
3-6 parsnips
Thyme
1 clove garlic
Double cream
Parmesan

Start cooking pasta
Peel parsnip + discard first skin. Peel rest in long strips until you reach the core.
Whilst pasta is cooking, fry garlic in lots of oil + butter. After a minute or two, add good pinch of thyme (or rosemary or sage) and then the parsnip peelings.
Cook until parsnip is nearly soft, turn heat up, deglaze with dry white wine or Vermouth.
Boil down and when reduced, add double cream to make a fairly dry sauce. Season. You want some of the parsnip to have dissolved into a sauce and some to remain intact.

When pasta is cooked, add directly from pasta pot to parnsip pot (with tongs or something similar), and add more pasta cooking water if too dry. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Caffe

22 espressi this week - up 2

Observer food monthly out

Only reason to buy the Observer today, and any Sunday. Or you could just read it online. Quite a good issue - standout is the article on Fergus Henderson, of St John. Apparently when he ate at Charlie Trotter's restaurant in Chicago, Trotter got his chefs to leave the kitchen and applaud him to his table!!

More on global warming

The Observer reports that hurricane frequency may increase in the Atlantic due to changes in the circulation of the ocean, not global warming.

However, the rest of the article barely stops short of normal climate alarmism:

The images of Hurricane Ivan sweeping over Jamaica have added yet another image of climatic devastation in recent months. Although not directly linked to global warming, they have - along with pictures of wrecked harvests and summer deluges - intensified popular concerns about the climate.
(Especially in science, popular does not correlate with veracity)

Michael Howard is quoted as jumping on the bandwagon:
Like the war on terrorism or the drive for responsible free trade, climate change is an international issue that depends on international co-operation

It is an insult to those involved to compare the events at Beslan to climate change, in much the same way that comparing something to Nazism or somesuch, in most cases, undermines the argument.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

And so the sky will fall in...

The Times reports that Blair will next week emphasise the seriousness of climate change:
Climate change is the gravest challenge facing the planet, Tony Blair will say in a landmark speech to environmental experts this week

David King, the government's Chief Scientific Adviser, overreacts somewhat: I am sure that climate change is the biggest problem that civilisation has had to face in 5,000 years.

The Times follows up with some lame reporting: His speech comes as British holidaymakers in Jamaica are given a foretaste of the sort of extreme weather conditions that environmental experts say are likely to become increasingly prevalent as global warming takes hold.

For evidence that the hurricanes are nothing abnormal see here (via Philip Stott and others).

The whole debate is facile, given that climate change has always and will always happen. Framing the debate in such a way suggests that climate can be stabilised, which is a false belief, and gives a perpetual mandate to the Green lobby.
I am reminded of the following statement by high-Green Edward Goldsmith who wants to ‘...slow down this (global warming) terrible process so that when climate eventually stabilises our planet can remain largely habitable’ (The Observer, 2001). This belief is either stupid and/or ignorant or just knowingly devious.

No doubt there are plenty of environmental problems, but a debate such as this one is bound to produce the wrong solutions.

More condemnation of the Sudanese Government

Glenys Kinnock in The Times:

This evidence confirms that the Sudanese Government, through its scorched-earth policy and “ethnic cleansing”, is perpetuating a genocide against its own people.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Libertarian hawks - an oxymoron?

Will Wilkinson offers a good critique of a libertarian/contractarian case for war in Iraq. nb also the intelligent comments.

I think Will might have a problem with using contractarianism to defend an anti Iraq war stance for the following reason: the Leviathan (a supranational body in modern parlance - ie the UN) to which we prudentially surrender certain powers is in 2004, particularly inefficient and perhaps corrupt. It might be the best we have (debatable) but its failings limit the contractarian argument. It might be imprudent to surrender power (self-defence, whatever...) to an inefficient Leviathan.
I am not sure what the implications of this are regarding Iraq, and I think I agree with the rest of his post, but an argument that relies on the UN is flawed in proportion to the uselessness of the UN.

More dissent here at the well endowed Liberty and Power blog

Darwin the dogmatist

The Telegraph reports (R) that Serbia has suspended teaching of evolution theory for this year + will only allow it to be reintroduced if the schools provide balance by teaching creationism.

The education minister is quoted: Darwinism is a theory as dogmatic as the one which says God created the first man.
And regarding her pushing her personal beliefs: It is normal that a minister's personality leaves a mark. This is my mark and time will tell if I was right.

I am completely ignorant about the Serbian political system, but how can such a policy be passed? Are the majority of Serbain politicians strongly Christian and not afraid to mix church and State?

More here from the Social Affairs Unit on why schools established by a creationist philanthropist are a good thing.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Carluccio takes the pasta

The Evening Standard relays Antonio Carluccio's tirade against Italian food sold in supermarkets:

'Everyone has jumped on the bandwagon, supermarkets have committed huge crimes when it comes to Italian food. It is often what I would call "Britalian" food.' Mr Carluccio, who owns a chain of deli-cafes, claimed that stores sold cheap versions to maximise profits.

Of course, Carluccio's chain maximises price to minimise profit. I think not.
I have recently been told, by an ex head chef of a Carluccio's cafe who now works in my kitchen, of the huge mark ups on the food sold, and the poor quality of most of the food and the fact that most of it is brought in, not made on the premises. I myself have eaten plenty of average/overpriced and poor meals in Carluccio's before I decided never to go back. The problem is not so much the quality of the food (which whilst never threatening to be good, does not reach the awfulness of Bella Pasta or Pizza Express), but the arrogant advertising and ridiculous prices. Carluccio's food is suitable for no more than a €15 a head trattoria in Italy.

To be fair to Carluccio (who elsewhere has admitted he is not a top chef, as claimed in the article), he does state in the article that the real problem is that British people do not know how to cook and therefore buy any old crap in the supermarkets (and I would add, pay anything for anything in average restaurants).

He also states (in the print edition): 'if you want to get the taste of Italy, go there'. I agree - and make sure you don't go to Carluccio's except to admire the prices, especially in the deli sections. They are really quite funny.

Better late than never

On the Sudan crisis, Colin Powell stated:
We concluded that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility and genocide may still be occurring

Hopefully, this will force the UN to do something other than talk about doing something.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Latest libertarian outing

Lembut Opik MP in The Telegraph gives a sensible, pragmatic argument as to why banning fox-hunting will not improve foxes' welfare.
Of course, the point of the proposed policy, as much as one can determine a coherent rationale, is more an elitist metropolitan love-in with animal rights protesters, and toff-bashing, rather than an utilitarian attempt to maximise the welfare of the average fox.

The article is of particular note for the following:

However, as a libertarian, and someone committed to evidence-based decision-making, I firmly believe there must be a very good reason to ban anything. (my emphasis)

This comes from a member of the Liberal Democrat party, who, whilst to their credit have begun to reinsert the classical into liberal (see here), are one of the more tax loving parties. The libertarianism Opik professes to support seems to be more the "I am a libertarian except when I am not" variety, than the variety that does without diluting libertarian with various sub-clauses and loopholes.

Democracy and totalitarian terrorism

Michael Gove in The Times argues that democracy is the answer to terrorism - that the Chechen independence movement is harmed by the barbarism of Beslan:

But the history of Europe in the past century reminds us that it is only a short distance from Beslan to Belsen. The motivation in both cases was not ancient antipathy but modern ideology.

The need to spread democracy to counter terror and tyranny, far from being a neoconservative dream that died in the sands of Iraq, remains not just the most important lesson of the 20th century, but the single most important challenge of our time.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Islamic terrorism

Daniel Pipes links to a powerful speech on Muslims and terrorism by Abdel Rahman al-Rashed (via The Glittering Eye):

It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims.

Then came the Neo-Muslims. An innocent and benevolent religion, whose verses prohibit the felling of trees in the absence of urgent necessity, that calls murder the most heinous of crimes, that says explicitly that if you kill one person you have killed humanity as a whole, has been turned into a global message of hate and a universal war cry.
We can't call those who take schoolchildren as hostages our own.

Bureaucracy in the EU

Why I am against the EU Constitution, and the current European political structure.

Hunting the hunters

The Telegraph predicts that Blair will focus heavily on the hunting issue + may try to push it through with an Act.
As Melanie Phillips comments, you would think that there was no terrorism threat, that public services did not need urgent reform...
The whole hunting debacle threatens to undermine the moral validity of democracy in this country - if so many resources can be diverted to such a minority issue, what good are the rules + traditions of parliament? If the system can be used as a personal tool to implement prejudicial policies, what is it good for?

Technology in the kitchen

Via Exploding Chef, research into kitchen technology at MIT. Some stuff seems useful (containers that tell you when the food inside is going off) whilst others (oven mitts that tell you when the food is cooked) seem less so.

The fat issue

BBC news has a discussion on the problem of obesity in the UK.

For me, it should be an individual thing but since in the UK the costs of our actions (including
unhealthy lifestyles) are socialised via the NHS to some extent, a commons problem exists. If we can externalise the costs of our actions, incentives to live healthily are diminished. If it were known that those 3 cheeseburgers + fries a week will add £20 to your health insurance premium, there might be an incentive to eat more healthily. It is no good arguing for individual responsibility whilst we can cheaply offload the consequences onto the NHS.

Beslan as Russia's 9/11

Rees-Mogg in The Times argues that Beslan will in future years be seen as Russia's 9/11 and that the consequences of Russia's subsequent support in the fight against terrorism will be momentous.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Carnival of the Recipes

Latest edition is up here - including my tripe recipe, how to boil peanuts and a peculiar discussion on sausages and biscuits.
What sort of biscuits are we talking about? Sweet - savoury - butter...? Or does biscuit stand for something else? The gravy bit sounds fine, but biscuits?

UPDATE: pictures of biscuits here and response to my query here - they look like what we (in the UK) would call scones, but without the raisins and sugar. I will have to try them when I am next in the US...

Globalisation

Via ALDaily, a review of Martin Wolf's new book in defence of globalisation

Book reviews

My reviews of inter alia, Jay Rayner's, Matthew Fort's and William Black's latest foodie books are here

Putin's paranoia

Crooked Timber links to an worrying speech by Putin:

Today we are living in conditions which have emerged following the break-up of a vast great state, a state which unfortunately turned out to be unable to survive in the context of a rapidly changing world. But despite all the difficulties, we have managed to preserve the core of the colossus which was the Soviet Union... (my emphasis)


What economists think

Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek links to an interesting piece in the WSJ (R) on the views of Nobel Laureates in economics. Vernon Smith stands out from the crowd - particularly given his strong Hayekian stance.

Food photo of the week

Part of my cookbook collection

Caffe

20 espresso this week - same as last week

New Yorker food issue

The current issue of the New Yorker is a food special + is pretty good

Friday, September 03, 2004

Recipe of the week - pasta with bone marrow

I'm currently a bit obsessed with bone marrow recipes so here is one I ate tonight.
Ingredients (for 2 people roughly)
2 large beef bones (or 3/4 veal bones) - soaked in water for >2hrs. (A decent butcher will give you beef bones free + may charge a little for veal bones).
Tablespoon sage (or whatever herb you prefer), 1 clove garlic
Breadcrumbs (coarse)
200-300gm pasta
Method
Remove bone marrow from bones, checking for bone fragments. Mix with sage, garlic, seasoning, + breadcrumbs. You want about 1 part marrow to 1.5/2 parts marrow.
Fry in a little olive oil until bread crumbs are crisp and marrow has liquefied. Check seasoning.
Reserve some of mixture. Add cooked pasta to the rest and add pasta cooking water if too dry. Serve sprinkled with reserved mixture + parmesan cheese if desired.

Variations
At the restaurant we serve this as a crust on a beef fillet + if made a little drier, can be used as a stuffing for chicken ballotine.

At the deservedly famous St John in London, £6.20/$11 US buys you a bone marrow and parsley salad.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The fiction of government

Don Bourdeaux at Cafe Hayek has a nice piece on why he favours markets over governments:

I suffer from an unusually acute aversion to mysticism, to unsubstantiated claims, and to mish-mash about “we as a nation,” “the hopes of the American people,” “pulling together as a country,” and other romantic foolishness that inevitably is meant to submerge each person’s individuality, wishes, and choices under the suffocating drabness of politicized and allegedly “collective” endeavors.

On this, see Edmund Morgan's Inventing the People which argues that representative democracy is a fiction - albeit a useful one.

In praise of supermarkets

Eamonn Butler at the Adam Smith Institute echoes my views (here + here) on supermarkets.

Immigration

The Guardian reports on the worries of the Optimum Population Trust that a population 'explosion' in the UK will conflict with sustainable development. The immigration issue is, according to the article, less taboo because respected figures (Jonathan Porritt inter alia), rather than non-respected groups such as the Daily Mail, the UKIP and the BNP (note the smear by association) are discussing it. The hypocricy is startling - if groups X and Y both advocate closing our borders to some degree, one is denounced as racist... and the other praised for daring to tackle dangerous issues.
The real issue is not discussed in the piece - population is essentially a Commons problem. In the UK, the welfare state is the commons so additional people are seen as a threat because they might over-exploit the welfare system. Thus we (the framing of the problem legitimates the use of the plural) need to introduce all sorts of illiberal policies, which are acceptable depending on which group they are advocated by.
Interestingly, libertarians are split by the immigration issue. At the heart of the issue lies the issue of private property. In a libertarian utopia all/most property would be private so immigration would be a function of the extent to which property owners consented, which presumably would in turn be a function of economic conditions. See Hoppe against free immigration and Block for free immigration

Supermarket hypocrisy

The Guardian lauds the efforts of Booths, a supermarket chain in the north of England. The stores are smaller, more friendly, stock more local produce...etc
Now Booths are successful mainly because they stock produce people want. It appears that the customers at Booths want to pay a bit more than average for more local food..... Fine. Yet when customers in other parts of England want to pay less for less local or cheaper food or whatever, the Guardian is normally the first to complain about profit before quality or somesuch. However, the process in both cases is exactly the same - the supermarket sells what people want to buy. Thus there is nothing especially praiseworthy about Booths - they are doing exactly the same as Tesco or Walmart or.... The issue instead is substantive - certain elites do not like the choices made by less enlightened shoppers: you shouldn't buy that, you sould buy this.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Ramsay takes the Cornetto

Gordon Ramsay, 3 Michelin Stars, one of the best and most successful cooks of his generation, is in a bit of trouble over a dessert he tried to serve at one of his London restaurants. His ice-cream cone dessert was too close to the mass market Cornetto produced by Unilever that they threatened him with legal action unless he withdrew it. Guardian + Reuters + Evening Standard report.

Ramsay responded: If anything we are improving the image of the Cornetto in giving it a new twist. The thing that p***** me off is that they are so popular. I don't like getting a***h*** letters like that. (from the Standard report)

Unilever's action strikes me as a little odd - to be copied/imitated by such a person as Ramsay is obviously laudatory in some sense, but could also be good for business. Most people will only read/hear a few words of the story and will remember reading about Cornetto. Very few will try Ramsay's and then be put off buying run of the mill oversweet Unilever junk.

English rugby approaches crisis point?

Lawrence Dallaglio announces his retirement from international rugby (methinks to save himself for the 2005 Lions tour) and Sir Clive Woodward's future is suddenly in doubt: I love football and I go to as many games as I possibly can. I never had that passion for rugby I have for football. I never got into rugby in the same way.

All this comes on the back of the post-World cup sequence of losses and retirements of important players. It seems the World cup triumph was the beginning of the end, and not the start of a period of domination.

Paul Ehrlich and the missing millions

The New York Times explains why Paul Ehrlich has got it so, so wrong. It seems the problem now is not overpopulation but falling birth-rates - so much so that some governments are offering financial incentives to couples to do the right thing!!

Apparently Ehrlich is 'pleasantly surprised' by the failure of reality to conform to his theory. The problem with Ehrlich is less that he got it wrong, for we all do that, but it is the unscientific approach which so enrages people. For 30 odd years he has said the same thing and by now, he should have realised his errors, and adjusted his theory accordingly. To continue peddling the same false theory is the sign of an ideologue, not a scientist.

UPDATE:
- Iain Murray on the same story: So in order to drive population down, we should move away from the "idiotic" pursuit of liberty and standards of living, which have been proven to drive population down, and instead return to a "saintly" agrarian lifestyle, which drives population up?
- Terry Anderson on the correlation between private property/economic growth and environmental quality, via Lynne Kiesling
The man truly is a genius.