Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Brad De Long is a real economist, unlike Bjorn Lomberg. Here De Long makes three killer points why Lomberg's best-selling book 'The Skeptical Economist' is not so good after all.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Oh dear. Mob (as the BBC I think rather provocatively calls it) outside Peterborough Crown Court for the first appearance since her arrest of Maxine Carr.

Stop the press! Someone has compared Saddam to Hitler, and the war on Iraq as morally the same as the war on Nazi Germany. Check it out here.

Of course no-one has ever done this before. The Suez crisis was caused by Anthony Eden's insistence on comparing Nasser with Noel Coward ('Ooh that Nasser. He's another Mr Coward'), during the Falkands Mrs Thatcher said the UK had to take action because 'Otherwise Gerneral Galtieri -- the Liberace of South America -- might get angry'. Why didn't they think of comparing them to Hitler? Now someone has and the world will never be the same again.

Monday, August 19, 2002

As usual Brad De Long finds the best stories. You can read his comments yourself, but I'll add a few. When Americans say that the Europeans are soft on terrorism, that they appease terrorists and are essentially pinko-lefty-commies, we can now say -- Do you include Brent Scowcroft in that?

Members of the press who hyped the New Economy and soaring share prices come under fire in The Guardian. Bull market pyschology is an interesting thing -- at the time the Nasdaq was over 5,000 I was reading 'A Random Walk on Wall Street' which in painstaking detail listed all other stock price bubbles. I knew that this was another one, but that didn't stop me losing a few hundred pounds on investing in internet shares.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Our beloved National Health Service

Our beloved and saintly NHS, which previously could do no wrong, has come under a lot of criticism recently. Most of the time this is along the lines of 'it's a typical state-run industry: too centralised, the extra money being pumped in will be wasted, the private sector is better'. Sometimes it is not that sophisticated, but that's the sort of thing. Often the argument will then go 'Extra money cannot cure it, only privatization will", and as proof, see the fact that the 'The American -- largely private -- health care system is better'.

Let us run with that idea, for now ignoring any evidence to the contrary (e..g which might or might not be provided by life expectancy, or by comparisions with non-private systems in other countries). So the argument is: 'Extra money cannot cure the NHS, only privatization will", and as proof, see the fact that the 'The American -- largely private -- health care system is better'.

Does this hold up? Well the proof doesn't. When examining the US system, surely one can see that if it is better, it is not because it is private, responsive to customers' needs, etc? It is because it spends
nearly three times more money per person? (the data is 1995 but I doubt much has changed).

A better argument would be that the only way you can spend that much is to make it private, because the public won't stomach paying taxes when there is no direct link to their own healthcare. Unfortunately of course so far Gordon Brown's budgets have been generally popular. But we shall see.

It could, of course, be a little bit of both. But it is interesting how most of the critics allege it is poorer because it is state-run, rather than because it spends 1/3 as much.

Every year on this year we get a) a picture of the prettiest girl the BBC and press could find who got 5 A-Levels, and b) we here that A-Levels are getting easier.

Of course they are. John Claire pointed out in the Telegraph yesterday (in a very good article) that whereas once they had to discriminate between the top 8%, not its the top 50%. This is not really a problem.

Year-on-year however they don't change much. Comparing 1980s mathematics papers is an irrelevance as the syllabus was designed for a pre-calculator age (I remember when doing maths A-level in 1993 that with my (then new) graphical calculator I could do most of the 1982 paper in about ten minutes).

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

In defence of the BBC

A common view of many right-wing webloggers, such as Peter Cuthbertson, and all the others that are linked to on that site, is that the BBC has a left-wing bias, in particularly that it is pro-Europe, pro-Palenstinian and pro-government spending. Implicitly it is argued that every other new organization, such as CNN or Fox, is much better.

Of course this is patent nonsense. The BBC manages the difficult job of remaining political neutral while remaning watchable better than most broadcasters, and far better than similar global news organisations. For a start it doesn't (unlike CNN) tailor its views to its viewers (compare the US version of CNN's website to the European one).

Furthermore it is strange that the authors of these weblogs, who are firmly on the right of the political map (some almost falling off it) believe that the if the BBC's views were their same as theirs, then it would be politically neutral.

Needless to say you can't argue with them. They are convinced that the BBC is peddling socialist propaganda and that is that. Rarely do they say where they prefer to receive their news -- the Washington Times? The Sunday Telegraph? Fox News?

Monday, August 12, 2002

The British don't war a war with Iraq. Or if they do, they don't want to be part of it, today's Daily Telegraph reveals in an opinion poll. These must be tough times for the Daily Telegraph -- it wants a war but it wants to have a go at Blair. How can it do both?

The 3G auctions raised 22bn for the government, and telephone company chairman have only themselves to blame, says Ken Binmore, who devised the auction. Of course this is true, but one can also add that markets aren't always hyperrational, and in this case they probably weren't. However as he says, the auction was probably better than a Govt committtee, and the companies can't really complain -- they were some of the world's biggest companies advised by some of the world's largest investment banks.

Friday, August 09, 2002

Excellent story in The Economist about the absurdly high rate of imprisonment in the United States. The figures are truly staggering, and still rising. The US locks up 0.7% of its population (vastly higher for subsets), England and Wales (no slouch these days) manages 0.13%, and Japan only 0.05%. Most US conservatives believe the US penal system is far too lenient. Nice.

Vodafone have announced they are delaying the introduction of 3G, according to the Financial Times. One has to wonder whether it will ever be introduced, or whether some better technology will come along.

Whoops! WorldCom has made another $3.3bn error. That's careless. This BBC story also has that annoying tendency to compare anything large with the GDP of small countries. Why? It means nothing.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Are there any depths to which the Bush Adminstration won't go? Ok, actually we are referring to the OMB, but same difference. In this story (via Brad De Long) Paul Krugman of the NYT notes how the OMB issued a press release, got criticism that they were lying, and then now denies the press release was ever issued.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Given everyone in the country needs a pension some kind of compulsory scheme has always seemed the best way forward. Here Frank Field proposes a pretty good one.

Well now we know. According to today's Guardian. President Bush sat on a report outlining how to deal with Osama Bin Laden that had been prepared by the outgoing Clinton Administration. And why? Because he didn't want to be tainted with anything to do with Clinton.

As Bush goes from crisis to crisis the Clinton years are increasingly looking like golden ones for the US. The economy was growing strongly, the budget was in balance, unemployment was low, the borders wer secure.

Sunday, August 04, 2002

Today's Observer has a great example of how innumerate journalists are. Most journalists would die if they made a grammatical error, but numeracy errors abound. The Observer's So Now You Know column, a selection of interesting statistics, quotes the New Yorker as saying the decline in the US stock market has cost the average US household $700,000.

Think about this. It can't be true. There are nearly 300m Americans, so let's say there are 100m American households. That would mean at $700,000 each, the stock market has lost $70 trillion. US GDP is about $10trillion, so they're arguing the stock market has lost seven times the amount of total GDP. Or think of it this way -- if the stock market has halved (it probably hasn't, but run with it) its peak value was $140 trillion.

I think maybe they mean $70,000 per household. But what I mean is even if you have no idea about the value of US stocks or how much they fall or how many households, surely one can think and then query whether the average US household has (or had) over a $1m of shares.

Another classic article in today's Sunday Telegraph. It's by Simon Heffer, our dear old friend who once said that smoking marijuana was an afront to society no worse than throwing acid in a person's face (it might even have been a child's face, but I doubt Simon makes much of a distinction). He believes that the Tories lost the 2001 election because 'they were afraid to campaign on issues perople really minded about'. Now to understand what he means here you have to realise that in Heffer's mind what people are concerned is the EU, and the EU, and the EU. Also lower taxes but mainly the EU. So the Tories lost the election by campaigning not enough on the EU. Of course they did.

Saturday, August 03, 2002

One thing I've always queried in the debate on public spending in the UK is the belief that in Europe they spend much more. It is true that as a proportion of GDP, other EU governments seem to spend far more. I can't off hand remember the figurs but I think the UK government spends about 42% of GDP and somewhere like Germany it is more like 50% of GDP.

Yet surely what matters is what that money is spent on. The other EU countries have much higher pensions contribuitions as show in this (free) Economist article . Reading off the chart, Italy spends 13% of GDP on pensions, France and Germany 12%, and Spain 9%. The UK, with its poverty pension level, spends 5.5%.

If then you work out what proportion of GDP the government spends excluding pensions, the UK must spend a similar or in some cases more than those countries (although obviously one shold take account of payments that the UK has to make to pensioners to keep them from poverty such as income support).

Friday, August 02, 2002

Quite a nice website is Conservative Commentary. It's got some great links and also its a wonderful insight into the mindset of the British Right.

For example, the BBC is left-wing biased because it reported Norman Tebbits disgraceful speech inaccurately. Or ending Right to Buy (or as it should be called -- Right to huge Govt subsidies) as ' a vicious decision to turn thousands of people into serfs of a socialist government'. No its not a parody...

Thursday, August 01, 2002

The Guardian has really lost it in today's leader column. It arguest that Norway is the richest, most equal, least corrupt nation on earth. It continues 'But even Norway's progressive polity has limits'. These limits are 1) a growing anti-immigration party and 2) it's refusal to join the EU. That's right -- Norway's left-wing idyll is marred by it's refusual to join the EU. I always thought joining the EU was a means to an end -- now I realise it is the end itself.