Quotulatiousness

March 25, 2014

BBC to be (effectively) privatized in proposed new legislation

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:09

British TV viewers are required to pay a regular license fee (which funds the BBC) or they can be prosecuted. The British government may be on the verge of changing this:

Budgets come and go, but something more far-reaching will take place in the House of Commons today; something that might change our political discourse significantly, benignly and permanently.

The Government has indicated that it will back a Bill, brought in by the backbench MP, Andrew Bridgen, to decriminalise non-payment of the Television Licence Fee. Instead of being dragged through the courts, defaulters will simply have their access to the BBC switched off — in the same way that Sky withdraws its services from those who don’t pay their subscriptions.

The practical case for the measure is unarguable. The BBC’s privileged legal position is silting up our criminal justice system. A ridiculous 180,000 people face prosecution every year over non-payment. Under the new regime, they will instead be in the position people who don’t cough up for their gas or electricity bills. A great deal of time and money will be saved.

But the real significance of the proposal is that it will, in practice, remove the BBC’s monopoly. If the penalty for non-payment of the licence fee is withdrawal of the service, rather than prosecution, then that fee ceases to be a tax and becomes a subscription. Refusal to pay is no longer a criminal act, but an exercise of consumer choice. The BBC will become, in practice, a pay-on-demand service like its rivals.

September 17, 2013

A brief history of fifty years of American economic thought

Filed under: Economics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:07

Tyler Cowen wraps up the rise and fall of “right” and “left” economics in the US since the 1960s:

Throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s, the so-called “right wing” was right about virtually everything on the economic front. Most of all communism, but also inflation, taxes, (most of) deregulation, labor unions, and much more, noting that a big chunk of the right wing blew it on race and some other social issues. The Friedmanite wing of the right nailed it on floating exchange rates.

Arguably the “rightness of the right” peaks around 1989, with the collapse of communism. After that, the right wing starts to lose its way.

Up through that time, market-oriented economists have more interesting research, more innovative journals, and much else to their credit, culminating in the persona and career of Milton Friedman.

I’ve never heard tales of Paul Samuelson’s MIT colleagues mocking him for his pronouncements on Soviet economic growth. I suspect they didn’t.

Starting in the early 1990s, the left wing is better equipped, more scholarly, and also more fun to read. (What exactly turned them around?) In the 1990s, the Quarterly Journal of Economics is suddenly more interesting and ultimately more influential than the Journal of Political Economy, even though the latter retained a higher academic ranking. The right loses track of what its issues ought to be. There is no real heir to the legacy of Milton Friedman.

June 3, 2013

CRTC rule changes may finally signal the end of the three-year phone contract

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:54

In Maclean’s, Steve Rennie outlines the new cell phone rules to come into effect later this year:

Wireless customers will be able to cancel their cellphone contracts after two years without any penalties — even if they’ve signed up for longer terms — under a new set of rules unveiled Monday by the federal telecom regulator.

However, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission didn’t go as far as an outright ban on the three-year contracts that Canadians vented so much about earlier this year as the national code for wireless services was being drafted.

“We didn’t focus on the length of the contract, we focused on the economic relation,” CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said in an interview.

“So, in effect, it’s equivalent to those asking for a ban of three-year contract without us actually banning three-year contracts, because what we’re saying is the contract’s amortization period can only be for a maximum period of 24 months.”

There’s also good news for those who travel with their cell phones (that’d be pretty much every Canadian traveller these days):

The CRTC is also capping extra data charges at $50 per month and international data roaming charges at $100 per month to avoid huge, surprise bills.

The regulator will require providers to allow customers to unlock their devices after 90 days, or immediately if they pay the full amount of the device.

April 10, 2013

In British political circles, the term “Thatcherism” conceals at least as much as it reveals

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Government, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

In sp!ked, Tim Black explains why the term “Thatcherism” is not actually a useful descriptor of Margaret Thatcher’s political ideology, but it helps hide the weaknesses of her political and ideological foes:

… for many of those who today preen themselves as left-wing, the idea of Thatcher is arguably even more important. And that’s because she can be blamed for everything that is wrong today. She may have left office nearly a quarter of a century ago, but so potent was the ideology she apparently promulgated — Thatcherism — that we as a nation continue to be in thrall to it. As one prominent left-wing columnist stated yesterday: ‘Thatcherism lives on. Nothing to celebrate.’ Ex-London mayor ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone agreed: ‘In actual fact, every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact she was fundamentally wrong.’

Elsewhere, Johnathan Freedland at the liberalish-leftish Guardian joined the Thatcherism Lives chorus: ‘The country we live in remains Thatcher’s Britain. We still live in the land Margaret built.’ At the much-reported-upon, little-attended street parties in Brixton and Glasgow, staged in ironic honour of Thatcher’s passing, the belief that her ideas still walk among us was palpable. In the words of one 28-year-old student: ‘It is important to remember that Thatcherism isn’t dead and it is important that people get out on the street and not allow the government to whitewash what she did.’

[. . .]

And here is where reality stops and myth begins. Because that’s not what the left saw. They saw something more ideological than brutally pragmatic. They saw, in the words of Marxism Today editor Martin Jacques in 1985, ‘a novel and exceptional force’. They saw, in short, Thatcherism.

Given the fact that Thatcher herself never had an actual ideological project to which ‘Thatcherism’ might actually refer, it is unsurprising that a recent book on the subject admitted that ‘talk of “Thatcherism” obscures as much as it reveals’. Instead, the idea of Thatcherism always revealed far more about the left than it did about some perpetually elusive right-wing ideology. That is why the concept, first used by academic Stuart Hall in 1979, gained intellectual traction on the left in 1983, the year Labour, under the leadership of Michael Foot, suffered a devastating defeat at the General Election: it shifted the responsibility for failure from the Labour Party, and its complicity with so-called Thatcherite economics, to the working class, a social constituency supposedly seduced away from the Labour Party by Thatcher’s advocacy of social mobility and aspiration. The idea of ‘Thatcherism’ let Labour off the hook.

So the legacy of Thatcherism may indeed live on, as some sunk on the left insist. But not because of anything Thatcher herself did. It will live on because too many are more comfortable attacking a phantasm from the past than reckoning with political reality today.

March 22, 2013

Nick Gillespie on Libertarianism

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:24

Katy Bachelder interviews Reason‘s Nick Gillespie:

What do you see as the primary policy goal of libertarianism?

Things that move us toward decentralization of power. The way I used to talk about it when Windows was still a dominant operating system is that the way a computer operates, what you want is an operating system that allows as many different apps to run at the same time without crashing the system. That’s what classical liberalism really does.

How do you think libertarianism as a third party helps achieve those goals?

I’m not particularly interested in electoral politics. Where I think public choice economics is hugely important is what it asks is not simply what the rhetoric of people is, but what are the outcome of their actions. In that way, it gets to what actually matters as opposed to people sprinkling magic words. It’s amazing how much slack people will give if you say the right words as you’re repressing them.

Libertarianism is a pre-political attitude. It can inform you if you’re in the Republican Party or the Democratic Party or the Libertarian Party. It can express itself in a lot of different ways, like through Jimmy Carter, who is the great deregulator of the American economy, not Ronald Reagan. He deregulated interstate railroads, trucking, airlines. That all happened under Jimmy Carter and he was abetted in it by people like Milton Friedman. Libertarianism is an impulse, not a set of beads on a string.

[. . .]

Hillary Clinton just endorsed gay marriage. What do you think is the future for that issue?

I think gay marriage is over as an issue. When you look at public opinion polls about gay issues, the moral approbation toward the issue has faded. The larger questions are: what is the connection between the state and individual choices? It’s as big of a deal as it is because the state is involved in bestowing certain benefits such as tax incentives. I think what we’re starting to see is that if you want to live in a society that is truly pluralistic and tolerant, and that doesn’t mean everyone agrees every lifestyle is morally valid, but just tolerant, then we have to start shrinking the scope and the size of the state. The state should recognize all people as equal.

January 24, 2013

The LCBO’s tentative, faltering steps to allowing wider sales of wine

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:39

In the latest Ontario Wine Review, Michael Pinkus pours scorn on the LCBO’s latest attempt to fend off an actual competitive market:

The LCBO is about money and profits — and about control. I know I will have people freaking out at me for saying this but I want you to ask yourself “why?” Why would the LCBO suddenly decide that grocery stores are the place to put locations? Doesn’t sound all that smart to me — and not what we asked for. We asked for the right to pick up booze and bread in the same place — the government has said fine but you’ll still have to visit two cashiers and wait in line. Heck, I could have gone across to the mall parking lot to the LCBO location, got a bigger selection than in that tiny kiosk they’ll most likely rent and I still would have had to stand in line at a different cashier — where’s the convenience?

Plus we already have Wine Rack and Wine Shoppe locations in grocery stores … and therein lies the rub (as Shakespeare would say). The LCBO already knows those stores are profitable, the “pilot project” is done, there’s no study needed, Vincor and Peller have already done the research (and if you don’t think the LCBO has had a look at those numbers you’ve got another surprise coming) — this is just another way for the LCBO to compete with those two companies — and by extension, the wineries of Ontario. [Ed. Note: just in case you don’t know Peller and Vincor hold the majority of private liquor store licenses in the province — something they acquired before 1988 when free trade came in].

“… and will also create new VQA boutiques for Ontario wines inside five of its own stores.” A novel idea? I don’t think so. They have one in St. Catharines already (of all places), and what do you want to bet the LCBO will place these new “boutiques” where they are most needed like Niagara, Prince Edward County and Windsor where wineries already exist — no better way to compete with your competition than on their own turf.

November 29, 2012

QotD: Transforming Ontario’s wine market

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Quotations, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:33

A major transition is never easy, but it would be worth it. The strategy we recommend would lead to more government revenue for health care and education; a sustained commitment to the socially responsible use of alcohol; increased economic growth based on greater access to markets; a renewed emphasis on responsible environmental practices; and wider choice, more convenience and competitive prices for consumers.

The present beverage alcohol system took shape at the end of Prohibition. For decades, Ontario has made minor repairs to the system when a complete overhaul was needed. In our view the government should focus its role on effective regulation, and restructure the system from top to bottom to establish a more competitive model.

After 78 years, change is long overdue. It is time to transform Ontario’s beverage alcohol system for the 21st century.

“Part IV. Conclusion: Towards a Competitive System”, A Report of the Beverage Alcohol System Review Panel July, 2005

July 17, 2012

Ending supply management

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:00

In the Globe and Mail Economy Lab, David Bond explores equitable ways to compensate farmers who will lose out if-and-when the federal government abandons the supply management system:

The quota was originally given out for free, therefore farmers or their direct successors still in the business would receive nothing for their original allocation and then 90 per cent of whatever they paid at the time they acquired additional amounts of quota.

Why only 90 per cent? Well having quota allowed the holders to earn returns on their investment well in excess of the returns that could have been earned in alternative forms of farming. Having enjoyed for more than 40 years these superior returns thanks to their ability to persuade government to protect them from competition it’s time they “enjoyed” some of the costs they foisted upon Canadian consumers.

While the potential beneficiaries of this compensation may complain of shoddy treatment they evidenced little sympathy on the costs they passed on to the consumers much less the harmful impact they had on potential exports of other agricultural and non-agricultural exports because government refused to modify supply management during trade negotiations.

July 2, 2012

Hoist a craft-brewed beer to thank Jimmy Carter for saving America’s brewing tradition

Filed under: Business, Government, History, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:35

Jimmy Carter will have to go a long time before his reputation recovers from his four years in office, but along with beginning to deregulate the air travel, freight railroad, and trucking industries, he also deserves credit for triggering the revival of the American craft brewing tradition. This is from an article in The New Republic, published in 2010:

If you’re a fan of craft beer and microbreweries as opposed to say Bud Light or Coors, you should say a little thank you to Jimmy Carter. Carter could very well be the hero of International Beer Day.

To make a long story short, prohibition led to the dismantling of many small breweries around the nation. When prohibition was lifted, government tightly regulated the market, and small scale producers were essentially shut out of the beer market altogether. Regulations imposed at the time greatly benefited the large beer makers. In 1979, Carter deregulated the beer industry, opening back up to craft brewers. As the chart below illustrates, this had a really amazing effect on the beer industry:

H/T to The Whited Sepulchre for the link.

December 31, 2011

The “Reverse Pelzman” Effect

Filed under: Americas, Bureaucracy, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:35

A semi-serious discussion of a real-world experiment in getting rid of driving licenses:

Those of us who are econ geeks will know about the Pelzman Effect. Regulations that supposedly make us safer (say, seatbelts or cycling helmets) don’t actually make us safer as behaviour changes to take account of the new safety. Almost as if there’s what we consider to be an acceptable risk to take and reducing it in one manner just allows us to be silly in another so as to maintain that risk we’re comfortable with. What I didn’t know (but better econ geeks than I might have done already) is that there is a Reverse Pelzman Effect.

Exploiting an interesting natural experiment, the authors of that paper are able to show that we should abolish driving licences. The various States of Mexico found that bribery was impossible to avoid when attempting to gain a licence. So, to varying degrees, they changed their issuance system, some deciding simply not to have them any more. So, of course, death rates from car accidents went up, didn’t they?

Erm, actually, no, they didn’t. Those places that didn’t bother with licences any more, allowing absolutely anyone at all to get in and drive, saw no change in such death rates any different from those that had now (well, hopefully) incorruptible issuance systems.

February 23, 2011

Ontario actually considers liberalizing (some) liquor laws

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Government, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:00

It’s a rare, rare thing for the Ontario government to consider any kind of liberalization, but especially one involving booze:

Could Ontario be saying good-bye to beer tents? The province’s government announced on Wednesday that it would be asking for public input on a series of possible liquor law changes.

Some of the changes considered would include relaxing the liquor laws at events and festivals, meaning drinkers would no longer be sequestered in beer tents, but could wander with a drink in hand.

It would also allow one-off event permit holders — weddings, parties and fundraisers, for example — to serve booze until 2 a.m., bringing their serving hours into line with bars. Current laws require special occasion permit holders stop serving alcohol at 1 a.m., with the exception of New Year’s Eve, when it’s 2 a.m.

Don’t hold your breath — this is still bluestockinged Ontario — but just the idea that they’re willing to discuss changes is heartening.

January 21, 2011

Alfred Kahn, godfather of deregulation

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:17

An obituary at The Economist for one of the key players in the deregulation of American business that was critical to solving the economic malaise of the 1970s:

WHEN everyone else at the airline counter for the flight from Hicksville to Washington was sighing, checking their watches and using their elbows on their neighbours, Alfred Kahn would be smiling. And later, cramped in his seat between some 20-stone wrestler and a passenger whose “sartorial, hirsute and ablutional state” all offended him, snacking from a tiny packet of peanuts that had cost him a dollar, he would sometimes allow the smile to spread under his Groucho Marx moustache into a big, wide, gloating grin.

For Mr Kahn had made this crowd and packed this aircraft. His deregulation of America’s airlines in the 1970s opened up the skies to the people, for better and worse. And though, being an economist, he could not help muttering about the imperfection of societies and systems and the absurdity of predictions—and though, being an inveterate puncturer of himself, he would demand a paternity test if anyone called him the father of the deregulated world—his adventures with airlines led on to the freeing of the trucking, telecoms and power industries, and heralded the Thatcherite and Reaganite revolutions.

When he took over the Civil Aeronautics Board for President Jimmy Carter in 1977 air travel was regulated to the hilt, with prices, routes and returns all fixed and aircraft, which could compete only on the number of flights and the meals they served, flying half-full. Mr Khan, furiously resisted by companies, pilots and unions, removed the rules. As an academic, author of “The Economics of Regulation” in two stout volumes, he was eager to see those elusive and fascinating things, marginal costs, brought into play: to let prices follow the constantly shifting value of an aircraft seat as demand changed or departure time loomed, or indeed as shiny new jet planes depreciated above him, just “marginal costs with wings”.

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