Quotulatiousness

October 6, 2017

Regulation and the unregulated sharing economy

Filed under: Australia, Bureaucracy, Business, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

This particular article talks about the situation in Australia, although it’s quite similar here in Canada:

Living in Australia sometimes feels like living in a bureaucrats’ version of a spaghetti western. The heroes are the brave and all-knowing public servants, while the villains are the naughty people who are too foolish to realise that government knows best.

Politicians and bureaucrats alike want to regulate first, ask questions later. It seems barely a week passes without someone trumpeting the expansion of the nanny state. And with each new crackdown, ban or tax, our freedom gets that little bit smaller.

Whereas once the government would at least go through the motions of citing things like market failure, all it takes now is for a politician to want to look tough or be seen ‘doing something’. So it is with the proposed regulation of short-term accommodation platforms like Airbnb and Stayz.

Sharing our home with someone is as old as time. Who has not stayed with a family member or friend, or the friend of a friend? The difference these days is that it is much easier. Technology allows us to stay in someone’s home nearly anywhere in the world.

The immense popularity of these platforms is simply staggering. Globally, Airbnb has just passed four million listings, more than the rooms of the top five hotel brands worldwide. Australia is particularly fertile ground for the company, with almost one in five adults having an account. The company claims Airbnb is the “most penetrated market in the world”.

For government, the platforms are confronting. With no red tape or government involvement, travellers are protected, bad apples ejected and quality maintained via hosts and guests providing reviews of each other using sophisticated technology and a trusted online marketplace. Airbnb says that, on average, a host could have a new reservation every day for over 27 years before experiencing a single bad incident. A track record like that would be the envy of any pub, hotel, motel or caravan park in the country.

The so-called sharing economy challenges the idea that people need red tape, regulations or government to keep them safe from harm. But that does not stop some from trying. Currently, the NSW Government is toying with a grab bag of Big Brother and nanny-state policies ranging from new taxes and caps, to licences, planning approval and complete bans.

No modern government has ever seen a healthy, flourishing market without feeling the need to insert itself into the process, usually justified by the need to “protect” consumers.

August 13, 2017

QotD: The measurement problem in government

Filed under: Britain, Government, Health, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Now take health insurance. (Or, if you live, like me, in a country with a national healthcare system that has a single comprehensive payer, the health system.) There are periodic suggestions that we should punish bad behaviour, behaviour that increases medical costs: Scotland has an alcoholism problem so we get the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing)(Scotland) Act, 2012. Obesity comes with its own health risks, and where resource scarcity exists (for example, in surgical procedures), some English CCGs are denying patients treatment for some conditions if they are overweight.

It should be argued that these are really stupid strategies, likely to make things worse. Minimum alcohol pricing is regressive and affects the poor far more than the middle-class: it may cause poor alcoholics to turn the same petty criminality observed among drug addicts, to fund their habit. And denying hip replacements to overweight people isn’t exactly going to make it easier for them to exercise and improve their health. But because we can measure the price of alcohol, or plot someone’s height/weight ratio on a BMI chart, these are what will be measured.

It’s the classic syllogism of the state: something must be controlled, we can measure one of its parameters, therefore we will control that parameter (and ignore anything we can’t measure directly).

Charles Stross, “It could be worse”, Charlie’s Diary, 2015-10-09.

August 1, 2017

Ontario adopts voluntary self-surveillance app from CARROT Insights

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

I often joke about how inexpensive it appears to be to “influence” politicians, but it’s only fair to point out that the voters those easily influenced politicians represent are even more easy to influence:

Ontario announced earlier this month that it will become the fourth Canadian government to fund a behavioral modification application that rewards users for making “good choices” in regards to health, finance, and the environment. The Carrot Rewards smartphone app, which will receive $1.5 million from the Ontario government, credits users’ accounts with points toward the reward program of their choice in exchange for reaching step goals, taking quizzes and surveys, and engaging in government-approved messages.

The app, funded by the Canadian federal government and developed by Toronto-based company CARROT Insights in 2015, is sponsored by a number of companies offering reward points for their services as an incentive to “learn” how to improve wellness and budget finances. According to CARROT Insights, “All offers are designed by sources you can trust like the BC Ministry of Health, Newfoundland and Labrador Government, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canadian Diabetes Association, and YMCA.” Users can choose to receive rewards for companies including SCENE, Aeroplan, Petro-Canada, or More Rewards, a loyalty program that partners with other businesses.

It’ll be interesting if they share the uptake of this new smartphone app … just how many of us are willing to let the government track just about all of our actions in exchange for “rewards”.

In order to use the app, users are giving Carrot Insights and the federal government permission to “access and collect information from your mobile device, including but not limited to, geo-location data, accelerometer/gyroscope data, your mobile device’s camera, microphone, contacts, calendar and Bluetooth connectivity in order to operate additional functionalities of the Services.”

Founder and CEO of CARROT Insights Andreas Souvaliotis launched the app in 2015 “with a focus on health but the company and its partner governments quickly realized it was effective at modifying behavior in other areas as well,” according to CTV News.

June 15, 2017

Words & Numbers: What You Should Know About Poverty in America

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 14 Jun 2017

Poverty is a big deal – it affects about 41 million people in the United States every year – yet the federal government spends a huge amount of money to end poverty. So much of the government’s welfare spending gets eaten up by bureaucracy, conflicting programs, and politicians presuming they know how people should spend their own money. Obviously, this isn’t working.

This week on Words and Numbers, Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan delve into how people can really become less poor and what that means for society and the government.

May 22, 2017

QotD: The nanny state’s ever-expanding reach

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Health, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Royal Society for Public Health is suggesting that unusual, unhealthy or minority pursuits should be criminalised in order to set a good example to others. They want people to be arrested, fined and possibly even imprisoned for being poor role models. In a liberal society, the only appropriate response can be made with two words or two fingers.

Chris Snowdon, “A smoking ban in pub beer gardens? Stop persecuting smokers”, City A.M., 2015-08-14.

May 15, 2017

QotD: Local government

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Government, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

If, that is, you believe it’s a council’s job to be lecturing takeaways shops, cafes and the like what should and shouldn’t be on the menu. Which personally, I don’t. Surely, if you’re forking out hundreds of pounds every year for your council tax, it ought to be things you actually want and need like regular dustbin collection, not for the services of some nannyish, finger-wagging lecturer treating you like a small child who refuses to eat his Brussels sprouts.

When I read that Rochdale Council employed a Healthier Choices Manager, I assumed at first it was a joke. But no: the job exists and it’s currently held by someone called Clare McNicol. Well I’m sure she’s a nice, caring, well-meaning person and she’s clearly very persuasive to have got all those chippies to participate in this ludicrous scheme. Really, though. Oughtn’t the council to have more urgent priorities than creating such busybodying non-jobs?

For example, three years ago, Rochdale was at the centre of an ugly, grooming gang scandal when a group of Pakistanis were jailed for 30 ‘horrific’ counts of child rape. With its limited budget, wouldn’t the council be better off beefing its apparently lacklustre Children’s Services Department, rather than trying to decide the local fish and chip shop menu? Isn’t the safety of vulnerable girls maybe a bit more important than the danger that someone, somewhere might put on a few more inches as a result of too many ill-advised takeaways?

Councils are always telling us how underfunded they are, how they’re expected to do more and more with less and less money. But I suspect that this is at least partly a problem of their own making. If they stuck to the basics – schools, street-cleaning, lighting and so on – and cut out all the dispensable luxuries like recycling awareness, sustainability, lesbian outreach, diet fascism, and so on, then I’m sure they’d find it much easier to live within their means. I expect most council taxpayers would be a lot happier too.

My fear, though, is that councils, especially those in inner-city Labour strongholds like Rochdale, really aren’t so interested in the dull but essential bread-and-butter stuff. (Let alone in confronting issues like the growth of intolerant Islamism). Rather they see it as their holy mission to mould the whole world in their progressive image. Hence, that multitude of different coloured bags you’re expected to sort your rubbish into, each week: they want to teach you that recycling as an act of religious devotion.

James Delingpole, “I prefer my cod in batter, thanks very much”, James Delingpole, 2015-08-15.

April 15, 2017

QotD: “Healthy” food choices

Filed under: Britain, Business, Health, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Whenever I find myself choosing my next meal I always like to look out for the sign that says “healthy option.” In this age of variety and abundance it can often be hugely difficult making up your mind as to what to eat next. “Healthy option” makes things so much easier. It tells me: “Avoid like the plague.”

Good news, then, for takeaway customers in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. No fewer than six local fish and chip shops have taken on board the advice of their local council’s Healthier Choices Manager and introduced special, non-greasy, low-fat menu options. So now when customers find themselves torn between the battered sausage, the chicken nuggets and the “rock salmon” at least they can be sure of what they don’t want: that insipid-looking fillet of steamed cod on a bed of salad, with so few chips they barely even qualify as a garnish.

“It’s too early to say if steamed fish will be a hit,” says an article on the council’s website. And I’ll bet when they know the answer they won’t tell us. That’s because this well-meaning scheme is doomed to flop like a wet kipper. Of course it is. No one in their right mind goes to a takeaway as part of a calorie controlled diet. You do it when you fancy a treat.

And the reason it’s a treat is precisely because that food is so deliciously greasy. As the late Clarissa Dickson-Wright, the generously girthed cook from TV’s Two Fat Ladies, once explained to me, fry-ups, sizzling bacon, battered fish, and so on will always taste nicer than the “healthy option” because fat is a great carrier of flavour.

Clarissa (who was as big an expert on the science of food as she was on cooking and eating it) remained, to the end, a great defender of butter, cream and full-fat milk. She claimed they were much better for you than most of the supposedly healthy, low-fat alternatives. And it turns out she was right. Recent studies have shown that it’s the “trans-fats” in artificial health products like margarine that are the killer, not natural animal fats you find in butter.

What’s more, the evidence increasingly suggests, that it’s sugar not fat which is most responsible for our supposed obesity epidemic. So by trying to stop customers eating fried fish in Rochdale, the council is barking up the wrong tree. It’s the cafes pushing sweet cakes and doughnuts they should be investigating.

James Delingpole, “I prefer my cod in batter, thanks very much”, James Delingpole, 2015-08-15.

March 23, 2017

Words & Numbers: We’re Becoming a Nation of Pets

Filed under: Economics, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 22 Mar 2017

This week, Antony & James take on the idea of “victimless crimes” and discuss the odd and growing trend of governments regulating some private activities such as pornography, while others like smoking marijuana are increasingly allowed. People imposing their values on others seems to boil down to an inability to appreciate that others have different preferences, but it all results in Americans losing freedom and instead becoming a nation of pets.

Learn more here:
https://fee.org/articles/were-becoming-a-nation-of-pets/
http://www.antolin-davies.com/research/trib0217.pdf
http://www.antolin-davies.com/research/philly0317.pdf

March 7, 2017

Senator Charles Schumer

Filed under: History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

L. Neil Smith calls for an investigation into Senator Schumer’s “connection to this remnant Stalinist core, here in the West.”

Following the inglorious collapse of the old Soviet Union back in the late 20th century, without a doubt the new capital of world collectivism has come to be centered somewhere between Washington, D.C. and New York City. (It had already been observed and lamented that, at a moment in history when communism was shriveling and dying all across its native Europe, the evil legacy of Marx and Engels was alive and well in most American universities.)

New York and Washington, D,C, are both both the familiar stomping grounds of a dangerously deluded Democratic Senator who apparently has come to believe that he is the divinely-appointed rightful Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief, and is presently leading a vicious assault on what might be termed “The Peoples’ Presidency”. One can be forgiven from wondering what stone he pulled his sword from.

Judging from his unbrokenly statist legislative record, he has always believed that the “peasants” (that’s you and me) need a Leviathan to tell them what to do, where to go, how to live their lives, even how many gallons their toilet-tanks may hold. Under no circumstances, in his dementedly Draconian view, must the American electorate be permitted to choose their own leader, especially a leader pledged to lift the burden of authoritarian government from their weary shoulders. Their duty, in his view, is simply to be born, obey their masters, pay a lifetime of taxes, die and get out of the way, not to determine the course of the Ship of State (albeit, a sinking ship, aboard which he occupies the highest crow’s- nest—as it stands now, he’ll be among the last to get his feet wet).

However what needs to be investigated is not some entirely fictional collusion between the Trump Administration and Vladimir Putin’s thoroughly post-Marxist, patently anti-communist Russia, repeated over and over and over and over again by the news floozies and gentlemen-of-the-evening of the compliant news media until we’re expected to believe it, but Charles Schumer’s deep connection to this remnant Stalinist core, here in the West.

I will repeat that, because it’s important. What needs to be investigated is not some fictional—mythical—collusion between the Trump Administration and Vladimir Putin’s post- Marxist, anti-communist Russia, repeated over and over again by the round-heeled news media until we’re expected to believe it, but Charles Shumer’s own connection to this remnant Stalinist core, here in the West.

December 4, 2016

QotD: Human nature

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?

Frédéric Bastiat, The Law, 1850.

November 23, 2016

QotD: The Progressive worldview

Filed under: Government, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:00

In order to understand this, we must first identify what the Progressive worldview is. Boiled down to its simplest, it’s this: “The government can do it better”. Do what? Anything. Individual Progressives might believe that there should be certain limits on what the government should do, but the overall guiding star of the movement is that everything will work better when the government is in charge. It’s nothing more than a Utopian vision: Things aren’t perfect now, but when WE are in charge of them, then we can make them perfect. The fact that perfection is impossible never enters their minds.*

[…]

* I’m taking their stated beliefs at face value, and many of the foot soldiers of the revolution, Lenin’s “useful idiots”, probably do in fact believe that they are working for a “better world”. Most of the leadership behind the Progressive movement is far too smart to believe any such thing. Utopia is just the flashy bling to dazzle the rubes. Their motivations are no different than any other humans. There’s an acronym that identify why people become traitors or spies — MICE — which stands for Money, Ideology, Coercion and Ego. I don’t think it vastly different here, although I’d substitute Power for Coercion in those that seek to be the ruling class.

Weirddave, “Fundamental Concepts – Why the Left Hates Families”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2015-03-28.

June 25, 2016

QotD: It’s a bad time to become a parent

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The title of this Time piece, “Parenting is Now Officially Impossible,” made me sit up. It’s true. Anything we do as parents can and may be used against us. It’s like living in a totalitarian state—we are not free to raise our kids as we see fit because we are being watched and judged. We make choices based on fear of busybodies and the authorities they can summon by punching three digits into their phone.

This surveillance society has become so normalized that yesterday I was listening to a June 9 episode of Marc Maron’s WTFpodcast where Marc and guest Daniel Clowes are chatting about their slacker ’70s parents. (It’s about 50 minutes in, if you want to hear it.) As they marvel at the freedom they had as kids, and some bad experiences, they agree that this kind of parenting was totally wrong. Unironically they concur, “You don’t let your kid get on the bus at 11 [years old]. Never! I would turn MYSELF into the police.”

Isn’t that phrasing remarkable? The idea, “Disapprove of a parent? Call 911,” has become so unquestioned, so automatic, that citizens don’t even realize they have been seduced into the role of Stasi.

Lenore Skenazy, “Busybodies and Complicit Cops Make It Impossible to Parent: When mistakes become crimes”, Reason, 2016-06-15.

May 12, 2016

The State is not actually monolithic

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Government — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

In a comment on Facebook, Sean Gabb explains why even a government in a non-federal system sometimes seems to act inconsistently from moment to moment:

Sean Gabb In a country as large and rich as ours, The State is best regarded not as an entity with a single will, but as a collection of interest groups with agendas that sometimes overlap and sometimes conflict. The job of the people at the top is largely to try balancing these interests.

October 11, 2015

Take all the negative aspects of social media … and then tie in your political and financial activities

Filed under: China, Government, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Welcome to China’s idea of the perfect social media environment. Charles Stross describes the proposal and its likely impact on Chinese life:

So, let’s start by synopsizing the Privacy Online News report. It’s basically a state-run universal credit score, where you’re measured on a scale from 350 to 950. But it’s not just about your financial planning ability; it also reflects your political opinions. On the financial side, if you buy products the government approves of your credit score increases: wastes of time (such as video games) cost you points. China’s main social networks feed data into it and you can lose points big-time by expressing political opinions without prior permission, talking about history (where it diverges from the official version — e.g. the events of 1989 in Tiananmen Square — hey, I just earned myself a negative credit score there!), or saying anything that’s politically embarrassing.

The special social network magic comes into play when you learn that if your friends do this, your score also suffers. You can see what they just did to you: are you angry yet? Social pressure is a pervasive force and it’s going to be exerted on participants whether they like it or not, by friends looking for the goodies that come from having a high citizen score: goodies like instant loans for online shopping, car rentals without needing a deposit, or fast-track access to foreign travel visas. Also, everyone’s credit score is visible online, making it easy to ditch those embarrassingly ranty cocktail-party friends who insist on harshing your government credit karma by not conforming.

The gamification of social conformity, overseen by an authoritarian government and mediated by nudge theory, is a thing of beauty and horror; who needs cops with nightsticks to beat up dissidents when their friends and family will give them a tongue-lashing on behalf of the government for the price of a discount off a new fridge?

But don’t worry, I could make it a whole lot worse.

The first notable point about this system is that it’s an oppressive system that runs at a profit. Consider the instant no-collateral loans for online shopping: the Chinese system only grants these to folks who are a good credit bet. The debt will be repaid. Meanwhile it goes into providing a Keynesian stimulus for the productive side of the economy. And it rewards people for political right-thinking. What’s not to like?

Governments love nudge theory because it offers a cheap shortcut to enforcing social policy, even when the social policy in question is utterly broken. Paying a cop costs money — not just their salary and the cost of their uniform, but the station they work out of, the support personnel who keep the police force operating (janitors, human resources, vehicle maintenance), and the far less tangible political cost of being seen to wield a big stick and force people not to do what they want to do (or to do things that you want them to). Using big data to give folks a credit score, then paying them bright and shiny but essentially cost-free bonuses if they do what you want? That’s priceless. You may not be able to track folks who like to toke up directly (if it’s illegal in your jurisdiction), but you can penalize them for hanging out with known cannabis users and buying paraphernalia. More to the point, you can socially isolate users and get their family to give them grief without the unpalatable excesses (and negative headlines) of no-knock raids and cops kicking down the wrong door and shooting children by mistake. One may ask whether the medical marijuana movement and decriminalization pressure would have got off the ground in the United States if a citizenship scoring system with downvotes for pot users was in place. Or whether emancipatory rights movements could exist at all in a society that indirectly penalizes people for “wrong lifestyle choices” rather than relying on imperfectly applied but very visible and hateful boots and nightsticks.

QotD: The Kaiser’s Reich

Filed under: Europe, Government, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

“Anybody could rule this country,” said George; “I could rule it.”

We were seated in the garden of the Kaiser Hof at Bonn, looking down upon the Rhine. It was the last evening of our Bummel; the early morning train would be the beginning of the end.

“I should write down all I wanted the people to do on a piece of paper,” continued George; “get a good firm to print off so many copies, have them posted about the towns and villages; and the thing would be done.”

In the placid, docile German of to-day, whose only ambition appears to be to pay his taxes, and do what he is told to do by those whom it has pleased Providence to place in authority over him, it is difficult, one must confess, to detect any trace of his wild ancestor, to whom individual liberty was as the breath of his nostrils; who appointed his magistrates to advise, but retained the right of execution for the tribe; who followed his chief, but would have scorned to obey him. In Germany to-day one hears a good deal concerning Socialism, but it is a Socialism that would only be despotism under another name. Individualism makes no appeal to the German voter. He is willing, nay, anxious, to be controlled and regulated in all things. He disputes, not government, but the form of it. The policeman is to him a religion, and, one feels, will always remain so. In England we regard our man in blue as a harmless necessity. By the average citizen he is employed chiefly as a signpost, though in busy quarters of the town he is considered useful for taking old ladies across the road. Beyond feeling thankful to him for these services, I doubt if we take much thought of him. In Germany, on the other hand, he is worshipped as a little god and loved as a guardian angel. To the German child he is a combination of Santa Claus and the Bogie Man. All good things come from him: Spielplätze to play in, furnished with swings and giant-strides, sand heaps to fight around, swimming baths, and fairs. All misbehaviour is punished by him. It is the hope of every well-meaning German boy and girl to please the police. To be smiled at by a policeman makes it conceited. A German child that has been patted on the head by a policeman is not fit to live with; its self-importance is unbearable.

The German citizen is a soldier, and the policeman is his officer. The policeman directs him where in the street to walk, and how fast to walk. At the end of each bridge stands a policeman to tell the German how to cross it. Were there no policeman there, he would probably sit down and wait till the river had passed by. At the railway station the policeman locks him up in the waiting-room, where he can do no harm to himself. When the proper time arrives, he fetches him out and hands him over to the guard of the train, who is only a policeman in another uniform. The guard tells him where to sit in the train, and when to get out, and sees that he does get out. In Germany you take no responsibility upon yourself whatever. Everything is done for you, and done well. You are not supposed to look after yourself; you are not blamed for being incapable of looking after yourself; it is the duty of the German policeman to look after you. That you may be a helpless idiot does not excuse him should anything happen to you. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing you are in his charge, and he takes care of you — good care of you; there is no denying this.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

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