12 April 2007

Round-up

This is a bit egocentric, but here are three interesting posts which mention this blog.

1) James Higham (sorry, should have read more carefully) Devil's Kitchen chez Nourishing Obscurity with a fascinating article on the idea of prions, which he thinks is a load of Pollux. Apparently there is starting to be evidence to support his view. Shame if he's right, though, coz I thought it was kind of a neat idea. (Life but not as we know it, and all that.)

2) Bishop Hill writes, on the subject of educational conscription:

It's sometimes said that the nanny state and the welfare state are two sides of the same coin. Because the state, via the taxpayer, funds healthcare, it is said to be reasonable for government to dictate our diets and exercise regime. A similar sort of argument applies to the government's plans to extend the school leaving age for those who have no job to go to ... To me the answer to the question of whether government should dictate school leaving ages is not an obvious one. If the taxpayer is to support these people, is it not right that they should also demand that the recipients of this largesse should actually do something useful with the money - like study?
The good Bishop's argument illustrates the hidden dangers of having a welfare state — not so hidden any more. If the public pays for ... then the public has a right ... etc. And for "public", read "political elite". One very good reason why the state should never get mixed up with academia. Question for the Bishop: wherefore the assumption that the 17-year-olds in question are receiving state handouts? Actually, I would have far less moral objection to the state insisting on education/training as a condition for income support. What I feel is morally abominable is the idea that you could, as a quasi-adult, be coerced to do something (supposedly because it is in your interest, or in the nation's interests) regardless of whether you want something from the collective. It's one thing to offer state 'aid' with strings attached (what other sort is there?); quite another to make it impossible to avoid the strings.

3) Graeme refers to me as "the most sane (albeit not against a very high standard) of a number libertarian (or, at any rate, very pro-market) bloggers in Britain that I read". (Is this is a barbed compliment, I wonder. Probably.) In relation to my post about Typepad, he writes:
his position implies that he prefers private monopolies (which he admits arise) to public monopolies. I fail to see why they are better. The argument for leaving things to the private sector is that competition forces firms to act in a way that delivers optimal results. This is not true without competition, so what is so good about unfettered capitalism without competition. At least socialism in a democracy gives us some mechanisms to promote the public interest — and that is not even the best of the alternatives.
I don't have any faith in state regulation of monopolies. What is the 'public interest', anyway? How do you define it? Even if you could define it, how could you arrange for it to be maximised or whatever? I think the dog's dinner that's being made of arranging that Microsoft's monopoly position doesn't lead to inefficiencies illustrates this quite well. A lot of costs, a lot of busybodies, MS's time wasted on bureaucracy rather than innovation or customer service, very little benefit (in my humble opinion).

I realise this viewpoint is not supported by academic economics. (What a surprise.) Except there was some work done ages ago which suggested that the actual deadweight loss of monopoly isn't that significant. My best answer referring to orthodox economics would be: contestable markets. No monopoly position is perfect. Look at British Airways and Virgin, for example. (I'm not a great fan of the Virgin approach in other respects, but I did admire Branson's balls for taking on BA and their dodgy practices, and winning. Good on ya, Sir Richard.)

PS - What is Graeme's "best of the alternatives", I wonder.