Nic Elliott

Big Tent Ideas Festival 2018

Just got back from the Big Tent Ideas Festival near Cambridge.

If you’ve not heard of it, it’s a gathering of all sorts of political types, journalists, think tankers with open discussions and debates on all manner of topics.

There are tents on Society, Hopes and Fears, Politics, Economy, Innovation, Technology, Global Britain.

In particular the IEA, one of my favourite think tanks, ran the last two sessions in the economy tent and I got to meet Lee Rowley MP and Kristian Niemietz.

If you haven’t read it yet, you must read his IEA paper entitled The Mirage of Democratic Socialism.

Its an alternate history where the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) became a “true” socialist state after the fall of the Berlin wall.  Niemietz has such a way of making the right points in the right way. It’s a must read. And no guesses where this socialist paradise ends up even when it’s non violent.

He was also a total gent when I asked him to pose with me against the art wall when I saw a particular phrase was there…

Nic with Kristian Niemietz at the Big Tent Ideas Festival

There was a surprise at the end of the day when none other than George Osborne arrived for a final interview and initially I was encouraged by his views on why he lost the EU referendum (them not being the usual remainer nonsense about being lied to or knowing more now, or not being educated enough) but then he started losing me when he talked about explicitly trying to get to a post-liberal era in the 2015 election.

His talk of “wise intervention from government” just struck me as more of the same statism we’ve unfortunately come to expect from all major political parties.

But the highlight has to be meeting Lee Rowley MP and hearing him talk.  I’d not heard of him until today but after hearing him speak clearly and passionately for classical liberal values I decided to ask him afterwards where all the other classical liberal Conservative MPs were! He assured me they do exist and that the new intake had some ones to watch.

If the Conservative Party actually espoused liberal values then that might actually give me a party to vote for! Maybe I need to move to Lee’s constituency…

When Political Quotes Are Taken Out Of Context

This week Nic challenges Andrew to guess the context of political misquotes from the past twenty years.

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Nikolai Kondratiev, long term business cycles and tax statistics

This week we talk about Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev, the pioneer or long term business cycles or Kondratiev Waves. We also find out if virtue signalling socialists who want to pay more tax actually do, before discussing tax statistics in more detail.


Nikolai Kondratiev

Voluntary Government Donations – Original FOI Request

Voluntary Government Donations – Andrew’s FOI Request

Daily Telegraph – Households dependent on the state

OECD Government Spending Data

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Regulation, class, education and choice

This week we talk about burdensome regulation in the telecoms industry before discussing different ways of determining a person’s class, whether higher/further education is a good idea and the benefits of consumer choice.

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Entitlements. The new privilege.

I’ve just been delayed on my flight abroad by more than 3 hours. It’s actually going to be the other side of 4 hours. With two small children, my wife and I have been feeling the strain and using up the myriad ideas, techniques and distractions that we had already planned for the flight itself to keep the children entertained.

Thanks to the passenger who sat next to me I now know that we’re entitled to compensation as a result of an EU directive.

I could get north of €250 per person for my troubles.

Now obviously if enough of us passengers (customers they kept telling me) successfully claim then the logic is that the airline will learn the hard way and try to avoid such a payout again.

And this is where there is always an interesting discussion of what the market does and does not do.

The EU created this entitlement for me. The market didn’t.

Had the market been left alone completely would I be in the position of being able to claim compensation?

Surely if it’s what consumers want then providers will compete for the best compensation package? As far as I can read of this EU directive while sat waiting to take off, it’s all based on the rules the EU has come up with so it’s a straight and simple entitlement.

And that’s the term I’ve fixed on. Even the pilot said it in his announcement. We will be entitled.

I don’t want to be entitled. To anything.

Ironically I think it’s just as bad, if not worse, than being that other dreaded lefty word: privileged.

Entitlements are just state sanctioned privileges. State designed ones.

Its where the state elites have worked out where we should and shouldn’t have privilege, presumably as a way of “levelling the playing field” or certainly in this case, of bashing corporate greed in the name of the consumer.

Some privileges are earned. Others come by luck. Some by birth.

Theres another form of privilege now and it’s wrapped in the language of equality. The entitlement.

Not born of the market or of hard graft but delivered on a plate by our benevolent masters. Because the world is too scary for it not to be run by our betters.

At least, that’s what they think.

Good news, free speech and the future of the media

This week we collate the amazing progress the world is actually making, before delving into why free speech is a good thing which leads us to discussing the future of traditional media.

Government – everyone thinks they can run it better

People who are “literally” communists are basically saying they could have done communism better than all the ways that have already been tried.

Ignoring the fact that all the ways tried so far have all been communism or socialism, it leads me to think that this highlights an important part of why government does or doesn’t work.

For a while we believe that if only the right people come to power that everything will be ok.

“Once our guys are in, things will get better”

But then, it became clear to me at least, that there are a number of problems that aren’t always obvious.

I suppose the obvious one is the maxim that power corrupts.

Another is that the only people who become political leaders are those who want power, which are the people you least want to have it.

But each of them think that they will do it better, only to discover that the same big-state issues will always exist.

One thing it curiously made me think about recently was our monarchy in the UK.

Now lots of people on the right and left in politics think that in a democratic society, it is clear that we should abolish the monarchy.

But this is where our constitutional monarchic system has its genius. It’s responsibility without power. It’s power that you aren’t allowed to use. That you must not use.

It’s an argument I heard once that totally converted me to a monarchist. That and the three word argument that I have heard a few times against a democratically elected head of state: President Tony Blair.

If only our government had the same mantra. That it was their responsibility to hold on to power but not to wield it, in favour of it being wielded directly by the people.

That they were custodians of power, there to stop others from taking advantage of that power.

It’s very unlikely to happen, but we need to recognise where the British system of government has got things right, and a head of state there to make sure nobody becomes head of state is pure genius.

US Free Trade, Low Tax Tories and DExEU

This week we discuss Trump’s tactics with tariffs to obtain free trade, we ask why there are so few low tax conservative politicians and talk about the recent changes to the Department for Exiting the EU.

As mentioned in segment 3, here are the links promised:

Paper Money Collapse by Detlev Schlichter

Detlev blogs at the Cobden Center.

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Why is it now rare for a Tory to advocate low taxes?

I suppose I’d just got used to it.

Hearing big state, high-tax talk from Conservatives.

Theresa May with her interventionist, remainer views has always surrounded herself with advisers that think the same as her – see Olly Robbins, who has masterminded the circumvention of the Department for Exiting the EU, or basically anything written by Nick Timothy, her former co-Chief of Staff.

In fact, it was the Conservative manifesto itself for the 2017 snap election, written by Timothy, that is the best evidence to date that it’s no longer a mainstream Conservative view to believe in smaller government and lower taxes.

It was all bit Ed Miliband-lite.  What politicians and pundits like to call the centre-ground of British politics is now a very much lefty position.

Of course, nowadays, if you step one pace to the right you are deemed a fascist, whereas there are a seemingly infinite number of steps further and further left, never getting to the police state that the rest of us know lies in that direction too.

This was put brilliantly in this article by Douglas Murray in the Spectator.

Left and Right don’t really cut it any more – and I’m sure I can be accused of saying that because I don’t exist on the left of this crazy spectrum.  I believe, though that the new order is one of freedom versus totalitarianism.

And on the side of freedom are those of us who believe that people should be as free as they can possibly be to not have government run their lives for them.  As free as possible to spend their own money as they see fit.

What the politics of 2018 has lost (and it happened long before 2018), is a sense that small state, low tax economies work.  And not only work, but excel like no others.

Is it up to people like me with no following, no journalistic or political ambitions, to point out the success stories of Hong Kong under John Cowperthwaite or Germany under Ludwig Erhard?

There aren’t enough of us out there showing that when you lower tax and lower regulation and state intervention, that living standards improve, economies grow, and people get happier as a result.

So it was a surprise to me this morning to read that none other than Gavin Williamson, our young, hapless Defence Secretary, had in cabinet this week advocated lowering taxes in order to increase government revenue.

I wonder how well that went down.  Cabinet room lead balloon is what I’m thinking.

But it shouldn’t have been an unpopular idea.  It should be Conservative party policy.

And it should always be Conservative party policy.  It shouldn’t be floated occasionally by one of the cabinet, it should be a de-facto view.

Liz Truss has been making the right noises recently, and there is enough press chatter about Sajid Javid to indicate that he also could be on the right side of this.

But there aren’t enough of them.  Too many of the Conservative party are statists, just like on the left.

Without a Thatcher figure to slam Hayek’s Road to Serfdom on the table and say “This is what we believe in”, and actually sell the policies of low tax, low regulation, small state conservatism, I fear it will become more an more a minority view – deemed crack-pot even.

We have facts and evidence on our side – why is this Conservative government not using them?


A competitive edge over the EU? That’s the point Mr Barnier

Who knows where we will end up in the Brexit negotiation.

There are signs that finally even Theresa May’s soft Brexit position is such that she knows she can’t go any further based on the EU’s reaction to the chequers white paper.

Early on I hoped that the EU would stand firm on their ideas of cherry picking and their supposed to freedoms.  That it would mean no matter the deal, it would have to mean an end to things “like” the current EU structures.

No single market or even something like it.

No customs union or something similar.

This would mean a clean break and the most power possible brought back to this country so that we can pursue our own policies as we see fit as a nation.

Now of course the entire project is a contradiction.

The EU breaks it’s own rules when it sees fit.

They sign up agreements, treaties and trade deals with other countries that by any definition of the term do cherry pick from the 4 freedoms.

Which is the other reason why striking a trade deal should be pretty easy, certainly based on the fact that we are already so closely aligned.

If Japan can sign a trade deal, so can we.

But here’s what I find amazing about Barnier’s response today.

He listed a number of issues he felt existed with the white papers position.

They included all manner of questions of legality, the imposition of bureaucracy and fear of fraud.

But one thing struck home to me instantly.

He said that if the UK diverged on services then we could gain a “significant competitive edge”.

How can someone miss the point so much that they let it sail by.

Of course we want a competitive edge. Of course that’s a major reason for leaving and part of everything the leave campaign spoke of in the referendum campaign.

What’s even more odd is that no one will mention that it’s a bit odd that he pointed this out. They are so blind now to the idea that whatever the EU say must be true, desirable and reasonable.

To be fair when your own government is in the shambles it’s in its its hard not to assume they must be onto a loser, but to not get that that’s what Brexit is for is just crazy.

We do want to compete. We do want to trade. We do want to be good neighbours.

But that doesn’t mean there is a problem with us having a different tarrif to the EU, which again Mr Barnier points out today.

It means finally, we as a country can pick and choose how we want to trade and what priorities we want as a nation.

I suppose if the EU 27 don’t actually understand why that is ultimately good for us and for them then that’s their look out.

And it only serves to once again point out why we don’t want to be part of that way of thinking.