Tuesday, 2 April 2013

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: My Asian Expedition, (the Other) Hitchens on Guns, and Cowperthwaite on Statistics

_McGrath001This week, Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath has been allowed out.

I write this from the "land of the free" - from a country never colonised by Western powers: Thailand. More specifically, my better half and I are spending a few days at the Sheraton Hotel in Hua Hin, three hours drive from Bangkok. And I've got to say, it's pretty damn good here - we're staying at a luxury resort on the western coast of the Gulf of Thailand, with cooling offshore winds that offer relief from the otherwise unrelenting heat (lately 35 degrees during the day, dipping to a frosty 28 at night), tasty food, a good book to read (The Prize, by Daniel Yergin, about the history of the oil industry) and a pleasant companion with whom to share some time out from the serious business of earning a living.

For the first time in a week and a half I can see the stars! There were four days in Hong Kong (where I watched a truly great Fiji team win the rugby sevens, and met several NZ rugby legends, courtesy of guest status in the HKRFU box - thank you again, Grant!) and where the so-called "light pollution" (in reality a glorious celebration of prosperity in a land of almost unlimited opportunity) meant the night sky was outshone in that corner of the planet by mere humans. The night lights in Kowloon alone (on the mainland part of Hong Kong) emit more light than a full moon, and probably shine brighter than the whole of North Korea ever could.

After HK, we spent 48 hours in Beijing. The pollution in Beijing allows you to gaze directly into the sun with little discomfort. So, of course, no chance of stargazing there.

Superficially quite modern, and judging by the quality of the cars on the road there are some very wealthy people there. But one gets the feeling this is accompanied by enormous corruption and abuses of power by officials at all levels, and that the average Joe doesn't really stand a chance of improving his lot in life. We did the obligatory visits to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square (still overlooked by a gigantic image of mass murderer Mao Zedong), and the Great Wall, this last built - like the Egyptian pyramids - using slave labour. My legs are still sore after spending two hours walking up and down it - with 45 degree slopes in some sections, certainly it's a harder walk than it appears at first glance!

From chilly (1 degree overnight) China we flew down to Bangkok for our regular checkup at Silom Dental, then to Hua Hin.

But enough of my travels - I just have to share with readers a short piece on gun control by the late Christopher Hitchens's lesser-known and still extant younger brother Peter, who blogs at the UK’s Daily Mail. I think it's one of the best commentaries ever, on the right to act in self-defence - I mean, how could you fault an article entitled 'Why I Demand The Right To Carry A Gun'? First sentence: 

"We in Britain believe guns are so dangerous that only criminals should be allowed to have them."

It gets even better.

To end, a few snippets of information on probably the greatest bureaucrat of the twentieth century (if not the greatest in the history of mankind) - Sir John Cowperthwaite. I love to read up on this amazing man and his achievements whenever I visit Hong Kong. From his obituary in the Guardian(!):

  • When Cowperthwaite became financial secretary of Hong Kong in 1961, the average wage there was 25% of the average Briton. By 1990, the average Hong Kong resident earned more than his British counterpart.
  • Hong Kong, by the way, has no natural resources (apart from its harbour) and is a net food importer. Taxation on salaries earned in Hong Kong has been a flat 15% since 1966 - and profits from other sources such as dividends and foreign earnings are not taxed at all!
  • When asked what poor countries should do to improve their fortunes, he advised them to "abolish the national office of statistics" (Census enforcers take note!).
  • When a delegation was sent over from Whitehall to find out why Cowperthwaite was not collecting employment statistics, he gave them the arse card, sending them back on the next plane.
  • He refused to accept state funding to upgrade his residence, pointing that no-one else in Hong Kong was receiving a housing benefit.
  • When a group of businessmen asked him to fund a tunnel across Hong Kong harbour, Cowperthwaite told them that if it was viable, the private sector would do it - and it did.
  • A quote from his first speech as financial secretary: "In the long run, the aggregate of decisions of individual businessmen, exercising individual judgment in a free economy, even if often mistaken, is less likely to do harm than the centralised decisions of a government, and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster."

I trust you all enjoyed a happy Easter break - and if you wanted to work Good Friday and Easter Monday, you just went ahead and did it!

Back next week.  Promise.

Doc McGrath
Leader, Libertarianz Party

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