Sunday, 1 March 2015

Rubber plant

I'd had this plant since it was a few inches tall (about twelve years ago, a three-for-a-fiver offer at Homebase) and dutifully chopped off all the sideways branches so that it would grow nice and straight (which it did).

Problem was, it grew so high it touched the ceiling, so it got relegated to the stairwell a few years ago. It didn't get enough light there, so most of the leaves fell off, apart from at the very top and on a stray branch at the bottom and one half way up.

So I have just chopped it off just above the bottom brach, repotted it vertically and will now start again.

Ho hum, we'll see:

Iron ore: Another classic example of cartel behaviour


The price of [iron ore] is trading at the lowest levels since early May 2009. So far in 2015 the price has fallen 12.5% following a year in which the commodity nearly halved in value [to $63/tonne]

... more than softening demand, increased supply has been blamed on the fall in the price. Global production of iron ore rose by an annual average of over 6% from 2010 to 2014 despite the fall in prices and is set to expand even further this year.

The growth in output came mainly from the big three producers – Vale, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton – which even at today's price enjoy fat margins thanks to cost of production of only around $25 a tonne.

Goldman Sachs released its estimates for iron ore on Friday. The investment bank cut its outlook for iron ore for this year to $66 a tonne this year, down substantially from an earlier estimate of $80: "Significant overinvestment to date will ensure that the market is well supplied, while demand from the Chinese steel sector is maturing. A painful war of attrition awaits."

So the Big Three are doing pretty much exactly the same as the Saudis with oil. Drive up prices and lull lots of would be competitors into investing in higher cost production, then boost output, watch prices halve and drive them all out of business again.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Cut Music to One Hour a Day - WHO

From the BBC

WHO figures show 43 million people of my generation aged 12-35 have hearing loss and the prevalence is increasing.

In that age group, the WHO said, half of people in rich and middle-income countries were exposed to unsafe sound levels from personal audio devices and pinball wizards.

Meanwhile 40% were exposed to damaging levels of sound from clubs and bars that could be seen for miles and miles and miles.

The proportion of US teenagers with hearing loss went from 3.5% in 1994 to 5.3% in 2006.

Dr Keith Moon, the WHO's director for injury prevention, told the BBC: "What we're trying to do is raise awareness of an issue that is not talked about enough, but has the potential to do a lot of damage that can be easily prevented, and there is no substitute."

"That's a rough recommendation, it is not by the minute, to give those kids who are alright an idea to those spending 10 hours a day listening to an mp3-player.

"But you better you bet, even an hour can be too much if the volume is too loud."

"Get rich quick"

From today's City AM:

An interactive graphic released last month by sales agent JLL on their website predicts the parts of the route that are likely to see the biggest house price growth once the Shenfield to Reading line starts to kick in in 2020.

The agent has charted all 38 stations and installed a number of filters that predict where the most money can be made. Top performing areas include Whitechapel in east London, with Woolwich in the south east coming in at a close second.

'Nuff said.

Thursday, 26 February 2015


From the BBC, 2 minutes 20 seconds into the video clip:

"We're taught to... think on our feet and to think outside the box, and to step up to the plate when you have to."

Daily Mail on top form

Fantasist who slashed wealthy friend's throat in £2million Mayfair flat is found GUILTY of attempted murder

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (355)

I must have done a couple of similar debunkations before, but this is another one which has been bugging me, where the answer is blidingly obvious if you stick to, er, actual hard facts.

The KLN goes thus: "Ah, but if somebody loses their job, how will they pay the LVT?"

Let's gloss over the fact that the two-thirds of the population have exactly this problem with rent or mortgage payments (i.e. privately collected LVT) and that somehow or other as a society we cope with this (via mortgage holidays, housing benefit or mortgage subsidies, social housing etc), it's not a big problem if you look at the numbers on short term unemployment.

According to this:

... the short-term unemployment rate, i.e. the number unemployed for six months or less expressed as a percentage of the labour force, fell to a six-year low of 3.3% over December-February and is below its 3.5% average since 1995. This suggests that job losers and people entering the labour force are finding work relatively swiftly – consistent with the message of strong demand from the vacancy rate. The current 3.3% rate is close to the 3.2% level reached before the start of the last interest rate upswing in November 2003.

So one in thirty people are between jobs at any one time. A lot of that is probably 'voluntary' and many of those will have a partner who is still in work and who can pay the LVT. So call it 2% max.

As long as there are rules in place to distinguish between people whose employer has gone out of business/who have been made redundant through no fault of their own/are likely to find another job soon; and general shirkers/the long term unemployed, they could simply exempt such people from LVT. A crude way of doing this would be to give people a cumulative six-month exemption in any rolling five or ten year period, or whatever, which they can 'use' if they are made redundant. There is no perfect right or wrong formula.

So there would be a non-collection rate of 2%, which is no lower than for any other tax anyway, tuppence ha'penny in the grander scheme of things and a great reassurance to everybody in general.

And for the long term unemployed and sporadic earners, there's always social housing (which is like LVT and a Citizen's Income rolled into one).

"Five sticking plasters which will fail to transform the UK into a truly capital-owning democracy"

Some meddler from Policy Exchange has dreamed up five random measures which he thinks would encourage saving, see City AM.

Like all politicians, he ignores the fact that the main point in saving when you are earning well is to be able to dis-save (i.e. spend more than you earn i.e. use up your savings) when you aren't. It's about maximising the marginal utitlity of consumption. On an individual level, over a lifetime, the optimum savings ratio is precisely zero (you can't take it with you!), so on an aggregate whole-population level it must also be zero. But hey.

The infuriating thing is that he actually identifies much of the cause of our collective lack of savings in his opening paragraph:

As a nation, we are bad at saving. While the reasons for this are many and varied, the belief that house prices are a one-way bet..."

Correct. There is an easily identifiable, long run negative correlation between house price inflation and saving; people respond very quickly, so in 2008-10, people started saving again. If you kept house prices low and stable, that would be an extra 5% saving per year. And we know how to achieve that.

... the design of our welfare system...

Well yes and no. Asset-based means testing is spiteful, pointless and badly designed. If it somehow budged people into dis-saving in the bad times it would be OK but by and large, it discourages a lot of people from saving in the first place.

To the extent that they absolutely have to do asset-based means testing (to minimise cost of welfare state), at the very least they should only assume a reasonable return on savings (rather than making it all-or-nothing) and include housing wealth as well as proper cash savings and investments. And there is no need for means-testing, we already have a tax system to take away part of people's income.

But means-testing seems to be politically popular (or else they would have got rid of it years ago).

... and the inability of humans to properly judge their future financial needs all contribute to UK households putting less aside than their counterparts in other G7 counties."

The vast majority of the UK population doesn't have any spare income so it's a flawed sample, and other countries aren't quite as Home-Owner-Ist. Either people are struggling to pay off sky high mortgages and rent; or they are merrily doing mortgage-equity withdrawal and pissing it away.

Once you understand all this, it must be pretty obvious that all his silly gimmicks (like handing out free Lloyds and RBS shares) or having compulsory 12%-of-salary pension contributions are pointless at best and counter-productive at worst.

"250 C"

The BBC reports that the FVLA is auctioning off this registration number and expects to receive hundreds of thousands of pounds for it.

But what are people actually paying for (vanity aside)?

What if - as a thought experiment and not a policy proposal! - the government decided to simply install a trackable chip in all cars instead and abolished the requirement to have a unique, registered number plate visible at the front and back. This is perfectly do-able in urban areas e.g. Singapore.

In that case, people would be free to drive round without visible number plates, or to stick on any old number plates they liked as decoration; be that their initials, car make and model, telephone number, favourite football team, whatever.

In which case, surely, vanity registration numbers would be worthless. So, what are people paying for? It's a simple question with a simple answer.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Natalie Bennett on top form (2, 3)

Let's rake over smouldering wreckage a bit more:

2. Interest relief for private landlords

The UK tax system crudely divides people's income into 'investment income' and 'earned income'.

By and large, investment income is only liable to income tax, not National Insurance. NI is a regressive tax, so in % terms, this exemption benefits basic rate taxpayers more than higher rate taxpayers. The logic behind this is highly tenuous, it is based on The Big Lie that NI is a kind of pension or unemployment insurance, but there you go.

However, investment income (i.e. income from shares) differs from earned business income in that you cannot claim any expenses against it. So you cannot claim a deduction for interest paid on money you borrow to buy shares (except in very narrow and actually quite sensible circumstances). (Employees struggle to claim any expenses whatsoever of course, but they are always bottom of the heap and taxed most heavily).

Proper businesses i.e. the self-employed can claim most expenses as business expenses (and rightly so) but they are liable to some NI at least (although at half the rate of employees). Again, fair enough, you don't want to tax initiative too highly, better to tax the plodders.

As per usual, landlords get the best of both worlds. For NI purposes, it is investment income and hence exempt, but magically, for income tax purposes it is earned or business income and interest is an allowable expense.

So it ought to be one or t'other. As it happens, the extra tax that would be raised if landlords had to pay NI or couldn't claim interest against tax is in the order of £2 or £3 billion a year, the figure she gave, which is a probably a lucky guess on her part.

Whether you earmark this extra money for building social housing or anything else (like reducing taxes on employment) is irrelevant. It's about trying to make the tax system reasonably coherent.

3. Wealth tax

From The Daily Mail:

The Green leader, who revealed her party now had 54,500 members, also defended the policy of taxing wealth - from property to luxury cars - amid claims it would raise only a fraction of the £45 billion claimed by the party.

Ms Bennett told Today: 'What we are talking about is, we don't want to just tax property, because that excludes about two-thirds of wealth, we also want to tax pension pots, holdings in cash, Ferraris, whatever else it might be.'

Daft cow.

£45 billion is pie in the sky. £4 billion would be an optimistic estimate (i.e. as much again as Inheritance Tax), realistically it would be naff all.

Pension pots are taxed as they are primarily shares i.e. dividend income, which is received out of net corporate income after VAT, Business Rates and corporation tax have been paid. Cash holdings are taxed, via negative real interest rates plus income tax just to bayonet the survivors. Ferraris are taxed (VAT, fuel duty etc).

I assume that when she says 'property' she means land and buildings. In income generating terms, it is not one-third of total 'wealth', it's more like two-thirds. More to the point, if you tax all wealth at the same rate, it would have to be a very low rate (0.5% a year or something) otherwise people just don't pay it (which is why wealth taxes in the narrow sense have been phased out in most countries).

But you can merrily tax land and buildings at 2% or 3% of current values and the tax base is scarcely eroded because they can't just disappear or be moved or hidden abroad. See also: Business Rates.

4. Call me cynic

Is it possible that Ms Bennett is a fifth columnist, parachuted in by TPTB to discredit the Georgist and environmentalist movements?