Friday, 27 March 2020

Every day feels Saturday; every evening feels like Friday.

I find this whole 'working from home' and 'lock down' experience strange, but not totally unpleasant.

Obviously, I'm not sure that the government will come to its senses before the economy totally collapses, so that's a bit of a worry. But there's bugger all I can do about it*, but on a purely practical, day-to-day level, it's not that bad.

I went to four days a week recently, meaning that I need to get five-and-a-half hours' worth of work onto my time-sheet every day. There's no commute, so I can wake up at my natural time and get those hours in, interrupted with, and followed by sitting in the garden; researching my next post; driving round in circles (on empty roads - bonus!) - all the stuff I normally do on a weekend. It's like a Saturday, interrupted by finishing off a couple of bits and pieces for work.

But the evenings feel like Friday again, you know you can have a lie-in the next day, and there are a few bits and pieces you'll have to do the next day, but nothing too stressful...
* Apart from recommend the obvious...

a) A freeze on all rents, which they have done for hospitality and retail sectors, but why not for everybody? For residential tenants, there's some chat about protection from evictions, but that's pretty half-hearted (or hard-hearted?)*. Same goes for Business Rates and Council Tax. They buggered up the Business Rates free period, because it only applies to small businesses and lasts a whole year. Hey! Large businesses are in the same mess and employ people too!

b) All mortgages to be interest-free with no mortgage repayments for the duration, plus the next month while people get back on their feet. This applies to households, businesses and landlords. And it applies to banks vis-a-vis their depositors. If I lose that 1% interest on my cash ISA for two or three months, so what?

c) And a Universal Basic Income for anybody who claims it. This might be less than people would get under Universal Credit, but they can start paying it out immediately, instead of being swamped with UC claims and fannying about for a month or two processing them all. All DWP and/or HMRC needs to know is your NI number, home address and bank details and they can start paying out £75/week per person (or however much). There'll be no need for housing top-ups because of a) and b) above. HMRC can adjust people's PAYE codes to that claimants lose the personal allowances. So employees who are still being paid (fingers crossed that includes me) have no incentive to claim.

The whole idea of the government paying 80% of salaries or reported self-employment income is like inverse means testing - it is completely insane. And making employers pay salaries to people who are banned from working is equally nuts. Those staff can just be put 'on furlough' (another Americanism, but one I quite like) to be re-hired on same terms and conditions as soon as the bans are lifted. Like maternity or paternity leave, just for a much shorter period.

On a lighter note, young Rishi Sunak came up with something cunning (same link as above):

As part of the latest announcement, the chancellor also suggested tax breaks for the self-employed, such as lower national insurance may end in the future. These were in place because, for example, the self-employed do not get sick pay or holiday pay, and to encourage entrepreneurship. This signals a massive change in UK tax policy, potentially equalising the tax treatment of the self-employed with employees.

I just hope that they reduce Employer's and Employee's NI to match the increase in self-employed NI, to keep the whole thing revenue-neutral. 'Hope' in this context means of course they won't do it.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Folllowing on from Our Host's Post...

How about this.  If you are going to design a simple minimalist sports car, using readily available mechanical parts, you always seem to end up here - and this is just a short selection

Lotus 7 1963

Dutton B Type

Locost - see the Haynes book
 Westfield 7 pre - litigation

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

A coincidence? I think not.

They haven't shut the petrol stations yet, so for the time being, the only fun thing left to do is driving round. Roads are empty, petrol's cheap.

So let's talk about cars again, in particular, what my Holy Trinity of Jap Crap was copied from.

There was an approx. one decade gap between two of the originals (Spitfire and X1/9) ceasing production and the Japanese copies (MX-5 MkII and Del Sol) being launched. Car models have tended to become larger and less angular over the years, with rounder/integrated bumpers etc. If the Spitfire and X1/9 had remained in production, with a design refresh every ten years, they would have ended up looking like the MX-5 and the Del Sol when they were launched.

The MR2 Roadster was contemporaneous with the Boxster; Toyota just chopped a foot off the front and off the back of the Boxster (the silly droopy bits), sacrificing the boot and frunk, and left the middle bit the same.

[For clarity: the MX-5 MkI was a copy of the Lotus Elan, but I don't own a MkI so that's not under discussion]

Triumph Spitfire

Mazda MX-5 MkII (aka 'Miata NB')

Fiat/Bertone X1/9

Honda Del Sol

Porsche Boxster

Toyota MR2 Roadster

Monday, 23 March 2020

Jap crap - car review

There's not much else going on right now, so I'll review these:

They are all brilliant. Whichever one I'm driving is my favourite. I'm no expert and biased in favour of all of them. I'm well aware that none of them is perfect, but as Steve Stretton once said, you can only truly love a car if it's a bit crap.

I suppose the MX-5 is best for around town (automatic and has largest boot); the MR2 is best for bombing down the motorway (good in a straight line and reliably fast) and the Del Sol is for in-between. The MX-5 is just a little bundle of joy; the MR2 is amiably mental; the Del Sol feels surprisingly grand when you're inside it. Horses for courses.

If I could assemble the best things from all three, it would consist of...

1. Engine. The MR2. Superb low end torque and pulls in any gear at any revs (just about). Best fuel economy, which doesn't seem to vary much whether you are driving sensibly or twatting it. The other two have surprisingly awful fuel economy (despite, or perhaps because, they are 1.6 litre and the MR2 is 1.8?). The Del Sol has no pulling power below 2,500 revs and the MX-5 *does*not*like*going*uphill*, not even if you drop it into third and floor it.

2. Engine/exhaust sound. The Del Sol. I can't tell which contributes more, but they make a lovely booming sound when accelerating and are practically silent when you are rolling along. It even sounds nice when decelerating, unlike the MR2 - when you lift off, it sounds like teenagers when you ask them to do the washing up.

3a. Manual gear box and clutch. The Del Sol. Clutch pedal is light but 'linear' and nice wide gear ratios, nearly five-to-one between first and fifth. The MR2 has much heavier clutch and stupid close gear ratios (barely three-and-a-half-to-one between fifth and first). If you're out of a residential area, you can twat it up to nearly 40 mph in first gear and then shift up straight to fifth, rendering the other gears pretty superfluous.

3b. Automatic gear box. My MX-5 is automatic, and it must be said engine and gear box are in nigh perfect harmony. The 1.6 litre MX-5 had 109 bhp when new and probably a lot less than that twenty years later, but the gear changes are spot on when accelerating, far better than I could do manually. The kick down is a joy. It's like pulling back an elastic band and letting go - you have to step on it about one second before you want to actually accelerate, which takes a bit of getting used to. If you change your mind and lift off again, you've made a lot of noise but haven't changed speed at all. (The MR2 had a semi-auto version, which apparently was crap, I don't know about Del Sol automatic one way or another).

4. Steering. The MX-5. It seems to know what to exactly what to do without any conscious decision on your part. With the MR2 you have to adjust when going round a corner; you have to tell it exactly what to do; I was once 2 mph too fast round a roundabout and it did a 270 degree spin, which was most unpleasant and I've never really trusted it since. For comparison, I took the same roundabout 2 mph too fast in the MX-5 as well, and it skipped a foot sideways but continued in exactly the same forward direction. The Del Sol is front-wheel drive, so very good at lower speeds but a bit twitchy on the motorway.

5. Brakes. Any of them. Tiny cars with normal sized brakes, they'll stop on a dime from any speed.

6. Suspension. Del Sol as it corners the flattest, so you dare go a couple of mph faster round roundabouts. The MR2 rolls a bit and the MX-5 rolls *a*lot*. OTOH, the Del Sol is rubbish over speed bumps; the other two don't care, you don't even need to slow down for most of them, they just sail over the top.
Practicalities and comfort

7. Boot. The MX-5. Small but still the largest. The MR2 *does*not*have*a*boot*, and the Del Sol boot is deep but short because the front half is taken up with roof mechanism. Also it goes up and down electrically/mechanically, which wastes a bit of time, and vertically, meaning you have to bend over awkwardly and wrestle stuff in and out diagonally.

8. In-cabin storage. Funnily enough, the MX-5. There's a decent cubby in the centre console under your elbow; two cup holders (I upgraded to the facelift arm-rest), door pockets which will take more than a parking ticket; decent glove box and the original stereo was double-DIN so that's an extra space for your mobile and sun-glasses. The Del Sol is deficient on all these counts (no door pockets at all, WTF?) and the MR2 is somewhere in between.

9a. Soft top. The MX5 is the better soft top. You can flip it open or close it in a few seconds from inside the car (for example at red lights). You can only get the MR2 roof to open properly and snap into place from outside the car, but it's dead easy to close again from inside.

9b. Targa top. The Del Sol has a gloriously over-engineered electric/mechanical targa top. It is a joy use, but you have to have the parking brake on and opening or closing it takes nearly a minute, including flipping levers and pressing and letting go of the switch at specified times.

9c. Rear window that opens and closes. The Del Sol. It has a rear window that opens and closes! I put it up and down just for the fun of seeing it go up and down. When it's down, it's an open top with a chunky rollover bar.

10. Seats. The MX-5. They are the size of child seats, heck knows how they packed in that much comfort. Though it would be nice if they reclined as far as the Del Sol seats, which go nearly horizontal. MR2 cloth seats are terrible; MR2 leather seats are pretty comfy, but they are leather, so squeaky all the time and sweaty when it's hot.

11. Passenger leg room. The Del Sol is roomiest; the MR2 is OK; on the MX-5 they did something stupid on the passenger side. The passenger's foot end is nearer to the passenger seat than the pedals are to the driver's seat. Why?

12a. Door and centre arm rests. The Del Sol, they are comfiest, widest and almost the same height. In the MR2 the rests are pretty hard, narrow and different heights, if you rest your left elbow, you can barely touch the steering wheel; the MX-5 is somewhere in between.

12b. "Elbow out of the window". The MX-5. The window sills on the MR2 and Del Sol are far too high for "elbow out of the window", the MX-5 window sill is perfect for that. Handy when stuck in a jam and you want to smoke.

13. Central locking. The Del Sol, which is the only one of the three that still works. But it has daft door handles that you pull forward rather than up, which is a bit awkward, given how low they are.

14. Dryness. The Del Sol. The soft tops on the other two are superb watertight, but when it's cold or damp, they fog up like crazy, especially the MX-5. When it's cold enough, you have to scrape ice off the *inside* of the windscreen.
Having re-read this, it looks like I don't rate the MR2 very highly. It wins in only one category. Nothing of the sort, the general laddishness and bonkersness more than makes up for its objective flaws.
That's the main stuff. I'll do another post on sundries like "dashboard layout" and "sound system".

Saturday, 21 March 2020

"Coronavirus deaths: What we don't know"

An excellent article at the BBC, which has saved me the bother of writing something like this myself.

Worth reading in full, the upshot seems to be this:

... given that the old and frail are the most vulnerable, would these people be dying anyway?

Every year more than 500,000 people die in England and Wales: factor in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the figure tops 600,000.

The coronavirus deaths will not be on top of this. Many would be within this "normal" number of expected deaths. In short, they would have died anyway.

One of the charts in that article says that about 9% of people over 80 who contract coronavirus die as a direct result. But the point is, at that age, you'd expect approx. one person in ten to die in the next twelve months anyway.

If you compare the coronavirus deaths table with the 'chance of dying anyway' table, they are pretty much exactly the same. I would assume that the overlap is very high, so additional deaths will be negligible. Worst case, there is no overlap whatsoever (highly unlikely), in which case your chance of dying in the next 12 months has doubled. That sounds worse than it is - if you are in your 30s with a 1-in-1000 chance of dying, that's now gone up to 1-in-500.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Killer Arguments Against Citizen's Income, Not (26)

Just to remind us that it's not just the authoritarian Right but the authoritarian Left who are digging their heels in.

From The Morning Star:

For years the Universal Basic Income (UBI) campaign lurked in the libertarian undergrowth: give everyone a basic wage, unconnected to their labour or their needs and get government off their backs. But over the last 5 years or so the idea has crept into the left-wing of the Labour Party. It was a relief that it didn't feature in the last two manifestos.

It has been depressing, therefore, to see recently on social media so many people who consider themselves socialists calling for UBI. Finally today I was horrified to see good MPs like Sam Tarry and Rebecca Long Bailey joining the throng.

UBI was always a snake-oil policy but suggesting that it is a sensible response to the Covid-19 crisis is frankly crazy. The problem that needs to be solved is maintaining people's incomes if they cannot work because of illness or temporary redundancy. People, as best they can, adjust their outgoings to their incomes.

UBI is a one-size-fits-all payment. The correct response is for the government to underwrite payrolls for the duration of the emergency. If that were done there would be no need for rent or mortgage holidays for workers or tax/National Insurance holidays for employers.

Carol Wilcox, Labour Land Campaign

So somebody who loses a higher paid job deserves higher welfare payments (or a higher government guarantee) than somebody who loses a low paid job? That's what she seems to be saying. Strange.

UBI is not about replacing income from work. Most recipients will continue working (the UBI would be low compared to average wages).

UBI is not supposed to be 'targeted' at those who have lost their jobs, it's not a kind of unemployment benefit. For sure, it would benefit the unemployed, but "universal" means "universal". It goes to children, students, workers, unemployed, stay-at-home parents, the disabled, pensioners, recently released prisoners... and the few people who are content with a really, really modest lifestyle and can't be bothered.

UBI goes to everybody. Same as the universal right to vote, use a public library, state education, NHS, whatever. If you genuinely oppose UBI, you should oppose all these as well.
Also, to say that there'd be no need for a tax/National Insurance holiday if the government underwrote wages is a bit arse-backwards.

When life is funnier than satire

From The Daily Mash:

ANYONE who does not live in a detached house will be barred from shopping in Waitrose during the coronavirus crisis.

As the pandemic continues to disrupt shopping, the supermarket has introduced restrictions to ensure only ‘their kind of people’ stockpile its overpriced items.

Not true. My wife had to queue this morning just like everybody else.

From a Waitrose & John Lewis email yesterday:

We’re also suspending services that involve close contact between customers and Partners. This includes our cafes, A Place To Eat and others that require skin contact, such as beauty counter treatments and bra-fitting. Nespresso and Kuoni will be closing their outlets too as a temporary measure.

Truly the end of the world as we know it.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Ventilator Blues*

From The Daily Mirror:

Under-funding over a decade means NHS is lacking equipment and intensive care doctors - the government now wants factories to switch up production line in bid to battle disease

Woah there!

1. However much money you give the NHS, they will always spend all of it and want more. There is practically no upper limit on treatments they could offer and provide, or that people would demand if available quickly and easily.

I lived in Germany in the 1980s, there were no waiting lists and superb service, more or less free at point of use, so people went to the doctors with the most minor ailments or conditions that any Brit would just learn to live with.

The NHS gets what is gets, and is responsible for rationing and providing treatment in the most cost-effective way.

2. Does the NHS do a great job overall? Yes. Could it be better for the same money? Also yes. They don't do "joined up".

3. The Tories have increased annual NHS spending by a lower rate than New Labour did, but they have still increased it year on year. There seem to be far fewer stories about rampant waste and corruption, like £10 billion on the NHS Spine, so it seems that the NHS has responded to the less generous budget by trimming the fat (hooray), but I'm sure there is still some fat left to be trimmed.

4. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but who, if anybody, should have seen this coming? Experts in the NHS or some here-today-gone-tomorrow Health Minister battling with daily crap? It's the NHS's budget and they decide what to prioritise, like cancelling non-essential operations.

5. Let's assume the NHS really needs 100,000 ventilators, seems like a fair estimate, and that their experts should have seen this coming years or decades ago. As far as I can make out, ventilators cost about £10,000 each (if anybody knows better, please leave a comment).

6. So they could have started stockpiling them ten years ago, 10,000 every year, annual outlay £100 million. This sounds like a lot of money, but it's about 0.1% of the NHS annual budget, or about £1.50 per UK resident per year.

7. But they didn't, and whose decision was it?

* Song from Exile on Main Street.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

The gospel according to St Greta?

In a comment on a previous post, Lola opined "The whole thing has more in common with the selling of Indulgences and the Mediaeval Catholic church than anything else.", which got me thinking and I realised, Warmenism is a religion.

We have a need to believe in stuff, hence the enduring popularity of religion. Now that so many people no longer believe in God/s there is a niche waiting to be filled by a belief system. Any candidate must have (Christianity in brackets):

1. Good guys (angels) and bad guys (devils)

2. A process whereby you, too can contribute, however small and powerless you may be (prayer)

3. A canon of righteous texts (the bible)

4. A cadre of the wise to whose authority you can appeal and whose pronouncements you can rely on (priests)

5. Special terms of obbrobrium for non-believers (heathen, heretics)

6. A sense that we few know the truth and are bound to convert those who think otherwise (preaching the Gospel)

7. A sense that the truth is of vital importance to mankind (the promise of eternal life).

8. The threat of uncomfortable things to come if you don't believe and act rightly (Hell and damnation)

I think that is 8/8 for Warmenism. Good thing they haven't yet got to No 9, the duty to kill all those who insist on trying to persuade people that the belief is wrong.

It may yet come to that....

Killer Arguments Against Citizen's Income, Not (25)

The tired old arguments are being trotted out again:

From City AM:

DEBATE: Is now [i.e. during coronavirus pan{dem)ic] the time for the UK to trial a temporary Universal Basic Income?

YES, says Julian Jessop, an economics fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs...

Good stuff from the IEA.

NO, says Matt Kilcoyne, head of communications at the Adam Smith Institute...

We need liquidity for households and struggling firms — a kind of state-backed insurer of last resort — but money must be targeted where it can do most good. Don’t splash cash, target limited resources at those who need it the most.

The question isn't so much about how much people who are suddenly out of work get (that is a different debate); it is about how quickly they can get it.

If you don't want to increase total spending or transfers (and I don't), then you offer a UBI to everybody, pitched at a sensible amount similar to current Income Support levels... but the quid pro quo is you forego the income tax personal allowance/National Insurance Threshold if you do.

So the extra tax/NIC you'd pay is equal and opposite to the UBI you'd get. Those in steady jobs won't bother; those who have lost their jobs, or worry that they might, or are on benefits anyway, can opt to get the UBI. They'll have to fill in a form or two, but payments can start more or less immediately, like Child Benefit starts the week a child is born, and after that there is no more form filling ever again.
Emailed in by ShineyMart, from CityUnslicker:

To give an example, the NHS costs around £2200 per person, with UBI we would have to give say £500 a month for it to be realistic - so £6,000 a year. That plus the NHS is £8,2000 [sic] per person per annum. At over £750 billion, that is more than the UK Government's entire spending and 250% more than we currently spend on all social benefits and the NHS added together.


[His calculator must be broken - £8,200 x pop. 66.4 million = £550 billion, a bit more than one-quarter of GDP]

The NHS costs what it costs; it's cheaper than a US style system, and we can clearly afford it. And that has nothing to do with UBI. No extra cost.

Where does he get the figure £500 from? It's easy to prove that something is unaffordable if you set an arbitrarily high amount.

A UBI is, or should start off as, a replacement for existing 'stuff'. There is little or no extra cost.

Pensioners already get a UBI of an average of £160/week, it's called "state pension". No further UBI needed. No extra cost.

If you add together Child Tax Credits and Child Benefit, that's enough to pay a UBI of £75/week to the first child in each household and £50/week to second and subsequent children (average £60/week). No extra cost.

Putting Housing Benefit and child benefits to one side, existing welfare claimants already receive on average £75/week each. No extra cost.

For people in steady jobs, who are lucky enough not to lose them, see above. No extra cost.
Even if you are no good at maths, surely you grasp that UBI is mainly just income smoothing, and not particularly redistributive? The people paying the tax now were children once (and got child benefit); are adults now (and are getting part of their tax back as UBI); and will be pensioners one day (and will get pension/UBI). Average earners get their money back, they are paying back their child benefit and pre-paying their pension.

Can average earners 'afford' so spread their income like this? Of course they can.

For sure, that's over-layered with some redistribution from high earners to low earners, but that is a relatively small chunk of the total collected and paid out.

And can high earners 'afford' to hand over some of their income to be shared between the far larger number of low earners? Of course they can.