Tuesday, 7 July 2020

I'd love to know which side is lying.

From the BBC:

The police statement said that at about 13:25 BST on Saturday officers from the Territorial Support Group "witnessed a vehicle with blacked-out windows that was driving suspiciously, including driving on the wrong side of the road. They indicated for it to stop but it failed to do so and made off at speed. The officers caught up with the vehicle when it stopped on Lanhill Road. The driver initially refused to get out of the car."

After searching Williams and Dos Santos, and the vehicle, nothing was found and no arrests were made. The incident was first raised on social media by their coach, 1992 Olympic 100m champion Linford Christie, who accused the police of abusing their power and institutionalised racism.

Williams, the fifth-fastest British woman in history over 200m, and Dos Santos said that a written report given to them by police did not mention driving on the wrong side of the road, and that where they stopped is a single car-width road.

Inconsistency 1

Williams and Dos Santos say they were stopped because they are POC. I have no doubt that this happens more often than it should, but you can't work backwards and say that every time a POC is stopped, it's because of institutional racism. White people get stopped as well.

The police say that the car's windows are blacked out. If true, the police wouldn't be able to tell what the people in the car look like, which rules out institutional racism as a reason for stopping them. But we know that the police sometimes twist things to cover their own arses.

Inconsistency 2

Dos Santos emphasises that the road on which they actually stopped is single car width. This appears to be undisputed.

However, that is not the question. The question is, how wide is the road on which they were initially flagged down and on which they didn't stop?

Monday, 6 July 2020

Killer Arguments Against Citizen's Income, Not (30)

One argument from the hard left, who want the state to control everything, is that UBI supporters want to scrap state education, NHS and so on and replace it with vouchers for the private sector to soak up. Some neo-liberals clearly want to do this - so they sold off council housing at undervalue and are now overpaying Housing Benefit to the people who snapped it up.

But this is clearly untrue for most mainstream UBI supporters, who tend to be centre-left, centre-Georgist or centre-right.

I had to deal with such an objection on behalf of the Citizen's Basic Income Trust recently.

To clarify our/their position, I drafted the following article, which will hopefully be added to their FAQs soon:
Would UBI replace other public services?

Like most countries, the UK provides 'free' state education and 'free' (or very low cost) healthcare. These are similar to a UBI. They are universal, non-means tested, non-taxable, easy to access and there is no stigma attached.

There are clear social and economic advantages to this:
- If left to the private sector, the quality would probably improve for those who can afford it, but the cost to parents and patients would double or treble (see US healthcare system and UK private schools). Lower income households would clearly lose out.
- Health and education businesses can make super profits (a form of 'rent'), because the value of healthcare or education is vastly greater than the cost of providing them. As a near-monopoly provider, the government can keep costs low and pass on the savings to the general population.
- Health and education are public goods and merit goods. We all benefit from everybody else having a reasonable level of education. Employers benefit from having healthy workers, as do members of patients' families. Even if you have no children, it is worth paying some extra tax to pay for other children's education (who will be paying for your state pension1)

So the answer is, no, of course not!

The UBI we envisage would primarily replace existing  benefits which are paid out in cash. The UBI would cover the costs of things which the private sector can provide more efficiently, at lower cost or at higher quality than the government - such as food, utilities, clothing, mobile telephones...

The UBI should not be earmarked for particular items (such as food vouchers or travel passes for the over-60s). For most households, the UBI would only be a small part of their total disposable income, and each individual household is in a far better position to decide how to spend it than the government. The mix changes every week and as children grow up. Some areas have good public transport, so a travel pass in London is worth much more than a travel pass in a rural village with an infrequent bus service.

The other downside of earmarked benefits is that the private sector will respond by increasing prices to soak them up if prices are not capped, so private providers will extract super-profits or rent.

For example, the UK has gone from a situation where over a quarter of households lived in social housing to mainly private provision. In the 1970s, social tenants paid affordable rents and local councils made a modest profit. This was replaced with Housing Benefit after much of the social housing stock was sold off. So instead of the council incurring the modest annual maintenance costs for a council house occupied by a low income household claiming rent relief, the government pays five times that amount to a largely unregulated private landlord, a huge cost to the taxpayer.


Emailed in by SG.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Tim Martin seems to get it.

Via msn.com

Pub owners say tax reductions are needed to keep industry afloat

Wetherspoons chairman and founder Tim Martin said “tax equality” was needed if pubs and restaurants were to “survive and thrive” in the future.

He told the PA news agency: “Supermarkets pay almost no VAT on food sales and pubs pay 20%. Without equality the price gap between pubs and restaurants and supermarkets will continue to grow so that ‘on-trade’ becomes more and more uncompetitive.”

CAMRA still don't get it:

The national chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), Nik Antona, said he would like to see the Chancellor reduce beer duty – the tax on producing and selling beer – for the “on-trade”.

Mr Antona said: “He could reduce the duty on the on-trade and make beer cheaper in pubs than it is off-site, in supermarkets, and therefore reinvigorate the industry. It would bring people back to the pub and stop them drinking at home.”

This chap knows what he wants, but doesn't know how to get it:

The pub’s licensee, Steve Boulter... told PA: “Having had three months of all being on canned beer, which is a pound a can, you do think: ‘Will people come back?’ when it’s three or four pounds a pint. I agree with Nik. Pricing makes a big difference so it needs to be the other way round – cheaper in pubs and a bit more expensive in the supermarkets.”

That can easily be achieved.

Broadly speaking, the VAT on a £4 pint in the pub and the beer duty are about 70p each. Pub landlord gets £2.60 net.

On a 80p multi-pack can (440 ml) in the supermarket, the VAT is 13p and the beer duty is 54p. Supermarket gets 13p net.

A pint costs five times as much as a can.

If they scrapped VAT completely and added 50% to beer duty, what happens?

Let's assume that the consumer bears all the tax for simplicity.

Pub landlord can drop price to £3.65, minus £1.05 duty, still gets £2.60 net.

The can now costs 94p, minus 81p duty, supermarket still gets 13p net.

A pint now costs 'only' 3.9 times as much as a can, which is what the pub landlord wants.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Car hits pub

From the BBC:

A car smashed through the front of a pub hours before it was due to open for the first time in nearly four months.

The owners of the Swan Inn near Ashford in Kent were woken by a "terrible bang" at about 02:00 BST as a Land Rover crashed into the grade-II building. Landlord Ray Perkins said he was "distraught," adding: "We just don't know why we had such bad luck".

A 17-year-old boy has been arrested on suspicion of drink-driving and taking a vehicle without consent.

Going by Google Maps, the pub is on the outside of a fairly sharp bend in Swan Lane. So presumably the idiot was driving driving north-east and either missed the bend completely, or maybe he wanted to turn left/north into 'The Street' and fluffed it.

Makes me glad I live in the middle of a long, straight road, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Yeah! Go retailers!

From The Guardian:

Landsec, the property group behind the Trinity Leeds shopping centre and Bluewater in Kent, said struggling retailers paid less than a third of the rent due last month.

Retailers paid only £9m of the £31m rent due on stores on 24 June, which equates to 29% of the total. This time last year its retail tenants paid 92% of the bill.

I'm sure that the £9 million they actually received is enough to cover their actual running costs (repairs, maintenance, security etc), so what's the problem? The land and buildings will still be there, unlike tenant businesses who won't be if landlords hound them for every last penny.

Fun With Numbers - Right angle triangles (again)

The side lengths in a right angle triangle follow a nice pattern - the square of [the length of] the hypotenuse = the sum of the squares of [the lengths of ] the other two sides. The cool kids refer to this as the Gougu Rule.

For example, 3^2 + 4^2 = 5^2.

If you are given the length of the base or height and it's a whole number, you can always find two lengths for the other sides which are whole numbers.

This is pretty easy.

If the known side length is an odd number, a possible answer for the other two sides is "(known side length^2)/2 +/- 0.5".
So for known side 7, 7^2 = 49, 49 ÷ 2 = 24.5, 24.5 - 0.5 = 24 and 24.5 + 0.5 = 25.
Answer: 7-24-25
Check: 49 + 576 = 625 = 25^2

If the known side length is an even number, a possible answer for the other two sides is  "(known side length^2)/4 +/- 1"
So for shortest side 8, 8^2 = 64, 64 ÷ 4 = 16, 16 - 1 = 15 and 16 + 1 + 17.
Answer: 8-15-17.
Check: 64 + 225 = 289 = 17^2.

Fuller explanation here.

Whether you start with 3 or 4, if you apply these two similar rules, you end up with 3-4-5. Unless you start with "4" for the known side, the other two sides will always be longer than the known side.

It's also only the ratios that matter, so if 3-4-5 is an answer, so is 6-8-10, or 9-12-15 and so on.

So far so dull!
The trickier bit is working backwards and assuming the known side is not the shortest side.
Say you are given side length 24.
A possible answer is 24-143-145, which is a bit dull.
If you have time for some trial and error, you could first try 24 with hypotenuse 22, 23, 25 or 26.
22 and 23 don't work, but 25 and 26 do.
Answers: 10-24-26 and 7-24-25 (the smallest and hence 'best' answer).
Check: 100 + 576 = 676 = 26^2
Check: 49 + 576 = 625 = 25^2.

This doesn't work for most numbers, so don't be too disappointed if you draw blanks. But these answers still follow the two basic rules if you start again with the shortest side (10 or 7).
I set up a spreadsheet with side lengths 1 to 100 to find combinations where the hypotenuse is a whole number and filtered out the ones can be worked out using the two basic rules  (or by scaling up another answer) The only ones I could find are as follows:

Shortest side - other side - hypotenuse - perimeter
20 - 21 - 29 - 70
28 - 45 - 53 - 126
33 - 56 - 65 - 154
36 - 77 - 85 - 198
39 - 80 - 89 - 208
48 - 55 - 73 - 176
60 - 91 - 109 - 260
65 - 72 - 97 - 234

Hypotenuses which are prime numbers are interesting, so I put them in bold. None of the other side lengths in the above table is prime, which is a bit disappointing.

I underlined 176 and 234 which are also interesting. The other perimeters go up in step with the shortest side length, but these buck the trend, because 48-55 and 65-72 are close to being equilateral triangles. 20-21-29 is the closest to being an equilateral triangle, so 29/20.5 is *very* close to being the square root of 2.
There's no real point to this, it's just Fun With Numbers to brighten up your Friday.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Doesn't sound too terrible to me.

From The Guardian:

England's privatised water firms paid £57bn in dividends since 1991

In the past 10 years, the companies have paid out £17bn in dividends and directors’ pay has soared...  According to the analysis by David Hall and Karol Yearwood of the public services international research unit of Greenwich University, the nine privatised companies in England have amassed debts of £48bn over the past three decades – almost as much as the sum paid out to shareholders. The debt cost them £1.3bn in interest last year.

As outrageous as the directors' salaries are, they are robbing their shareholders and not the customer. Whether it's dividends or interest doesn't really matter, it's a legal rather than economic distinction in the context of a utility company with a 100% captive customer base, steady income and known costs. And as far as I am aware, most of the interest payments goes to the parent company, they do it to save a bit of tax.

Dividends and interest work out at about £55 per person per year, assuming 2 people per household and an average water bill of £500 a year, the dividends and interest are over 20% of your water bill.

In relative terms, compared to competitive businesses, this is a staggering amount. For example, Tesco has sales of just under £7 per share and paid dividends of 9p per share (from here) i.e. it paid out just over 1% of its sales in dividends.

But in absolute terms, £1 per week per person is not a lot of money. A sensible government would just impose a lower price cap (£450 instead of £500) while imposing the same standards and costs, so that the owners can only collect £5 from each customer in dividends and interest.

The Neo-liberals will argue that the £55 per person "tax" is worth paying, because bills are lower (or quality and reliability better) than they would have been if water was still nationalised. In other words, foreigners (who own a large chunk of English water companies) are better at running our country than we are. This might or might not be true (I suspect it isn't) but it's difficult to make a fair comparison.

The BBC does science, but they are useless at maths

From the BBC:

Astronomers have found a previously unseen type of object circling a distant star. It could be the core of a gas world like Jupiter, offering an unprecedented glimpse inside one of these giant planets...

Its radius is about three-and-a-half times larger than Earth's but the planet is around 39 times more massive.

Woah! Why "but" and not "and"??

The formula for the volume of a sphere = 4/3 x pi x radius cubed.

Therefore a planet with three-and-a-half times the radius of earth has 43 times the volume.

If a planet has 43 times the volume of Earth and 39 times the mass, we can safely assume it has a pretty similar density to Earth.
Screenshot attached just in case they correct the glaring mistake:

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Sounds a bit racist to me

From Microsoft News:

As Leicester became the first city in the UK to be placed in a local lockdown following a spike of coronavirus cases, there are concerns that other northern areas may follow. Both Bradford and Doncaster are “clearly of concern”, according to a key scientist in the coronavirus response.

Imperial College London's Professor Neil Ferguson, who used to advise the government before resigning for breaching lockdown rules, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's inevitable we will (have further local outbreaks), we are relaxing lockdown rules and that means that contacts in the population are going up and that's a very variable process.”

Asked about Bradford and Doncaster, he said: "Those are areas, where not as high as Leicester, but they have some of the highest numbers of cases per 100,000 of the population, which is the relevant measure, so they're clearly of concern.”

His concerns were echoed by epidemiologist John Wright, who told the BBC that areas with similar demographics to Leicester should be on “constant alert” for new outbreaks. He added that areas with large BAME communities and "multi-occupancy, multi-generational living” – including Bradford – were at risk of coronavirus spikes.