Wednesday, 22 October 2014

"Children unite for Ex-Pop stars in Need"

From the BBC:

Children are to unite for their annual exposure to pop stars who ceased being famous before they were born.

Tina Barrett, Paul Cattermole, Jon Lee, Bradley McIntosh, Jo O'Meara, Hannah Spearritt and Rachel Stevens will perform a medley of their greatest hits on the BBC appeal show on 14 November.

The BBC also provided free publicity to the group in 2000, when they released Never Had a Dream Come True, which reached number one as a result.

"This is going to be, er, interesting," the children said, "We ended up watching BBC Ex-Pop stars in Need last year as well, mainly because our parents wanted to watch it. Didn't recognise any of them, if truth be told."

Student Loans

From the BBC

An activist group in the United States has been carrying out deeds that some might think the stuff of dreams - buying and cancelling other people's student debts.

Rolling Jubilee has purchased and abolished $3.8m (£2.35m) of debt owed by 2,700 students, paying just over $100,000 (£62,000), or as it says, "pennies on the dollar".

Blimey, that isn't much of a slice of the amount owed.

The group pulled off the deal to illustrate how cheaply the money owed can be sold on the secondary debt market, she says.

"We wanted to question the morality around repayment," she says.

"Your debts are on sale. They are just not on sale to you."

Which if true, is just terrible.

Many of Everest Colleges' debtors are single mothers and are on low income, she says.

"It is documented that they end up worse off and have no better chance of getting work than if they simply finished high school," she says.

Ah, right. So, the reason the debt was "pennies on the dollar" is because most of them took out student loans and are really bad risks. Single mothers on low incomes are not going to be paying back anything on their student loans, will struggle to get jobs that will mean they have to start paying back money or finding a rich man to pay it for them. A few will find something that pays well enough to start paying back and that's where the 1/40th of the original amount comes from.

Incidentally, I listened to a You and Yours program the other lunchtime about students saying they were worse off than their parents, that included a student complaining that she had to do a really boring job because there were no jobs for composers with her music degree (unlike Elvis Costello who worked as a data entry clerk and Mark E Smith who worked in a shipping office) and some freelance film bloke who for some reason had to be in London. Of course, the flip side was the idiots talking about how young people had lots of electronics, as though £600 for a phone is any more than a rounding error on people's costs compared to £250K for a house (I think when my father bought his Amstrad computer that it cost about the same as 2 months' mortgage).

Various Anti LVT Entertainments

From here:

You are confusing "rent-seeking" and development for profit. If a landowner does not develop land with potential for improvement he does not lose anything (take set-aside as a case-study) but if he develops the land your increased "location" tax becomes a drain until the development is passed on. It becomes a giant pass the parcel until someone wealthy enough to hold the developed land acquires it. In fact what it does is ensure that it passes to the very "rent-seekers" you are trying to eliminate. LVT is a great reason NOT to develop or improve property.

If you are getting services and benefits you should be making a contribution (however small) towards them.

The Left's hatred of anyone who rents out a property or owns land is envy, pure and simple.

As long as you tax the rental income properly, don't allow tax free gains on the properties and stop developers just hoarding land, a healthy rented sector is good for the housing market and for society as a whole.

Guess what happens when you put a tax on rents. They go up.

The whole concept of council tax is based on their belief you own nothing and your home is theirs to charge rent for.

etc. etc.

Edge of Tomorrow (DVD/streaming) Review

Something that hasn't really been explained in the past few years is the demise of "star value". There was once an era that Tom Cruise's name over a film would automatically get an initial audience in who would either rave about it (Rain Man) or tell people to avoid it (Eyes Wide Shut). Star names have been replaced more with franchises, or even studios. The Pixar and Marvel names will bring in crowds in a way that Tom Cruise or Will Smith don't.

I'm mostly ambivalent about this, but I generally rather like the films that Tom Cruise is in. Of all the movie stars out there, I think he's generally selective more on quality than pay cheques, which means you've got a good chance of getting good value going to see a film with his name on.

It's the only reason I can think of that the Edge of Tomorrow was a bit of a flop at the cinema, although the movie seems to be rebranded as Live. Die. Repeat, so maybe the name was a problem. It's brilliant, and a rare thing, an action sci-fi movie that thrills in the action, and has some sci-fi that's logically consistent and doesn't fall apart before the end. It's also funny at times, with some dark humour in it. Well worth 3 or 4 quid.

The Good Old Days

Simon Jenkins in yesterday's Evening Standard:

The new proposed rate of £3,000 ['Mansion Tax' on homes worth £2 - £5 million] will come on top of the average of £2,000 that H-band properties already pay in council tax. Indeed, London valuations are so out of date that many bands E, F and G may pay mansion tax.

But the total tax will still be way below what such properties would be paying had the old rates been indexed rather than abolished (for the poll tax) in 1989. Tony Travers, the local government expert at LSE, estimates that the rates on “mansion-taxable” properties would today be in the range of £6,000 to £20,000 a year.

It's not that far off actually, if you add Council Tax and Mansion Tax together. So anybody who bought pre-1989, i.e. all the Poor Widows In Mansions, has no reason to complain; that's what they signed up for.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Welfare for the Wealthy (3)

According to Aditya Chakrabortty, the government pays out £85bn a year in tax breaks and subsidies to business.

Kevin Farnsworth, a senior lecturer in social policy at the University of York, has spent the best part of a decade studying corporate welfare – delving through Whitehall spreadsheets and others, and poring over Companies House filings. He’s just produced what is, as far as I know, the first ever comprehensive audit of the British corporate welfare state.

The figures, to be published in a forthcoming report, are astonishing. Farnsworth takes the financial year 2011-12 and tots up the subsidies and grants paid directly to businesses. They amount to over £14bn – that is, almost three times the £5bn paid out that year in income-based jobseeker’s allowance.

Add to that the corporate tax benefits, the value of the cheap credit made available to banks and other business, the insurance schemes run by the government to protect exporters, the marketing for British business laid on by Vince Cable’s ministry, the public procurement from the private sector … Farnsworth calculates that direct corporate welfare costs British taxpayers just shy of £85bn a year.

Nor does this figure include the cost of bailing out the banks or the millions in housing benefit that goes straight into the pockets of private landlords.

The bill for corporate welfare is huge – and largely hidden. We know a lot about the people who claim social welfare: we know how much each benefit costs the public, the government sets strict rules for eligibility – and we even have detailed estimates for how much cheating goes on. Between them, Whitehall, academia and NGOs have churned out enough surveys on social welfare claimants to fill a wing of the Bodleian library. But corporate welfare? The government has itself acknowledged: “There is no definitive source of data about spending on subsidies to businesses in the UK.” The numbers are scattered across government publications and there is not even any agreement on what counts as a corporate handout.

Whilst some of this is bribes to companies like Disney to spend money here rather than elsewhere and can be shown to actually be revenue-positive, much of it goes to recipients like the "defence" industry, a sector of commerce so heavily subsidised that we would actually be better off without it.

Mainly, however, it shows up the Tories' harrying of the poor for the cynical vote-chasing exercise it really is. If they were really interested in reducing public spending, this would be a good place to start.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (343)

Neither of these are new, particularly correct or even relevant to the debate, but it's nice to see two completely contradicatory KLN's being wheeled out in the same article in The Telegraph:

Many politicians are concerned that an influx of foreign investment is leaving the capital’s leafier streets less diverse, with more oligarchs and fewer British families. But a mansion tax would – by definition - make certain expensive neighbourhoods even more expensive.

Nick Paget-Brown, the leader of Kensington and Chelsea council which has the highest concentration of £2 million+ homes, said the levy would force long-term residents to move out “making way, no doubt, for some real billionaires”.


Levying a charge of £3,000 a year on homes worth £2-3 million will raise £140 million, according to Savills. That leaves Labour seeking to raise £1.08 billion from a remaining 57,000 properties worth over £3 million, paying an average of £19,000. It means that the bulk of the revenue is balanced on a relatively small number of mobile people.

Firstly, the tax would not make buying a home in these areas more expensive as the very modest tax comes off the price.

Secondly, can these Homeys make up their minds whether we'd end up with more oligarchs or fewer oligarchs? And then please explain which of these is more desirable and why?

I suspect we'd end up with more oligarchs in the expensive areas, but on balance that's a good thing; they're happily paying a bit more tax plus spending loads of money here, which is good for the UK's balance of payments.

If and when I'm retired, I'd rather live on a street with normal families than be surrounded by mansions which are vacant most of the time, so if normal families downsize to a normal area (with a million quid unearned, untaxed cash to spend), that must surely be A Good Thing.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (342)

MBK emailed in a splendid new variant of the "diagonal comparison" in The Times, it goes like this:

"If I am forced to pay LVT, then I will have less money to spend on [worthy cause]", in this case, charitable donations.

The author of the piece is so Home-Owner-Ist that he completely lacks any sort of perspective, he appears to think that he will garner sympathy with drivel like this:

I HAVE just been to the top floor of our house. I so rarely go there, it always comes as a surprise… I came downstairs, thinking, as I always do, where do all these rooms come from? Do I really own all this? Sorry, I mean we. My wife is joint owner. In fact for many years she was paid more than me…

We bought our house, in north London, in 1963 — three storeys, Victorian, for £5,000, after I negotiated down the price from £5,250. I tell locals this all the time — just to make them sick…

Our house today is technically a mansion, even though it has just two bedrooms. (We each have a writing room, plus two sitting rooms.) On paper it must be worth about £2.5m. That’s what one in our street has gone for…

I do know two widows who, like us, have been here for years, never knowing what would happen to our property prices, who will simply not be able to afford to pay a mansion tax every year. They could be forced to sell…

I will pay, and can afford to, but it could mean I will give less to charity. I was thinking of giving again to the Cumbria Community Fund, but won’t if I suddenly have to find £20,000 a year for the rest of my life.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From today's Evening Standard:

Samuel Thompson's claim (Fri) that the smoking ban has improved pubs and bars is only true if you think they should be dreary places no one would want to stay in for long.

Steve Lustig.

"Internet trolls face longer sentences"

From Revealed Tech:

Days after describing online abuse suffered by TV presenter Chloe Madeley as “crude and degrading”, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told the Mail on Sunday that he was determined to “take a stand against a baying cyber-mob” and would allow magistrates (who can currently impose jail terms of up six months on internet trolls) to pass serious cases up to crown courts, who in turn would be able to impose maximum sentences of two years.