Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Seriously, can anybody explain this?

From the BBC:

Employed or self-employed people who test positive for the virus are required to isolate for 10 days, so those eligible for the extra money will get £130. But members of the household of someone who has tested positive, who must self-isolate for 14 days, will be entitled to up to £182, assuming they also qualify for the payment.

As regards the £13 a day, we should be paying (or at least offering) that to everybody as a Citizen's Income anyway.

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Well, yes and no.

From The Guardian:

It’s not true that Sweden offers an escape from the public health catastrophe.

Whether you count the March-April death spike as a 'public health catastrophe' or not is up to you, but whatever you call it, Sweden seems to be out of the woods and back to normal, with an average of about 3 covid-19 related deaths per day since the end of July, that's not even a bad 'flu season. What's done is done.

I only wish it did. But, and this is when conservative commentators, politicians and conspiracy theorists look away, Sweden offers an escape from the social catastrophe now engulfing us.

And why do we have a 'social catastrophe'? In the short term, it is because of the lock down, that's clearly an economic catastrophe, which has led to a social catastrophe.

You never hear the Telegraph or the Mail say that we need Swedish levels of sickness benefit to ensure that carriers stay at home and quarantine. Or Swedish levels of housing benefit to ensure that they aren’t evicted from those same homes.

The knights of the suburbs do not insist that the hundreds of thousands who will be thrown on the dole in the coming months need Swedish levels of unemployment benefit and an interventionist Scandinavian state to retrain them.

That's circular logic. If Sweden had done full lock down, they simply wouldn't have been able to afford their high levels of unemployment benefit and retraining programmes. They can only maintain this because so few people lost their jobs. The UK did full lock down, lost hundreds of billions in economic output, with related loss of tax revenues, put a million people out of work and wasted tens of billions in Furlough Scheme payments and other welfare payments. Conversely, if the UK had done a much softer Swedish style lock down, very few people would have lost their livelihood, so there would be little need for retraining programmes, and we could have afforded a more generous welfare system (like a UBI).
It's also a diagonal comparison. It's the Guardian's job to slag off anything vaguely right-wing, fair enough, but what the nominally Conservative government is doing is pretty much the opposite of what the right-wing press are calling for. And the article doesn't bother addressing the actual topic in hand, whether Sweden was right to do a very soft lock down.

It's not a left-vs-right thing either, I commend Prof. Sunetra Gupta's article in The Evening Standard. She always looked at this from a scientific stand-point and said that lock downs were pointless back in April or May:

Professor Sunetra Gupta, who has been a leading critic of the cost of lockdown, says she welcomes the return of schools as children “if anything... would benefit from being exposed to this and other seasonal coronaviruses”.

Gupta, who is a professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford, told The Londoner that alongside huge social and educational benefits, the “evidence is mounting that early exposure to these various coronaviruses is what enables people to survive them”.

She rejected being bracketed with libertarian lockdown sceptics, saying her opposition came from the left. “I personally think that only thinking along the lines of eliminating coronavirus, without giving heed to the consequences on the disadvantaged young and globally, is a dereliction of our duties as global citizens”.
Finally, there's this:

By not locking down in the spring, Sweden had a more protracted outbreak with far more deaths per capita than its neighbours. Admittedly, its death rate was not as bad as Britain’s. But then no European country had a death rate as bad as Britain’s because no other European country put the village idiot in charge.

Yes, we have the village idiots in charge, but the UK does not have the worst death rate. We are third-worst behind Belgium and Spain and only slightly worse than Italy or Sweden (ignoring micro-states).

"Police call for witnesses regarding second walker killed by cows"

Spotted by James Higham, Julia M and Tim Almond in The Guardian:

A second fatality caused by cows has been made public by police, meaning there have been two such deaths within a fortnight in the north of England. Malcolm Flynn, 72, from Carlisle, died after being charged by cows, police said on Friday.

Police asked for witnesses after Flynn was fatally injured in what they said was a tragic incident while he was walking on land near Thirlwall Castle and Gisland, Northumberland, at around 11.45am on Friday 11 September. Police said he died at the location, which is on the Pennine Way.

No mention of dogs in that article, or in the BBC's version.

Friday, 25 September 2020

Stupid people who think they've said something clever

I idly watched a few minutes of Jeremy Vine this morning, they were discussing covid-19.

There was a very sensible lady called Beverley Turner who was recommending a Swedish style approach.

Iain Dale, the man who manages to be wrong on nearly everything, started bleating that Sweden has a much lower population density, 25 people per sq km, against 270 in the UK, as if that were relevant to anything.

Beverley gave an exasperated look, but wasn't given the chance to slap this down. The point being, this statistic is completely irrelevant to anything.

Firstly, the populated areas of Sweden are just as densely populated as the populated parts of the UK. The uninhabited parts are irrelevant. Most of Scotland is nigh empty - they all live in towns and villages as well - so their infection rates are the same as England's.

Secondly, what matters, as far as infection rates are concerned, is how many people you come into close contact with every day i.e. how many elderly in a care home and how many non-residents (workers or visting relatives) go in and out; how many children are in a class at school and how many teachers take each class; how many people there are in each workplace; how many people you sit near in the pub or on public transport; how many people live in each home.

It is quite possible that Swedes come into close contact with fewer people each day (if it were even possible to calculate it, which you can't) and have smaller households than we do , but it's not going to be wildly different. Which is why Sweden's rate of covid-19 deaths per million population is similar to the UK's (581 against 616).

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (485)

One of the main KLN's is that "Landlords will pass on the tax to their tenants, so tenants will be worse off".

I've done this one many times before, you have to explain about elasticity of supply and demand and most people don't, or won't, accept this logic (based as it is on observation), so that's a waste of time and energy.

The shorter rebuttal is, "OK, if the government increases income tax or NIC rates, can all employees just ask their employer for a pay rise to compensate? Can the self-employed just put their prices up?"

Clearly, there will be isolated instances where this happens, but most will just have to accept lower net incomes.

We've seen what happens when powerful trade unions in the 1970s pushed through above-market pay rises. It worked short term, but after a few years, the factories just closed down. If landlords try the same, they will end up with a load of vacant homes, so they will have to drop rents again to get tenants back in (or else they will have LVT bills with no income to pay them), thus rent levels will fall back to where they were before.

The fall-back rebuttal is, "So what? The LVT increases would go hand in hand with NIC and VAT reductions, so even if landlords 'passed on' every penny of the LVT, working tenants would end up a lot better off, just the same as working owner-occupiers."

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

"Richmond School teacher Dave Clark killed by cows"

Spotted by James Higham and Julia M at the BBC:

A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police said the force had been called to a report of a man in his 50s being injured by cows in a field north of Richmond.

He was treated by paramedics, but sadly he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Very sparse on detail. There's no mention of a dog or young calves, but that doesn't mean they weren't there, and we aren't told how many cows* were seen attacking him, or indeed why he was in the field.

* Please, no jokes involving 'five'.

Update - AK Haart in the comments points out that he was walking his dogs. Thought so.

Monday, 21 September 2020

Is there really a dramatic rise in Covid-19 cases?

There's a handy 'dashboard' at

The chart for 'Cases' shows an apparently dramatic increase, from about 800 new cases per day in July to nearly 4,000 now (late September).

To interpret this properly, you have to also look at the chart for 'Testing'. The number of tests carried out has increased from about 100,000 to over 200,000. So the percentage of positive tests has increased from 0.8% to 1.8%. I am perfectly aware that there are a lot of false positives, so let's round that 1.8% down to 1% for sake of argument.

These tests have two quite distinct purposes:

1. Back in March/April, they would only do tests on people who were displaying symptoms, who had been admitted as patients, or who had good reason to assume they might have contracted it. About half of tests came back positive. That was important to know, so that they knew how to treat patients or who should self-isolate.

2. Nowadays, lots of people are being tested, whether they have any symptoms or not. As far as I can see, the people being tested are a fairly random cross section of the general population. So the relevance of these tests is telling us what percentage of the general population have contracted the virus. We know that the tests throw up a lot of false positives, but that doesn't matter if you are interested in the general trend rather than trying to pin down an exact but entirely unascertainable number. And that trend appears to be going ever so slightly upwards.

But what do we really care about here? We care about large numbers of preventable deaths and the NHS being "swamped". Neither of those things are happening, daily deaths have been in the 10 to 20 range for three months; daily admissions to the NHS are just over one hundred; and the total number of patients in hospitals is just over 1,000 (none of the Nightingale hospitals were ever used AFAIAA). The NHS has over one million staff, just quite how many does it take to look after one covid-19 patient?

If 1% of the general population has covid-19 at any point in time, that means 700,000 people have it. Of those, only 100 will be hospitalised and 10 or 20 will die every day. Assuming the illness comes and goes in two weeks (and you're either recovered or dead), that's a death rate of about 0.3%, which is so close to zero as to be meaningless.

Assuming two weeks to be a fair guess, that means about 50,000 new infections per day in the UK. Multiply that by nine months and that means about one-fifth of us have had it (and most won't even have realised). I'm not sure what the cut-off point for 'herd immunity' is, but it's only a matter of time, isn't it, vaccine or not?

Sunday, 20 September 2020

They own land, give them money.


The government will provide a voucher worth up to £5,000 or £10,000 to help cover the cost of making energy efficient improvements to your home. Improvements could include insulating your home to reduce your energy use or installing low-carbon heating to lower the amount of carbon dioxide your home produces...

The government will provide a voucher that covers two-thirds of the cost of qualifying energy efficiency or low carbon heating improvements to your home. The maximum value of the voucher is £5,000. If you are on a low income and receive certain benefits, you can receive a voucher covering all of the cost of the improvements. The maximum value of the voucher is £10,000. A full list of qualifying benefits are available on the Simple Energy Advice website.

Any takers?

Published by Bristol University Press

Beer and Racism
How Beer Became White, Why It Matters, and the Movements to Change It

Only £18.39 in paperback.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Covid-19 deaths per million population (Europe)

Stat's from Worldometers, chart created using

Make of it what you will. There seems to be a gradient between north-east (we can put Sweden to one side, they only did the mildest of lock downs) and south-west (reasons?).

What baffles me is the range - 7 deaths per million in Slovakia up to 857 deaths per million in Belgium? I accept that some countries fared better than others, but a ratio of hundred-to-one? Are these numbers even credible?

Click to enlarge: