Friday, 20 January 2017

"Man dies in boiler room 'explosion' in Felixstowe"

From the BBC:

A person has died in what has been described as an "explosion" on board a ship at the Port of Felixstowe. One person was killed and another taken to hospital after the apparent blast in one of the Manhattan Bridge's boiler rooms.

The Japanese ship is used as floating offices by a large number of commission based salesmen selling questionable investments to gullible pensioners. Suffolk Police said the activities were highly suspicious.

The ship's owner said telephones used by overly ambitious and aggressive salesmen had been running hot for some time and a "boiler back-fire" occurred while some particularly tasty deals were being closed at 23:05 GMT on Thursday.

"Bayswater Investments (Europe) Limited (BVI) and all within the organization wish to express their condolences to the family of the deceased, and their sympathy with Ken Williams, 69, of 23 Hyacinth Street, Norwich who has just cashed in his final salary pension in order to buy another 20,000 units in the non-existent Ashanti Gold & Minerals Fund," a spokesman said.

There will be a joint investigation between the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, local trading standards, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Serious Fraud Office and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency just as soon as they have sorted out their bureaucratic turf wars.

"Eye watering", "black hole", "shocking", "whopping".

From today's Taxpayers' Alliance mass email:

News broke yesterday that Surrey County Council is to hold a referendum asking residents for permission to hike council tax by an eye-watering 15%... The reason the Council is doing this, it says, is to plug a black hole in their finances to pay for the increasing costs of adult social care.

Now, there is no doubt that appropriately funding social care is one of the most challenging policy issues we face. But a 15% tax hike in Surrey is shocking... The scale of this tax increase would put a whopping £190 per year on a family's bill for an average Band D property in Surrey.

Ho hum.

From Homelet:

• The second half of 2016 has seen a considerably slower rate of rental growth, compared to the same period in 2015
• The average UK rental value was £892pcm - this is 1.7% higher than the same period last year (£877pcm)
• Since July 2016, rents in Greater London have seen a slower pace of annual growth than last year
• This month the average rental value in Greater London is 2.0% higher than the same period last year

£892pcm - £877pcm = £15pcm = £180 per year.

I'm looking forward to the TPA email:

News broke yesterday that UK landlords are asking tenants for eye-watering rent increases... The reason landlords are doing this, they say, is to plug a black hole in their finances to pay for the increasing costs of foreign holidays and new cars.

Now, there is no doubt that going on holiday and replacing your car are the most challenging policy issues landlords face. But a 1.7% rent hike is shocking... The scale of this tax increase would put a whopping £180 per year on a tenant family's bill for an average Band D property.

Remind me, who's the 'snowflake' generation?

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Remind me, when were those days?

From The Evening Standard:

Mr Verhofstadt, president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group, said: "Britain has chosen a hard Brexit. May's clarity is welcome - but the days of UK cherry-picking and Europe à la carte are over.

To which period is he referring? When were we ever allowed to pick and choose?

Also Guy, please note, we Brits don't do cherry picking any more, East European migrants do that, and we don't have "cartes", we have "menus".

UPDATE: PaulC in the comments reminds us that the UK didn't join the Eurozone or sign up to the Schengen* agreement. If that's what Verhofstadt means by "Europe à la carte" then it's a good job we're leaving - by implication, the Euro and Schengen will be forced on us if we stay in.

* In practical terms it makes little difference whether an EU member state is in this or not.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Killer Arguments Against Citizen's Income, Not (5)

Emailed in by Lola, more innumerate and illogical drivel from, first he outlines a few of the obvious advantages, and then…

Where UBI Proponents Go Wrong

A universal basic income is not the god-sent welfare policy that it initially seems to be...

Maybe it is not "god-sent", but it is far better than the status quo. That is the point here, compare UBI with the existing system and see which is better.

It does not create incentive to work.

It reduces disincentives to work at the bottom end compared to existing welfare system (plus myriad other advantages - compared to the current welfare system) and that'll do for now.

It won’t help solve unemployment, and it will not alleviate poverty.

It will discourage employment a damn sight less than the existing welfare system. He's pointed that out himself. And assuming it is pitched at the same level as current unemployment benefit rates, maths tells us that it will do just as good a job at alleviating poverty (and real world trials shows it does better, for a given total spending).

The truth is that a UBI will exaggerate all of these factors in comparison to what would exist in a more unhampered market.

That is not comparing like with like.

There is even reason to think that it would be worse in the long run than traditional, means-tested welfare systems.

Load of shit. Why..?

First, UBI does not eliminate the disincentives to work that are inherent in welfare programs...

Yes it does.

... it simply moves them around. This program must be financed after all, and any welfare system, including the UBI, is necessarily a wealth redistribution scheme. Wealth must be forced from those who have it to those who do not. This means that at some point on the income ladder, people must go from being net receivers of benefits to being net payers of benefits.

Having displayed his inability to follow a logical train of thought, the author now lays his innumeracy bare.

Whether (and which) other taxes would be increased depends entirely on how high the UBI is pitched. For the umpteenth time, if it were pitched cautiously at current unemployment benefit rates and were to replace unemployment benefits, tax credits and the tax free personal allowance, headline tax rates would not change. Most people would break even give or take 1% or 2% of their income. People would soon adjust.

The progressive taxation that is necessary to finance a UBI means that the more a person earns, the higher percentage of their wealth will be taken from them. The work disincentives are therefore still very much present in the tax system. They’ve simply been transferred onto different, higher income groups of people.

Having not taken a few minutes to do any workings and establish that tax rates would not have to change anyway, he appears to rule out the possibility that taxes could be collected from land values rather than incomes. This has no disincentive to earning more/working harder etc, if anything, LVT encourages people to do more proper work (to generate the income to pay the LVT).

Admittedly, how taxes should be raised is a different topic to how taxes should be spent, but he then drifts off via some irrelevant wishful thinking and ends with this...

This matters because the number one cause of the high cost of living is artificial scarcity created and maintained by monopolies, cartels, and the government that serves their interests. Artificial scarcity imposed by cartels and a servile state is the primary cause of soaring costs in a variety of sectors.

Does he not realise who and what he is talking about? Can he not think his logic through to land/land owners, banks/bankers, holders of other privileges (radio spectrum, landing slots, patents and copyrights, taxi driver permits, whatever etc)? Which of course tells us where governments should be getting their money from.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Economic Myths: Fungible funding

Oxfam is getting all hot under the collar about the fact that the world's eight richest men own as much wealth as the poorest half of the population of the World.

Apart from appealing to the Envious, it is hard to see what they hope to gain by pushing this statistic. If those eight men all died intestate and their wealth was subsumed into their countries' national debt, hence effectively ceasing to exist, the world would be a more equal place, but how would that benefit the poor half of the population? For that matter, if their wealth was shared out equally between the entire richer half of the world's population, the world would be an even more equal place, but the poorer half would still be no better off.

What Oxfam are trying to suggest is that if these rich eight didn't have so much, the poor half would have more, but this is really just another example of the Myth of Fungible Funding, which is that if money is not spent on something of which I disapprove, it will automatically be spent on something of which I approve. (e.g. if the government weren't spending so much on Trident, they could spend more on the NHS and variants ad nauseam.)

If I was a supporter of Oxfam, I'd suggest that they get on and do something more useful with my money, but I'm not.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

"Number of first-time buyers reaches 10-year high"

… boasted The Halifax last Friday:

First-time buyers numbers have totalled over 300,000 for the third successive year, growing from 312,900 in 2015 to an estimated 335,750 in 2016 (up 7.3%) – the highest level since the start of the financial crisis in 2007 (359,900).

That is a fairly meaningless figure until you put it in context. About 800,000 people turn 18 each year, and there is net migration of up to 200,000 working age people who are in work, so if there are only 335,000 first time buyers each year, that means that on current trends, the number of owner-occupiers will fall to about one-third in the long run.

See also the ONS publication Housing and home ownership in the UK, the number of owner-ocupiers in the 25-34 age group is down from two-thirds 25 years ago to one-third now.

Interestingly, of all age groups, it is only among the over-65s that there are more owner-occupiers today than there were 25 years ago. That's not even because more of those people have become owner-occupiers in the last 25 years - in other words, 25 years ago, three-quarters of 45-64 year olds were owner-occupiers, those people now fall into the 75+ age group and three-quarters of them are still owner-occupiers (unsurprisingly).

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The wrong house

Continuing my very occasional series, from The Mirror:

A brave mother-of-four fought off two armed and masked men who burst into her home looking for drugs…

The intruders kept asking Sophie where the crop was and appeared to be looking for cannabis plants… She attacked one of the men, who was downstairs, with a pair of crutches and forced him out of the house. She then confronted the second man as he was coming down the stairs.

Sophie said: "He actually apologised to me for getting the wrong house before he ran off."

Paris Jackson doesn't do irony

Apparently, Paris Jacksons is upset about a TV film in which Michael Jackson was to be played by a white actor.

I don't get it.

Paris Jackson is a white actress who has been playing the role of Michael Jackson's daughter for the last 18 years, and nobody complains about that:

Friday, 13 January 2017

If this is a good idea, then employers will do it anyway.

From a recent Evening Standard:

Employers were today urged to offer loans to staff to cover their rental deposit as part of a campaign to help workers with soaring housing costs.

Mayor Sadiq Khan announced that all parts of the City Hall group would offer employees help with renting a flat and urged businesses across the capital to follow suit.

Many firms have reported that they are struggling to retain and attract the best talent as workers are increasingly priced out of the capital.

The campaign, Fifty Thousand Homes, calls on employers to pay all staff the London Living Wage and to offer housing advice and flexible working within six months of signing up.

They are also encouraged to offer help to buy through mortgage guarantees or loans, preferential lending terms for mortgages and to consider providing quality rental accommodation.

For an individual employer, it might be a good idea to thus steal a march on other employers and/or get away with paying lower wages in exchange for a larger bung up-front.

For example
- if you don't have enough cash to move to London and are offered a £40,000 job in London, you can't accept it.
- if another employer offers you £5,000 signing on loan to pay your rent deposit/two months rent in advance and a £30,000 salary, you can take it, but are then stuck with the £30,000 salary until you repay the £5,000 signing on loan (which will take you years). You can't move either because you have nowhere near enough money for another deposit/two months rent up front and don't dare losing your first deposit (which some honest landlords sometimes pay back a couple of months after you leave).

If all employers do this, then it will merely push up rents and house prices (and suck money out of the rest of the economy). Khan is firmly in the pocket of the developers and is as Home-Owner-Ist as they come, of course, which is why he loves this idea.

The added downside is that if employees owe their employers money, they are one step closer to being bonded slaves. I'm always very wary of employment-related accommodation, it's a bit of a trap.

Killer Arguments Against Citizen's Income, Not (4)

From Business Insider UK:

The universal basic income — a universal payment to every adult, designed to support a basic living standard regardless of whether the recipient works — has never been a broadly popular idea.


But it has become subject of fascination for policy wonks...

Ad hominem. How would be describe the maniacs who came up the myriad of overlapping rules in the current welfare system? And better a 'wonk' than a total wanker.

... across the ideological spectrum because of the goals it intends to serve: decoupling subsistence from wage labour (a goal of the left), replacing complex safety-net programs that often create disincentives to work (a goal of the right)...

We have a welfare system that largely achieves (1) but the high marginal withdrawal rates are a massive disincentive (2). So a UBI set at the same level as current unemployment benefit (in the UK, at least) ticks boxes (1) and (2) and would cost no more than current welfare system and various tax breaks meant to alleviate hardship/poverty.

Job done.

... and preparing for a future in which automation reduces the demand for labour.

It is true that a lot of proponents say this, but it's a complete red herring AFAIC. Let's worry about it if and when it happens. This is the only one of the pro-UBI arguments which looks a bit shaky, so he then focuses the rest of the article on this.

On the basis of no facts or logic whatsoever, he bungs in this bit of wild exaggeration as an aside:

But after watching voters act out their rage at the establishment this year, I have become convinced that a UBI is a very bad idea that would further destabilize the global order — and that the assumptions that had policy wonks interested in the UBI in the first place are bad, too.

"Destabilise the global order"
? FFS.

One problem is that a UBI does nothing to replace the sense of reward or purpose that comes from a job. It gives you money, but it doesn't give you the sense that you got the money because you did something useful.

WTF does that have to do with anything? A UBI can't and doesn't replace lots of things, but so what? Going back to his basic principles, if we reduce the insane high marginal withdrawal rates (i.e. move towards a UBI), the unemployed are more likely to look for work, and those in work will do longer hours, that's reason (2) he mentioned at the start but then completely ignores for the rest of the article.

And so on and so forth. Finally:

Policies are available to make work more central in society and more rewarding for workers, but unlike the UBI, they have to be conditional on work.

Follow that link - 1 is a step towards UBI, 7 is a good idea in and of itself but has nothing to do with UBI or 'worker's rights' or anything, and the rest is just a long wish list of government subsidies and market interventions, all of which will be either expensive, counter-productive or unenforceable. So a load of crap dreamed up by, er, 'policy wonks'.