Friday, 15 January 2021

Not comparing like with like

From the BBC:

Every year they stop an estimated two to three million deaths, preventing more than 20 life-threatening diseases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Childhood illnesses that were common less than a generation ago are increasingly rare. And smallpox - which killed hundreds of millions of people - has been completely eradicated.

But these successes have taken decades to achieve - and many of us are now expecting effective coronavirus vaccines to have similar results in a radically shorter time frame.

Of course it took decades, because vaccinations against diptheria, whooping cough and measles were just given to young children on reaching a certain age, and it took a few decades before mass immunity against each of these was achieved.

If the UK government and/or NHS get things sorted out and manages to vaccinate [nearly] the whole population within a year, then surely we'll achieve in a year what used to take decades?

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Clouding the issue. And mud in your eye.

Here's an excellent article by Thayer Watkins explaining that clouds have a huge impact on temperatures and weather, many orders of magnitude greater than that of 'greenhouse gases'.

There is no point me summarising, but here's are the highlights:

The effect of clouds depends upon their type and the time of day. The more interesting and important type is the low thick clouds. At night the reflection [of sunlight] effect is zero so the greenhouse effect and reflection of thermal radiation dominate and the low thick clouds have a warming effect. One can easily see that the reflection of thermal radiation is far more important than the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect could at most return 50 percent of the outgoing radiation back to the Earth.

Reflection from the underside of clouds probably returns 90 percent of the radiation. The two effects are not in competition. Clouds could return 90 percent from reflection and half of the unreflected 10 percent. Thus it is easy to see why there is such a difference in temperature between a clear night and a cloudy night in the winter. Since the greenhouse effect from the atmospheric gases would be the same on a clear and a cloudy night one could say that the effect from greenhouse gases is negligible compared to the effect of low thick clouds.

This ties in with my observation that there is no 'missing' or 'blocked' outgoing IR from the Earth's surface. If you extrapolate this to Venus, which is completely blanketed in thick cloud, it goes to explaining why the surface is so hot.
A lot of stories about melting permafrost have been popping up in the random articles that my mobile 'phone suggests. Here's a typical example:

The etymology of the term “permafrost” comes from the English language, meaning permanent frost. It is a layer that underlies the “active” layer of the soil where life develops and that stays frozen all year round, even in summer. It is made up of different amounts of inorganic material (rocks and sand), mixed with organic compounds and water. Frozen water appears in very variable quantities and is a key element in the consistency and durability of the layer over time. Generally, permafrost has a geological age of more than 15,000 years.
Other articles say "centuries" or "thousands of years". Do these people not read their own articles to do a sense check? Clearly, all the dead plants in the permafrost must have grown there at a time when it was well above freezing. Fifteen thousand years ago was still in the last Ice Age, so the chances are it all grew (and died) since the last Ice Age ended on July 19, about 11,000 years ago.

Therefore, as warm as it might be nowadays, there have been much warmer times since the last Ice Age ended.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

"We don't have a public health crisis, we have a public healthcare crisis..."

Said Sobers in the comments here:

... The current alleged 'second wave' is nothing of the sort, its just the NHS being incapable to coping with winter demand as is ever the case. Deaths are the only true statistic we can rely on in these reality bending days - even the NHS and PHE etc can't fudge how many dead people there are. And the number of funerals tells us we are currently experiencing an entirely within normal parameters winter. The 'second wave' is a figment of the failings of the PCR test, in fact its exacerbating the problem by causing thousands of NHS staff to be 'off sick' when there's nothing wrong with them.

Well, yes and no.

The NHS always 'struggles' in winter. Presumably it has enough capacity for most months of the year, but not quite enough for winter.

Excess deaths are not particularly high (so far, touch wood) during the 'second wave' (which clearly exists, it's not just miscounting). But that is not the metric. If Covid-19 were completely incurable and people just dropped dead within a couple of hours, this would not place any particular strain on the NHS. That would be a health crisis, but not a healthcare crisis.

The issue is that Covid-19 is very curable in most cases, but treating it is very labour intensive. There are currently 32,000 people in hospital being treated for Covid-19, which is about one-fifth of the total number of beds in the NHS. Which is either 'not much' or 'a heck of a lot' depending on your point of view.

What interests me, as an economist and armchair general (most of whose Covid-19 related predictions have been wrong or unproven so far, lolz), is the cost-benefit analysis.

The lockdown appears to have lopped £500 billion off GDP this year. Marginal tax rates in the UK are about 50%, so the government UK has racked up an extra £250 billion of debt. These numbers are subject to large margin of error, but it's clearly huge amounts. That's money we'll never get back.

If we'd had a milder, saner and tolerable level of lockdown (applied consistently from the start, not with this constant chopping and changing and different rules for different areas - people can get used to anything except constant change), there would have been more infections, patients and deaths of course. The vulnerable and elderly can do the sensible thing and self-isolate; that doesn't mean that kids shouldn't go to school either - the kids will all catch it but nearly all those cases are asymptomatic or mild, and after that they have immunity (we believe).

How much extra money would the NHS have needed to be able to ramp up capacity to be able to treat the extra patients? You can't train up doctors and nurses overnight - but you can pay them more generous overtime; poach some from abroad; delegate more nursing task to less qualified people and medical students; take people off unnecessary tasks like smoking patrols or 'diversity and inclusion enablers' and put them on cleaning duty etc.

The normal NHS budget is £140 billion a year, we could have given them a temporary 50% increase, and it would still only have cost a fraction of the economic cost of the lockdown. We could have doubled it and still better than broken even.

Monday, 11 January 2021

Those vaccination priority groups

There's some interesting discussion about this on

Broadly speaking, it makes sense to work backwards from the statistics on likelihood of death/serious illness and vaccinate people accordingly. So care home residents and their carers first; then frontline NHS staff and the over-80s; then over-70s and so on. NHS workers aren't particularly at risk, but a) they look after their own and b) they get vaccinated against and tested for all sorts of infectious diseases as a matter of ethos - it's not a good look to infect your own patients. Bus drivers (who were disproportionately affected) don't get a mention, poor sods.

The original discussion also pointed out that people in 'BAME groups' are more likely to die or become seriously ill than whites, so maybe they should get priority. It didn't actually mention the fact that men seem to be worse affected than women, but the same principle applies. Neither of these factors made it through to the final priority list, which is a bit of a slap in the face.

They should have done a proper points system. Age-based points with additional points for BAME people and men. So a black or Indian guy ranks equally with a white guy who is a couple of years older than them, and the white guy in turn ranks equally with a women who is a bit older than he is.

This would be the sensible thing to do, with the bonus fun factor that we'd see a bizarre coalition of racists and feminists whining and moaning! And probably the SJW finding some angle to moan (it's condescending to BAME groups; it suggests that they can't look after themselves properly?).

Friday, 8 January 2021

This should be interesting..

According to's poll, up to almost a half of London's tenants are looking to move out of London altogether, which, together with the cut in earnings in large setors of the capital's economy, should mean that the chancellor's efforts to prop up rental values through the furlough scheme will come to nothing. House prices will surely follow.

The only question remaining is whether this will mean that the government will have been deemed to have committed the unforgiveable sin of letting house prices fall and be booted out at the next election.

Weekly deaths - England and Wales - that was the year that was

Data from the ONS.

See also @Dr_RohenKapur. Total deaths in 2020 were about the same as in the 1990s. Yearly deaths fell to a low in 2011, and since then they have crept up again (2020 deaths were about 5% higher than in the previous three years). Presumably due to Catastrophic Tory Underinvestment In The NHS or something.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

"Netflix raises UK prices to cover cost of content"

The usual slightly weird reporting from the BBC:

Netflix is raising the cost of some of its UK subscriptions from next month, its customers have been told. The streaming service said the price rises reflected money spent on content.

Netflix is a superb service and their (few) original series are pretty good. I don't like all of them, but there a couple of good ones each year (and lots of people watch 'The Crown', sigh). The price they charge reflects purely 'what they can get away with' and has little to do with what they spend on original content. I'll pay to watch something if I like it, I couldn't care if it was done on a shoestring or it costs £ millions per episode. Clearly, for the bought-in content, the IP owner holds out for a large chunk of the income, so that's probably pretty low margin.

Its standard monthly package will go up from £8.99 to £9.99 and its premium one will rise from £11.99 to £13.99, but its basic plan remains at £5.99*.

So still superb value, then?

However, comparison site Uswitch said the timing of the price rises was unfortunate with UK citizens living under new national lockdowns.

Supply and demand. The lucky majority who still have jobs are spending a heck of a lot less on other fripperies, so they have more to spend on streaming services, computer games etc. And if I get the sack and have to live on a tight budget, Netflix will be one of the last things I cut back on. So Netflix can bump up their prices a bit. So far, the business has not been particularly profitable, so good luck to them.

But Netflix faces tough competition from rivals, such as Disney+, which has also announced price rises of £2 per month up to £7.99 or £79.90 for a full year.

There's also good old fashioned terrestrial TV (yours for the price of a TV licence); Amazon Prime (about £6 a month, but which is shit); some cable/satellite TV channels (which seem to be very expensive); and there is loads of stuff on YouTube (free). So there's more 'tough competition' than you can shake a remote control at.

* I originally only subscribed to Netflix so that The Lass could watch 'Riverdale', which was all the rage in her class at school for a while, so basic package £5.99. Then the rest of the family got into it (including me) and found stuff they liked, so we're now on £9.99 for two screens. Even that's not always enough, and I sometimes have to pull rank and chuck out one of the kids.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (486)

KLN: "VAT works to deter landlordism. LVT doesn't."


Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute posted this as a reply on Twitter.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

VAT clusterf**k

From the BBC:

EU firms refuse UK deliveries over Brexit tax changes

Good start. The articles mentions a few small businesses who can't be bothered at the moment, due to the extra hassle. And it's not a "Brexit tax change", it's a "UK continues to use a tax system imposed on it by the EU decades ago".

In their infinite stupidity, the UK government is continuing with VAT (the worst tax of all) and is just mirroring the EU system. EU Member States have to charge VAT on imports into their country, wherever they are from. Businesses in a Member State can have one master-registration, but have to split up turnover by country and pay VAT at the appropriate rate on sales to non-business customers to each country (the so-called One Stop Shop); the UK is just reciprocating.

Bicycle part firm Dutch Bike Bits said from now on, it would ship to every country in the world except the UK. "We are forced by British policy to stop dealing with British customers," it said on its website.

So, not "forced"? They have made the commercial decision not to bother because of the extra hassle and expense, which of course won't affect large players who can cope with this. VAT is a barrier to entry and hurts small businesses more than large ones. EU corporatism at its best.

Campaigner Richard Allen, founder of Retailers Against VAT Abuse Schemes, told the BBC that the massive increase in international online shopping had led to VAT evasion on a huge scale.

He said the new HMRC rules were aimed at tackling that, but it was unclear how firms who failed to register for UK VAT would be dealt with. "Why should a phonograph spares manufacturer in Idaho bother to register for VAT in the UK and how are you going to make them do it?" he said. "And if they send the package anyway, what are you going to do?"

The system - as shit as it might be in principle - seems to work. I ordered some car parts from the USA last year*, price about £60 and I had to pay about £20 in import duty (i.e. VAT plus bits) before the Post Office would deliver it.

* Rather infuriatingly, I later found out that I could have bought them cheaper from the UK. Order in haste, repent at leisure.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

One small step for womankind and one giant leap for mankind

From the BBC:

The 5% rate of VAT on sanitary products - referred to as the "tampon tax" - will be abolished in the UK from 1 January.

EU law required members to tax tampons and sanitary towels at 5%, treating period products as non-essential. Chancellor Rishi Sunak committed to scrapping the tax in his March Budget.

Campaigners welcomed the end to what they called a "sexist tax" with activist Laura Coryton saying it was "about ending a symptom of sexism".

I'm not really sure that VAT on tampons etc is 'sexist' (it's borne by the manufacturer and retailer, not the consumer). I'm not sure how you are supposed to distinguish 'essential' from 'non-essential' or even what relevance that distinction has (in VAT law, it is irrelevant), but who cares?

VAT is the worst tax we have, for a variety of reasons, so the more things they exempt the better.