Tuesday, 26 May 2015

School Catchment Areas

From the BBC

The University of Birmingham School will have new buildings, a strong academic ethos and will benefit from links to the university and its staff and facilities.

And if it used a conventional admissions system, based on distance, it would be very likely to become a magnet for middle-class families and be accused of poaching pupils from existing schools.

But the school is actively trying to do something different.

It is basing its admissions for 11-year-olds on how close families live to four "nodes" across the city.
One of these will be the school site in Selly Oak and the other three are in Small Heath, Hall Green and the Jewellery Quarter.

And that will make little difference.

I went to an all-boys school. It's a school that did really well. It was based in quite a nice bit of town, so had lots of boys from the nice areas nearby going there, but as it was also an all-boys school, it also had a catchment area of the whole of town. I knew boys who lived 4 miles away who caught a bus there.

Personally, I thought the school was quite good. There were a number of excellent teachers, and a few duffers. But looking back on it, most of the kids did about as well as their background. Sending poor kids to what was thought an excellent school, with the best results in town, didn't seem to do anything for them. They still left with maybe a reasonable CSE in metalwork and not much else. The sixth form was mostly stuffed with the middle-class kids.

And I've seen this with one of our neighbour's kids. These people aren't rich, but the dad works really hard. The daughter went to a school that's not well regarded and is now doing Maths at university. The eldest son is on track for really good A levels from the same school. How come these kids do well, and there's so many other failures out of that school?

The other thing of note is that good schools are nearly always in "nice" places. Either in large, middle-class villages, or in leafy suburbs. You never find a new school being created in a modern estate that does any better than any other school in a modern estate.

So, how much is a school about the teaching, and how much about the intake? And if it's about the intake, what do you do?

Price rationing.

From The Daily Mail:

Tourism bosses have claimed that a ban term-time breaks is costing the holiday industry £87 million a year.

The new rules, introduced by former education secretary Michael Gove in 2013, mean families can be fined up to £60 a day for taking their children out of school. Parents who don't pay up can be prosecuted and face a £2,500 fine and three months in prison...

Previously, head teachers were allowed to grant up to ten days leave for children to go on holiday outside school breaks - when prices can be considerably higher... The figures come from research by the Nationwide building society, which also found the current system means a family can expect to pay an extra £1,347 for a foreign break in Spain.

Caveat 1. I would argue that prices are not 'higher' during school holidays, but that they are 'lower' during term time.

Caveat 2. To the extent that you agree that taking children out of school during term time disrupts their and other children's education and should be discouraged...

Solution: Just allow parents to 'buy' days off school, on a sliding scale, let's say £50 for each of the first five days per academic year, £100 a day for the next five and so on; possibly with a discount for families who holiday in the UK.

So if you take two children out of school for a week, that costs you £500 'fines' but you save £1,347 on your jaunt to Spain, so still well worth doing.

Having criminal penalties strikes me as absolutely outrageous; if the parents ensure that the child catches up with missed lessons (or gets them printed out in advance to take on holiday), then where is the harm? Surely this is far less bad than parents who consistently don't bother making sure that their children do their homework and revision etc.

"Forget pensions as bank accounts, your home is a cash machine"

Emailed in by MBK from CityWire: Forget pensions as bank accounts, your home is a cash machine.

Quite where that is supposed to leave younger people who can choose between handing over all their spare income as rent and/or mortgage repayments for the rest of their working lives was unclear at time of going to press.

Something like: "Forget pensions and bank accounts; you are your landlord's cash machine"?

Monday, 25 May 2015

And STILL they don't get it...

From here.
"The favourite for the leadership even defined the word, saying that it was about “giving every single person the dream of a better life, about helping all of our businesses, small and large, to get on and grow”.

Everyone already has a 'dream for a better' life.  But what you do, you utter bunch of twerps, is take away that dream.  They cannot get away from the mindset that everyone 'needs help'. They don't.

Then 'helping business'. I can tell you absolutely they only businesses that 'need help' are those that are either
(a) not viable,
(b) seeking crony advantage or
(c) just looking to consolidate their rent seeking.
What proper businesses want is for you go right away and leave us well alone.

Just what part of 'fuck off' don't you understand?

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (359)

Ian B, in the comments a few years ago here:

… and then Mr Georgist Tax Assessor comes along, slaps a massive tax bill on the nature reserve or the rose garden, and it has to close. For the Greater Good, you see.

That is why I’m a Libertarian. And more than that, a Propertarian Lbertarian. In so many crucial respects, liberty stems from property. Without property, liberty tends to be in rather short supply. For the Greater Good, of course.

All right, let's row back a bit.

In an ideal world, having a secular, democratic and free-trade capitalist society enables total freedom to be maximised - freedom from religious oppression, despotism, hunger and want; the freedom to choose what sort of job you want to do; an equal say in who gets the keys to Number 10 Downing Street; and of course the state-protected right to occupy certain bits of land undisturbed by others.

That last 'property liberty' is only one of many mutually-supporting freedoms, it is not the be-all and end-all; the notion that a person is entitled to have exclusive, state-guaranteed occupation of land without having to pay anything for the privilege is not on the list.

The minute you start restricting some people's individual, subjective freedom in order to increase other people's individual, subjective freedom then the sum total of freedom has gone down, not up. If one man's liberty comes at a cost to others, that is not true liberty.

(NB - these generalisations do not not apply to some one-sided restrictions of course - if they allow gay marriage, that increases the freedom of gay people without restricting the freedom of heterosexual people; if they legalise soft drugs, then that enhances the liberty of people who wish to trade in or consume them without in any way restricting the liberty of the majority who wouldn't touch the stuff.

Neither do they apply to trade-offs like speed limits in residential areas. A 5 mph hour speed limit is a huge benefit to residents but a huge burden on people who want to get from A to B. A 70 mph speed limit is the opposite, so there has to be a liberty maximising speed limit of 20 mph or 30 mph).

For example, let's look at the right to vote, which is given for free and as of right to (nearly) every adult over 18 in this country. We have decided that this maximises our total freedom. We could turn the clock back a century and only allow men to vote; this clearly reduces women's liberty a heck of a lot but only increases the liberty of men by a smaller amount. The sum-total of all liberty has gone down.

A more extreme case is slave-ownership. If you allow it, then those who own slaves are clearly more free than those who don;t; and those who don't are more free than the slaves. But the sum total of all freedom is increased when slave-ownership is abolished - slaves gain the most; they are now more productive (as they work for pay) so those who didn't own slaves end up better off (more output to go round more equally) and former slave-owners end up worse off. This is why the Union states beat the Confederate states - they had industrial might on their side.

So overall, there is an increase in total liberty when slaves are freed, given the vote and put on an equal footing with everybody else.
OK, if you hadn't grasped the analogies yet:

- any form of taxation other than taxation of land and monopolies reduces total freedom, business and job opportunities and reduces total output i.e. wealth.

- 'Land ownership' and 'the nation state' are synonymous, you cannot have one without the other. Land only has value because the cost of defending title is minimal - society as a whole is conditioned to respect it and the state will (or should) enforce exclusive occupation the owner's behalf in case of trespass and burglary etc.

- The rental value of any plot of land is equal and opposite to the total burden placed on others who are excluded. That's extra 'liberty' for the owner but reduces the liberty of 'everybody else'. Unlike income tax, having to pay for the value of land you occupy is a break-even on the liberty front.

- There are currently four classes of citizen.

1. Those at the top are landlords or bankers who are basically extracting ransom from tenants and mortgage payers. The income tax they pay is roughly equal to the cash subsidies they receive. These are akin to slave owners.

2. There are welfare claimants and pensioners, whose income is funded out of the burden placed on the next two classes (income tax, NIC, VAT etc).

3. There are owner-occupiers, most of whom are working. By and large, the income tax they have to pay exceeds the rental value of the land they own/occupy. These are like non-slave owning citizens in a slave owning society.

4. There are working tenant households who suffer two huge impositions - income tax paid for the benefit of the first two classes and land rent paid for the benefit of first.

If extending the vote to women or abolishing slavery increases overall, total freedom or liberty (or indeed wealth), then so does taxing land values instead of earned income. The total tax payable by the last two classes will plummet and the wealth extracted by the first class will plummet by the same amount and the people in the second class would probably more or less break even.

- Two wrongs don't make a right.

1. The slave-owners said they should be compensated for giving up their slaves, but wouldn't slaves be entitled to compensation for having been kept slaves? The same applies with votes for women, men could have said they should be compensated for sharing the right to vote, but women could have counter-sued for all the years that they weren't allowed to. All you can do in these circumstances is call it quits and everybody gets on with their lives.

2. The sob story trotted out is somebody who "paid taxes all his life, bought his house out of taxed income and wants to be left in peace". Well sorry, that's the way the cookie crumbles. It is highly regrettable that people had to pay income tax in the past; that's no excuse for imposing the same injustice on all future generations.
Being more prosaic about this, I am a working age owner-occupier and if we had full on LVT the selling price of our house might fall by hundreds of thousands of pounds but my wife and I would pay tens of thousands of pounds a year less in tax; after ten or fifteen years or so, our total 'wealth' will be the same, it's just that more of it will be spendable, encashable wealth (unless she spends it all on shoes and handbags) and less will be a paper capital gain.

More importantly, my children would grow up in a society with more and better paid jobs and will have a fighting chance of being able to afford to buy a house within five or ten miles of where they grew up. Increasing my personal subjective 'liberty' to be able to retire a few years earlier is naught compared to all the extra years it will take for my children to pay off their mortgages etc.

And, in a very real sense, if we stick with the current nonsense, it will restrict my personal freedom when my children are in their 20s and 30s and they are constantly tugging our sleeves and trying to persuade the Bank of Mum & Dad to remortgage to provide them with a deposit so that they can "get on the property ladder". Maybe we'll give in and plunge not just them but ourselves into debt fro the rest of our lives; maybe we'll hold firm and have them resent us for ever more/move abroad in protest. I don't really think that either of those options increases our 'freedom' as parents.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

I bought a new 'phone today

Friday, 22 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road Trip

From imdb.com and imdb.com:

An apocalyptic story set in the furthest reaches of our planet, in a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, a group of raucous, college buds living the Frat life decide to have a blowout with a Road Trip of insane proportions.

Almost everyone is crazed fighting for the necessities of life: Dad's car, hard partying, nubile and Nubian Princesses and a boa constrictor.

Within this world exist two rebels on the run who just might be able to make a videotape and mail it to Tiffany. There's Max, a man of action and a man of few words, who seeks peace of mind after the wrong tape gets sent in the aftermath of the chaos.

And Beth, a sexy blonde going to college with Josh who believes her path to survival may be achieved if she can make a great trip down comedy lane back to her childhood homeland.

Burger King's rather puzzling pricing policies.

Yesterday I bought a "Bacon double cheese XL burger" meal*, which is £6.99, plus 60p to 'supersize' it, in other words get a few extra chips and a drinks cup the size of a bucket.

It wasn't really enough, so today I just got two of their £3.79 "Big King" meals, as a result I got a lot more food (four burgers and even more chips) for one penny less. The lass behind the counter happily swapped the two normal sized cups for a bucket-sized one.

Strange. You'd expect the reverse to apply.

* Off limits for Hindus, Jews and Muslims!

Thursday, 21 May 2015


What puzzles me is that banks are adopting two diametrically opposed strategies regarding how much interest they pay on deposit balances.

See e.g. This Is Money.

In the red corner

- Nationwide pays 5% on first £2,500; no further interest on larger balances.

- Tesco Bank pays 3% on the first £3,000; no further interest on larger balances.

in the middle

- Lloyd's pays 1% on the first £2,000; 2% on balances between £2,000 and £4,000 and 4% on balances between £4,000 and £5,000, no further interest on higher balances.

In the blue corner

- Santander pays zero % on the first £1,000; 1% on balances between £1,000 and £2,000; 2% on balances between £2,000 and £3,000 and 3% on balances between £3,000 and £20,000.

Clearly, having lots of small balances gives you a more stable overall figure but is more actual work/hassle; having a few large balances is a riskier business model but is less actual work/hassle.

But why do the different banks place such different values on these things? It's like one supermarket offering "3 for the price of 2" and another one offering "2 for the price of 3".

PR China clearly not too fussed about 'dangeous sea level rises'.

From The Guardian, November 2012:

Sea-level rise is occurring much faster than scientists expected – exposing millions more Americans to the destructive floods produced by future Sandy-like storms, new research suggests...

The faster sea-level rise means the authorities will have to take even more ambitious measures to protect low-lying population centres – such as New York City, Los Angeles or Jacksonville, Florida – or risk exposing millions more people to a destructive combination of storm surges on top of sea-level rise, scientists said.

Scientists earlier this year found sea-level rise had already doubled the annual risk of historic flooding across a widespread area of the United States. The latest research, published on Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters, found global sea-levels rising at a rate of 3.2mm a year, compared to the best estimates by the IPCC of 2mm a year, or 60% faster...

Yada yada blah.

From The Daily Mail, May 2015:

Beijing is rapidly building several artificial islands in disputed waters...

It's difficult to tell from the aerial photographs, but those artificial islands are only a metre or two above sea level, so if the warmenists are right, they'll be unusable in a couple of decades and the problem sorts itself out.
The artificial islands also neatly illustrate the point that 'land ownership' and 'the nation state' are synonymous.

Basically, whichever country is prepared to fight hardest gets to control the land and the surrounding sea; the country which controls the land gets to decide who 'owns' it. Let's say PR China built an island just for the heck of it of no military use and decided to sell ownership to private entities; the US government could, in its private capacity, acquire the freehold title, but the land is still part of PR China and would not become part of the USA