Friday, 30 April 2010

Robin Smith, Independent candidate for Wokingham*


* Obviously, if you live in Wokingham, you should vote for UKIP candidate. But we can't dispute that he is standing for Parliament next week.

Goin' Dutch

Vince Cable, interviewed in today's ES Magazine:

What would you do as Mayor for the day?
I would try the Dutch experiment of switching off the traffic lights.


What can possibly go wrong?

Friday night gear change

Belinda Carlisle's 'Heaven is a place on earth', after the rather laboured middle eight, it's up a full tone at 3 minutes 23 seconds. Pointless.

Christ on a bike flagpole

From The Metro:

Vicar Mark Binney has been banned from flying a flag of Jesus Christ outside his church because council officials reckon it advertises Christianity. Rev Binney was threatened with a £1,000 fine as he did not receive planning permission to fly the pink flag at St Andrew's Church in Evesham, Worcestershire.

The 52-year-old had hoisted it up a 30ft pole outside the church to celebrate Holy Week at Easter, prompting a complaint from the public which led the council to take action.

He told reporters he reckons the "appalling" move is part of a gradual erosion of Christianity in the UK. "You see blatant advertising everywhere, especially at election time, where lots of people are completely flouting the law," the vicar added, "But we can't display a flag for one week – the most holy week of the Christian year."

The War On David Bellamy

There is a fairly weird article in The Metro saying that wildlife filmers 'breach animals' right to privacy', which mentions David Attenborough (the population cull fanaticist).

Well, maybe they do, maybe they don't, but for some inexplicable reason, they illustrate the article with a picture of David Bellamy, who hasn't been on telly for years because of his refusal to go along with the global warming nonsense.

Hmm.

Fun Online Polls: Who was the real winner of the 'Prime Minister's Debates'?

For the sake of topicality, I shall put last week's Fun Online Poll on hold and sound out 'real' opinion: Who was the real winner of the 'Prime Minister's Debates'?

Vote here and choose from: Alistair Stewart; Adam Boulton; one or other of the Dimblebys; one of the cardboard cutouts on stage with a brightly coloured tie. Or use the widget in the sidebar, obviously.

PS, I had a lovely time at the Adam Smith Institute 'bloggers bash. Thanks to everybody who turned up.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

There are two sides to everything...

Further to my earlier post on CASH (some curries contain 'too much' salt = we are all going to die horribly), I spy this in The Metro:

A curry spice ingredient can make ovarian cancer more responsive to treatment, scientists have shown.

Researchers pre-treated ovarian tumours with curcumin, a component of the yellow spice turmeric, delivered in the form of microscopic "nanoparticles". The curcumin sensitised the cancer tissue, making it more vulnerable to chemotherapy and radiation treatment.


So if you [have ovaries and] eat such curries with 'too much' salt in them, wouldn't that sort of cancel out and be health neutral? Ah...

Study leader Dr Subhash Chauhan, from the University of South Dakota, US, said: "One strategy to improve the effectiveness and limit the toxicity of cancer therapy is to induce chemo/radio-sensitisation in cancer cells using natural dietary phytochemicals like curcumin. However, curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body, which limits its effectiveness.

... ah well.

Health Scare, Fakecharity & Fakestatistic Du Jour

From The Soaraway Sun (1):

Shops’ balti is more salty (2) than seawater (3)

Worst offenders were Iceland's balti range, with six ready meals saltier than water in the Atlantic... Healthiest option was Birds Eye chicken curry with rice (4), containing just 0.5g of salt per portion... CASH's (5) Katherine Jenner said curries had become a British institution. But she added: "For every gram of salt taken out of our diet, 6,000 lives are saved and 6,000 heart attacks are prevented." (6)


1) Today's page 3 caption was a classic. The two young women were quoted as saying that the Labour/Lib Dem proposed ban on Page 3 Girls restricted their freedom of expression.

2) Of course balti is salty! If if were sugary, then...

3) How salty is seawater? I know it tastes pretty horrible, but that is not really a measure of 'saltiness', is it?

4) NOW that's what I call value for money! For a measly £1,000 donation (see 5) below) they've got product placement across today's MSM, with Iceland's stuff getting a good kicking.

5) According to their 2008 accounts, their major donors were:

Nissan UK Ltd £168,000 (wot? Toyota, I could understand, but Nissan?)
Food Standards Agency £23,500, Heart Research UK £10,000 and British Heart Foundation £2,500 (these three 'donations' put CASH firmly into fakecharity territory, of course)
Marks and Spencer £1,200
Birds Eye £1,000 (see 4) above)
McCain Foods (GB) Ltd £1,000
Walkers Snacks Ltd £1,000


6) Wot? One gram per portion? Per person? Per day? 6,000 'lives' in the UK? Across the globe? 6,000 per day? Per month? Per year? Are 6,000 lives 'saved' because 6,000 heart attacks are prevented? Do the figures add up to 12,000? Where's the evidence to show that countries with traditionally salt diets have shorter life spans? Oh, right...

BIG SOCIETY

"Beekeeper Christopher Weaver is killed by own swarm"

From The Metro:

A beekeeper and personal injury lawyer died after he was attacked by his own swarm, it was revealed today. Father-of-two Christopher Weaver, who was not wearing protective clothing, suffered sting to his head, chest and stomach...

Apart from reminding us that it's not just cows and swans who are fighting back, that combination of him being a 'personal injury lawyer' and 'not wearing protective clothing' opens up whole new world of satirical possibilities.

Headline Of The Day

From The Metro: Ex-spy accused of stealing secrets.

In case that's not quite clear to the reader, the article continues: A former spy accused of stealing and disclosing top secret material was appearing in court on Thursday... He is accused of stealing the material and of breaching the Official Secrets Act by disclosing the files...

Yup, right. That's what spies do, they steal secrets, and once caught, they stop stealing secrets, their spying careers are at an end and they become 'ex-spies'. I suppose the novelty here is that the chap worked for, and stole secrets from, our Secret Service, in which case he's not really an ex-spy so much as a 'traitor' or a 'double agent' or something a bit more exciting than an 'ex-spy'.

Don't forget your photographic ID on 6 May!

See over at the El Comm website.

OK, it only applies to Northern Ireland this time round, but give it a year or two...

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

His eyes seem to follow you around the room...

Is this a BBC story or an RSPCA story?

Posted by Woman On A Raft (in the comments to an earlier post):

Not sure whether this is an animal story or a BBC story or an RSPCA story. A swan was protecting its space on the River Cam and annoyed the rowers. The BBC got involved and sent a crew down but they needed footage of the swan acting aggressively. They say they didn't provoke it, but Michelle Childerley says they did and argues she has a video of just that:

The RSPCA - who are not at all in a cosy relationship with the broadcaster - say they have seen the footage and are taking no futher action.*


* The page was there earlier today but has now disappeared. Hmm.

Buckingham Fun

Via Trixy, more heartening news for the real anti-sleaze candidate in Buckingham.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Bull 1, Torero 0*

From The Guardian:

Spain's most charismatic and popular bullfighter, José Tomás, was today in the intensive care unit of a Mexican hospital after being badly gored** by a fighting bull in the town of Aguascalientes.

The half-tonne bull caught the famously risk-taking*** torero in his upper thigh and dug his horn deep by raising his head before flicking the pink-stockinged, sequinned matador up into the air...


* I'd assume that the toreros then brought on a substitute and after extra time it probably went to one-all.

** What's the opposite of 'badly gored'? 'Well gored'?

*** 'Famously risk taking'? As opposed to the majority of toreros who are cautious and risk averse?

Beach towels on sun loungers

Regarding this week's Fun Online Poll, I've had a few comments claiming that land can be owned in the absence of a state, but what they boil down to is just replacing the existing structure of government with a different one, i.e. by using a private army etc.

The point that other goods and services can be traded, i.e. owned, in the complete absence of 'a state' (and even where ownership of those goods or those activities are 'illegal') is a red herring. This does not support the argument that land ownership can exist in the absence of the state, it illustrates exactly the opposite. In olden times when countries used to fight wars over provinces, if the enemy army was coming (and likely to win), you could flee and take yourself, your skills and physical possessions with you. But the land that you owned under the protection of 'your' government is forfeit; 'your' government is replaced by the other army's government and they are then in charge of saying who owns the land.

Just for clarification, the 'state' has nothing to do with 'Big Government', 'the state' is just large numbers of people in a geographically defined area agreeing to abide by common rules and accepting that there will be some coercion at the very margins to enforce these broadly accepted rules.

At one extreme, the council will send bulldozers to demolish a house built without the correct planning permission, or the police will physically remove squatters; but coercion can be as little as suffering 'the mild disapproval of those around you', for example, I'm not aware that there is a written law anywhere saying whoever gets up at the crack of dawn to put their towels on the sun loungers in the best position can then go back to bed, have breakfast etc. and return to the pool and sit down where the towels were, it's just the way it is.

Very few people have the nerve to take those towels, chuck them in the swimming pool and plonk themselves down, it's just not the done thing (as tempting as it might be). Fair do's, but with sun loungers it is 'occupation' rather than 'ownership', and whoever wants the best ones has to pay a price every day (i.e. getting up a lot earlier) and those who are prepared to make do with the ones in not such good positions have the benefit of a nice lie in.

Having a 'freehold', to continue the analogy, would be like allowing the first guest who puts a beach towel down on a particular sun lounger when the hotel first opens, to claim rights to that sun lounger in perpetuity, regardless of whether that guest is still actually paying his daily room rent to the hotel, and for the 'owner' of that sun lounger to be allowed to rent his sun lounger to future hotel guests (who will still have to pay the room rent to the hotel owner, of course), or even to sell his 'freehold' on the sun lounger to other people ('investors') and to pocket the whole proceeds without the hotel, who built the swimming pool etc, getting any share of the proceeds.

Just sayin', is all.

Monday, 26 April 2010

More VAT Fun

James Barlow emailed me a link to this.

Idiots. Notwithstanding that VAT is The Worst Tax*, some 'economist' is quoted as saying:

"We believe that raising VAT from its current rate of 17.5 to 19 per cent would make ...a significant contribution to the black-hole in the government’s budget forecast..."

No it wouldn't.

Current VAT revenues about £80 billion x 19/17.5 = £87 billion, which looks like an extra £7 billion, but a higher VAT rate depresses corporate profits and salaries, so you can knock off a third straight away = £5 billion, and a higher rate will push marginal businesses over the edge, so knock off another £1 billion = £4 billion.

Which is hardly "a significant contribution" when compared to a current annual deficit of £160 billion (or whatever the figure is).

* Arguably, Employer's NIC is just as bad, but revenues from private-sector Employer's NIC are 'only' £40 billion, i.e. half as much as VAT, and the base for Employer's NIC is much broader (banks and food producers have to pay it as well, but they don't have to pay a supertax on gross profits, i.e. VAT) and the rate is lower.

And they say it like it's A Bad Thing?

From The Times:

Josh Ryan-Collins, of the New Economics Foundation, said: “There’s a sense that they are using their market power to dominate aspects of the economy. There is a need for more affordable housing but there is a danger with Tesco’s moves. If they provide the mortgage, if they act as estate agent, if they provide a credit card, if they sell you a house, they will end up with more personal information about you than the Government.”

OK. Firstly, the info that Tesco collect via your Clubcard or mortgage statement etc. is entirely voluntarily given, and information on mortgage applications tends to get pooled behind the scenes anyway.

Secondly, the statement is quite simply untrue - Tesco wouldn't have (or shouldn't have) access to HM Revenue & Customs, NHS details, criminal records, Contact Point and Heaven forfend, things like DNA records etc.

Thirdly, if we agree that it is A Bad Thing for large organisations to have 'too much' information on you, why doesn't this particular taxpayer-funded leftie 'think tank' say the same thing about the database state?

The Tories happen to be right on some issues*

Issue 1:

Gordon Brown has attacked the Tories over reports they plan to introduce "top-up fees" for nurseries in England. The prime minister said to demand more money from parents at the same time as raising the inheritance tax threshold for the rich was "simply not fair".

The Conservatives accused Mr Brown of hypocrisy, saying nurseries were closing due to Labour underfunding the weekly entitlement to free childcare. Representatives of non-state sector nurseries have backed the Conservatives' argument and say many will go out of business if current funding arrangements continue.


Indeed. It was the Tories who introduced nursery vouchers in the early 1990s and the system worked a treat (on a day to day level). But there are now bizarre rules which prevent nurseries from charging 'top up fees' (most do it, but they have to rejig their invoices so that it is not immediately obvious). If the government goes round taking a closer look, then a lot of them would be in trouble. Nursery vouchers are half-way to education vouchers - they just 'work', parents understand them and parents are happy to pay the difference - or happier paying the difference than doing without a nursery at all - sorted.

And I doubt whether nursery vouchers represent any great cost to the taxpayer either, remembering that they only cover about half the cost of nursery places - they allow mothers to go back to work, so the mother is paying income tax; the people working at the nursery are paying income tax; the nursery is paying more income or corporation tax on its profits. I'd guess that all those extra income taxes added together is roughly equally to the face value of the vouchers (it might well be more).

Issue 2:

Conservative plans to allow parents and charities to set up their own schools have been called into question by two senior Tory council figures. Paul Carter, leader of Kent County Council, said funding parents to start their own "free schools" would threaten the budgets of other local schools...

"Secondary schools [cost] around £4,000 plus per pupil. If 10%, 12%, 15% of that would be taken away from maintained schools and given to free schools and academies - local authorities still have statutory functions to perform. They have to arrange and organise school admissions, statements for special educational needs pupils - a whole range or services that need paying for. That can't be taken away from us and given to free schools or academies because they don't have the statutory duty to carry out these responsibilities."


For sure, Mr Carter. But it can't be rocket science to work out the marginal cost of a 'normal' pupil and just pay that over to a "free school", thus leaving some extra money with the council to deal for extra stuff. The Tories weren't suggesting using the police budget or the old age care budget to fund "free schools" either. Pointing out that local councils have to 'arrange and organise school admissions' is really scraping the barrel - firstly you won't have to worry about admissions to "free schools" and secondly this can't be such a huge item, a few hundred quid per pupil twice a lifetime?

I'm also surprised he admits that the cost per pupil is as low as £4,000, that gives us a good idea as to what level to pitch schools vouchers in future.

* I hasten to add that UKIP's policies are even simpler and better than what the Tories propose.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Pat Condell says [that he will*] 'Vote UKIP'



* Title amended at insistence of Sir Henry Morgan (not his real name**).

** UPDATE: He says that it is, but admits he's not the famous pirate.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

"Man dies moving herd of cattle at farm in Cumbria"

From the BBC:

Police and the ambulance service were called to the farm, in the area of Calthwaite, near Penrith, on Saturday after reports that a man was injured. The 53-year-old, whose name has not yet been released, was found dead at the scene. The coroner has been informed.

A police spokeswoman said it appeared to be a "tragic accident" and a joint investigation* with the Health and Safety Executive** was under way.


Spotted by Alfred S, who points out that there's "Nothing in any party's manifesto about tackling this problem." Too true, but at least this blogger is aware of the scale of it.

* Are the police finally starting to treat these attacks as crimes? About time too.

** Wahey! Maybe the Cow Attack Foundation can get its first commission?

The Sliding Scale of Islam

James Higham has correlated the number of Muslims in a country (as a percentage) with their impact on society. Scroll about a third of the way down this post.

Draw your own conclusions, but it seems to me that the 'tipping point' may be as low as four or five per cent.

David Cameron, laughing

Friday, 23 April 2010

Mr Shuester

Special Branch?

The plot thickens over at the Evening Standard.

Friday night gear change

Total Politics persuaded various politicos and media people to mime to 'Making your mind up' by Buck's Fizz, up a semi-tone at 56 seconds and another semi-tone at 1 minute 24:

More Volcano Fun

From The Metro:

So Iceland goes bankrupt and then manages to set the island on fire. It's got 'insurance scam' written all over it. Jenni, London SW2.

If one more person [tells] me a volcano joke, I'm going to erupt. Niall Finn, Sheffield.


And, last but not least...

Andrew Wilkinson takes issue with people who moan about the noise of aircraft flying over their houses, saying they had a choice when they moved there (Metro, Wed). I agree but when I moved I didn't imagine the volume of aircraft would increase so hugely.

Also, I can't sympathise with those stranded people who used a form of transport that many believe will lead to more frequent volcanic eruptions.

C Tritton, London W4

Happy St George's Day

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The guy sitting down at the front aced it

The old ones are...

From The Metro:

I was going to tell a joke about volcanoes, but do you think it's best to wait until the dust settles?

KL, Lanarkshire

What would you do if you were he?

Much to the dismay of some Guardian readers, Michael O'Leary is refusing to stump up compensation for hotels, steaks and San Miguels for stranded Ryanair passengers. The EU regulations couldn't be clearer about the fact he should cough up though. They also provide that:

"The sanctions laid down by Member States for infringements of this Regulation shall be effective, proportionate and dissuasive."

'Equalityforall' over on CIF seems to think so too:

"If they refuse to comply with pertinent legislation, their license should be revoked. I hope the EU bankrupts them and their boss should be jailed."

Well, Mr O'Leary has challenged the Irish regulators to do just that, hasn't he? Then let's hope they've implemented a more "effective" sanction than the UK has. If the Civil Aviation Authority have a crack over here, the maxiumum fine Ryanair can expect is a very "dissuasive" £5,000. The Guardian quotes O'Leary as saying: "...why exactly are the airlines expected to be reimbursing people's hotels, meals and everything else when the governments are the ones who made a balls of this?"

Quite.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Killer arguments against LVT, not (34)

Spotted over at SNP Tactical Voting:

Doug Daniel: "Stuart [who brought up LVT], isn't council tax essentially a land value tax, and one that most people have already decided is a pretty unfair one at that?"

Nope. Council Tax is about 50% Poll Tax and about 50% property-size tax. It bears little relation to 'land value' in an absolute sense, although since Labour skewed the funding formula, Council Tax in Tory or Lib Dem controlled councils (where property values are a bit higher) tends to be higher than in Labour controlled councils. Is it 'unfair' because it is a Poll Tax or 'unfair' because it is a property-based tax? I'd say because it's a Poll Tax, others may not agree.

"I might be misinterpreting what it would entail, but would it not mean someone could end up paying more tax merely because the area they've lived in all their lives has suddenly seen a surge in housing development etc which has pushed up the value of their property?"

It might well do, but then again, if newcomers to an area are prepared to pay more to live in that area, why shouldn't existing residents? And what about the people who'd pay less tax because 'the area they've lived in all their lives' has gone downhill? In which area would you rather have been living? Price rationing is the best form of rationing etc.

"Let's face it, if someone's got enough money, they'll find a way out of wriggling out of a land tax as well. All they need to do is buy smaller properties. Should a single millionaire in a one bedroom house pay less tax than a family with a modest income living in a three bedroom house?"

That's the whole point. It's like pointing out that a single millionaire can 'wriggle out of' VAT by buying an old banger for £500 while the family buys a new mid-price saloon, or pointing out that a single millionaire can 'wriggle out of' tobacco duty by stopping smoking. To be fair, Doug Daniel then answers his own question:

"Although then again, it could be argued that he might use a lot less resources than the family, so maybe he should pay less. It all comes down to how we think the tax burden should be spread and why."

It's not such much a question of 'the tax burden', it's a question of who creates those land values and who should benefit from them: the state-protected monopolist, or 'society in general'? Seeing as people's contribution to [rising] land values is broadly proportional to the value of their output (which is clobbered by income tax, National Insurance, VAT, corporation tax), a fair way of allocating the revenues from taxes on land values would be to reduce taxes on output (but repaying the national debt would be a top priority as well).

Why can't they just admit it?

Weirder and weirder. The six-day flight ban had the fingerprints of the EU all over it, but nobody in this country wants to admit it, the Transport Minister, the Civil Aviation Authority, Nats, the airlines, the Met Office and all quangos east are playing pass-the-parcel in the blame game, as summarised in today's Evening Standard.

It's only right at the end that the article mentions, almost in passing:

The decision to lift the ban came when the European aviation body Eurocontrol switched to a map based on satellite observations rather than the much-criticised Nats model based on computer forecasting. The new agreed standard lifts the permissible amount of ash entering aero engines from zero to one two hundredth of a gram per square metre of air entering the engine per hour.

A spokesman for the CAA said it had “led the way” in opening the skies over Britain and Europe, adding: “When you are dealing with people's lives it is not enough to just make up a less restrictive standard, you have to agree one based on robust scientific evidence and data. The UK's work to prove this has now been adopted across Europe.


I mean, the ban may or may not have been the right thing to do; and we all use similar aeroplanes, so what's dangerous (or safe) in one country's airspace must be equally dangerous (or safe) in another country's, so why can't they admit that the flight ban was down to Eurocontrol; and that it was only lifted once Eurocontrol had been persuaded to change the rules?

And yes, I know that Eurocontrol is not strictly speaking an institution of the European Union, but it is certainly in close cahoots.

HM Revenue & Customs Fun

I was looking something up on HM Revenue & Customs website and this warning flashed up:

Have you taken steps to protect yourself from online fraud?

Criminals are using increasingly sophisticated ways to commit online fraud and it is important that you do everything you can to protect yourself. Please take some time to read the security advice on the HMRC Online security page to find out how you can do this and for details of the steps HMRC is taking to protect your information.


It's all well and good warning me now - as I have already written to my MP about their shoddy security. I recently entered the full details of the income and bank accounts of one of my clients in response to a demand for him to do so, and at the end of the month thousands of pounds disappeared from his bank account.

Health Scare Story Du Jour

From The Metro:

Grim weather up North may be making men more prone to prostate cancer, new research suggests. Scientists believe a combination of cold temperatures and lack of sun could help explain higher rates of the disease in northerly parts of the world. Poor exposure to the sun's rays can lead to vitamin D deficiency, which may increase prostate cancer risk, it is claimed.

At the same time, cold weather might help to slow the degradation of cancer-triggering industrial pollutants, say US researchers. Cold temperatures were also believed to help the chemicals precipitate out of the atmosphere and fall to the ground...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

SarBro

Black Swan Event

From the BBC:

Call to Queen over 'Mr Asbo' swan in Cambridge

Rowers in Cambridge have called for the Queen to remove an aggressive swan nicknamed "Mr Asbo" which they claim attacks people using the river. The bird patrols a 1,600ft (488m) stretch of water near its nest in Fen Ditton, a spokesman from the Cambridgeshire Rowing Association said.

President Bill Key said the swan flaps its wings and pecks rowers and boats. Mr Key said the cox of his crew is afraid to go into the water because she was injured in an attack by the swan. The Cam Conservators said they have been in discussions about its removal.

Her Majesty's Warden of the Swans, Prof Chris Perrins, who works in the zoology department at Oxford University, said: "The Crown does not own this bird but it can claim it." He said it is essential that permission is sought from Her Majesty's Swan Marker, David Barber, who advises behalf of the Crown whether a claim for ownership will be made. If approval is given, a licence must be collected from Natural England.


Spotted by JuliaM.

Now, I enjoy a good animal attack story as much as the next man (or woman, obviously, in the case of JuliaM), but doesn't that look a bit like bureaucracy gone mad? The Cam Conservators discuss it with HM Warden of Swans who in turn seeks permission from HM Swan Marker to advise on behalf of The Crown and then to collect a licence from super-quango Natural England? No doubt the fakecharities RSPCA* and RSPB** will want to get their oar in as well.

Or not, as the case may be.

* I can't give you figures for the extent to which the RSPCA is taxpayer funded, because they are divided into 245 sub-charities, each of which publishes its own accounts, but it'll be in there somewhere - as a general rule, any 'charity' which can afford to advertise on the telly is a fakecharity.

** From Note 3, page 23 of the RSPB's 2009 accounts: they receive about £25 million a year (a third of their income) in grants from (deep breath): Landfill Communities Fund, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Natural England (yes, them again), Scottish Natural Heritage, Environment Agency, South East of England Development Agency, Countryside Council for Wales, Department for International Development, Forestry Commission, Department of Environment (Northern Ireland), Scottish Executive, East of England Development Agency, National Assembly for Wales, East Midlands Development Agency, Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (Northern Ireland), the European Union, National Lottery Funds and Local councils.

Rampaging Goat Puts Two OAPs In Hospital

From Sky News:

The incident happened in Melbourne when a 64-year-old gardener tried to shoo the animal away from a bucket of weeds.

Police Constable Dianna Davidson said the goat, Billy, then "took exception" to the shooing and charged the man. When another resident moved in to help, he was flung onto his back and repeatedly butted by Billy. The "marauding" goat was then wrestled off the 69-year-old by police and detained until his owner arrived to take him home.

Both of the men suffered head injuries and were treated for suspected spinal injuries. They are in a stable condition in hospital. The wife of Billy's owner was the third person to be injured. She hurt her ankle while running for help.

Paramedic David Kervin said the injuries could have been more serious given that Billy had 6in (15cm) horns and weighed around 190lbs (86kg). "It was quite chaotic when we first got here. Luckily the police had subdued the goat quickly so we could get to the patients to assess them and help them," he said.

The attack may have been due to the goat trying to protect its territory.


Spotted by Anti-Citizen One.

Eyeful o' yokel

Monday, 19 April 2010

Why you should vote Lib Dem

From page 10 of their pocket manifesto:

Fairer local taxes: Scrap the unfair Council Tax – The Council Tax is an unfair tax which bears no relationship to the ability to pay*. Liberal Democrats believe that it should be scrapped and replaced with a fair local tax, based on people’s ability to pay. We will pilot a fair local income tax in areas that choose to try it out.

I am perfectly aware that the readership of any 'blog is largely self-selecting, and I do not imagine for one second that all my diatribes about taxes on land values being the least-bad taxes have had any impact whatsoever on the overall consensus that it is perfectly acceptable to tax wealth creation in order to subsidise home-ownership or ultimately land-ownership.

But this particular policy must be music to the ears of the vast economically illiterate majority, such as Ian B, who (to his credit) put up a good fight yesterday, and actually came out with the time-honoured classic:

Income tax has its own severe problems, but is at least only paid once, when you have earned some money to pay the tax. An asset tax is a state rent on simply owning something, paid every year in perpetuity... If I earn £10, I might pay £2 tax on it, but then I'm done with the state**.

An asset tax takes the £2 every year, even though the asset isn't earning any money... With an income tax or a profits tax, the State taxes you once. With an assets tax it taxes you again and again and again until you are forced to part with the asset because you can't afford the taxes, since any non-earning asset (e.g. the land of an owner occupier) generates no income.


So that's one happy customer at least. Heck knows what economic damage replacing Council Tax with an extra 3.5% on income tax or National Insurance will do, but right now, who cares? Heck knows what economic damage the ensuing boost to the house price bubble would cause, but as we are under the mass delusion that high house prices = wealth, this must be political gold. And just to try and maximise their share of the Home-Owner-Ist vote, they precede the Local Income Tax idea with these noble words:

Control over what is built in your area – Residents should have the power to appeal planning applications where an authority has said 'yes', just as developers presently have the right to appeal applications to which a Council has said 'no'.

Criticising developers for what little new housing is built about as stupid as criticising car manufacturers for all the cars on the road, IMHO. Supply, demand? Anybody remember these terms? Remind me to do a post on what a Car-Owner-Ist economic policy would look like.

* Of course, Council Tax is, taken in isolation, a bad tax because it is to a large extent a Poll Tax and so cannot possibly relate to 'ability to pay', but that is not an argument against property taxes as such, that is an argument against Poll Taxes.

** So 'having done with the state' he is no doubt happy to relinquish right to vote, to call the fire brigade or the police, to use the NHS, to lobby the local council to ban new construction, to have his bins emptied or to take people to court.
------------------------------------------------------
The rest of their manifesto appears to be a right old magpie job. Bits of it have been nicked from UKIP (again, to be fair, we did read the Lib Dem output before we wrote ours) but, remembering that the Lib Dems are the most rabidly EU-phile party of all, I did like this one, lifted straight from The Tories on page 5 of the pocket guide:

Cut regulation and create a fair playing field for business – We will properly assess the cost and effectiveness of regulations before and after they are introduced, reforming Impact Assessments. We will move towards a ‘one in one out’ system so that for every rule introduced, another one is scrapped. And we will change the culture of regulators to help, not hinder, business.

One-in-one-out? What sort of stupid rule is that? Chuck out the bad ones or pointless ones (most of them) and keep the sensible ones (a tiny minority), end of.

And then, as a final flourish, to roars of approval from the crowd, in Part 4 of this:

We will end ‘gold plating’ of regulations originating from Europe, ensuring that they are not extended beyond their original intention.

Yeah, but compared to what?

The ever rampant BBC blares that "Mortgage lending jumped to £11.5bn in March, a 24% rise from February...".

£11.5 billion?

At the height of the bubble from 2005 to 2007, gross monthly lending was around £30 billion (pdf) - bubbles that big need a constant flow of new money to keep them inflated, I don't think that £11.5 billion is enough.

Follow the money: The London Marathon and Islamists

By Paul Wiffen:

"Anyone who has been following Channel 4’s wonderful series of Dispatches will be starting to piece together an ingenious conspiracy which is using London’s most famous sporting event to fund radical Islamists who have managed to take over Tower Hamlets Council (with a little help from their friends George Galloway and Jim Fitzpatrick, MPs both standing in Poplar and Limehouse)

The first piece of the puzzle was supplied by their program on March 1st, where Andrew Gilligan revealed Britain’s Islamic Republic with Fitpatrick’s help (and many moderate Muslims and other Asians who are alarmed at what is going on).

As if this weren’t frightening enough, a few weeks later (in which they showed the Politicians for Sale sting which made all the papers), Ben Laurance investigated the way that the money which floods into the London Marathon through sponsorship and charity fundraising is divided up.

The program traces much of the money raised through the London Marathon Golden Bond Charity places as ending up with Tower Hamlets council. If this were a fixed fee for provided some of the course and facilities this would be one thing, but it is being siphoned into a separate limited company as a percentage of the money raised through Golden Bond charity places

Putting these two together, it is clear that much of the money raised through the Golden Bond Charity places in the London Marathon is funding the radical Islamists in Tower Hamlets council. Why is nobody talking about this?

The crowning glory of the story was revealed this Monday in the Evening Standard, which carried this excellent piece on the situation there which reveals how both Labour MP Jim Fitpatrick and George Galloway's Respect both connived in the takeover of the council by radical Islamists in return for support in their own political campaigns but fell out over the seating arrangements at a wedding which Fitzpatrick was invited to by his erstwhile Muslim allies.

They are both now standing against each other in Poplar and Limehouse in an attempt to take control of the constituency which contains Canary Wharf and much of the City of London business.

Fortunately, UKIP has found a brave soul to stand up against this in the shape of City Finance Director Wayne Lochner who is involved in several businesses in and around the Canary Wharf area and lives there as well. One is the group which manages the sponsorship deals of some of the world’s biggest sporting stars, including footballer Ronaldo, cricketer Kevin Peterson, F1 drivers Mark Webber and Kimi Raikonnen, both Nadal and Andy Murray in tennis and many other name players in all these fields. Clearly Wayne is used to getting the maximum advantage from both sides when sportsmen compete and is set to do the same when Galloway and Fitzpatrick go at each other in the coming election."

A Triumph Of Free Markets

From a surprisingly detailed article in this morning's Metro:

Mephedrone replaced by NRG-1, Sparkle and MDAI after reclassification

A host of new legal highs are already competing to replace mephedrone as the next big party drug – with some being sold for a pittance. At least three new options are being rushed to market by online pushers who have little awareness of their dangers.

It follows the classification of mephed­rone, also called meow meow, as a Class B drug at the weekend after being linked to 26 deaths. Since it was made illegal, mephedrone has gone from £15 to £35 a gramme.

Drug MDAI costs £25 a gramme and is thought to be the most likely replacement. It was developed as an anti-dep­ressant in the 1990s and replicates many of the effects of MDMA, or ecstasy...


Well worth reading in full.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Fun Online Polls: Paedophilia and The State

It appears that the Roman Catholic church's double strategy of openly attacking homosexuals while covering up for dozens or hundreds of paedophile priests has backfired on them most horribly.

88% of respondents to last week's Fun Online Poll though that a Roman Catholic priest was more likely to sexually molest a child than a gay adoptive couple.

Thanks to everybody who took the time to vote.
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This week's Fun Online Poll asks a more fundamental question: "Is land ownership possible in the absence of a 'state'"?.

The faux-libertarians like to rail against 'the State', and I'd agree that half of what most governments do is either a waste of money or economically or socially damaging. Some of them appear to think that 'the State' oppresses landowners or homeowners and that 'the State' can somehow be overthrown and landowners and homeowners can live freely.

This can't possibly be true - if the State shut itself down, sacked all the police, deleted all the records at HM Land Registry and shut down the court system, you'd find very quickly that land and houses would become nigh worthless. 'So what.', the faux-libertarians continue 'I'll buy myself a shotgun.' although they forget to add '...and remain physically present 24/7, thus reducing my earnings potential to subsistence farming'. So those who are most willing to use force and violence would end up in occupation of various plots of land.

We know that anarchy never prevails for long - neighbours would get together to form their own vigilante groups or share duties, so ultimately a new 'State' would emerge, and the first thing that neighbouring 'landowners' would do is to rewrite the Land Registry and agree, for the collective benefit of themselves and to the collective detriment of everybody else, that protecting their 'title' to their own plots would be paramount, which would enable them to abandon subsistence farming and pursue more profitable activities.

So it strikes me that 'landownership' and the existence of 'a State' are more or less inseparable, one is more or less impossible without the other.

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Killer arguments against LVT, not (33)

Ian B trots out the bizarre argument that taxing land values is only a short step away from enslaving half the adult population here:

... the big flaw in LVT is that it is a tax levied on what you think somebody can potentially earn from an asset (1), and that flaw will always remain. It is the equivalent of taxing all women on their potential earnings as prostitutes, regardless of whether they do or not, because they could rent their bodies out, you will tax their bodies as if they all do rent them out (2). I don't think many women would be thrilled (3), on demand of the Whore Value Tax, to be told that it's fair because your WVT assessor has assessed a high potential rental value.

You want to force every landowner to get on their back and think of England, or pay a regular fine for not doing so (4). It's simply morally wrong.(5)


I'm sure I've dealt with this before, but to recap...

1) There are two ways of looking at this.

a) The easiest way is to look at what somebody is prepared to pay for exclusive possession to a certain site. When you buy or rent a house, the mortgage lender or landlord will check you have sufficient income to pay the mortgage or the rent. So LVT is a tax on consumption of land. Sure, the land is not physically consumed, but it is consumed nonetheless in the same way as you 'consume' a hotel room or the pitch for your tent or caravan when you go on holiday. The rent you pay is a combination of facilities provided by the owner and for access to things that are not provided by the owner, i.e. hotels or campsites nearer the beach, the museums, the mountains or with a view over the sea or a lake command more rent than those further away.

So in one sense, LVT is a tax on consumption. My most-hated tax, Value Added Tax is also sold to the gullible public as a tax on consumption but it is not - it is a tax on gross profits of a business (i.e. a supertax on net profits plus salaries).

b) The other view is to look at land values as a function of how much people can earn if they live there and work nearby*. We know that there are wide disparities in average incomes across the UK, but if you deduct actual or notional housing costs, the picture is much flatter - i.e. you can earn £40,000 doing a certain private sector job in London but the mortgage or rent for a home within reasonable commuting distance is (say) £15,000 a year.

Maybe in Newcastle, the best paying similar private sector job that the same person can find would be £25,000 a year but the mortgage or rent for a physically similar home to the one he could have rented in London would only be £9,000 a year. So if that person takes the job in London, he is paying two kinds of extra tax - another £5,000 in income tax and National Insurance, which is publicly collected and an extra £6,000 in 'ground rent' which is privately collected.

* 'Nearby' is a question of commute time, not geographical distance, which is why in the South East, property developers and estate agents advertise properties as 'X minutes from Y station' and state that 'Y station is Z minutes from Liverpool Street/Kings Cross/Paddington Station'.

So take your pick whether LVT is more like a tax on consumption or a semi-voluntary income tax (for a given job, you can always choose a home with a longer commute time, or a flat in a block with more storeys, or a house with a smaller garden and so on).

2) Again, there are two ways or looking at this nonsense:

a) I have read all the arguments put forward by Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Henry George and Milton Friedman, all of whom I would consider to be towards the small government or libertarian-with-a-conscience end of the scale, and I know a lot of Land Value Taxers across the political spectrum and a few Christian ones as well - I don't think any of these have ever proposed a Whore Value Tax. This is tantamount to slavery, for crying out loud.

What the LVT-ers are campaigning against is that the bulk of the population are already enslaved twice over - once by the state who collect the 'public' taxes, and then again by the banks and the property market which collects 'private taxes'. We could, in theory abolish income tax and so on, but you cannot abolish 'ground rents' (short of shutting the state down and allowing anarchy to ensue, which I am not recommending either, before Ian B accuses me of it). As long as the state protects and guarantees exclusive possession (subject to you paying the rent or mortgage in full, of course), there will always be ground rents.

b) On a practical or political level, Ian B's idea is a non-starter of course, and I don't see why I should dignify it.

3) Nor many men either.

4) In a world where we have fines on finding a job (loss of means-tested benefits), fines on earning more (income tax and National Insurance), fines on gross profits (Value Added Tax) and fines on net profits (corporation tax), all of which are hugely economically damaging, that's another complete non-argument. The point is that the public collection of ground rents is not a 'fine', it is a 'service charge' or a 'user charge' or a tax on consumption etc (see above). Ground rents are an irreducible minimum of taxes - the only question is, should they be collected privately or publicly?

5) As I may have mentioned before, simply stating that something is 'morally wrong' doesn't give me much to rebut. That's about as uninteresting as the tabloid majority saying that 'taking drugs is morally wrong' or that 'homosexuality is morally wrong'. LVT is a largely voluntary tax - like VAT, for example - if you want to live in the nicer bits of west central London, it'd be £100 per square yard per year (or the appropriate fraction if you live in a block of flats), for Outer London it would be £5 to £10 per square yard per year, but, assuming the usual skewed distribution of values, the land tax on two thirds of privately-owned developed land across the UK would be £3 per square yard per year or less.

PS, I have used £3 per square yard as a reasonable mid-figure, by assuming that all existing property or wealth related taxes (Council Tax less Council Tax Benefit, Business Rates, Stamp Duty, TV licence fee, Inheritance Tax, Capital Gains Tax, Insurance Premium Tax etc) which currently raise about £60 billion per annum were divided up by the total amount of privately owned, developed non-agricultural land, which is about 4 million acres. So that's a good place to start.

We'd then phase out The Worst Taxes (VAT and Employer's NIC, static shortfall £120 billion, dynamic shortfall £60 billion) and reduce grants to local councils by a corresponding amount. It is then up to local voters to decide what they want to pay for collectively by majority - a flashy new council-run sports centre with swimming pool might lose £8 million a year, so that'd be an extra 10p per square yard per year or an extra 2% on your land tax (I'd vote against, maybe my wife would vote in favour) and so on.

The £1 billion annualised cost of Crossrail might be an extra £2 per square yard for the areas that benefit (let's say a quarter of Greater London, for sake of argument), so it's up to businesses and homeowners to decide whether the increase in capital or rental values, or the increase in amenity or shortened commute times is worth £2 per square yard - either it is or it isn't.

And before some faux-libertarian tells me that 'Crossrail should be privately funded' or 'the ticket prices should cover the cost', even if it were, land values within a certain radius of the stations will increase by a significant amount, so I'd ask them, why would or should a railway company make such a massive investment? That's like expecting painters and decorators or roofers to provide their services to landowners for half-price (which is exactly what this London Borough is seriously proposing). See also Empty Property Grants, more taxpayer-funded subsidies for people who allow properties to fall derelict.
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Ian B then continues in his next comment:

All "rights" in those terms exist because of state enforcement. (6) That is, using the WVT example, the only reason women can assert ownership of their bodies is due to state laws against violence and rape (under the current system, let's not get into anarcho capitalist enforcement), otherwise anyone could invade their bodily property without repercussions. As such, the state's legal system protects bodily property ownership and creates the opportunity for bodily rental (prostitution). The same argument applies as to land. Land property rights are just one of the property rights the state protects. (7)

6) I agree that things like copyrights or patents are created by individuals or businesses but the 'rights' only exist because the state protects them, which is why there is a good argument for a modest income tax on copyright or patent income.

Ian B's view that people ought to pay for the right to not have their bodies violated is extreme, but in real life, people are prepared to pay for this - so house prices in an area with a good police force and low crime levels will always be higher than in another area where crime is (perceived to be) higher. So however we finance the police, it is always the landowners in the lower crime areas who benefit. The only relevant consideration, which applies to all 'public' services of course is 'Is the increase in rental values that arises from ... greater than the cash cost of providing ...?'.

Or, in Ian B's parallel universe, let us imagine that Country A were mad enough to introduce a Whore Value Tax and Country B replaced as many taxes as possible with Land Value Tax. To which country would a lot of people from Country A migrate? How many people would migrate into Country A? In which country would people live happier lives? And hence, where would rental values be higher?

7) Land and property rights are, in economic terms the most important 'property rights'. But yes, the same logic applies to radio spectrum, landing slots at airports, fuel duty (you're paying for the roads as well as the physical petrol), copyrights and patents, cherished number plates and anything where there is a state protected monopoly.

These forms of 'property' only exist because of The State - unlike your own body or physical possessions which are only protected in principle. In reality, you have to them protect yourself , rely on good luck or insure privately. Ask yourself, how many stolen goods get returned to their owners? How many murdered people does the state bring back to life? How many fraud victims get their money back?

Friday, 16 April 2010

All your National Minimum Wage jobs are belong to us!

Friday night gear change

An object lesson in how not to do it. Write a fairly indifferent song - such as 'You better you bet' by The Who, for example - which goes on far too long (nearly six minutes) and then imagine that you can add that spark of life to it by shiftin' up a full tone at 4 minutes 48 seconds:

See also My Generation.

True Story that will become an Urban Myth

A chap was driving to an appointment this afternoon. He saw a car parked at the side of one of the sliproads between the motorway and his final destination, the driver of which was standing at the edge of the road trying to thumb down a driver.

Being a helpful sort and in no particular hurry, said chap pulled over to ask what the matter was. The man told him he needed petrol, 'I'm sorry I don't have a spare canister' replied the chap. 'OK, then lend me money' countered the man, 'I'll give you my wedding ring as security', and pulled off his fairly chunky looking wedding ring and waved it in the chap's face.

This all seemed increasingly implausible, because the slip road was miles from the nearest petrol station, so the chap decided it was some sort of scam, told the man that he would just park up properly, waited for the man to step back from the car... and then sped off. The chap observed in his rear view mirror that the man made a half-hearted attempt to run after him, and was still gesticulating wildly, but gave it no further thought.

When the chap arrived at his appointment, he gathered up his bundle of papers from the passenger seat and noticed that the man's wedding ring was lying underneath them. Apparently, the ring bears the hallmarks '14K' and '585', whatever they mean.

A former Conservative MP and diplomat writes in The Times

Here.

The only way to get a torpid electorate really worked up is to propose things for which they would rather die than vote. To this end I have roughed out ... a list of unspeakable policies that would do a deal of good to the country, but scandalise pretty much everyone who lives there...

The NHS in its present form cannot survive. It is a Stalinist, command system, and look what happened to his. Heretics will be told “ah, so you want an American system, do you?”, to which the answer is: “No, something more like the French would suit us better.” This provides a far superior service, in which adults are obliged to play their part through an insurance system...

Equally certain is the parties’ determination not to puncture another national illusion — our right to unearned profits from our houses. Why invest in productive business, indeed why strive too hard at all to keep up with workaholic foreign persons, if these returns are guaranteed, as governments have a duty to ensure?

Like the NHS, house prices are a subject steeped in mythology and voodoo economics, best expressed in the Thatcherite slogan that upwardly mobile prices would produce “a cascade of wealth” from one generation to another. Instead, here as in the United States, they helped to trigger the recession.

Stable prices are crucial to the economy, but if even buyers do not want them, what do you do? The solution? The Lib Dems’ idea of mansion-bashing is a typical bit of phoney muscle-flexing, designed as a diversion from the issue. The problem is not just the rich, it’s the lot of us, in fact.

The solution? Pain undreamt of. If we treat our main homes as businesses, tax them as a business. Instead of making houses more expensive to buy by stamp duty, cream off a portion of the profits. Not today, of course — the listing ship of state would go under if you did –— but gradually, over time. Try this one in the election and the door will slam in your face even quicker than when you promise a brand new, efficient, non-British NHS.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Three Horsemen Of The Apocalypse

The Leaders' Debate (2)

Nope. Still no inspiration. So here's a nice little article from the London Evening Standard singing the praises of Home-Owner-Ism and explaining how it helps to create a free and fair ociety:

Young Londoners are giving up hope of buying a property before middle-age with prices up to 30 times average income, a survey reveals today. More than half of first-time buyers in London expect to wait at least 10 years before investing. A further six per cent — one in 12 — say they will not be able to afford to buy before 2030, according to the YouGov survey of Londoners aged 18 to 30.

As the political parties pledge to support home ownership, 37 per cent of young Londoners said they would delay starting a family if they could not buy a home, and 22 per cent said they would put off getting married...

Belinda Porich of the National Housing Federation*, which commissioned the poll, said: “Young Londoners are giving up hope of ever being able to afford their own home before middle age.”

Affordability is particularly acute in the capital with house price to earnings ratio ranging from 8.5 in the cheapest borough, Barking & Dagenham, to 29.5 in Kensington and Chelsea... Of the young people surveyed, 58 per cent said they would need help from relatives to buy. More than half thought they would need at least £10,000 as a deposit and 11 per cent said it would be more than £40,000.


* To be fair, the NHF is quango, being the umbrella group for Housing Associations, who enjoy generous taxpayer support and tax exemptions while having much the same freedom of action as commercial developers or landlords and, unlike local councils, a more or less complete absence of democratic control, so the responses are bound to slightly exaggerate the situation.

The Leaders' Debate

I have absolutely nothing to say about this evening's turgid competition to see who can lie most convincingly, so instead, let's have fifteen seconds' silence for my fellow ginge Ross Langmead, who went out in style.

"But" Of The Day

From the BBC:

Low solar activity link to cold UK winters

The UK and continental Europe could be gripped by more frequent cold winters in the future as a result of low solar activity, say researchers. They identified a link between fewer sunspots and atmospheric conditions that "block" warm, westerly winds reaching Europe during winter months...


The second half of the article explains how this all works, it is a different mechanism to the overall rule that it's colder when sun spot activity is low (NB - more solar activity -> fewer cosmic rays -> less clouds -> warmer temperatures, and vice versa) but they both lead to the same thing. 'But' inevitably, the third sentence is as follows...

But they added that the phenomenon only affected a limited region and would not alter the overall global warming trend.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Killer arguments against LVT, not (32)

An argument that people use to oppose taxes on land or property values is advanced e.g. here:

martinwc2: Surely the main argument against a tax on homes is that cash is demanded when there is no underlying cash flow? E.g. income tax arises upon cash income, even with capital gains tax, it falls due after a realisation. With houses, cash is extorted and funds must be taken from elsewhere. It's utterly irresponsible to force house sales to meet tax or force borrowing, especially when values fall as well as rise...

There are two simple counter-arguments to this:

1. Most people start off their housing career as a tenant and pay rent, and then they 'buy' a house and pay rent on the money borrowed to do so (aka 'interest'). Where is the underlying cash flow to pay the rent or the interest? Is the landlord or the bank 'extorting cash' and 'taking funds from elsewhere'? Is it not the case that if the tenant fails to pay the rent or the borrower fails to pay the mortgage instalments that he will be evicted or repossessed (or would be evicted or repossessed in a sane world)?

2. On a practical level, taxes have to be paid. If you evade income tax or other taxes long enough and they catch you out, then they declare you bankrupt and if you own a house, they will force a sale. Whether the sale of a house is 'forced' because of non-payment of income tax or non-payment of land or property tax is neither here nor there - the good news in the latter case being that there will always be an asset there to pay it, therefore tax losses will be lower, therefore, unlike taxes on incomes or production, honest taxpayers will not have to pay a slightly higher rate of land or property value tax to compensate for non-payment by others.

3. You can even combine 1. and 2. into a more cerebral, over-arching argument.

We agreed earlier that "All money that changes hands purely because of existing laws (as distinct from free exchange) counts as 'tax'" and one of my basic suppositions is that 'the state' (i.e. 'laws') and 'landownership' are more or less synonymous - you can't have one without the other. Therefore, any money that changes hands because of land ownership is in fact tax.

Ground rents of land can only arise if there is a state there to protect land ownership. For sure, the right to exclusive occupation of particular bits of land is more or less a necessity for anything but a hunter-gatherer society (even in most Communist countries, people had exclusive occupation of the housing they were allocated and factories had exclusive occupation of the site and so on), but that is a long way from saying that land can be owned and occupied in perpetuity without any sort of payment to anybody whatsoever.

Therefore, embedded in the rent or mortgage that somebody pays is a 'tax' element that goes straight to the landlord or to the previous landowner via the bank (who merrily add on their own profit margin). So if we expect a tenant or borrower to pay the tax to ensure continuing exclusive possession, why is it so dramatic and terrible to expect all land owners to cough up?

Fun Online Polls: UKIP's new slogan and paedophiles

After two day's polling, that's a pretty conclusive response, 89% of us like UKIP's new slogan "Sod the lot" which doesn't appear to have done us any harm. Gawain has the round up of the press coverage.
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Right. The Roman Catholics have now had the temerity to link homosexuality and paedophilia. So my next Fun Online Poll is largely subjective (I don't think anybody has the worldwide statistics) and asks "Who is more likely to sexually molest a child: A Roman Catholic priest or an adoptive gay couple?"

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

The Kingmaker

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

"Ask not what you can do for your country..."

iDave trotted out JFK's famous sentence today:

“ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

... and not for the first time either (he did it in October 2006 as well) but he's still missing the point. The sentence should actually read as follows:

“ask not what your country can do for you - and ask not what you can do for your country - ask what you can do for yourself and ask what other people would be able to do for themselves if the vested interest weren't going out of their way to stifle their freedoms."

History repeating itself ...

Despite the fact that John Major's Tory government was quite ruthless about allowing house prices to readjust to an affordable level and Gordon Brown's Labour government is equally ruthless about pursuing a Home-Owner-Ist agenda to keep house prices as high as possible, by, for example, keeping interest rates as low as possible; bailing out banks; and making it very difficult for mortgage lenders to repossess (all at a massive cost to the taxpayer, of course), the overall house price trend has been much the same:
The blue series shows quarter-on-quarter price changes from Q1 1989 onwards; the red series shows quarter-on-quarter price changes from Q1 2007 onwards. The post-1989 crash continued for another few years after the end of that chart, but rises and falls were no longer so spectacular. Which also serves to remind us how little influence governments really have, if nothing else.

Source: Nationwide's UK House prices adjusted for inflation (choose from the drop down box labelled 'UK series').

This all sounds familiar...

From the Housing section in the manifesto of one of the old failed parties:

Britain’s housing market has been stuck in a vicious spiral of boom and bust. Under Labour, fewer homes have been built, in the wrong places and of the wrong kind. Home ownership is now falling and first-time buyers are at a record low.

In the 1980s, the Conservative Right to Buy scheme created the opportunity for millions of families to get onto the housing ladder, and transformed housing estates by establishing mixed communities...


They then outline a long list of policies, most of which will tend to drive house prices even higher.

And the council house sell-off was an epic fail from the point of view of the taxpayer, and we're still paying for that mistake - a lot of those ex-council houses are now being let back to the local council, or being let 'privately' and the taxpayer is footing the bill for the Housing Benefit. I wouldn't go boasting about that one.

What one day's EU membership will get you

The UK's gross cash contributions to the EU are about £16.5 billion a year, or £45 million a day. Every now and then, the EU, using its European Regional Development Fund, graciously hands over some of our hard-earned money to UK quangos (for whom we never voted) to do stuff that which could have been cross-charged to social tenants anyway. Provided those quangos jump through the hoops, meet the diversity criteria, fill in all the rms and allow non-UK suppliers to bid for the business etc.

From Inside Housing:

Two regional development agencies have called for housing associations to form consortia in order to access a total pot of up to £42 million of EU funding that would be used to bolster England’s fledgling retrofit industry.

The South West of England Regional Development Agency and Northwest Regional Development Agency have begun a procurement process to set up programmes that aim to inject millions into helping small retrofit-related businesses.

They have called on social housing providers, councils and energy agencies to form consortias and enter a two-part competition to deliver programmes that would distribute the European regional development fund cash to technology, construction and supply firms.

When matched with funding from the consortias, the combined value of the investment could total £55 million and see thousands of homes retrofitted. The money will support the energy efficiency and microgeneration sectors in both regions - including businesses developing retrofit technology like ground source heat pumps...

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From yesterday's Metro:

As National Insurance is, er, a tax on income, why doesn't one of the political parties pledge to simplify things by ditching it and levying a slightly higher rate of income tax instead?

Simon Beasley, West Midlands.


Why? To maintain the pretence that National Insurance is not a tax. As it happens, one of the parties proposes being honest about it and merging the two, namely this lot, who also propose phasing out Employer's NIC.

Fun Online Polls: Public Sector Pensions

Via Belle Gerens, via Tim W , publicservice.co.uk is running a Fun Online Poll: "Should public sector workers have to pay more to maintain the value of their pensions?"

As of now, "Yes" is ahead with 67% of the votes.

Monday, 12 April 2010

What's everybody so scared of?

1. While the 'failed old parties' bandy about fairly similar manifestos, let's remind ourselves of the biggest immediate problem facing today's younger 'hard working families'.

They aren't just looking at the additional future publicly collected tax bill required to pay off the accumulated national debt which the current lot has run up, they also have to borrow and pay off an average of £160,000 or so to 'jump on the housing ladder', of which around half is a privately collected tax, in other words, the price of an average house in excess of the bricks and mortar value.

2. Having ploughed through Fred's new book on the way home, the most telling part is this (page 266):

Was I being paranoid?

One man knew the answer to that question: Matthew Taylor [New Labour's policy director for the 1997 General election, also charged with drawing up the manifesto for the 2005 General Election]. And, as it happens, he too was a speaker at the Warwick Economics Summit. We met in the hospitality room, and I told him about my 1997 alert to Blair, Brown, Darling, Mandelson and Campbell. Ten years, enough time for a government to prevent a house price boom that would otherwise peak in 2007, driving the economy into recession.

Taylor knew the inside of New Labour's policy-making process like no-one else. So I challenged him with a question: "What was the one policy that the government could not countenance?"

He replied without hesitation: "The Land Tax".


3. I have, on this blog and elsewhere, allowed myself to be bogged down into the finer points of land valuation, which is a secondary issue. With my simplification campaigner's hat on, here's what a Land Tax boils down to:

a) all the taxes on property occupation and ownership and wealth generally*, which could and should be replaced, amount to about £60 billion per annum.

b) There are about 4 million acres of privately-owned, developed land in the UK

So to replace the entire list below would require a tax of about £15,000 per acre or £3 per square yard per annum. So the Land Tax bill for an 'average' semi in an 'average' area would be £1,000 a year or something (slightly less than the current Council Tax bill plus TV licence fee).

If the tax is to be more proportional to actual land or property values, then round my way** it would be more like £10 per square yard per annum, and in town centres it would be much more - as much as £100 or £200 per square yard per annum in prime Central London*** (which is no more than what they currently pay in Business Rates). Conversely, the tax would only be £1 or £2 per square yard per annum for ex-council houses or industrial estates outside the South East (which is slightly less, on average, than they currently pay in Council Tax less Council Tax Benefit plus TV licence fee; or in Business Rates as the case may be).

Where we take it from there is another topic.

* From the Public Sector Finances Databank for 2009-10:
Council Tax £24.8 billion
Business rates £23.7 billion
Stamp duties £7.4 billion
Capital gains tax £2.5 billion
Inheritance tax £2.2 billion
Insurance Premium tax £2.3 billion
Then minus off Council Tax Benefit and agricultural land subsidies (about £3 billion each) and add on the TV licence fee (also about £3 billion).

** Where I live is probably in the highest quintile of areas by property value. If I multiply the area of my house by £10 per square yard, then that amounts to rather less than a quarter of the rent we pay every year, or about half of what our landlord currently has to pay in income tax on the rent, plus the Council Tax and TV licence fee we pay. So this all seems 'about right'.

*** So somebody living in a flat in Central London in a ten-storey block with no private garden or car park can divide the size of his flat by ten to work out his share of the Land Tax.

Fun Online Polls: House Prices and UKIP's new slogan

I think I shall have to call this one a score-draw after extra-time. After one week and 114 votes, there are 57 "Yes" and 57 "No" responses to the question "Would you vote for a party which has the manifesto aim of making house prices affordable again?"

As to how I would do it, that's quite simple - I'd go back to what we were doing until 1963. Tried and tested. Can't fail.

More to the point, most of the major parties have policies which would tend to prop up house prices, as they think that most voters see high and rising house prices as an unalloyed good. But the "Yes" vote is being split three or four ways. If one party had the nerve to swim against the tide, it would probably be able to garner most of the "No" vote for itself, so would tend to romp home in elections. Ah well.
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On a more light-hearted note, do you like UKIP's new slogan 'Sod the lot' which will (hopefully) appear on billboards round the country in the next few weeks (see top of this sidebar)?

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

NuLab BluLab LibLab

From today's CityAM: "[The Conservative Party's manifesto will include] details of plans to sell discounted shares in part-nationalised RBS and Lloyds when they are eventually re-privatised."

From today's Daily Telegraph: "Shares in Northern Rock will be handed to its customers under plans in Labour's manifesto to turn the troubled bank back into a building society."

Ah diddums...

AG alerted me to Health Emergency as another likely fakecharity.

Their story, from their About Us page starts predictably enough...

It was initially funded by the Greater London Council (GLC), as were numerous local campaigns, most of which ran autonomously under the general name of local Health Emergency groups. LHE’s director John Lister was appointed as Publicity Officer in the spring of 1984, and has remained with the organisation ever since.

By the time the GLC was abolished in 1986, LHE had established a central role as a resource for campaigners, health union activists and for journalists from the regional and national media. As a result, LHE managed to secure continued funding from a consortium of London boroughs with the support of the Association of London Authorities (now the Association of London Government).

However this core funding has never been sufficient on its own to sustain LHE's activities and its full-time staff...


Oh dear! So how do they raise the extra money..?

Since 1987, therefore, LHE has undertaken a steadily increasing volume of research work and commissioned publicity work for trade union branches, regional and national bodies, London boroughs and councils in England and Wales... Our research work beyond London increased further after 1990, when we published a nationwide analysis of the first wave of hospital Trust applications, and were later commissioned to draft responses to second and third wave opt-out bids around the country.

They've been pretty busy, haven't they? But not that busy...

Our director John Lister has been with LHE throughout, and has also found time to complete a doctorate in health policy. His doctoral thesis has now been published as a 350-page book "Health Policy Reform: Driving the Wrong Way?".

Yes we can!

JuliaM asks: Can we stop calling them 'charities' now?.

If you enjoy a nice bit of fakecharity porn, check out Disability Essex' 2009 accounts. 94% of its 'Voluntary Income' (Note 2, page 16) is grants from the following:

Capacity Builders* £102,261
Essex County Council £62,353
The Big Lottery £51,165
NHS SW Essex £7,471

Southend on Sea Borough Council £5,000
Lloyds TSB Foundation £3,052
Fowler, Smith and Jones £3,000

Essex Community Foundation £2,000

* From their overview: "Capacitybuilders and its main programmes are funded by the Office of the Third Sector, part of the Cabinet Office."

Also highly enjoyable is the list on Page 6:

Relationships with other organisations

London Metropolitan University - Partners in development of an lntelligent Keyboard software system funded by BERR.
COVER - Members of East of England Community and Voluntxal'y Forum.
DIAL-UK - Member of the national Disability Information Advice Line service.
Disability Infonnation Services Hertfordshire (DISH) - Partnership to share expertise on publications, disability employment outreach and IT. The marketing of these services is now undertaken in partnership with Disability Essex,
under the trading style Disability Herts.
Essex Access Forum - Essex Disabled People's Association Limited provides the secretariat and supports the field officer serving the County's District and Borough Access Groups.
Essex Southend and Thurrock Infrastructure Consortium (ESTIC) - Member
Essex Association of Community Voluntary Services (EACVS) - Member
Essex Playing Fields Association - Member and advisor on equipment for disabled adults and children.
Employment Service (DWP) - Holders of the Quality Mark 'Positive About Disabled People.'
Essex County Council Social Care - Essex Disabled People's Association Limited receives a grant, under a service level agreement, for the provision of support for disabled people in the county.
Essex Local Councils & Health Authorities - Essex Disabled People's Association Limited received grants 2008/09 for the provision of various services from:
Brentwood Borough Council
Rochford District Council
Southend Borough Council
Thurrock Council
Essex Police - Partners in the 'Hate Crime' initiative. Training of student officers. Service Level Agreement.
Essex Rural Transport Partnership - Member
National Register of Access Consultants - Aftiliate (corporate member).
Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation - Full member. Distribution of RADAR keys.
East of England Disability Network - Member and secretariat (trades as Disability East) funded 1 October 2008 to 31 March 20l1 by Capacity Builders.
UK Green Building Council - Elected as a full member in November 2008.

2010: The Inquest

Fred Harrison, one of the few people who can see it all coming long before it happens, has brought out a new book.

If you've not read any of his previous books, then this is the one to buy/read. Available at Amazon.

NuLab BluLab LibLab

Hot on the heels of one party's idea for a National Citizen's Service for 16-year olds, another 'failed old' party includes this in their manifesto:

"Teenagers will ... be encouraged to do 50 hours of community service by the age of 19."

In case you're interested...

Sunday, 11 April 2010

iPatch

[Hidden benefit of] The 40 degree Eco-wash cycle

We usually use the 40 degree Eco-wash cycle on our washing machine, which gets our clothes as clean as you could reasonably wish.

I took out a load yesterday to hang in the garden (more greenie bonus points to me for not sticking it straight into the tumble dryer!) and found a cartridge for The Lad's hand held Nintendo electronic thingy.

I explained to him that he should really check his pockets before chucking trousers into the laundry basket because the water will ruin anything electronic and he was a bit downhearted, but he put it back in the Nintendo anyway just to see what would happen, and to our amazement it still worked

So now you know.

Teachers, nurses, doctors, coppers

It looks as if the 'failed old parties' (TM Malcolm Pearson) and the MSM are busily trying to persuade the public that the next general is all about something fairly minor, i.e. whether to try and increase tax revenues by £6 billion or not (via National Insurance); the Tories reckon they can not increase taxes by that much and cut government spending by £12 billion more than Labour.

Of course they could, (and to be fair, history shows that Tory governments tend to spend slightly less than Labour ones). Labour then hit back with the tried and tested mantra 'The Tories will cut frontline services and cut spending on teachers, nurses, doctors and coppers' and the Lib Dems sort of flip-flop between the two.

Just to put the figures in perspective again:

Total UK government expenditure = about £700 billion a year.

Let's add up half a million teachers; 375,000 nurses in England (= 450,000 for whole of UK); and 170,000 coppers = 1,120,000 people, let's quesstimate their average salary at £40,000, so the total cost of those would be £45 billion, plus a hundred thousand doctors or GPs @ £100,000 each = £10 billion, so the grand total is £55 billion per annum.

In other words, out of total UK government expenditure, rather less than ten per cent is spent on actual teacher, nurses, doctors and coppers. A government would have to be pretty mad to start cutting expenditure by sacking those those people, surely it would get rid of the quangocrats and bureaucrats first?

Just sayin' is all.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

The Times nails it

To my pleasant surprise, today's leader in The Times lays into the latest Tory election gimmick and concludes thusly:

Hypothecation — allocating the revenues from a particular tax to a specified purpose — is a bad idea in principle. This example of it is social engineering on a scale inconsistent with modern mores and the values of a free society. In a long philosophical journey in Opposition, the Tories appear to have alighted on moral authoritarianism advanced by economic interventionism. These are the wrong answers.

This policy is worryingly confused. At a time when the main message of the Conservative campaign is that there is no money, it is odd indeed to be offering handouts.


What the article doesn't mention is that the £3 a week break for married couples with only one earner pales into insignificance against the £224 a week incentive for couples to live apart (and by extension, not to get married).

UPDATE: having now read the print edition in the back garden while it was still a bit sunny, George Osborne makes exactly that point in a two page interview: "We currently have a tax and benefits system that actually splits people up.”, although he does not explain how the Tories would sort out this far more important issue. A pity the leader writer didn't read the interview first.

Anecdotal: while on the campaign trail, I was reliably informed that there are even some pensioner couples are are pretending to split up, for the simple reason that the Pensions Credit for a single pensioner is £133 but for a couple is only £202, so you can gain £64 a week (assuming both partners have actual or deemed income below the Pensions Credit level) or up to £130 a week (if one partner has a lot of income in his or her own name but the other has no little or no State pension or savings), plus 25% off your Council Tax (another £6 or £7 a week) by pretending to split up.