3 July, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, German: In den frühen Morgenstunden prallte der "Euronight 211" aus Schweden kommend trotz Schnellbremsung auf eine sich im Gleis aufhaltende Kuh. Die Strecke bei Papendorf in der Nähe von Pasewalk musste für knapp drei Stunden gesperrt werden... Über die Schadenshöhe liegen bisher keine Angaben vor, allerdings sind Trieb- sowie zwei Reisewagen beschädigt. Der Tierhalter wird sich wegen gefährlichen Eingriffs in den Bahnverkehr strafrechtlich verantworten müssen.
Briefly: the night train from Sweden hit a cow on the rails, despite braking hard. The stretch of track was shut down for three hours. The engine and two carriages were badly damaged. The owner of the cow is liable to criminal proceedings for reckless endangerment of the rail system.
The cow was probably inspired by the Egyptian water buffalo, who managed to kill eighteen people last November using this method.
7 July, Vorarlberg, Austria: Der Landwirt wollte... ein Rinderkalb an der Mutterkuh tränken, da dieses nicht von allein zum Milcheuter gelangen konnte. Plötzlich stieß die Mutterkuh mit ihren Hörnern gegen den Mann. Der Landwirt erlitt Verletzungen am Oberschenkel und wurde mit der Rettung in das Krankenhaus Bregenz gebracht.
Briefly: farmer wanted to encourage calf to drink from mother's udder. The cow suddenly attacked him with her horns. He was injured in the thigh and taken to hospital.
12 July, Steiermark, Austria: Ein über die Straße laufendes Reh hat am Montagfrüh einen Verkehrsunfall ausgelöst. Der 28-jährige Autolenker war in Fochnitz im Bezirk Mürzzuschlag mit seinem Pkw von der Straße abgekommen und gegen einen Baum gekracht. Feuerwehrleute mussten den verletzten Autofahrer aus dem Unfallwrack bergen.
Briefly: a reindeer on the road caused driver to lose control and hit a tree. Fire brigade had to cut him from wreckage. And yes, I know that a deer is technically not a cow.
20 July, Leuggelbach, Switzerland: «Am Montagmorgen hat mich ein befreundeter Bauer angerufen, ob ich nicht kurz bei seinen Kühen nach dem Rechten sehen könnte», so Jenny... Doch kaum hat der hilfsbereite Mann die Wiese betreten, wird er von einem Schlag in den Rücken zu Boden gerissen... Mindestens 15 Kühe überrennen den am Boden liegenden Rentner. «Ich dachte nur noch, du musst aufstehen, sonst trampeln sie dich tot.» Mit letzter Kraft rettet sich Jenny hinter den Zaun. Dort bleibt er blutüberströmt liegen.
Hündin Leika erkennt sofort, dass es ihrem Herrchen schlecht geht. Sie rennt zum Nachbarhof – «dort war sie schon ein paar Mal mit mir», sagt der 68-Jährige. «Sie ist in die Küche gelaufen, hat den Bauern angestupst, gebellt und nicht locker gelassen, bis er ihr zur Unfallstelle gefolgt ist.»... Mit einem Helikopter wird Jenny nach Zürich geflogen.
Briefly: Mr Jenny went to check on a neighbour's cows. He was knocked down as soon as he entered the pasture and then trampled by at least fifteen cows (not clear who counted them). While he lay bleeding behind a fence, fearing for his life, his dog Leika 'did a Lassie' and raised the alarm at a neighbouring farm. He was taken to hospital by helicopter and spend several days in intensive care with nine broken ribs.
20 July, Niedersachsen, Germany: Eine womöglich schlecht gelaunte Kuh ist im niedersächsischen Bad Lauterberg auf einen Motorradfahrer zugestürmt und hat dessen Zweirad umgeworfen. Nach Polizeiangaben hatte der Biker das entlaufene Tier am Straßenrand erspäht und war daher langsamer gefahren. Die Kuh ging unvermittelt zum Angriff über. Nachdem sie das Motorrad umgeschubst hatte, schlug sie mit den Hinterbeinen danach aus und lief davon... Das ausgebüxte Tier ist schon seit zehn Tagen im Alleingang unterwegs.
Briefly: motorcyclist slowed down when he saw a cow at the side of the road. The cow promptly attacked him and kicked it with her hind legs. The cow has been on the run for ten days. I found this story on a biker forum, much hilarity ensues as to whether the motorcycle was a BMW GS, which is nicknamed 'cow'.
25 July, Kärnten, Austria: Bei einer Wanderung im Astental... ist am Sonntag eine 39 Jahre alte Urlauberin aus Wien von Kühen attackiert worden. Sie erlitt bei einem Sturz Kopfverletzungen. Die Frau hatte ihren Hund bei der Wanderung mitgenommen, die Rinder wurden deshalb aggressiv, obwohl der Hund angeleint war. Ein zufällig vorbeikommender Wanderer aus Klagenfurt versorgte die Frau und alarmierte die Rettung. Die Verletzte wurde ins Krankenhaus Lienz geflogen.
Briefly; woman was taking dog for a walk. The cows became aggressive, even though the dog was on a lead. The woman suffered bad head injuries and was flown to hospital.
26 July, Franken, Germany: Die Bäuerin und zwei Helfer hatten... ein frisch geborenes Kalb gerade mit Ohrmarken versehen. Anschließend wollte die Bäuerin das Jungtier an das Muttertier zum Säugen anlegen. Die Kuh, die von den Dreien zu diesem Zwecke fixiert worden war, "war offensichtlich anderer Meinung", heißt es in dem Polizeibericht wörtlich.
Das Tier drehte sich plötzlich um, stieß die 60-jährige Bäuerin mit dem Kopf gegen die Brust, so dass die Frau zu Fall kam. Anschließend spießte die Kuh mit einem Horn die Frau am Oberschenkel auf und hob sie zwei Mal an... Sie wurde vom Rettungsdienst zur stationären Versorgung in das Krankenhaus nach Haßfurt gebracht.
Briefly: The farmer (a woman) and two helpers had put ear tags on a newly born calf and wanted to bring it back to its mother. The cow, who had been segregated 'had different views on the matter' (according to the police), knocked the farmer to the floor, stabbed a horn into her thigh and then tossed her in the air twice. The farmer was taken to hospital by ambulance and treated as an in-patient.
30 July, Bayern, Germany: Wie die Polizei mitteilte war eine Bäuerin damit beschäftigt, eine Kuh auf den Melkstand zu treiben. Plötzlich ging die Kuh auf die 53-Jährige los. Sie drückte die Landwirtin gegen einen Absperrbügel. Der Mann der Bäuerin bemerkte das Unglück und eilte seiner Frau zur Hilfe. Als der 69-Jährige mit einer Gabel auf das Tier losging gelang es ihm, die Kuh abzudrängen. Die Frau erlitt bei dem Angriff lebensgefährliche Quetschungen und wurde mit dem Rettungshubschrauber in eine Klinik geflogen.
Briefly: Farmer (a woman) was taking a cow to be milked. Cow suddenly attacks and presses her against a barrier. Husband counter-attacks cow with a pitchfork and drives her off. Woman suffered life threatening injuries and was flown to hospital.
Here's one I missed off the June round-up.
12 June, Vorarlberg, Austria: Eine 36-jährige Hirtin aus Egg-Großdorf ist am Samstag bei einem Arbeitsunfall schwer am Rücken verletzt worden... [Es] öffneten zwei Männer am Samstagmittag die Verriegelung der Klapptüre, um das Vieh auszuladen. Während sie die Klappe öffnen wollten, begann eine Kuh bereits darüberzulaufen. Dadurch wurde die Klapptüre unerwartet schnell und heftig nach unten gestoßen. Die Hirtin geriet unter die Klappe und erlitt laut Polizei schwere Wirbelverletzungen.
Da der Hubschrauber wegen Nebels den Unfallort nicht anfliegen konnte, wurde die Verletzte von der Bergrettung in eine Talsohle gebracht und von dort mit dem Hubschrauber ins Landeskrankenhaus Feldkirch eingeliefert.
Briefly: Two men were opening the back door/ramp of a cow transporter, a cow barged it open, the ramp fell down and injured the farmer (again, a woman) badly in the back. She was taken down to the valley by mountain rescue and then flown to hospital. You see - cows have worked out how to use doors and gates as weapons, see also this story.
And, just to round off, one from May that I haven't mentioned yet:
24 May, St Gallen, Switzerland: Gestern wurde ein 80-jähriger Wanderer schwer verletzt, weil ein Stier auf ihn losgegangen war. Der Mann war auf dem Wanderweg durch die Weide gegangen. «Das ausgewachsene Tier hat den Mann mehrmals attackiert, auch als er bereits am Boden lag»... Ein Schild in der Nähe des Hofs warnte vor dem gefährlichen Tier.
Briefly: 80-year old was hiking on path through pasture, was repeatedly attacked by a bull 'even though he was already on the floor. There is a sign warning of the danger. NB, this farm is next door to the one where a woman had been killed by a cow three weeks previously.
Saturday, 31 July 2010
3 July, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, German: In den frühen Morgenstunden prallte der "Euronight 211" aus Schweden kommend trotz Schnellbremsung auf eine sich im Gleis aufhaltende Kuh. Die Strecke bei Papendorf in der Nähe von Pasewalk musste für knapp drei Stunden gesperrt werden... Über die Schadenshöhe liegen bisher keine Angaben vor, allerdings sind Trieb- sowie zwei Reisewagen beschädigt. Der Tierhalter wird sich wegen gefährlichen Eingriffs in den Bahnverkehr strafrechtlich verantworten müssen.
Friday, 30 July 2010
My post of 8 June 2010:
I shall adopt the same approach with the recent [oil spill] in the Gulf of Mexico. No doubt the Yanks will engage in a lot of knee jerk stuff (like 'banning' future offshore drilling etc)... and Greenies the world over will adopt Louisana cray fisherman as their poster boys for a while but I give it six months* and the oil spill itself will be history, with or without any mass clean up efforts.
Daily Mail 30 july 2010:
He sparked outrage in the US when he suggested that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was nothing but a drop in the ocean.... But now, 16 days after the leak was finally stopped, scientists are coming forward to suggest that perhaps BP boss Tony Hayward may have been right after all.
Oil from the well is clearing from the sea surface much faster than scientists expected. Indeed, some are asking whether the original threat was actually exaggerated. And just over 100 days after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers, the water around the Gulf is almost entirely clear...
* With the benefit of hindsight, I'm kicking myself that I didn't say six weeks. Ah well... the MSM has now firmly fixed its gaze on this week's 'worst ever' oil spill. I'm sure the evil capitalists are to blame for that one as well. Whatever.
The Dead Kennedys incorporated a truck driver's gear change at 1 min 48 seconds, up a full tone, in this:
From Nafferton Today:
A DRIFFIELD veterinary surgeon had to be airlifted to hospital this week after being injured by a cow. Holly Kitson, 24, who works at the Aldgate Veterinary Centre, in Albion Street, was carrying out a routine TB test at a farm in Flamborough Road, Bempton, on Tuesday when she was knocked unconscious by a cow. A search and rescue helicopter was drafted in from RAF Leconfield to airlift Holly to Hull Royal Infirmary where she had to have a CT scan and stitches to a cut under her chin.
What's perturbing about this is that cattle seem to have developed mind control powers...
Holly told the Driffield Post that she cannot remember much of the incident itself but believes she has had a lucky escape. "All I remember was waking up in hospital not knowing what day it was or where I was or what had happened..."
U.K. homebuilders reacted to the financial crisis by switching from apartments to single-family homes. After a year, the shift is paying off in rising profit margins, helping companies overcome a weakening property market. The move away from apartments, combined with a 60 percent drop in land prices, may lift operating profit margins in the industry to about 15 percent in three to four years.
1. The article seems to focus on Barratts, who have just put out a trading update for the year to 30 June 2010, which says that their average selling price ('ASP') for private units has increased from £166,500 to £185,000 over the last year (see section headed 'Revenue') and the average price they pay for a building plot is about £40,000 (see Note 7).
2. It appears to be the case that the cost/value of a building plot has fallen by 60% (from £100,000 to £40,000), and Barratts did indeed have a total write downs of £640.7 million in 2008 and 2009 (see Note 18 to the 2009 accounts). This is only about £13,000 write down per plot, on average, but as stocks are carried at lower of cost and net realisable value, this is not surprising (i.e. if they were bought for £53,000 on average, they were never 'written up' to £100,000 each in the first place).
3. This implies that the cost of building a home, including their profit margin, was £66,500 (£166,500 minus £100,000) in 2009, which seems about right, seeing as it was a mix of houses (about £80,000 each) and flats (about £50,000 each). But is now about £145,000 (£185,000 minus £40,000)? How on earth can the selling value of the bricks and mortar more than double in the space of a year or two, even if we factor in the effect of building more houses and fewer flats?
Answers on a postcard.
It appears that Iain Duncan Smith has finally grasped the true enormity of the UK welfare system and is stumbling vaguely in the direction of replacing it with a Citizen's Basic Income scheme (even though he might not know it yet!).
The Department of Work & Pensions has today published a consultation paper with a few direct questions in it, the answer to almost every one being either:
a) "A Citizen's Basic Income";
b) "There is no need for a parallel system of means testing/benefits withdrawal. This is best dealt with via the PAYE system, which can deduct tax/NIC flat rates of 31% (a BR code) , 41% (a D0 code) or 50% (a K-code)"; or
c) "There is no need for housing-related subsidies in the welfare system. It is quite sufficient, not to mention cheapest for the taxpayer, to build more social housing."
I shall be working on my full response over the next couple of weeks.
To briefly summarise an article in The Yorkshire Post, the government plans to reduce spending on the maintenance of social housing; so Connaught, which had expected to earn a lot of money from these contracts got into financial difficulties; so two government controlled banks have extended the company additional finance to see it through.
Wouldn't the government have been better off spending money on something that has tangible benefits, rather than pumping money into a stricken enterprise?
As I've suggested before (bullet point 2 on this list), one of the many things that the government can do to prop up house prices is to freeze or reduce Council Tax (current revenues approx. £26 billion per annum).
A Uncle Vince said (before he was replaced by a moron):
An unfair tax is a tax that we have to pay ourselves. A 'fair' tax is one that someone else pays. That was what I was told when I stirred up a hornets' nest last week with [the 'Mansion Tax'] proposals...
Which is another way of saying that people moan about stealth taxes, but in reality, stealth taxes are far more popular than in-your-face taxes - and don't politicians just know it!
So let's see how this works in practice:
1. The current government gleefully hiked the standard rate of VAT from 17.5% to 20%, claiming that it would increase tax receipts by about £13 billion per annum (which is a bare faced lie, once you factor in all the knock-on effects). But because of decades of brainwashing that the EU-imposed VAT is a "tax on spending" and not "a tax on production" they can get away with it, and in particular because people aren't really aware of how much VAT costs them (it's about £3,500 per household per year on average).
2. Another way of increasing tax receipts by £11 billion would have been to simply hike Council Tax by 50%, which would have practically no adverse knock-on effects, economically speaking. But that would be too in-your-face and too honest, and wouldn't have helped keep the house price bubble inflated.
3. Another Big Lie of taxation is that "council tax pays for local services", but decades of brainwashing have elevated that to "fact", so the Tories have now tapped into a seam of political-gold-but-economic-shite: they are going to allow "the hard pressed homeowner" to veto Council Tax increases.
4. FFS, at least three-quarters of the money that councils spend (or waste, depending on your point of view) comes from Whitehall out of general taxation (and redistributed Business Rates). If the Tories really wanted councils to rein in spending, all it would have to do is reduce the central grants from Whitehall.
5. Further, even if VAT were a "tax on consumption" (which it isn't) and Council Tax did pay for "local services" (which it doesn't, it pays for a small part thereof), then how on earth is Council Tax not a straight payment for "consumption of local services"?
So Council Tax is not really a tax at all, it is (or should be) a straight payment for the value (assuming that the value is equal to or greater than the cost) of "local services", which is not just street-sweeping and so on but major items of expenditure like local schools and and local hospitals (and I defy you to give me an example of a school or a hospital which isn't "local").
6. And yes, of course there's plenty of waste and corruption at council level, but it pales into insignificance compared to waste and corruption at national level or EU level.
Thursday, 29 July 2010
I've only just spotted this one in This Is Staffordshire:
A 55-YEAR-OLD holidaymaker is still fighting for his life more than two weeks after being trampled by cattle as he walked through a farm. The man... was walking his dog in the Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire, when he was attacked by the livestock...
Ian Cowan, who owns the holiday cottages where the man was staying, said: "Dogs are walked along the footpath through Branches Farm on a daily basis and nothing like this has happened before. No-one saw it happen. It is very difficult to believe this has happened."(1)
... The National Farmers' Union (NFU) today stressed such incidents are very rare.(2)
1) Yeah, right.
2) Yeah, right.
I take a paternal interest in the expression shroud waving because it so neatly encapsulates the way that the public sector always respond to talk of spending cuts with some bleating about 'cuts to front line services', even though these make up barely half of most departmental budgets.
JuliaM links to an article by Polly which actually kicks of as follows:
In less than a year shrouds will be waving, bloody stumps displayed with empty begging bowls as the coalition lays into public services...
No trace of irony, nothing. You couldn't make it up.
From El Comm's press release on the judgment handed down today by the
House of Lords Supreme Court:
Lisa Klein, Director of Party and Election Finance at the Electoral Commission, commented "Throughout this process, we have made clear that what we wanted to achieve was clarity about the way the law should be applied. Today’s Supreme Court judgement sets out how the rules on forfeiture apply to impermissible donations. The law on what an impermissible donation is has not changed."
From that, you'd never guess that the court found - very narrowly - in favour of the smaller political party which El Comm have been hounding mercilessly for the past four years or so. El Comm are acting as if they were no malice involved whatsoever and it was genuinely unclear to them what the law meant.
And, via UKIP Forum, The Judgment (pdf) and the Summary (pdf).
BBC write up here.
From The Sacramento Bee:
In the second bizarre incident at the State Fair in a week, Cal Expo police shot an agitated, pregnant dairy cow that twice escaped her confines and knocked over an officer as she bolted through the fairgrounds Tuesday morning.
Neither the cow nor her calf survived the shooting, which occurred an hour before gates opened to the public.
Ultimately, the roughly 1,200-pound cow became a threat to thousands of employees already abuzz in the fairgrounds, police and veterinary officials said. They agreed she had to be put down after a 1 1/2-hour chase...
Spotted by Anti Citizen One.
From The Metro:
Larger people are more likely to suffer an attack by midges, according to experts who say it's down to their provision of 'a more substantial visual target' for the biting beasties...
Professor Jenny Mordue from the University of Aberdeen's zoology department, leader of the study, explained that the setting around the shores of Loch Ness is 'classic midge territory'.
'The preference for the insects to target taller people could be associated with midge behaviour and flight patterns, as midges are found at great numbers with increasing height, particularly between one to four metres,' she continued. 'Larger people would provide a more substantial visual target for host-seeking midges as well as greater amounts of heat, moisture and attractant semiochemicals, such as carbon dioxide, which encourage midges to bite.'
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
“Member States shall ensure that national regulatory authorities can impose obligations on undertakings in order to ensure that public pay telephones are provided to meet the reasonable needs of end-users in terms of the geographical coverage, the number of telephones, the accessibility of such telephones to disabled users and the quality of services.”
Of course, OFCOM have managed to turn this into several policy documents and dictats of their own, some of the highlights of which are:
“The obligation to provide PCBs applies across the EU but has been implemented in different ways in different Member States. For example, some countries such as Germany and Latvia specify the number of universal service public pay telephones. Others such as the Czech Republic and France set the number of universal service public pay telephones based on X per ‘000 inhabitants.”
“The procedures for the removal of PCBs vary between countries. In Germany, factors such as the distance between alternative payphones, the revenue individual payphones generate and mobile coverage are considered in consultation with local authorities. By contrast, in the Slovak Republic, the universal service provider can determine whether or not to remove a public pay telephone.”
“Between January and October 2004, the average objection rate across the UK by public bodies to BT’s planned removals was 43 per cent.”
And what were the reasons for these objections?
“The removal of a payphone area serving 19 households, taking £1.40 in revenue per annum and with no calls to the emergency services in the preceding four months, was objected to by the parish council on the grounds that it provided a “useful landmark”
“A parish council objected to the removal of the PCB as “the light from the payphone illuminated the parish council notice board at night”. The PCB took £12.98 in revenue per annum.”
“Another parish council objected “because the light provides a useful beacon on dark nights.”
But it’s not just the yokals that want in on the NIMBY action, oh no!
“Some MPs have suggested that they should be involved in the consultation [to allow the removal of a payphone].”
So following the latest consultation, how did we actually decide to implement these six or so lines of a fairly irrelevant EU directive?
“We wanted to be able to strike the right balance between the number of call boxes that the public actually needs, and BT’s wish to remove phone boxes that lose them money. This booklet explains the rules that BT must now follow if they want to remove the only phone box in a local area, and the important role that local authorities play in that process.”
All that silly bureaucracy over a few silly sentences some silly Eurocrat wrote, just fancy that!
It looks like a solid majority prefer first-past-the-post to the alternative vote system for MPs in this week's Fun Online Poll.
What, I wonder, are people so scared of? Provided there is no obligation to rank all the candidates on the ballot paper, then people who prefer FPTP can just enter a "1" against their chosen candidate and leave it at that. What have they lost from this?
In fact, while I wholeheartedly support AV (it's not a very good system, but a darn sight better than FPTP), I can quite imagine myself just casting my first vote and leaving it at that. And other people may want to make use of all of their votes - who am I, or who is anybody else for that matter, to take this right away from them?
From The Daily Mail:
After five years in training, Mrs Cobell had just been crowned the slowest person to cross the Channel under her own steam. In a remarkable marathon of grit and determination, she had struggled valiantly through changing tides that swept her first one way, then the other. It turned the 21-mile crossing into a gruelling, 65-mile slog... soon after leaving Dover a strong tide dragged her south instead of east. Then it took her north... south again... northeast... south-west... and, eventually, subsided to allow her to carry on eastwards.
The article is accompanied by a chart plotting her 65-mile swim, and the captions suggest that she actually swam 65 miles:
Imagine you are trying to cross a particular long and wide escalator from the left handrail to the right handrail (representing the English and French coasts). Does it make much difference to you whether the escalator is moving up, is moving down, or is stationary (representing the tides, which move up and down the English Channel), if all you care about is getting from the left to the right?
Furthermore, if she really had swum 65 miles in 28 hours, then that would be an absolutely heroic 2.3 miles per hour average speed. For comparison, an ironman triathlon event starts off with a brisk 2.4 mile swim, for which they are allowed a maximum of 2.2 hours, so even at this stupendous level of fitness they are 'only' expected to be able to swim at 1.1 miles per hour (and Mrs Cobell managed at least 0.75 miles an hour on average, probably a bit more, so she must be pretty damned good).
But never mind all that... Jackie Cobell, you rock!
I've just noticed that recent comments appear as normal under the posts, and I can still delete spam, but they are no longer appearing in my 'recent comments' widget.
Is it like this for anybody else?
Re Sundays Top Gear where Clarkson made some comments about the exposed underwear of a Burqua wearer:-
"By Monday morning, seven viewers had already contacted the BBC to complain. Several viewers posted messages criticising the comments on Twitter, including Lily Allen, the singer, who called his remarks “distasteful”.
In other words about 8 people plus various blog commenters and daft Twitterati didn't like what Clarkson and Co said. This is compared to the estimated 350 MILLION viewers worldwide.
So I think we can safely ignore Lily Bloody Allen then. Prat.
From The Metro:
Mr Cameron also said Turkey's support for action in Afghanistan would help earn it a place in the EU (1). 'When I think about what Turkey has done to defend Europe as a Nato ally, and what Turkey is doing today in Afghanistan, it makes me angry that your progress towards EU membership can be frustrated in the way it has been,' he added.
Pointing to economic growth of 11 per cent this year and a population of 72 million, he said allowing Turkey into the EU would be great for British trade (2).
1) What on earth does Afgh have to do with anything? There are plenty of non-EU countries who have sent troops to Afgh - primarily the USA, but also Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Azerbaijan and Singapore - does this mean that they ought to be invited to join the EU? In any event, it is entirely up to the Turkish government whether they think it is in their national interest to get involved, and if they'd rather not get involved, then that's between them and NATO.
2) And what's stopping the UK from having free trade with Turkey? I can only assume it's the EU, ergo it would be a lot quicker and simpler for the UK to leave the EU and sign a bilateral free trade treaty with Turkey, job done.
PS, Gaza is not a prison camp.
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
Sobers, responding to an earlier post:
... if [Land Value Tax] were implemented it would still be mainfestly unfair to swap the entire basis of taxation for income to capital (as most peoples main capital asset is their house) (1), when anyone over the age of 50 will have spent 25+ years paying income tax (2), and just at the point they have paid off their mortgages, the LVT crowd come along and say 'Sorry, we're taxing land values now, so you're going to have to pay LVT for the rest of your life on your house...(3)
1) It is incorrect to conflate the selling prices of land, 99% of which is [the location value x planning permission] with capital assets generally.
Proper capital assets - like the value of your skills and effort; your qualifications and experience; the goodwill that a business builds up; physical assets such as buildings, machines, cars, white goods etc - are created by identifiable individuals or groups of individuals, and they exist because of the free exchange of goods and services. Taxes on output and incomes reduce the incentives to creating or exploiting such assets, deprive people of their just rewards, increase the cost to the parties taking part in these exchanges etc.
Location values are there because they are there. The selling price of any plot of land (as opposed to the buildings on it) has to do with the collective efforts of society as a whole; whether that's the handy corner shop; the friendly neighbourhood; the fact that we didn't lose World War II; or any one of a zillion other things.
2) OK. Let's take somebody who is now 50 and has just paid off the mortgage. Over the last 25 years they will have paid income tax and mortgage repayments. That's all in the past, what is done is done.
But let's imagine that that over the last 25 years they had been paying Land Value Tax instead of income tax, National Insurance and VAT etc; and mortgage repayments on the bricks and mortar value alone, would they be much better or worse off? I submit that most would now be better off in net cash terms. And indeed others have had an easy ride under income tax and would now be worse off (assuming no dynamic changes). But again, what is done is done. That is all in the past.
So the question is: do today's 50 year olds want today's 25 year olds (who are struggling to 'get on the property ladder', start a family etc) to be better off or worse off in 25 years' time? Don't most 50 year olds have 25 year old children? Don't they want to have grandchildren while they're still young enough to enjoy them?
3) As to this 'the rest of your life' stuff, a 50 year old will probably be working for another ten or twenty years, so for the next ten or twenty years, the vast majority of 50 years olds would - under Land Value Tax - be better off in cash terms for the next ten or twenty years.
For retired people, including hopefully one day me and Her Indoors, we can invent all manner of exemptions, transitional provisions or relieving provisions, like simply doubling or trebling the basic state pension. I fail to see any overriding argument why old age pensions should be solely funded by taxes on the incomes of working age people (remembering that these are partly borne by pensioners in the prices they have to pay) rather than out of Land Value Tax.
Finally, Land Value Tax is not a tax on 'the house' or even 'your garden', it is a payment for 'the benefit you get from the state protecting your right to exclusive possession to a certain bit of land'.
Let's be honest about this, as awful as successive governments in the UK or any other country might have been, the existence of 'the state' is of enormous overall benefit precisely because it protects exclusive possession of land, without pretty much nothing would function. So why don't we pay the state its dues (how the state ought to spend that money is another debate) and get rid of taxes on the private and free exchange of goods and services and the income derived from the capital assets thus created?
Excellent first-hand bovine attack report over at Newgatenews.
Over at Man In A Shed.
The silliest thing I saw all week was an old East German Trabant. For the first time in my life I actually sat in the driver's seat of one, and the steering wheel and pedals are slightly to the right of the driver's seat rather than straight in front, so after a few seconds you get a mild ache in your shoulder and back.
There is also so little space between the pedals and the steering wheel that you bang your right knee on the steering wheel every time you take your foot off the accelerator.
Spotted by View From The Solent in The Telegraph:
Hikers in the French Pyrnees are being warned to stay away from cows after a spate of attacks by angry bovines. At least two tourists have been seriously injured by cows in recent weeks.
One woman was left unconscious after being trampled by a herd as she tried to cross a field near Font-Romeu and a male walker was charged by a cow, sustaining cuts to his arms and head injuries. "The animal threw him to the ground violently and walked on him," the newspaper La Dépêche du Midi said.
Spotted by Harry Haddock in The Daily Mirror, adding "... either goats are getting into the cow attack market, or cows are using them as cannon balls."
Walker rushed to hospital after being hit by falling mountain goat... Hiker Walter Kaiser, 59, ended up in hospital after tumbling 50ft when he was hit by a falling mountain goat in Filzmoos, Austria. The goat was unhurt.
Spotted by Pavlov'c Cat:
Monday, 26 July 2010
Lots of LVT opponents fall back on the rather thin argument that LVT is somehow 'socialist'. Well it's not.
1. Let's imagine - purely as a thought experiment - that we went the whole hog and scrapped the following two groups of UK taxes; those on output, profits, employment and incomes (receipts about £370 billion per annum) and those on land or wealth generally (Council Tax, Business Rates, Stamp Duty etc, receipts about £70 billion per annum). Instead, we'd raise as much as we could from taxes on land values, let's say £350 billion.
2. I can't count the number of times I've heard people say that 'we should reduce taxes on business and replace them with taxes on consumption'. The problem is that the one tax considered to be a tax on consumption, i.e. VAT, is in fact a crude tax on output and is (largely) borne by businesses (i.e. by their shareholders and employees) and depresses output (and hence employment and profits) considerably.
3. As a simple question of fact, what percentage of all privately-owned non-agricultural land is in commercial use? Shall we call it ten per cent in round figures? It's probably less than that by surface area, but shops and offices in town centres tend to occupy the most expensive locations, so maybe it's ten per cent by value, or even twenty per cent.
4. As a simple question of maths, this means that the total tax payable by the wealth-producing sector would be in the order of £70 billion (as against £370 billion under current rules), and the remainder of land value tax, £280 billion, would be on land that is occupied largely for private and personal benefit, i.e. private consumption expenditure (which works out at about £11,000 or £12,000 per 'average' privately owned home)
What's not to like?
Sunday, 25 July 2010
Lots of LVT opponents fall back on the rather thin argument that LVT is somehow 'socialist'. Well it's not.
We've tried socialism and it clearly 'doesn't work'. To take a practical example, in most Communist countries, farms were collectivised and run by Party officials and central planners who didn't have a clue about farming, and people had to work on these farms for fixed wages but without performance bonuses or anything. The inevitable outcome of all this was that agricultural output plummeted and people starved etc.
In a couple of Communist countries at different times, they did limited free-market experiments and allowed people to occupy or rent small holdings on which they could grow and sell what they liked. Rather unsurprisingly, the amount of crops grown per acre on these small holdings was vastly in excess of that grown on the collective farms.
Of course these people didn't 'own' their small holdings, but they had the most important things - the right to exclusive possession and the right to benefit from their own endeavours. That is what made the big difference between the small holders and the collective farms.
We observe much the same in Western countries; while UK farmers do a very good job, the amount of crops that they can grow per acre is a mere fraction of what the dedicated allotment gardener can grow if he or she is prepared to put the time and effort in. As it happens the rents collected from one acre of allotments is also a vast multiple of the rents that can be collected from one acre farmland (even though the annual rent for an allotment isn't very much, and far from the maximum that the council could get away with charging). As an aside, according to my sister, who has an allotment, somebody worked out that an average family could grow enough crops to feed itself on less than half an acre - so much to the mantra that 'we can't build any more houses because we'd endanger our food security'.
OK, LVT is the same as paying rent for the location. I personally don't think there's much point in collecting LVT from agricultural land because the receipts would be quite small and it's far more important just to get rid of the agricultural land subsidies, but let's gloss over that.
So a farmer who currently 'owns' land would in future be paying 'rent'. Is there any reason to assume that tenant farmers are less productive than owner-occupiers? Absolutely none, of course. Think about it - if tenant farmers were less productive than owner-occupiers, there would be no incentive for a 'landowner' to rent out his land - he'd be able to make more money by farming it himself or selling it to another owner-occupier.
So, as farmer, landowner, anti-EU campaigner and LVT fan Dr Duncan Pickard points out - at 13 mins 19 secs into this video - reducing (or indeed scrapping) income tax on farmers and collecting LVT instead would almost certainly increase our agricultural output and agricultural employment.
Saturday, 24 July 2010
Sobers at least puts up a good fight. He submitted two further 'killer arguments' on episode 53, which I would politely describe as 'popular misconceptions':
1. "... the elderly, and those approaching retirement... would (rightly in my view) consider they are being charged rent for their own house, which they have spent a lifetime earning enough money (and paying tax on that income) to pay for."
To which I responded:
"Not true, my parents, being average pensioners in their seventies paid off their entire mortgage out of their very average incomes between mid-1960s and mid-1970s and have been living rent free ever since.
Even I, late baby-boomer that I am, paid off my entire mortgage between 1998 and 2008 out of current income - and that mortgage was considerably less than the cost of renting."
Further, I'd guess that even those who bought at the height of the late 1980s house price bubble will have a) nearly paid off the mortgage by now and b) have paid rather less in mortgage repayments than they would have had to pay had they been renting all that time.
The only people who are in the remotest danger of spending their whole working lives paying off the mortgage are those people who bought a house with a small deposit in the past few years - it is only these people who will be paying twice for the current value of where they live, and for whom we'd have to invent some transitional relief, for example by giving them a rebate on their Land Value Tax bill equal to the difference between what they are paying as a mortgage every month and what they would be paying had they bought their house for its lower value once LVT is introduced.
2. "But a pensioner has been taxed on income all his/her life, and now you want to tax his/her only asset, the house."
To which I responded:
"Not true. A state pensioner's 'main asset' is his or her pension income, the bulk of which is paid or subsidised by the taxpayer, as well as the right to free healthcare, free public libraries, police, refuse collection etc."
Or to clarify that:
- of course a house is seen as an asset, but there is no massive difference in living standards between an owner-occupier pensioner and one in social housing (assuming no savings in either case). And 'you can't take it with you', so effectively, the only people for whom that house is an 'asset' are the potential heirs.
- of course (most) pensioners have been paying income tax all their lives, but that was a payment for the public services they received while they were working and a payment for the state pensions being paid out at the time. OK, now it's somebody else's turn to pay their pensions, and clearly the bulk of that money will come from working age families - but is there any natural law that says that state pensions have to be funded solely out of taxes on employment rather than taxes on land values?
Also, I explained in that previous post that the simplest relieving provision for pensioners would be simply to increase the state pension so that an average retired couple with no savings would still be able to afford to live in an average house - again, is there any natural law that state pensions have to be wholly a transfer from working age people to retired people; why is it so terrible if there is also a transfer from pensioners in large homes to pensioners in smaller homes?
And aren't we always told that 'Britain is a crowded island', so why shouldn't we reward people (of any age) who are prepared to occupy the smallest amount of or least desirable land by allowing them to pay less tax - regardless of their incomes?
Grant Shapps has come up with a scheme to kill two birds with one stone. Ostensibly designed to provide rural housing for the young, it is a sop to the housebuilding lobby, whilst placating the NIMBYs by giving them, not the local authority, control over what is built where and, also, presumably, that all-important aesthetic control that, bizarrely, comes under "planning". It also gives all those retired folk, who form the majority of the population of most of the country's villages , something to get their teeth into.
The problem with the current planning system is that those who reap the benefits, in form of the huge financial gains to be made by changing the use of a piece of land from agricultural to building, are the developers, who are not those who suffer the disbenefits, in the form of more traffic, reduced amenity value, increased pressure on local services etc etc. So it is hardly surprising that the attitude of the inhabitants of the locality of an development tend to be against it from the start; there is nothing in it for them. Under the cunning plan, the locals will be the developers and the planning authority rolled into one, giving them back both the control and the financial benefit that the current system denies them. It will have to be seen how far this melts hard NIMBY hearts. I forsee battle royal being joined in village halls up and down the land.
Meanwhile the Cornish are not happy, with worries about second-home owners putting the kibosh on any building. As far as I can see, the answer is simple - you only get to vote in the referendum if your primary residence is in the village concerned.
Posted by Bayard at 08:32
Friday, 23 July 2010
In "Land of make believe" by Bucks Fizz, there are two beats missing from the last bar of the middle-eight and then there's a slightly ungainly trucks driver's gear change ('glissando' might the technical term) at 2 mins 6 seconds before the next chorus, which a tone higher than the first half of the song.
I'd never have noticed, as I don't have this song in my iTunes, but I do have Allstars' cover version from NOW 51 which faithfully reproduces the missing beats and gear change.
See also Making your mind up:
There was a photo of Nick Griffin in today's Metro proudly holding his invitation to yesterday's 'garden party' - which can't have been much fun as it was raining yesterday afternoon in London.
What is surprising is that he is holding it so that his home address - Y'Gribin, Llanerfyl, Y Trallwng, Welshpool, SY21 0JQ - is clearly legible.
Andrew Lansley's suggestion that GPs be given more control over NHS budgets received a very lukewarm nod of approval in last week's Fun Online Poll. Full results as follows:
Giving GPs control over NHS budgets is...
A small step in the right direction - 36%
Indifferent unless there are loads of other reforms - 31%
A step in the wrong direction - 25%
Other, please specify - 8%
So now we know. Thanks to everybody who took part.
As to electoral reform, my original preference was "first past the post with top up seats" (which is UKIP's preferred option - David Campbell Bannerman refers to it as "AV-plus" here), but a lot of people don't like party lists and/or MPs without a constituency link, so having weighed up all the options, my current preference is "multi-member constituencies" (explanation as to how this could work here).
But never mind all that. They have now published the AV referendum question for next May: "Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the 'alternative vote' system instead of the current 'first past the post' system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?", which I have chosen as the question for this week's Fun Online Poll.
Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.
Thursday, 22 July 2010
I am not Mark Wadsworth.
The last government's attempt to spend their way out of a recession was, it seems, all about creating jobs and not just any jobs but, specifically, white-collar jobs, in quangoes, the most expensive jobs of all. Instead of spending the money on something constructive, so that the nation would have something to show for its expenditure, like transport or IT infrastructure or creating jobs "at the sharp end", the area that really saw the increase was the middle-class bureaucrat, despite much lip service being paid to increasing the number of policemen, nurses and other working class public servants.
The result has been that we now have a vast pyramid of bureaucrats and none of that vast pyramid give a stuff about money, because it's not their money at stake. On any publicly-funded contract, no-one cares, not the client, not the financial controller, not the contract administrator, not the designer.
The only one who cares is the poor bloody contractor, the little bit of private enterprise at the bottom, because it is his money at stake. If he makes a mistake, he puts it right at his expense; if anyone in the pyramid makes a mistake, it's put right at the nation's expense. If the contract is a disaster, even if it is their fault, they will get a mild rap over the knuckles but the contractor, even if he is not at fault, is liable to go bust.
So a working class public servant costs the country their wages, but the middle class bureaucrat has the ability to cost the country far, far more than their salary and all too frequently does so.
There's an interesting article on the BBC about whether comedians should be allowed to copyright their own material.
The comedian Dan Antopolski had to confront this dilemma after one of his one-liners won the best joke award at the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Soon after the gag - "Hedgehogs: why can't they just share the hedge?" - was given the accolade, it went viral across the internet.
But quickly, he realised he would have to drop the routine from his set - because his audiences had already heard it, and some might even assume that Antopolski had plagiarised the gag himself... "The thing with jokes is that once audiences have heard them, they're no longer funny," he says.
Not true - or else people would laugh before a comedian tells a joke rather than afterwards.
Based on a thread over at HPC on inflation/deflation:
1. ... wages and profits fall, which puts downward pressure on unaffordably high land prices.
2. This does not go down well with the Home-Owner-Ist coalition, so the central bank (i.e. part of government) buys crappy mortgages off banks to prop up land prices or gives them low interest loans
3. This increases government liabilities (where else does the government get the money from to pay the banks?)
4. So taxes have to go up, now or in future to repay those government debts, plus to cover the losses the central bank incurred by buying up crap at overvalue.
5. The government can't increases taxes on land values, as this would defeat the object of point 2, so it increases taxes on incomes and production.
6. So wages and profits fall further, which puts downward pressure on unaffordably high house prices.
7. This does not go down well with the Home-Owner-Ist coalition, so the central bank (i.e. part of government) buys crappy mortgages off banks to prop up land prices or gives them low interest loans
8. This increases government liabilities (where else does the government get the money from to pay the banks?)
9. So taxes have to go up, now or in future to repay those government debts, plus to cover the losses the central bank incurred by buying up crap at overvalue.
10. The government can't increases taxes on land values, as this would defeat the object of point 2., so it increases taxes on incomes and production.
11. Wages and profits fall further, which puts downward pressure on unaffordably high house prices.
12. This does not go down well with the Home-Owner-Ist coalition, so the central bank (i.e. part of government) buys crappy mortgages off banks to prop up land prices or gives them low interest loans
13. This increases government liabilities (where else does the government get the money from to pay the banks?)
14. So taxes have to go up, now or in future to repay those government debts, plus to cover the losses the central bank incurred by buying up crap at overvalue.
15. The government can't increases taxes on land values, as this would defeat the object of point 2., so it increases taxes on incomes and production.
16. So wages and profits fall further, which puts downward pressure on unaffordably high house prices.
17. This does not go down well with the Home-Owner-Ist coalition, so the central bank (i.e. part of government) buys crappy mortgages off banks to prop up land prices or gives them low interest loans
18. This increases government liabilities (where else does the government get the money from to pay the banks?)
19. So taxes have to go up, now or in future to repay those government debts, plus to cover the losses the central bank incurred by buying up crap at overvalue.
20. The government can't increases taxes on land values, as this would defeat teh object of point 2., so it increases taxes on incomes and production.
Repeat to fade.
From The Daily Mail:
David Cameron will today launch a national citizen service that will see hundreds of thousands of 16-year-olds sent on summer camps at a cost of up to £1,400 each.
The £50million scheme aims to get a disaffected generation of teenagers from different racial and social backgrounds to join in local community activities. The Prime Minister will announce that 10,000 school leavers will be able to take part in a summer volunteering programme from next year...
From the BBC:
As well as withdrawing funding for the Sustainable Development Commission at the end of this financial year, which Defra contributes £1.9m annually, Ms Spelman announced that other publicly funded organisations would also be abolished.
- the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
- the Inland Waterways Advisory Council
- the Agricultural Wages Board
My personal highlight from the BBC article:
SDC chairman Will Day said he was "deeply disappointed" by the announcement.
From The Daily Mail:
Anne Baker, the zoo's director, said it's not clear why Louie, turned on the keeper. The elephant and Mr Redfox had been together nearly every day since the animal's birth seven years ago. It looks as if Louie was startled and then started play-fighting, as elephants do in the wild, Ms Baker said.
Mr Redfox makes it a habit to talk to the animals before he approaches so he doesn't surprise them, Ms Baker said. She thinks he didn't do it this time because he didn't know Louie was around the corner when he walked into the enclosure carrying a bag of carrots...
UPDATE: I've now watched the video, there was no "corner" involved, the elephant was in full view at all times, and there's a funny jump at 47 seconds in:
From the BBC:
A delicate, blue-hued insect has re-appeared in the UK after an interval of more than half a century. The dainty damselfly, a smaller relative of dragonflies, was washed away from its single East Anglian pond in the severe coastal floods of 1952/3.
Now, a few individuals have been found at a site in north Kent. Conservationists believe the insects were blown on the wind from France or Belgium where they have become more common...
... wait for it...
... probably due to climate change.
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
Rev. Dr. John Strain from Save Our Savers (as featured on today's MoneyWatch on BBC 2)
From the BBC:
A couple on a whale-watching trip off Cape Town, South Africa, say they had a lucky escape when a 10m (33ft) specimen leapt on to their yacht.
The southern right whale, a species known for poor eyesight, snapped the mast before sliding back into the water, said Paloma Werner. She and her partner had just seconds to take cover, she said. A nearby tourist caught the moment on camera...
The southern right whale navigates by sound, leading Ms Werner to suspect it was an accident...
... as opposed to a deliberate attack?
From The Telegraph:
Nomura analysts in a presentation yesterday, pointed to last month's Bank of England Financial Stability Report [see page 51] as they warned of the funding crunch facing the UK's major banks. While the banks of other major European countries, such as France, Germany and Italy, face their own funding issues next year, none has to refinance anything like the same amount as the UK banks...
"UK banks face significant refinancing requirements over the next few years, as funds raised prior to the credit crisis mature," said Robert Law, co-head of banking research at Nomura, "Lloyds and RBS are undertaking substantial medium-term restructuring of their balance sheets. This target includes targets to reduce assets in nominal terms over five years [i.e. call in as many loans as possible and/or make fewer new loans] In our view, this restructuring is partly aimed at managing their refinancing requirements, as well as reducing wholesale funding an particularly the proportion of short-term financing within that."
... In the FSR the Bank of England admitted that replacing all this funding would be a "substantial challenge", and put the total figure on the amount that UK banks need to refinance by the end of 2012 at between £750bn and £800bn, working out an average monthly fundraising rate for the next two and a half years of more than £25bn. This is double the fund raising rate for the years between 2001 and 2007 of £12bn....
To put those figures in perspective, total UK residential mortgage lending is about £1,200 billion and total loans secured on commercial property are about £250 billion (from memory).
I'll be interested to see what the government does to try and keep the land price bubble inflated. Presumably they will just keep bailing out the banks and so on until the whole economy ends up on life support.
Spotted at Adam Collyer's.
From the BBC:
Credit and debit card companies should face fines if their products are used to buy child pornography on the internet, an MP says. The Labour MP, Geraint Davies - whose motion is being debated on Wednesday - said he wanted an end to anonymity for pre-paid credit cards. He said as long as the users of the cards remained anonymous the credit card firms were "complicit" in the viewing of child pornography. Forty MPs have so far backed his call.
Geraint Davies' motion in full: "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to impose penalties on credit and debit card providers for the facilitation of the downloading of child pornography from the internet; and for connected purposes"
The Swansea West MP said the identity of the person who owned a pre-paid card should be known.
These arguments fail for use of the word should and in any event, "known" to whom?
Further, he is muddling two completely separate issues: fines can be levied on the credit card companies whether the identity of the person using it is known or not. And if PayPal goes "legit", then as sure as eggs are eggs, there'll be plenty of others to take its place.
Right at the end of a long BBC article about the 'dangers' of white asbestos (as usual no evidence is presented):
The one thing almost everyone seems to agree on is that little is known about what is actually happening in many countries that still use asbestos.
"Good epidemiology on worker cohorts still using chrysotile could be very helpful," said John Hodgson [of the UK's Health and Safety Executive].
"Whether it's ethical to suggest we should wait and see, rather than working for a ban in those countries one might debate. If countries do decide to continue using chrysotile they should have good systems of monitoring exposure and subsequent illness and mortality, so if they're wrong in their judgement this will emerge as quickly as possible."
... and if they are right in their judgement it will emerge as slowly as possible, of course.
Tuesday, 20 July 2010
'Tax Credits' in the UK are probably the worst kind of benefit imaginable, whether because of the complexity, the means testing (and discincentives to earning more or forming a stable relationship) or the opportunities for fraud.
While hunting for something else I stumbled across the Irish tax credits system, which was introduced in 2000-1 when they revamped their tax system. They ditched the nonsensical 5 April tax year end and replaced the personal allowance with 'tax credits' instead (so it's the same name for something completely opposite to UK tax credits).
To cut a long story, a single employee is entitled to € 3,660 tax credits every year. Income tax is calculated on every cent of income with no personal allowance, but as long as the income tax bill is less than an individual's tax credit entitlement, no tax is deducted.
That works out at €70 per week. At a glance, the Irish welfare system appears to be as mad as in the UK, but €70 a week is pretty close to unemployment benefit in the UK so let's use that for the purposes of this discussion.
So let's imagine that unemployment benefit were €70 a week and tax credits for people in jobs were €70 a week - would there be any need for a means test? Would it not make sense - in the interests of administrative simplicity if nothing else - just to give every resident adult - whether working, unemployed or studying - €70 a week, straight into their bank account, and have done with it?
It strikes me that this would be two-thirds of the way towards a Citizen's Income-type welfare system.
Further, like every civilised country apart from the UK, Ireland has joint taxation of married couples, i.e. a transferable personal allowance, i.e. gives a double tax credit to a married couple (presumably they can allocate this between them to minimise the PAYE deducted) so their system does not discriminate against married couples either.
But if the €70 were paid straight into every adult's bank account whether married or not, it would be entirely unnecessary for a Citizen's Income scheme to distinguish between single, in a relationship and married or in civil partnership. Hooray! Yet more simplification!
Over at Praguetory's.
From 'The Book' within the book 1984:
... the names of the four Ministries by which we are governed exhibit a sort of impudence in their deliberate reversal of the facts. The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink.
For it is only by reconciling contradictions that power could be retained indefinitely. In no other way could the ancient cycle be broken. if human equality is to be for ever averted - if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently - then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.
I'm sure we're all familiar with modern examples of this - such as the Ministry of War being renamed Ministry of Defence in the 1960s or the Central Office of Information which just pumps out propaganda.
But what about our 'Housing Minister'? Would one not expect that this rôle involves ensuring that the markets provide good quality and affordable housing, or failing that, at least providing social housing for those at the bottom of the heap? Nope, this job involves flogging off existing council housing* and misdescribing this as 'an age of aspiration'; trying to get the number of new dwellings built down to the lowest level in a century** and bullying the banks into lending ever more (taxpayers') money to potential buyers to drive up the price of existing homes that come up for sale.
Further examples of this 'controlled insanity' is the idea that as long as house prices keep going up, we will all magically become wealthier, when any sober appraisal of the facts suggests that only a small minority ('the High') can become wealthier and that the vast majority of people become correspondingly poorer.
The ultimate deliberate hypocrisy underpinning this madness is the old saying "An Englishman's home is his castle". People ascribe different meanings to it without realising that this is probably the finest bit of propaganda that the old landowning aristocracy ever invented. It is tantamount to an African dictator telling his starving countrymen "An African's grain of rice is his feast" or an Islamic theocrat announcing that "The burka gives women freedom to walk the streets".
The key to this is that the Norman invaders and their descendants brutally oppressed the English (or Celts or whoever else was kicking around) and they lived in castles - the castle was a symbol of oppression rather than protection. The landowners did a bloody good job as well, as late as a century ago, ninety per cent of the UK population were still tenants. Lloyd George briefly threatened the status quo, so what the landowners or 'the High', did over the last century was to sell off two or three per cent of their land for inflated prices to anybody whom the banks thought were worth exploiting.
The number of households who were owner-occupiers did not reach fifty per cent until about 1970, and has since levelled out at about seventy per cent. Electorally, they hold the upper hand so these are the people who have to be hoodwinked. In reality, most people 'own' very little indeed, apart from their bricks and mortar and a few hundred square yards of land. But they are sold the dream that this is their 'castle'.
Of course, the large landowners and their willing sidekicks the bankers, can only maintain their elevated position by exploiting those beneath them. So to keep the charade going, they engineer house price bubbles, cream off what they can in the good times and let the little people bail out the banks in the bad times.
This gives the English homeowner, briefly, the illusion that he too, like a landowning aristocrat is becoming wealthier without effort (income from business or employment is taxed until the pips squeak, of course, but work is for the little people, isn't it?) or 'living in a castle' to continue the analogy, but as there is nobody beneath him to exploit, all he is doing (consciously or not) is exploiting future generations (including his own children and grandchildren) - either by selling them houses at vastly inflated prices or by landing them with the future tax bill to repay the debts incurred with the bank bail outs.
Can nobody else see the 'controlled insanity' that sustains our rigid social system?
* Highlight from that article: "Among other things, [selling off council housing] was aimed at giving those in social housing more freedom to move to respond to job opportunities in different regions of the country." In the name of all that is unholy, who is more likely to be willing to move to another part of the country to find work - a tenant or a home-owner?
** Yes, I know the fat bastard isn't the Housing Minister, but he might as well be for all the impact that Grant Shapps has had.
The traditionalists say that increasing the supply of housing would help reduce house prices, which is what you would expect, but some bright spark then points out that there was a lot of new construction going on in Ireland and Spain (as well as parts of the USA) and that there were house price bubbles there as well.
Hmm. I'd always assumed that what kick started the Irish house price bubble was the fall in interest rates when they joined the Euro, together with all the EU money that was pouring in, and that once it got going it was self-perpetuating, which is far from a complete explanation.
I have now stumbled across one of the missing pieces of the jigsaw to explain the discrepancy, namely, the tax breaks. From a fine article in The Independent:
A jaw-dropping amount of State-subsidised tax bonanzas were attached to everything from multi-storey carparks, hotels and housing estates -- to holiday camps, private hospitals and holiday homes... At €7bn by 2005, the cost of various tax breaks to the Exchequer was three times bigger than income tax receipts. As much as €3bn of that may have been property related. That's 75 per cent of what needs to be found in Budget 2010.
Well worth a read.
As I have discussed before, taxes on property or rents do not increase the price of property or rents; what increases property prices and rents are subsidies, like Housing Benefit for example. It's the same with tax-breaks - if a building would otherwise be worth EUR 100,000, but you get tax breaks with a net present value of EUR 30,000 when you buy it, the selling price of the building goes up to EUR 130,000, it's called tax arbitrage.
So the investor pays EUR 30,000 for a tax break worth EUR 30,000. The builder can add the EUR 30,000 to the selling price, but it doesn't show up as extra profits to the builder, because he in turn has to buy the land from somebody, and so the landowner adds EUR 30,000 to the selling price of each plot. Subsidies always filter back to - and taxes are always borne by - the least elastic factor of production.
Monday, 19 July 2010
From the BBC:
Female students wearing a full face veil will be barred from Syrian university campuses, the country's minister of higher education has said. Ghiyath Barakat was reported to have said that the practice ran counter to the academic values and traditions of Syrian universities...
In 2009, Egypt's then foremost Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, barred female students from wearing the full-face veil at the al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam's centre of learning and scholarship. He also upset other Muslim scholars by saying French Muslims should obey any law that France might enact banning the veil.
Earlier this month, France's lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill that would ban wearing the Islamic full veil in public. It must be ratified by the Senate in September to become law. Belgium's lower house of parliament has also passed a bill to ban clothing that hides a person's identity in public places, although it does not specifically refer to full-face Islamic veils.
See also Italy.
Anecdotal from Uncle Tom, comment 11 at HPC:
The mood is definitely changing. In my local pub yesterday lunchtime, small group of young couples talking, all currently renting (I think). Decent people. One of them is a builder, and another asked the question 'so how much does it actually cost to build a house like that?' (referring to a cheaply built and small 1970's 3 bed estate house).
The answer came back as £35 - £40k. And then they all got angry. Why, they protested, should they have to pay five times that amount?
If you think about it, prospective FTB's have been incredibly fatalistic about house prices over the last decade - they havn't protested, havn't campaigned for cheaper homes - not vocally, anyway... perhaps that's changing. Maybe the focus will change from what people can afford, while loading themselves with immense debt; to what they ought to have to pay.
From The [Goa] Herald:
About 15 persons were injured, after they were attacked by a stray cow near Kadamba bus stand at Bicholim on Wednesday morning... However, Bicholim Municipal Council (BMC) employees along with the members of Animal Rescue Squad Bicholim caught the cow, which died later due to rabies. It is learnt that the cow had been bitten by a rabid dog...
From the City AM:
THE Prime Minister will today announce plans to fund charitable projects using hundreds of millions of pounds that is lying dormant in unclaimed bank accounts (1)... A new wholesale bank (2) will be responsible for doling out the money – thought to total up to £400m – to charities and other voluntary organisations that apply for grants...
"I can announce today that a [Big Society Bank] will be established using every penny of dormant bank and building society account money allocated to England (3)," the Prime Minister will say, "These unclaimed assets, alongside the private sector investment that we will leverage (4), will mean that the Big Society Bank will – over time – make available hundreds of millions of pounds of new finance to some of our most dynamic social organisations (5)."
The government is using legislation passed by its Labour predecessor, which allows it to tap cash that has been lying in bank accounts that have been dormant for 15 years or more. Labour was planning to hand the cash out alongside National Lottery funding (6).
1) Does he seriously imagine that banks are holding £400 million in coins and notes just in case people drop in again to withdraw it? As a simple matter of fact, those coins and notes were lent out again to somebody else long ago - all the banks are left over with is a latent liability to those depositors to repay it if they ever show up.
So presumably the government will help itself to £400 million's worth of bank assets (and hopefully allow the banks to cancel the latent liability - perhaps the holder of such an account would be able to reclaim from the government?).
So the government is not actually stealing this money from the depositors (unless they introduce a law that says that the right to withdraw from a bank account is lost after fifteen years, which you may or may not think is unreasonable in itself), they are taking it from the banks, while simultaneously merrily bailing them out to the tune of hundreds of billions of pounds in a desperate attempt to try and keep the land price bubble inflated - if the government really wanted to rustle up £400 million in a hurry it could ask for one per cent of the bail out money to be repaid.
2) Excellent. Another state-owned bank giving money to Tory-approved fakecharities. What can possibly go wrong?
3) Why just England?
4) "we will leverage" is presumably code for "we will bung in another few hundred million pounds of taxpayers' finest". Remember that a bank only has three sources of "new finance":
a) ordinary depositors or investors in new shares and bonds;
b) taxpayers; and
c) a land price bubble; whereby the purchaser takes out a mortgage for an eye-watering sum (i.e. the purchaser gives the bank an IOU) and the bank in turn credits the vendor with an eye-watering sum in his deposit account (i.e. the bank gives the vendor an equal and opposite IOU). In the short term, the bank benefits from this practice because it can earn an interest margin on a far larger sum of money, but the long-run cash flow is from purchaser to vendor (as you would expect). So this isn't really "new finance" and isn't available for anything else.
So perhaps he means that the Big Society Bank will take deposits from or issue shares to people with a bit of spare cash. Now, if they are giving that spare cash to the BSB rather than to another bank or investing it somewhere else, how much extra money is there? Answer - none.
5) If they were that "dynamic" they wouldn't need a government bail out, would they? These 'organisations' would be able to raise money from the people in 4)a) above if they were that "dynamic".
6) New boss, old boss.
From the BBC:
Greater regulation of the food market should be introduced by the government to stabilise food prices, according to an anti-poverty group.
A World Development Movement report said banks which caused the financial downturn created volatile food prices. It said bankers poured money into commodities like wheat and maize after giving up on failed mortgages.
Banks have argued that food price rises are due to increased demand from China and the use of bio-fuels. Basic food prices increased in 2008 amid the global financial downturn...
It is quite true that speculators can drive up the price of a commodity in the short term (like the oil price bubble of 2008), but the bulk of their profits come at the expense of other speculators. Yes, food prices went up in that year as well, but by and large they have all gone down again as well.
Producers, who are always net sellers will tend to gain slightly from these bubbles and consumers may overpay slightly in the short term, but don't forget that the cost of the flour or the crude oil is only a small part of the cost of bread or of the pump-price of petrol, so the overall impact is barely noticeable.
begs raises the question of what on earth 'the government' is supposed to do to regulate the forward sale agreements in other countries.
PS, last time I look at the World Development Movement they were a fakecharity, but there don't seem to be any taxpayer funded donations in their most recent accounts for 2008. So that makes them an ex-fakecharity.
Sunday, 18 July 2010
From the BBC:
Banning smoking in outdoor public places would be "un-British", the immigration minister has said.
Damian Green told the Sunday Telegraph that passing such a law was at odds with the UK's "tolerant and mutually respectful society". It comes after Tory MP Philip Hollobone introduced a private members' bill which would make it legal for people to smoke on privately owned premises again.
Last week French MPs voted to ban smoking in public. The bill, which was overwhelmingly approved by France's lower house of parliament, must now be ratified by the Senate in September to become law. If it is passed, it will be illegal to smoke anywhere in public.
But Mr Green said such the existing UK ban was "very likely" to be lifted. "Telling people what they can and can't do, if they're just walking down the street, is a rather un-British thing to do," he told the Sunday Telegraph, "We're a tolerant and mutually respectful society."
Saturday, 17 July 2010
An eternal fall back argument against Land Value Tax is that 'pensioners would be forced to sell their homes'*, which Winston Churchill dismissed as 'The Poor Widow Bogey' over a century ago** when he was still mates with Lloyd George (PS, that speech is worth reading in full, ninety per cent of it still applies today). A secondary argument is that 'I want to be able to leave the value of my home to my children', which slots in neatly at point 8. below.
1. People use this to argue even against the most modest kind of property tax, such a having income tax on the notional rental income (formerly known as 'Schedule A taxation' scrapped in 1963 or thereabouts, see famous quote by Dearieme's father) or, in my terms, a flat 1% tax on residential property values (which could and should replace Council Tax, Stamp Duty, Inheritance Tax, TV licence fee etc).
A modest tax such as this would leave most households slightly better off on an annual basis (as compared to Council tax and TV licence fee), and for those that pay more, they can either ask their heirs to pay (as a quid pro quo for one day inheriting the house - the value of which would be boosted by up to 5% if Stamp Duty were scrapped) or be allowed to roll up the unpaid tax to be repaid on death (which is why Inheritance Tax would have to go as well). In the long run, these families would be no worse off either. The people who would be worse off are non-doms who own huge villas and are exempt from Inheritance Tax anyway.
2. This argument clearly doesn't hold against a modest property tax, so let's examine what might happen if we scrapped all taxes on incomes and production (from worst to 'least bad': VAT, Employer's National Insurance, higher rate income tax , Employee's National Insurance, corporation tax and basic rate income tax) and just raised as much as we could from a tax on land values (whether residential or commercial).
3. Before we put numbers on this, let's look at the justification for the Basic State Pension or Pensions Credit (which ought to be rolled into a non-means tested Citizen's Pension, of course) - surely it is there so that people who are beyond working age (as arbitrarily decided) have enough to support a certain standard of living (as arbitrarily decided).
4. Let's not forget that I am a UK resident Englishman who has not the slightest intention of moving abroad again (I once lived in Germany for nine years, that's enough for me), who has every intention of surviving well into pension age (or dying in the attempt), so I have to come up with some sort of plan.
5. Assuming we don't just cop out and give owner-occupying pensioners large discounts or exemptions (and I wouldn't be totally averse to this as an interim thing for the next couple of decades), let's imagine we had full LVT without exemptions, and the tax on each property were around 7% of its current market value (which sounds like a lot, but don't forget that the downside of scrapping taxes on incomes and production is that most of the benefit would merely boost rents or selling prices), the LVT on a median home would be about £11,000 per annum (it could be anywhere between £nil on a small flat in a high tower block in an undesirable area up to £100,000s for a mansion in West London, of course).
6. So the basic state pension would have to be increased so that the average pensioner household can still afford a certain standard of living. In practice this would mean that the Basic State Pension/Pensions Credit would be approx. doubled for pensioners who do not receive additional public sector pensions. I guess that a Citizen's Pension of about £250 a week would cover it (i.e. pensioner couple with no other sources of income in a median house still has £10,000 a year net income from the taxpayer).
Doubling the Basic State Pension/Pensions Credit would 'cost' an additional £50 billion per annum or something, i.e. a large part of LVT receipts from pensioner households would be divvied out again as an additional Citizen's Pension (and some of it used to pay for non-cash benefits such as their healthcare costs and long term care etc).
7. This still wouldn't be enough to pay for the tax of A Poor Widow In A Mansion, but hey.
I guess politically it would be impossible to actually repossess the homes of Poor Widows Who Don't Pay Their LVT Bills, and politically necessary to them with at least £100 a week to live on after deducting the LVT from their Citizen's Pension, so a Poor Widow In A Median Home would get £13,000 a year Citizen's Pension and the amount of LVT collected would be restricted to £8,000 a year, and the shortfall of £3,000 would just be rolled up for later.
If the annual shortfall is huge and the Poor Widow lives for decades, then the arrears might exceed the value of the house (which would probably have gone to rack and ruin because the Poor Widow can't afford the upkeep), but hey, in that case the family comes out slightly ahead.
8. Those people who genuinely 'want to leave the value of their home to their children' have a simple choice, of course. Assuming a single or widowed person retires at 65 in a very nice house worth £200,000 (rebuild cost) with a higher-than-average LVT bill of £20,000 wants his or her children to inherit as much of that as possible, what they'd do is trade down into a nearby very nice flat costing £100,000 (rebuild cost) on which the LVT is only £5,000; that frees up an extra £100,000 to be left to the children or grandchildren; and they can also squirrel away some of the £8,000 a year net income they receive from the taxpayer. What could possibly go wrong?
9. A slight variation of 8. is the mantra that 'The Family Home should stay in the family'. Again, this is easily fixed: instead of a pensioners rattling around in The Family Home while their children or grandchildren are priced out of buying a house and starting a family themselves, the pensioners could simply give The Family Home (and the corresponding LVT bill) to whichever child or grandchild wants it, and ask that child or grandchild to buy them somewhere smaller in exchange.
* For every seller there has to be a 'willing buyer' of course. And I'm guessing that most of those willing buyers will be today's 'priced out generation' who are currently 'forced' to either live in a very small home or vastly overpay for one suitable for bringing up a family. Boot, other foot etc.
** A lot of LVT opponents solemnly quote Adam Smith, who said that a tax should be payable when convenient; but he said this two centuries ago when there was no such a thing as a state/public sector pension system which is now the main source of income of about a third of voters; and at a time when most people were tenants (i.e. the tax would be payable by landlords). A tax on rents would not result in an increase in rents, of course - the only way to increase rents is to subsidise them, for example via Housing Benefit.
I have no idea whether Adam Smith would have supported the state/public sector pension system in its present size; or guessed that one day a majority of households would be owner-occupiers; but I am pretty sure that he would not have approved of the idea that the tax would only be applied to tenanted property and not owner-occupied property, as that would be taxing form over substance - it's the same people in the same houses.