Monday, 31 October 2011

The Rt Rev Graeme Knowles, ex-Dean of St Paul's Cathedral

Paxman explains my current 'blog header...

I chose "Increasingly ashamed to be a baby boomer" as this month's 'blog header, in case you were wondering what it means, the Daily Mail has published an article by Mr J Paxman which says it all.

To choose one of his examples at random:

When the first of the Baby-Boomers were beginning to think about settling down, 425,000 homes were built in Britain. Last year, the total was just over 100,000 — fewer than in any year since 1923.

The inevitable Home-Owner-Ist shit storm is unleashed in the comments.

Daily Mail does 'stream of consciousness'

I've cut and pasted all the descriptions of the people involved from their lengthy article about the St Paul's protest:

Mail undercover reporter at St Paul's finds a shambolic crew of pot-smoking part-time protesters who put partying before politics.

Looking around, my camp comrades are more student union common room than dreadlocked Swampies. Earnest-looking graduates and undergraduates for the most part, their numbers are bolstered by foreign activists, some of whom have come straight from Central Casting: the Spaniard with beard and beret, and the three young German students in army surplus boots and parkas.

A key activity is sitting around smoking joints and knocking back lager.

Among the professional protesters, those from the anarchist group Anonymous form a tight knot of tents and are distinguishable by the plastic Guy Fawkes masks they carry and sometimes wear to obscure their faces.

Just about everyone, when not inhaling marijuana, smokes cigarettes (roll-ups, of course). The mornings are a cacophony of hacking coughs.

What I encountered was a disparate group of freelance travelling protesters with little or no discernible philosophy and a penchant for petty squabbles.

This is a part-time camp with many part-time protesters. My tent is touching five others, three of which I never see anyone enter or leave.

Much of the business of the camp has the whiff of student politics. Twenty-something and predominantly female, the middle-class accents of the 'facilitators’ — yes, that’s what they call themselves — fill the piazza as they do 'shout-outs’ for people to join caucuses for women and ethnic minorities, and for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LBGT) support groups.

Alongside them in equal number are foreign activists living in London. Smaller in number but perhaps most vocal of all are the professional activists. Several tell me they have just returned from the Dale Farm traveller evictions. Others are veterans of protest camps dating back decades.

Seems very like a gathering of the usual suspects.

Another protester implores those who want to block a proposed ban on drink and drugs to remember why they are there. 'Recreational drinking isn’t something we should passionately support — this is a movement trying to overthrow capitalism,’ she says.

A man I saw drinking earlier in the day is taken to hospital by ambulance. The following morning, another protester is still so drunk he descends the steps of St Paul’s on his bottom as tourists watch in bemused horror.


Ho hum.

So are they part time or professional? Is drinking and smoking cannabis allowed or not (I've been there, it isn't)? Do more of them smoke than any group, i.e. people in a pub beer garden (I've been there, they don't)? Are they "more student union common room than dreadlocked Swampies" or are they indeed "veterans of protest camps dating back decades"? Do they put "partying before politics" or are they "earnest-looking graduates" led by "predominantly female middle-class facilitators"?

And so on.

Take that, Ms Harman!

From The Metro:

Most prostitutes who come to London looking for work do not feel forced into the sex industry, new research shows. The majority of sex workers who were asked in a study say they prefer working in the sex industry to menial jobs where they are less likely to achieve such a good standard of living.

The government-funded study by London Metropolitan University focused on foreign men and women working in the London sex industry, with 100 women, men and transgender migrants being interviewed. Researchers also found that a majority of sex workers questioned liked the possibility of meeting interesting people in their field of work.

The findings contradict the idea that the sex industry is always linked to organised crime and irregular immigration which has ‘raised moral panic’ about trafficking in Britain, said study leader Dr Nick Mai. The researchers did however find that six per cent of women who work in 'off street' prostitution had been 'deceived and forced' into the sex industry.


Obviously, the problem here is that those women who do it voluntarily are far more likely to respond to such a survey; the small minority who genuinely are smuggled in from abroad and tricked into slavery are, by definition, difficult to track down and are hardly likely to respond honestly anyway. The same goes for slave workers in agriculture, cockle picking or domestic service, I suppose.

"Man flees burning car after badger crash starts fire"

Spotted by JuliaM in the York Press:

A MAN had to flee his burning car, in a fire that is believed to have been caused by a collision with a badger.

The 20-year-old raised the alarm after running out of his Vauxhall Corsa just before it burst into flames on a road near Leavening, close to Malton, at about 10.45pm on Friday. The side of his face was slightly singed but he did not suffer any other injuries.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said the fire is thought to have started because the impact of the collision with the badger caused hot brakes to become loose, igniting flammable parts of the Corsa’s engine.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Central European Cow-Attack Round-up - October 2011

It's not quite the end of October, but this is the sort of post that is best compiled or read on a Sunday, so here we go. There were quite a few cow-hits-car stories at the end of the month, which all sound much the same, but I've cross referenced the towns and villages named and they appear to be different incidents. Half of this month's incidents happened in Bavaria, so that place is probably best avoided in October.
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Thurgau, Switzerland 24 September: Gestern hat eine Kuh im Zuge des Melkens fürchterlich ausgeschlagen und Stefan Burkhalter am Daumen verletzt. Stefan Burkhalter dazu: "Die Schwellung an der rechten Hand geht langsam zurück, doch das Gefühl ist durch den Nervenabriess immer noch weg und ich spühre am rechten Daumen noch nichts."

I missed this one last month: A cow lashed out when being milked and injured the farmer's thumb. "The swelling is going down but I have lost all sensation in my right thumb". [This is possibly the least spectacular cow attack every reported].
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Rhineland 12 October: Ebenfalls am Sonntag hatte ein Stier im oberfränkischen Pinzberg einen 50 Jahre Landwirt angegriffen und getötet. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern war in der vergangenen Woche eine 56 Jahre alte Bäuerin beim Angriff einer trächtigen Kuh tödlich verletzt worden.

The main story - about a 51-year old farmer being found trampled to death in a cow meadow - was already included in the September round-up, so I assume the article is dated incorrectly. But right at the end, it mentions two other fatal cow attacks in recent days, one of them was also in the September round-up but the other one wasn't, so we'll chalk up another death to the cows this month.
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Tyrol 2 October: BEZIRK KUFSTEIN. Nach der Stallarbeit trieb der 79-Jährige aus Reith im Alpbachtal seine Kühe auf die angrenzende Weide. Auf der Wiese ging dann ein Rind auf den Landwirt los. Das Tier versetzte dem Bauern einen kräftigen Kopfstoß in den Brustkorb, sodass er zu Boden stürzte. Auch als er am Boden lag, attackierte die Kuh den 79-Jährigen noch, bis es ihm schließlich gelang, sich in Sicherheit zu bringen. Nach der Erstversorgung wurde der Mann mit Verdacht auf Rippenbrüche mit der Rettung ins Bezirkskrankenhaus Schwaz gebracht.

After finishing in the cow shed, the 79-year old farmer drove his cows to the nearby pasture. When they were there, one cow head butted the farmer in the chest, knocking him to the ground. The cow continued to attack him until he could drag himself to safety. He was given first aid at the scene and then taken to hospital with suspected broken ribs.
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Bavaria 4 October: Am Sonntagabend wurde ein 71-jähriger Mann auf einem landwirtschaftlichen Anwesen in Schwabach bei einem Unfall tödlich verletzt...Angehörige fanden den Mann reglos im Stall liegen... Nach ersten Erkenntnissen zog sich der 71-jährige Landwirt die lebensgefährlichen Verletzungen durch einen im Stall freilaufenden Bullen bereits am Abend zuvor zu.

A 71-year old farmer was found dead in the cow shed by his relatives. As far as the police can tell, he had been fatally injured by a bull the previous evening.
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Bavaria, 17 October: RUHMANNSFELDEN. Am Sonntagnachmittag gegen 14 Uhr hat ein Landwirt die Polizeiinspektion Viechtach alarmiert, dass ihm soeben fünf Kühe aus der Umzäunung ausgerissen seien und er diese nicht mehr einfangen könne... Weil die Tiere durch den langen Auslauf hoch nervös waren, konnten sie nicht auf normalem Weg wieder zurück zu ihrem Ursprungsort gebracht werden. Deshalb haben Tierärzte drei der Kühe mit Betäubungspfeilen ruhig gestellt...

A farmer informed the police that five cows had escaped from his field. They joined another herd of cows a few miles away but were in no mood to come back gracefully. Three were anaesthetised with darts and the other two escaped again. One of the two was quickly recaptured.

The other made it as far as the nearest main road, which had to be shut as a precaution. The cow appeared to have given herself up, and was lassoed, but she still managed to injure her owner while she was being loaded onto the trailer.
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Bavaria 18 October: 8.000 Euro Schaden sind am Abend auf der Bundesstraße B308 bei einem Wildunfall nahe dem Oberallgäuer Bad Hindelang entstanden. Eine Hirschkuh und ein Taxi waren auf Höhe der Abzweigung Reckenberg zusammengeprallt. Durch den Frontaufprall des Wildes kam es am Taxi zu einem Totalschaden; die Fahrgäste und die 35-jährige Fahrerin wurden nicht verletzt. Der Wagen musste abgeschleppt werden. Die Hirschkuh entkam.

A taxi driver hit a female deer, the taxi was a write-off, but neither the driver nor passenger were injured. The deer escaped apparently uninjured.
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North Rhine-Westphalia 18 October: In Much im Rhein-Sieg Kreis ist ein 17-jähriger auf seiner Vespa mit einer Kuh kollidiert. Dieser brach sich dabei den Arm. Nach Angaben des Fahrers kam die Kuh plötzlich aus dem Gebüsch auf die Straße gelaufen und er hatte keine Möglichkeit mehr zum reagieren. Ob die Kuh verletzt ist, kann nicht gesagt werden, sie konnte entkommen.

This is one for Former Tory: a cow jumped out from behind a bush. A 17 year-old on a Vespa had no way of avoiding it and broke his arm. It is not known whether the cow was injured as it then disappeared again.
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Bavaria 20 October: Das Unglück ereignete sich am Donnerstagmorgen in der Elefantenanlage des Augsburger Zoos. Wie die Polizei berichtete, wurde der 43-jährige Tierpfleger wurde von einem der Elefanten mit einem Stoßzahn schwer verletzt und gegen eine Wand im Elefantenhaus gedrückt.

An elephant at Augsburg zoo injured its 43-year old keeper with its tusk. The elephant concerned was reported to be a bull elephant not a cow elephant.
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Bavaria, 21 October: Laut Polizei waren ein 20-jähriger Dietramszeller und sein 17 Jahre alter Beifahrer gegen 7 Uhr mit einem Opel unterwegs von Dietramszell in Richtung Humbach. In einem Waldstück „stand eine Kuh auf der Fahrbahn“, berichtet die Polizei, die vom Pkw erfasst wurde. Der Opel hat nur noch Schrottwert, den Gesamtschaden schätzt die Polizei auf rund 5000 Euro.

A 20-year old driver was injured when his car struck a cow which suddenly appeared in the middle of the road. The cow was killed and the car was a write-off. The 17-year old passenger appears to have escaped injury.
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Baden-Württemberg 21 October: Ein Taxi-Fahrer war mit seinem Mercedes auf der Bundesstraße unterwegs, als plötzlich eine Kuh auf der Fahrbahn auftauchte. Er konnte einen Zusammenstoß mit dem Tier nicht mehr verhindern. Die Kuh wurde vom Taxi erfasst und schwer verletzt. Das verletzte Tier konnte sich in die angrenzende Wiese schleppen. Am Taxi war ein Schaden von etwa 12.000 Euro entstanden.

Taxi driver hit cow. The cow was so badly injured it had to be put down at the side of the road. The accident caused EUR 12,000 of damage to the taxi but the driver was uninjured.
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Switzerland 22 October: Ein Urner Bauer ist am Samstagmorgen oberhalb von Flüelen von einem Stier getötet worden. Das Tier rammte seine Hörner in den Bauch des 58-jährigen Bauern. Dieser erlitt schwere Verletzungen und starb noch auf der Unglücksstelle.

A bull rammed its horns into a 56-year old farmer's stomach. He was injured so badly that he died at the scene. The bull had never behaved badly before but was slaughtered anyway.
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Bavaria, 27 October: Bei einem Verkehrsunfall zwischen Ketterschwang und Beckstetten ist eine Kuh schwer verletzt worden. Sie musste noch am Unfallort getötet werden. Eine Herde Jungkühe war aus ihrer Weide ausgebrochen und auf die Straße gelaufen. Ein Autofahrer konnte nicht mehr anhalten und erfasste die Kuh. Am PKW entstand Totalschaden in Höhe von 10.000 Euro. Der Fahrer blieb unverletzt.

A herd of young cows escaped from the meadow and hit the road. A car driver could not stop in time and hit and injured a calf badly, it had to be put down at the side of the road. The car was a total write off but the driver was not injured.
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North Rhine-Westphalia: 29 October: In Blankenheim hat eine Kuh eine Bäuerin angegriffen und lebensgefährlich verletzt. Nach Angaben der Polizei war die Kuh am Freitagmittag am Mülheimer Haus ausgebrochen.

Cow escaped from shed, 56 year old farmer tried to catch it but it wounded her. The farmer was flown to hospital with life threatening injuries. [I'm not sure of the date of that one, but the Google results page says 'one day ago']
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Fame at last! A German anti-milk website (yes, there is such a thing) links back to some of these round ups.

Take the test: are you a Home-Owner-Ist or a free-market capitalist? (1)

Jot down your answers (As and Bs) on a piece of paper, then click and highlight at the end to check your result.
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1. All other things being equal, when house prices increase we become...
A. Wealthier
B. Poorer


2. The rental value of any plot of land is roughly equal to the burden placed on the rest of society by virtue of them being excluded therefrom.
A. Don't agree
B. Agree


3. The most important type of 'private property' is:
A. Land and buildings
B. The value we create by exercising our skills and labour and the things we obtain by free exchange.


4. The estate agent's mantra "Location, location, location" is another way of saying that "Land values are created by the community".
A. Don't agree
B. Agree


5. Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Henry George and Milton Friedman all said that taxing land values was preferable to taxing labour and profits. They were:
A. Closet socialists.
B. Proper free market capitalists

------------------------------------
Results:
Mainly As - Oh dear, you are a Home-Owner-Ist.
Mainly Bs - Congratulations, you are a free market capitalist.

-----------------------------------

I felt like a million dollars. So I took it.

Heroic journeys of antiquity

From The Natural Navigator:

When trying to understand the role of the sun in ancient journeys, the sources become fewer and the journeys less well known. Herodotus writes about an exploratory voyage commissioned by the ancient Egyptian King Necho II in about 600 BC. Necho II reportedly prdered a Phoenician expedition to sail clockwise around Africa, starting at the Red Sea and returning to the mouth of the Nile.

They were gone for three years. Herotodus writes that the Phoenecians, upon returning from their epic expedition, reported that after sailing sought and then turning west, they found that the sun was on their right, the opposite direction to where they were used to seeing it or expecting it to be.

Contemporary astronomical science was simply not strong enough to fabricate such an accurate, fundamental and yet prosaic detail of where the sun would be after sailing past the Equator and heading into the southern hemisphere. It is is that leads many of today's historians to conclude that the journey must have taken place.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The cat, not the arm.

Man Widdicombe explains.

Friday, 28 October 2011

"Bull captured off US 72, cow still on the lam"

From enewscourier.com:

Athens* Police and local authorities are still attempting to corral an escaped cow this morning on U.S. 72 near Lindsay Lane after successfully hemming in a bull in a pasture near White Dove produce stand.

Capt. Floyd Johnson said at 9:45 a.m. that the Charolais bull was captured but the longhorn cow was still at large. Six law-enforcement vehicles were at the scene along with animal control officers.

The farmer was taking the bull and cow to market in a trailer when the bull broke open the gate on U.S. 72 and the duo escaped.


The article doesn't explain how the duo managed to break open the gate and whether the trailer was moving at the time.

* I assume they mean Athens, Georgia, not Athens, Greece.

Splendid loopholes in the Alcohol Scotland Act

From The Metro:

Customers are expected to take advantage of the recent Alcohol Scotland Act, which stops two-for-one deals and discounts on wine bought in bulk. It means chains like Majestic, which only sells in bulk, must now sell individual bottles of wine at the lower multiple-buy price available in England.

The chain has three outlets in Edinburgh – just 64km (40 miles) from Berwick-on-Tweed in Northumberland. While a single bottle of Rioja Reserva 2001 costs £13.99 south of the border, in Scotland it sells for just £9.99. Tattinger champagne is £5 a bottle cheaper while Argentinian chardonnay is £2 less at £9.99.


That doesn't really make sense. People will happily drive a few miles to buy cheap booze/fags in bulk (see: Northern France, Belgium) but why bother driving 64 miles each way to buy dozens halves of dozens of bottles of Rioja Reserve for £9.99 if, presumably, Majestic sells them for £119.99 £59.99 for a case of twelve six in England?

But clearly, wine lovers in Scotland will be getting a slightly better deal (unless Majestic otherwise fudges its pricing strategy), so that's a good start.

Members of the Scottish parliament warned of the loophole before the law came into force this month but the government said the measures were ‘another positive step forward in reducing harmful consumption of alcohol’.

You don't say. As ever, they saved the best bit 'til last:

The day before the law came into effect, Tesco told Scottish customers they could still benefit from online wine deals – as orders were sent from Daventry, England.

See also: Amazon delivering CDs to the UK via the Channel Islands.

Guardian writer nearly gets it right

From an article about the Housing Benefit cap:

A point well made at last week's launch of Trust for London's new poverty profile [which is worth a quick read in its own right] is that housing benefit doesn't, in the end, increase a household's spending power... Recipients might be seen as essentially intermediaries between their local authority and whoever they rent their accommodation from... They are given the money, but in an important sense it isn't really theirs. (1)

Private renters in London who don't receive benefit and think those who do should have to move, might not have anticipated the impact of low-income, often large families, currently renting with the help of housing benefit in Inner London having to re-locate to the generally more moderately-priced Outer London (2) - perhaps leaving roots, friends, jobs and schools in Islington, Camden or the smarter parts of Hackney (3) and starting over in Redbridge, Hillingdon or Bromley (4). Along with placing extra demands on education, health and other local services, (5) their presence might also exert upward pressure on local rents. (6)

How come? The government insists that capping housing benefit levels will cause landlords to reduce what they charge. But most landlords say otherwise. Indeed, as a council survey of those in Barking and Dagenham found, some in the cheaper areas are anticipating the housing benefit changes creating greater demand on their patches, as hard-up, capped households and others (7), struggling to cope with rising rents who don't receive housing benefit, head their way. (8) They sense an opportunity to put their rents up, rather than down - and that includes those of people already renting in the area, some of them perhaps thinking that those who get housing benefit to help them live in expensive areas should be made to move...

The steady, heavy hike in the huge housing benefit bill across London fills nobody with joy... (9)


1) Correct, that's a very good place to start the debate. HB payments mainly benefit 'private' landlords and hurt non-claimants by pushing up rents. Suitably heartened I read on...

2) "More moderately priced"? Ha! "Slightly less insanely high" is more like it.

3) This is just the Leftie version of The Poor Widow Bogey. Duck's back, water.

4) Those are three perfectly nice areas of Outer London, what's his problem?

5) Another rallying cry of the NIMBYs. The amount of money spent on these things is broadly proportional to the population, if there were a mass exodus from Inner to Outer London (with a corresponding exodus in the other direction) then it may be that funding has to be re-tweaked slightly, so what?

6) OK, so we have this bedraggled army "placing extra demands on local services" and that's going to drive up rents in Outer London, how so..?

7) Fair enough, as a slightly brighter example of the Leftie or Home-Owner-Ist caucus, he realises that there are some dynamic effects when you reduce massive state interference, but as usual he only looks at possible losers and ignores the winners.

Simple fact is, the whole housing market in the UK is distorted beyond belief, removing all the subsidies can overall only lead to a better outcome. It must be clear that overall rent levels will fall, and that Inner London rents will always be higher than Outer London; there will be some people moving out of Inner London, but it's not as if Inner London landlords will leave all their buildings vacant, they will just have to drop their rents to balance out the equation. Therefore, the really big groups of winners will be potential first time buyers; non-claimant tenants in Inner London and non-claimant tenants in Outer London who can now upgrade to the suitably "ethnically cleansed" parts of Inner London for a much smaller premium.

What's not to like?

8) Wot? If you are a non-claimant private renter in Barking and Dagenham, and rents really did go up in that area, which they wouldn't, see (6), why would they "head their way" to Barking and Dagenham - they're already there, aren't they?

9) Yes it does, and he explained exactly whom in his first paragraph, see (1).

The Rev Dr Giles Fraser, ex-canon chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral

Thursday, 27 October 2011

€440 billion bail out fund actually has less than €3.5 billion

Compiled by Denis Cooper, lengthy but worth a read:
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The EFSF "bail-out fund" does not actually have anything like the €440 billion which the media keep describing as its "firepower", its "reserves" or its "funds" as Robert Peston pretends here.

The EFSF operates by borrowing money and lending it on. Its subscribed share capital was minimal - less than €29 million, and I do mean million not billion, as can be checked on page 4 of the Articles of Incorporation.

So far it has borrowed a total of €13 billion through three bond issues (you may have to go click 'I agree' to get to that screen) and it has disbursed a total of €9.5 billion to Portugal and Ireland, on which basis it will presently have less than €3.5 billion to hand.

It's not an EU body; in fact it's a Special Purpose Vehicle, a private company, as explained in here

A1 - What is the EFSF?

The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) is a company which was agreed by the countries that share the euro on May 9th 2010 and incorporated in Luxembourg under Luxembourgish law on June 7th 2010. The EFSF’s objective is to preserve financial stability of Europe’s monetary union by providing temporary financial assistance to euro area Member States if needed.

On June 24, the Head of Government and State agreed to increase EFSF’s scope of activity and increase its guarantee commitments from €440 billion to €780 billion which corresponds to a lending capacity of €440 billion and on July 21, the Heads of Government and State agreed to further increase EFSF’s scope of activity.


Describing the EFSF as SPV1, one of the two options being considered is to set up a second SPV, call it SPV2, as explained in this official factsheet.

Under this model, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) would be created centrally or in the beneficiary member state, combining public and private capital and funding for extending loans for bank recapitalisation (via a Member State) and/or for buying bonds in the primary and secondary market.

The SPV structure would be set up so as to attract a broad class of international public and private investors with different risk/return appetites. The EFSF would provide the equity tranche of the vehicle and hence absorb the first proportion of losses incurred by the vehicle.


So SPV2 would also operate by borrowing money with SPV1 in effect indemnifying those "international public and private investors" against losses if SPV2 loses money on its business of "extending loans for bank recapitalisation ... and/or for buying bonds in the primary and secondary market", but with SPV1 only indemnifying the SPV2 investors for consequential losses on their investments up to maybe 20%.

As investors are already becoming wary of the bonds issued by SPV1, when it has only borrowed €13 billion so far - which have lost between 3% and 5% in value as at a couple weeks ago - how likely is that they'll believe that if they lent SPV2 say €1 trillion to keep Italy, Spain etc afloat, and if/when that bail-out attempt failed SPV2 suffered losses of say €200 billion, nevertheless SPV1 could then borrow €200 billion from investors to make sure that the SPV2 investors were paid on time and in full?

And given the 50% losses on Greek bonds, how likely is it that under those circumstances the losses incurred by SPV2 would exceed the 20% guaranteed by SPV1, even if it could borrow enough to meet that guarantee? On the whole I think I'll keep my money in the building society, rather than investing any of it in either SPV1 or SPV2.

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time...

We've all been there, the party gets a bit out of hand and you end up daring each other to do all sorts of stupid things, sometimes it's enormously good fun, at other times, somebody ends up in hospital or seriously embarrassing himself.

But I wonder what bizarre sequence of events led up to this: From The Evening Standard:

French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced at 4am that he will call Chinese president Hu Jintao today to discuss China contributing to a huge new bailout fund... Analysts said China, which has grown rich from mass exports to the west, would be wary of handing over money without assurances. Shen Jianguang, a Hong Kong-based economist for Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd, said: "China will need time to evaluate this plan very carefully."

Presumably Angie had already flashed her bra at passers by, Berlusconi had ordered fifty pizzas for 10 Downing Street, and the Greek PM had vandalised Rumpy's office, and now Little Nicky's challenge was to ring up Hu Jintao in the middle of the night* and ask for a trillion Euros while keeping a srtaight face.

* Or mid-morning, from Hu Jintao's point of view, but you don't think about things like that when you're really merry.

Savage Tory Cuts

From The Daily Mail:

The cash-strapped Ministry of Defence is paying consultants nearly £4,000 a day each to advise it on cost-cutting measures. That means an MoD consultant earns more in a week than a squaddie will earn in a whole year. The department has already handed over £5.5million to consultancy Alix Partners, which was drafted in last November to find savings in military contracts...

As I've said before, this is basic maths, we first write down the two equations we know:

1. The Lib-Cons intend to increase overall spending each year for the next few years.
2. The Lib-Cons intend to reduce spending on 'frontline' stuff.

We can then subtract equation 2 from equation 1, and the answer is that the Lib-Cons are going to increase spending on the quangocracy and corporatist sectors - these made up about half of total government spending in the last year of New Labour! - quite significantly.

#OccupyRSI

The Daily Express sends a reporter to pitch a tent outside the Robin Smith Institute.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (172)

What makes life so difficult when arguing with Home-Owner-Ists is that while home owners and estate agents are happy to explain (or boast about) the factors that creates land values, they then go into complete denial mode when a Georgist points out that it is these self-same factors which create land values.

For example, the Home-Owner-Ists state that:

Houses close to public parks or open spaces now cost up to £21,000 more, revealing a “green premium”

Parents pay a £77,000 'premium' for homes near top state schools

the availability of good broadband internet access really can add value to your home

Every 60 seconds saved on the commuting time [from London] increases a home’s value by £1,300

One minute nearer the station adds £4,000 to the value of a home in London

and then there's the general observation that local wages are the main driver of local house prices or local rents. Of course, this is reinforced by the fact that in any geographical area there are higher earners who live in 'nice' areas and low earners who live in 'not so nice' areas, but that just illustrates that housing is a consumption good like any other.

So far so good.

It's interesting to filter out the impact of any individual factor, but they all overlap - a house in a high wage area may be nowhere near the station or the park, but might be near a good state school, and another house might be in a low wage area but near the station, the park and a good state school etc - suffice to say, all these factors overlap and we can tell what the net overall benefit of living in that area is by simply looking at local rents or local house prices.

And yes, there are negative factors as well, I wouldn't fancy living next to a nuclear power station, a prison or a sewage works, for example, but in most urban areas, land values are very much positive.

Now, there are those such as Longrider, who make bald and entirely unsubstantiated claims like this:

While one is living in a property, the “profit” does not exist – it is imaginary money and cannot, therefore, be at the expense of anyone.

The Homeys themselves do not dispute that the value of any location is made up of some combination of services or benefits provided by 'society in general' (see list above). And clearly, if you occupy land it is very much at the expense of 'everybody else' because you are excluding other members of society from things which they have provided (unless you are a subsistence farmer in the most inhospitable part of the Outer Hebrides, and in which case your potential Land Value Tax bill would by definition be precisely £nil).

Here's the bit with logic, hard facts and a bit of maths, to ignore at your leisure

i. We can do the same exercise with any factor that drives land values (a nice view, a good state school, local wages etc) but the example with London train stations is easiest to imagine. Let's assume that the landlord of a house which is half an hour's walk from the nearest station cannot charge any extra rent for 'being near the station' because frankly, the house isn't, I'm pretty sure that there is nowhere in London more than half an hour from a station, so this is our marginal land, the element of the rental value owed to the station is to all intents and purposes £nil.

ii. Between that marginal house and the station is thirty minutes walk, so our commuter would have to walk past (say) a thousand houses or flats to get to the station (one every two seconds, but there are houses and flats on each side of the road).

iii. We know from the list above that the rental value of a house near the station will be (say) £4,000 more than our marginal house, so we could also say that House 1 nearest the station owes £4,000 of its rental value to the station, House 2 the next one along owes £3,996, House 3 the next one £3,992 and so on.

iv. If the landowner of House 1 had not bought that site first, then the current owner of House 2 would have been able to build his house a few yards closer to the station and would be able to charge an extra £4 a year in rent, as would the owner of House 2 etc, all the way down to the owner of House 1,000 who can currently charge nothing extra, but would be able to charge £4 if he'd been able to build on Plot 999, and somebody else would have been able to build House 1,000.

v. So from the point of view of the owner of House 1, that extra £4,000 which he can charge is precisely equal to the reduction in rents of £4 each which each of 1,000 other owners has to accept. So the benefits accruing to the owner of House 1 is precisely equal to the sum total of the burden placed on 1,000 other houses of £4 each.

vi. The usual Homey get-out is "Yeah, but I am not a landlord, I am an owner-occupier and I am not collecting rent"; well clearly you are, the fact that no cash changes hands is irrelevant, it's like the owner of an apple tree who eats all his own crop claiming that the apple tree is of no value to him. Even if all the 1,000 houses in the above example were owner-occupied, the owner of House 1 is enjoying benefits which are equal to the burden placed on the owner-occupiers in houses 2 to 1,000.

vii. And if any of these owner-occupiers does not use the train (or send his kids to the local state school, work locally, use the local park, enjoys the view, whatever) then why is he so desperate to destroy value by denying others these opportunities? it's like the owner of an apple tree claiming that the tree has no value because he throws all the apples on the compost heap. For clarity: I do not propose taxing apple trees, or the income from growing or selling apples, merely the land on which they stand.

viii. And the usual Faux Lib get-out is "If house prices and rents are too high, then let's allow more houses to be built" which is:

a) Rank hypocrisy, because they are all NIMBYs when it comes down to it, and wail on about 'other people infringing on my property rights',

b) Completely ignores reality: there is clearly no point building House 1,001 as the rental value of Plot 1,001 will be negative - there is only any point building a house where the rental value is positive - there is only any point building something somewhere if you are placing a burden on 'everybody else', for example by knocking down Houses 1 to 9 and replacing them with a block of fifty flats, in which case the owners of Houses 961 to 1,000 will find that they do not get a seat on the train in the morning and their rental value falls accordingly.

c) Seriously completely ignores reality: if all young, hard working, well qualified people were allowed to build their own New Towns, then rental values in those New Towns would soon rocket, so this would only help the first wave of arrivals, and what would happen to all the existing towns which turn into ghettos full of all the left over civil servants, dole scroungers and pensioners? What have we achieved from this apart from wasting oodles of public and private investment and shoving the problem elsewhere?

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

I thought it was quite sweet really..

Angela Merkel is clearly madly in love with Nicolas Sarkozy, has been for years. If you look at pictures of her when she's out on her own, she really looks quite frighteningly dull and drab, but when she's out and about with little Nicky, her eyes sparkle, she smiles quite naturally etc.

Whether he's quite as keen on her, I don't know, but their whole relationship is more or less perfectly encapsulated in this short video of them having a good giggle at Berlusconi's expense. She politely suppresses her giggle until she glances across at him and then follows his lead:

The giant Nazi normal sized cow jumped over the Moon fence

Spotted by Chuckles at odditycentral.com:

Young Regina Mayer says Luna is definitely very clever, she knows what she can do and what she can’t. Right now she’s able to jump over a-meter-high hurdles, but the rider is confident this year they will reach 1.20 meters. She admits people always look at her funny when they see her riding a cow, but she wouldn’t dream of trading Luna for a horse. The trained cow has become her best friend, following her around wherever she goes, something a horse would never do.:UPDATE: Bayard has tracked her down on YouTube:

Ah, but is she really the 'main bread winner'?

A nice bit of regulatory capture featured in The Daily Mail:

Miriam Gonzalez has landed a top job as an EU trade chief in a move set to infuriate euro rebels, while the Coalition battles it out over the country's relationship with Brussels.

The wife of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is risking accusations of conflict of interest by taking a job with U.S. law firm Dechert, heading up the firm’s EU trade and EU government affairs practice.

Miss Gonzalez, a high-flying Spanish-born lawyer who has kept her maiden name, is already the main breadwinner in her family's household, earning an estimated £500,000 a year as a head of International Trade Law at DLA Piper.


Sure, he pays himself "only" £200,000-odd a year for being an MP and Deputy PM, and on paper she gets twice that, but how much would she be paid if she weren't the wife of the Deputy PM?

British corruption is all very genteel, of course these large corporations wouldn't dare pay a politician £500,000 a year while he's still in office. They normally make these payments after the politician concerned has lost or left office*, or they just declare his wife to be a "high-flying lawyer" and do it that way.

* See e.g. William Hague earning hundreds of thousands a year from giving lectures after he got chucked out as leader of the Tory party, despite being one of the dullest men alive, or Tony Blair being paid two million quid a year to advise JP Morgan, despite him knowing nothing about banking or finance.

"BES plans debt-to-equity swap"

Since the 'financial crisis' of 2008, loads and loads of non-financial companies have carried out debt-for-equity swaps, most noteably the Big Three car manufacturers in the USA (Ford $10 billion; Chrysler $2.5 billion; General Motors $27 billion, possibly a bit less than that), but because banks knew that they could con governments into using taxpayers' money to bail them out*, very few banks have done so.

Reuters give us a good recent example of a bank doing a debt-for-equity swap, albeit in a very small way:

Banco Espirito Santo, Portugal's second-largest bank by assets, wants to raise up to 791 million euros ($1.08 billion) capital through an offer to swap debt for stock that could lift its core tier 1 capital ratio close to a 10 percent target...

So you see, it can be done, it's nothing dramatic or anything.

* For sure, the US government also lent/invested $80 billion, but they look set to recover over 80% of that, which by government standards was a stupendously good investment.

Happy Birthday M25!

The Soaraway Sun lists twenty-five facts to celebrate the M25's twenty-fifth birthday this week. I doubt whether they are all true, but that just adds to the fun.

"Angry cow causes fall"

From stuff.co.nz:

A man has injured himself falling down a three-metre bank after he was chased by a cow.

The man, 50, injured his ribs this afternoon when he landed on a tree stump* at the bottom of the bank in Whareama, north of Riversdale on the Wairarapa coast. He was treated by the Masterton ambulance service before Westpac rescue helicopter flew him to Wellington Hospital.

Life Flight crewman Logan Taylor said the man was herding cows on his property when the accident happened. "I believe he was trying to herd a cow with a calf, and the cow turned on him and chased him, and as he was being chased he fell down a bank."

The man had been treated by ambulance paramedic when the helicopter arrived but was still in "quite a bit of pain", Mr Taylor said. He was now being treated at the hospital's emergency department.


* The cow knew exactly where to herd him in order to cause maximum pain on impact, eh?

Fuel poverty!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Fun Online Polls: Transport, Defence & EU referendum

Last week's Fun Online Poll ended up as a dead heat, with forty participants saying they'd rather be Transport Minister and forty saying they'd rather be Defence Minister.

Ho hum. I still think that Philip Hammond made a big mistake going from Transport to Defence, but time till tell.

Just to cheer us all up a bit after Monday, I'm going to run my own referendum as proposed in that back bench motion.

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

FWIW, there's now another online petition asking for the matter to be debated again, just in case we get the right result this time (following time-honoured EU tradition), see widget in sidebar.

It's for the cheeldren!

Homey Queen Kirstie, commenting on the IF Report at the BBC:

Television property show presenter Kirstie Allsopp says it is not fair to pick on the elderly (1) as they usually want to hang on to their homes for their children's sake. "It's not house hoarding. This is their home, (2)" she says. "A lot of that generation have done far more in life and taken far less than we have. (3)"

Wrong on so many levels, it's difficult to know where to start...

1) The system as it currently stands is massively stacked against young people, there's always a trade off here. Faced with a choice between buying an affordable house today, paid for out of your own money, or your parents inheriting your grandparent' overvalued house (quite possibly burdened with MEW debt), I know which most young people would choose. In any event, the real beneficiaries of Home-Owner-Ism are Baby Boomers, not those people who "fought in two world wars", i.e. everybody over the age of about 111; to have even fought in one world war you'd have to be aged at least 82...

2) OK, so they are not house hoarding (i.e. over-occypuing) they want to stay there because it is their home. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but your home is where you live, if you move from one house to another, you still have a home, don't you? Or possibly, they are house hoarding (i.e. over-occupying) because they want their children to inherit more housing than otherwise. Which is it to be?

3) Clearly, old people have 'done more' because they've been around for longer, but how does she define 'taken less'? Clearly, until the 1970s of so, people who bought houses usually bought new houses so they were merrily using up The Hallowed Green Belt, why is it so terrible if today's young people want to do the same? And as a matter of fact, today's working age population are paying much more in tax/NI than previous generations did and will receive much lower pensions much later in life.

Ms A declared her interest in all of this on Question Time a year or two ago and pointed out that her parents paid two shillings and sixpence for their London house several decades ago and it is now worth £2 million. But if you think about Inheritance Tax (not a good tax, but there you go), then if her parents really wanted their children to inherit as much as possible, they would down size pronto presto and give the net proceeds to their children, in the hope that they (the aged parents) live another seven years.

Why UK banks should welcome a partial Greek default

If 'they' decide that Greece will only repay part of the face value of its bonds (let's say seventy per cent) then obviously, that will harm UK banks, but it will harm their European competitors (especially the French ones) far, far more.

Firstly because UK banks invested relatively little in Greek government bonds, but also because the exchange rate gain largely cancels out the default loss.

For example, a UK bank invested £100 in Greek bonds in 2006 when GBP was worth EUR 1.46, it gets EUR 146 in bonds. Let's assume that the Greek do an official default and say that they will only repay seventy cents in the EUR, so the UK bank receives EUR 102.2. The UK bank converts this into GBP at today's exchange rate of 1.15 EUR per GBP, hey presto, its net proceeds are £88.87.

Sure, that's still a loss of 11%, all very ugly, but nothing that UK banks wouldn't survive. But the French and other European banks will be looking at losses of 30% without any currency gain and on larger underlying amounts, and given that banking is a highly leveraged business, losing 30% is not three times as bad as losing 11%, it's ten times as bad.

UPDATE: there's a fair summary of who owns how much in Greek bonds at The Independent.

Monday, 24 October 2011

At least we got a nice souvenir pass...

I spent a pleasant afternoon at the Houses of Parliament standing in one queue after another, with Witterings From Witney, Boiling Frog and Talking Clock for company, but by six o'clock I'd had enough and went home. You were supposed to hand in your lanyard and photo ID at the exit but I kept mine as a souvenir/trophy.

Moving ever closer to the Home-Owner-Ists' ultimate goal...

From The Daily Mail:

Millions are at risk of becoming ‘OAP mortgagees’ as they buy their first homes later in life. Many are being forced to rent for much longer than intended because of job insecurity and a credit drought.

Banks and building societies are also demanding large deposits before approving loans. As a result, more than a quarter of private tenants currently seeking to buy are now in their 40s. If they do manage to get on the property ladder, they will be faced with either paying off their mortgage faster than the 25-year norm, or being lumbered with repayments well into their 70s.

The number of households renting privately has risen by more than a million in less than a decade – from 2.1million in 2001 to 3.4million in 2010...

Be there or be square.

Meet up at College Green next to the Houses of Parliament from 12 o'clock onwards as a last and probably futile attempt to persuade MPs to vote to hold an In-Out Referendum.

Of course even if, by some miracle, they vote for one, then that's not say that one will be held; and even if one is held, that's not to say that the propagandists won't be out in such force as to trick us into voting to stay in, but hey...

Depending on your political persuasion, you can tag along with the People's Pledge, UKIP, some Conservatives, maybe even Bob Crow's lot will be there.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Crowd Formation

If you attend an event without any fixed seating, for example an open air rock festivals, but the same general rule applies to anything really, you'll observe that the first few people go and stand near the stage to get the best view/best sound.

As more and more people arrive, there comes a time at which the inconvenience of being jammed solid into a crowd with no possibility of being able to nip to the loo, get a beer etc and return to your friends makes it a more sensible option to stand further back; then the middle of the area fills up and it's a more sensible option to go even further back where you can spread out your blanket and have a nice sit down during the boring bits and so on.

You can sometimes misjudge this, maybe you arrive and think that you can spread out your blanket nearer the front, but as the more packed part of the crowd extends backwards, you'll find more and more people trampling on your blanket, blocking your view etc, so you then have to make a decision whether to roll up the blanket and shove a bit further forwards, or to make a tactical retreat further back.

So in the end, everybody makes their personal trade off between 'being at the centre of the action' and 'having a bit of spacef' and we end up with a fair, i.e. optimal, utilisation of the physical space. There are no privileges involved; everybody pays the same for his ticket (those who turn up extra early to be in the front row have effectively paid 'extra' because they have to 'spend' several hours of their time just standing there before the concert starts) and everybody gets much the same value.

Here's my simplified sketch of the relative densities: Regular readers will no doubt have guessed what I am driving at here:

i. I'd consider this to be the free market base case scenario, and in the absence of planning restrictions, this is also how cities grow; smaller buildings on larger plots in the centre, which have been there since the city was a hamlet, are knocked down and replaced with skyscrapers, and the houses with big gardens are found further out.

ii. Now, if a ticket to this concert costs £50 and we consider the stage to be 'the centre' then we could say that the people crammed in at the front are paying for half a sq yard each, so the rent is £100/sq yard; the people in the middle occupy one or two sq yards each, so the rent is £25 - £50/sq yard and the people at the crowd sitting on blankets are occupying two or three sq yards each, so the rent is £17 - £25/sq yard.

iii. But because everybody makes his or her own trade-off and has his or her own marginal preferences, everybody ends up getting the same value, and there is no concept of 'freehold', you can only claim the space you can physically occupy; if you're sharing a blanket with friends, they can save your space for the ten or fifteen minutes it takes you to nip to the loo or to the bar, but if you stay away for too long, somebody else will encroach on your space.

iv. Exactly the same logic applies with towns and cities. Rents at 'the centre', whatever that happens to be - the literal town centre, or anything else which draws people to an area, primarily higher wages, a train station, a good state school, a nice view - will be highest and they will fall away the further a location is from that centre.

UPDATE: Sobers in the comments gives another good example of a "centre": a "nice area" which means an area where "nice people" live, even if this is just a formerly run down area which has become gentrified.

v. Now, isn't it fair to say that the people in the front rows of the concert are placing a burden on those further behind? Surely yes, because everybody else behind them would probably rather be a bit further forward. And isn't it also fair to say that those directly behind them are placing a burden on those at the front because they are squashing them forward? And they are also placing a burden on those behind them, because if they weren't standing up, then the people further back wouldn't need to stand up to see the stage, and so on?

vi. Even those spread out on blankets at the back are placing a [smaller] burden on those in the middle, because if the people on blankets at the back weren't there, the people in the middle wouldn't have had to roll up their blankets and stand up. And so on.

vii. Now, imagine we are looking at a town or city; there is no concert and no stage. All it is a lot of people, and a large part of the rents that people are paying is because they want to be near other people (higher population density = higher wages, more train stations, more good schools, probably more impressive parks and museums etc).

viii. So there is no identifiable band or concert promoter ('land lord') who can makes the area desirable (however temporarily) who can legitimately charge for the entry ticket (or 'rent'), it is the population itself (who are thus simultaneously 'land lords' and 'tenants'). Allowing land lords or land owners (in the traditional sense) to collect land rent (or sell their land for more than £negligible) is like allowing people to turn up early at the concert, put down some blankets near the stage and then for these early arrivers to charge other people money for the privilege of standing on them, i.e. drive a wedge between the total amount that people will pay to stay in the front row and the value which the band or concert promoter receives.

ix. If everybody paid rent to the rest of the population (the 'land lords') for the land from which they wish to exclude others, i.e. occupy or 'own' (instead of paying income tax), then surely this would lead to the optimum use of land (the same as at our rock festival).

x. Finally, it seems stupid to tax incomes because the people who add the most value, run the most successful businesses etc are also the ones which make the town a more attractive place to live - the incremental extra income that they can earn by living there rather than anywhere else is already being paid in rent - and these are the ones who should be encouraged to move to the town. So why do we have a tax system which discourages people from working and encourages people to merely try and own as much land as possible and collect the rents which others are generating from those people themselves? The only point of working seems to be to try and get enough money together to buy enough land to be able to pack in working and become a landlord instead.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (171)

I think it must be pretty obvious that everybody has to live somewhere, even land value taxers, so Homeys can always play the man not the ball; if a land value taxer is a tenant or only owns a small house, they'll say he's proposing LVT for his own personal advantage; if on the other hand, a land value taxer lives in a big or an expensive house, he is accused of rank hypocrisy.

The Daily Mail plays the man with naked glee:

He is the man who believes* that millions of Britain’s pensioners are, to put it bluntly, taking up too much space. Last week Angus Hanton and his Labour-backed think-tank** launched a report saying that ‘empty nesters’ should be ‘encouraged’ through a new land tax to downsize. This, it was argued, would help make room for younger generations...

After hearing him outlining his radical ideas on the radio, they might have spared a thought for Mr Hanton’s own elderly parents. What kind of shoebox dwelling did he have them holed up in? In fact, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Alastair and Margaret Hanton live alone in a £1.5 million five-bedroom home in one of London’s most desirable suburbs.

So has their son – himself a father of four who, incidentally, lives with his family in an £850,000 house nearby – tried to harangue them into vacating it? After all, his organisation’s report, Hoarding Of Housing, says there are 25 million unused bedrooms in England alone and eight million ‘under-occupied’ homes...


In the instant case, I'd take this as evidence that he is being quite sincere about his proposals, but on Planet Home-Owner-Ist, logic is there to be twisted.

* It's not a question of 'what he believes', he trawled all the available statistics and published them here (pdf).

** The IF is no such thing, at least, there is no evidence for it.

Calm down dear, it's only an E.coli infection

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Cow attack fail

Spotted by Pavolv's Cat at the BBC:

Two cows have been killed in a crash with a lorry on a main road in Cumbria.

Emergency services were called to the A6 at Plumpton, near Penrith, shortly before 21:00 BST on Friday. The accident involved three animals and two of them died at the scene. The lorry driver was unhurt. The road was blocked while the animals were removed. Cumbria Police said they were investigating how the animals got on to the road.


If you're going to do cars, the best technique appears to be the encouraging a driver to swerve into oncoming traffic. And if you're willing to sacrifice yourself, then why not try derailing a train? See here and even if the train doesn't hit you it causes massive delays while you are carrying out the recce

Friday, 21 October 2011

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (170)

Let's hold our noses and dip back in to the next two paragraphs of the Homey/Faux Lib ranting in yesterday's City AM in which the author misprepresents and then trashes the IF's fine report:

...In view of the real housing shortage (1), the charity’s surreal answer is that the government should tax the elderly into smaller homes. It would (how generous) exempt the over-60s from stamp duty when they sell to move to a smaller home; and it wants to replace the council tax with a land tax, "to reflect the social cost of occupying ... housing that is larger than one’s needs" (2). In a very welcome move, housing minister Grant Shapps dismissed the idea, replying that the elderly would not be bullied out of their homes.(3)

The report correctly laments the decline of UK home ownership, which went down from 70.9 per cent in 2003 to 67.4 per cent today.(4) Owning one’s home is now virtually impossible for the young.(5) But the shortage of housing and its high cost are in large part the consequence of state interference. Supply can’t satisfy demand as land prices are kept high by legal rationing. Building is held back by regulatory restrictions. The answer isn’t to ration homes – instead, government needs to make planning permission simpler, so more houses are built.(6)


Nope.

1) There is no 'real housing shortage', that was the whole point of the report, did he not read it?

2) There is a social/economic cost to land-ownership; this cost imposed on others is, broadly speaking, equal to the benefits accruing to the land-owner. What's wrong with taxing such costs? Admittedly, that external cost is much the same whether the land itself is over- or underoccupied, but then again, over-occupation imposes a cost on the over-occupier as well, things like 'fuel poverty' and the fact that their children and grandchildren have to move far, far away to be able to find somewhere they can afford to rent or buy.

The bitter irony is that a lot of Homeys were bleating 'Oh but I need spare bedrooms in case relatives come to stay', well, if there was more downsizing and more new construction, then people would be able to afford live closer to their ageing parents and so there'd be no need to keep a spare bedroom on the off chance that they make an occasional visit.

3) The Homeys are doing a fine job of that themselves, aren't they? Isn't it quite clearly the case that young people are quite deliberately and calculatedly being denied the chance of ( or "being bullied out of") owning their own homes on the same favourable terms as older people did? The whole point of Home-Owner-Ism is, ultimately, to reduce the number of owner-occupiers...

4) ... as is clearly evidenced by this stark statistic.

5) Yup, that's the whole point of not having LVT, so that each generation can skew the playing field against the next one. Each generation hikes taxes on incomes, employment, profits etc and reduces taxes on land, thus amplifying the transfer from young to old and further concentrating land ownership in ever fewer hands.

6) Faux Lib bullshit, frankly. 'The state' as an abstract concept couldn't give too hoots about how many houses are built or not, it is the self-same Home-Owner-Ists who make bloody sure that what were once basically sensible planning rules are interpreted to mean that 'nothing new may be built'.

If the current government scrapped all planning laws tomorrow, you can be bloody sure that at the next General Election, whichever party promised to reinstate them all would get straight into power. In any event, the report makes it perfectly clear that this exercise of NIMBY electoral power has contributed to the present state of affairs (and recommends iberalising planning laws). And just you wait until the council grants planning for something near where a Faux Lib lives, they turn into raving blue-socialist NIMBYs like anybody else.

Short (?) List

In olden times, female starlets and celebs would get married to other showbiz people. A more recent trend has been snaring a Premier League footballer.

Now a new trend is emerging, and the done thing nowadays appears to be to leave your showbiz husband/partner and get married to/have relationship with a property developer/estate agent. To get the ball rolling:

Holly Vallance

Mel B aka Sporty Spice

Anthea Turner

Sophie Raworth

Antheas Redfern

Samia Smith out of Coronation Street

Caroline Corr out of The Corrs

Lynda Bellingham out of the Oxo Family

One of the earliest examples of this is Tessa Wyatt out of Robin's Nest, ex wife of Tony Blackburn, who married a property developer in 1986.

Emma Boon on top form

Emma Boon of the TPA, who waste most of their time bleating about Council Tax talks sense in today's City AM Forum:

The national insurance fund is little more than an accounting fiction. The government is already consulting on moving to a flat rate pension and qualifying years for that benefit could as easily be assessed on number of years paying income tax as number of years paying national insurance...

... transparency is fundamentally a feature of this tax reform, not a bug. If the real basic rate is 40.2 per cent, not 20 per cent; the real higher rate is 49 per cent not 40 per cent; and the top rate is 57.8 per cent, as the Centre for Policy Studies has suggested, then it is better people should know that than be misled into thinking they are getting a better deal than they actually are. An honest tax system would mean a better-informed public debate and could even improve industrial relations.


Lengthy, but well worth a read.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Minutes walking distance from the station (again)

From yesterday's Evening Standard: Comparing the 10- and 30- minute walk prices suggests about £3,000 per minute saved, which is much higher than £1,300 (here) or £1,667 (here) per minute extra for saving one minute's commute time on the train, but those two figures are reduced because taking the train costs money, so half the £3,000 raw saving is soaked up in ticket prices.

Assuming two commuters per household, one minute's extra each way five times a week, fifty weeks a year = 17 hours. £3,000 on your mortgage @ 6% interest and capital repayments is an extra £180 cost per year, so that suggests that people buying houses in London value their free time at about £10 an hour more than time spent commuting (understandable enough), and this is one of many factors which drive land values.

This is a real life illustration of what Fraggles explained on a more cerebral basis here: for every minute nearer the station, the rent is (say) £180 a year higher, so what the landlord is doing is

a) forcing a lot of people to live a little bit further away from the station (placing a burden on them and robbing each one of hundreds of people of a few seconds a day, for which he does not need to compensate them) and then

b) making his tenants pay £10 an hour for the value of their own time.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (169)

The IF's fine report gets the usual "lies and distortion" treatment in today's City AM:

Let's start with the headline: "Don’t give house room to illiberal spare-bed taxes"

So it complete lies and misinformation right from the off. The report called for no such thing, it merely pointed out that housing is very badly allocated in the UK; there are single pensioners in three-bed houses they can't afford to heat; and young couples crammed into one-bedroom flats. The report used 'number of spare bedrooms' as a measure of over-occupation and to illustrate the point.

At no stage does the reportid they propose a tax on 'spare-bed taxes', their actual very modest suggestions are on page 28 for anybody can be bothered to read them.

Then we stumble as far as the first lines of the article itself:

A MISGUIDED charity has called upon the government to take action against elderly people who live in large homes. In its outrageous report Hoarding of Housing, the Intergenerational Foundation (IF) takes aim at 25m "unused"” bedrooms in England...

F- off, no it hasn't, no it didn't (see above).

Pensioners have their pressure groups and charities (fake or otherwise) and they get a lot of 'help' from the taxpayer (£100-billion odd in cash pensions + half of NHS spending, for example), for sure, they don't all live in the lap of luxury (the Baby Boomers saw to that), but they've paid less tax and will collect more pension than today's young people.

Baby Boomers have their pressure groups and charities (National Trust, CPRE) and they actually run the country for their own benefit, they have ruined the economy with Home-Owner-Ism; they have ruined the national finances with deficit spending and trample all over the interests of the young (i.e. their own children).

Is it so terrible if a charity-cum-pressure group dares to stick up for young people, who are truly getting a shit deal in terms of unemployment, education, housing, opportunity to start a family, anything really? Why is sticking up for yourself automatically "misguided" or "outrageous"?

The article then peddles more Homey-Faux Libertarian shite, which I might return to later.

Base Rate Conunmdrum - Supplementay

Transformer cow

Spotted by Pavlov's Cat at Katu.com:

MOUTH, Oregon - A farmer looking for a lost cow found a fully operational pre-World War II artillery shell backed with 15 pounds of TNT, the Polk County Sheriff's Office said...

The shell was fully operational with a high explosive tip attached. The shell measured over two feet in length and weighed approximately 113 pounds. The high explosive tip contained approximately 15 pounds of TNT.

No word yet on whether the farmer has found his cow.


Hardly surprising is it, seeing as the only rational explanation here is that the cow transformed itself into the live shell in the hope the farmer would stumble across it and blow himself up?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Base rate conundrum

Exhibit One

In February 2009, somebody claimed that until the credit crunch, the BoE base rate merely tracked 3-month sterling LIBOR with a one or two month delay, so I stuck the official numbers on a spreadsheet and posted the chart here (along with a chart comparing the two since 1978, which is even more striking), click to enlarge: I've not updated that chart since then because the base rate hasn't moved and 3-month LIBOR has bobbed between 0.6% and 1%.

We will never know, did the people setting the base rate track 3-month LIBOR, or did the people setting LIBOR accurately predict the base rate; or did they both base their rates on other factors, such as inflation?

Exhibit Two

The Daily Mail published a handy table yesterday comparing the base rate and CPI Inflation: As you can see, until late 2008, the base rate (and hence 3-month LIBOR) was quite simply CPI inflation plus about four per cent and no messing; that rule no longer seems to hold.

Now, if LIBOR used to be based on inflation expectations, we'd expect to see this at about nine per cent, but it's not, it's at one per cent. Which all strongly suggests to me that people deciding LIBOR anticipate the base rate rather than inflation, but we're still stuck with the old problem of causation and correlation.

"It's a miracle I'm alive"

From The Daily Mail:

Dog walker describes terrifying attack by a kangaroo... Janet Karson, from Deanmill in southwestern Australia, required more than 20 stitches to her ears following the assault and was convinced at the time she would die.

She was strolling with her two dogs on Saturday and, when one ran ahead, the animal was confronted by the huge marsupial, who appeared by surprise...

Kangaroo attacks against humans are rare, but they do happen occasionally. In July, a 94-year-old Australian woman fought off an attacking red kangaroo with a broom before police subdued the animal with pepper spray.


Strewth, Sheila etc.

Good Thing/Bad Thing

Over-occupation and under-utilisation of housing is A Good Thing

The Intergenerational Foundation had the gall and temerity to produce a report (Hoarding of Housing), pointing out that:

* Under-occupation of houses is encouraged by the tax [and welfare] system and there are 25 million [unused] bedrooms in under-occupied houses in England... Under-occupied housing has increased from 20% of all households to about 33%, according to the English Housing Survey.

* The divide between the housing-haves and housing-have-nots has moved from being one dominated by class to one dominated by age. The huge increase in housing wealth by the older generation was broadly matched by a big increase in mortgage debt by younger people. This is important as housing wealth has grown rapidly from about the same as GDP in 1980 to about twice that level over the last 30 years.


They offer a few commonsense policies on page 28, if you're interested.

The Powers That Be promptly unleashed the inevitable shit storm. Housing Minister Grant Shapps, bowing to his masters, said "Whilst this report makes interesting reading, we do not agree that people should be taxed or bullied out of their homes. Instead we will work with families to ensure that housing becomes more affordable over time."

What he really means that it fine to tax and bully young people out of the possibility of home-ownership (or at least making them pay the earth for it), and by implication that the UK government sees over-occupation, especially by older people, as A Very Good And Desirable Thing Indeed...

Over-occupation and under-utilisation of housing is A Bad Thing

... or does it? Meanwhile, a different government minister talks sense and acknowledges that it is A Bad Thing:

Spare bedrooms for people in social housing are a luxury the country can no longer afford, a minister has said. Tenants with spare rooms will lose £11 a week in housing benefit under changes going through Parliament...

Asked by You and Yours presenter Julian Worricker, if a spare bedroom should be regarded as a "luxury" for those in social housing, Lord Freud said: "Exactly - we have got a housing benefit expenditure that is simply out of control. It's very unfair for taxpayers to have to fund people to live in property that's larger than they can afford themselves. And also that means that people don't make the same choices, and are faced with those choices, that they would if they were non benefit recipients."


Can they make up their minds, please?

Cornish Pixie Piskey spotted in Dorset rhubarb patch

Over at The Daily Mail.

Real Reform at OccupyLSX

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The swords of a thousand men

Good points on London airport expansion

From a reader's letter in the FT:

Aircraft take off and land into wind – this reduces the ground speed required for flight and the length of runway required. In the UK, 80 per cent of winds are westerly [i.e. blow from west to east), so at Heathrow, aircraft are predominately flying low and slow over Greater London to land on the two westerly runways.

Heathrow, like most airports, has a mandatory 3 degree glide slope approach which results in a descent of 300ft per mile on the ground. This means aircraft over the centre of our capital city are descending through 1,500ft over our most populated areas.

If we consider London to be a circle, the worst possible position for an airport is therefore in the 9 o’clock position – where we have inadvertently built our biggest airport. Far better to have these low and slow aircraft landing at airports in the 12 o’clock (Luton), 3 o’clock (Thames estuary) or 6 o’clock position (Gatwick) where their approaches will not affect such large areas of population.

Aircraft accident data show that the majority of incidents occur on the approach to land; when an aircraft is at its most vulnerable, low and slow...


If you think that through, then the 3 o'clock position is not ideal either; which goes for London City and a possible Thames estuary airport. For sure, aircraft climb far more steeply after take off (and then they always seem to veer off wildly to port or starboard, I sit in my back garden watching them) than they descend before landing, but the same general east-west rule applies; aircraft would still be banking steeply over the greater London area. I'm no expert on these matters, but AFAIAA, the second most dangerous part of air travel is the take-off bit, so better safe than sorry.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Fun Online Polls: Xmas decorations & Philip Hammond

OK, I shall close the fill-in FOP on Xmas decorations. By now, half of us have seen some and half of us haven't (or have managed to ignore them to the point of not even noticing them) and return to more interesting matters.
--------------------------------------------
Defence Secretary is normally seen as a very senior job, certainly more senior than Transport Secretary, so on the face of it, Philip Hammond was promoted once the totally not-corrupt-at-all Liam Fox resigned in such an honourable and dignified fashion last week. Interestingly, the defence lobbyists seem to have got their knives out for Hammond already, but hey.

Now, as it happens, Philip Hammond was originally pencilled in by the Tories as Treasury Secretary (or 'Chief Secretary to the Treasury' or whatever the exact fancy title is) but was shuffled sideways because they had to give the job to a Lib Dem as part of the Coalition negotiations. The first incumbent David Laws was booted out because of some expense-claim shenanigans and was replaced by another Lib Dem, Danny Alexander.

Despite all this, and having been made Transport Secretary at short notice, Philip Hammond seemed to a) know what he was talking about and b) be enjoying the job. I just can't help liking him and his ve-e-ery dry sense of humour (despite him being an über-Home-Owner-Ist and all, at least he was prepared to go into battle over the HS2 route).

But is it really a promotion? Who really wants the job as Defence Secretary?

I'd far rather be Transport Secretary and really achieve something - raise the speed limit on motorways, turn off the traffic lights, build a few new railway lines, allow a new runway to be built at Gatwick or Luton, cut bus fares, whatever - than be blundering around in the MoD morass, there is no concept of 'value for money' in that department, it's all about massive vanity projects and nothing to do with what really benefits the UK. As Transport Secretary, you can quietly plan out the next few years and work towards a target; as Defence Secretary you are pushed and pulled every which way, and by and large, you usually end up resigning and being hated by all and sundry.

So that's this week's Fun Online Poll: "Which job would you prefer... Minister for Defence or Minister for Transport?"

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Yeah, but he was only 98 when he set off

100-year-old man finishes marathon

"120,000 problem families cost £8bn"

From The Evening Standard:

Britain's 120,000 greediest families are costing the economy well over £8 billion a year, the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said today.

Unveiling plans to turn around their lives, Mr Pickles said the "silo approach" by some of the 20 local agencies dealing with the problems caused by bonus-hungry bankers, subsidised landowners, private landlords, estate agents, house price speculators and NIMBYs, as well as quangocrats generally, meant that it was costing up to £330,000 per household.

He told town hall chiefs that by spending £14,000 on helping every such layabout into productive employment, the state could save £70,000 per household.

"Look at it this way," he added "Paying an unemployed family £25,000 a year to sit around and watch television seems like a waste of taxpayers' money, but it's still a lot better value than the £1 million-plus annual bonuses being paid to the people running state-owned banks like RBS."

Ah well, at least the proper Commies hate us too...

From WorldSocialism.org:

Date: Tuesday, 18 October 2011 - 8:00pm - 10:00pm
Chiswick Town Hall, Heathfield Terrace, London W4 4JN
All welcome. Audience participation. Free entry

Discussion between the Socialist Party and David Wetzel.
Former Leader of Hounslow Council and tax reformer Dave Wetzel (see http://markwadsworth.blogspot.com/2011/10/dave-wetzel-on-bbc-politics-show.html) subjects his views to the Marxian socialist criticism that a tax on land values will make no difference to the position of the majority class of wage and salary workers as it would still leave the rest of capitalism intact.


That's the whole point about Georgism: it leaves proper capitalism intact, and if anything it helps it (because it prevents corporatism etc). I see that as a big plus, obviously.

Well, that was a waste of bullets...

... Police shoot dead man in a wheelchair

Mildly interesting, totally irrelevant

From The Metro:

A ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror found 39 per cent of voters believe Scotland should be a separate country, while 38 per cent disagreed. When the same question was asked in May, only 33 per cent of Britons backed independence for Scotland.

Among Scottish voters, 49 per cent were in favour and 37 per cent disagreed. In May, the figures were 38 per cent for and 46 per cent against independence....


So much to mildly interesting.

... However, a spokesman for the Scottish Office suggested the poll's findings did not reflect the true picture, as only 176 of the 2,004 people surveyed were from Scotland.

The Scottish Office are clearly complete jokers. Scotland's population is just over eight per cent of the total UK population, so if you are interviewing 2,004 people, it seems correct to interview just over 160 people from Scotland (so if anything, they interviewed slightly too many from Scotland).

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Deer-vehicle-collisions

VFTS directs our attention towards an article in today's Sunday Times, which includes the following statements:

1. The Highways Agency estimated that there were at least 42,000 collisions between deer and vehicles each year.

2. The UK deer population has more than doubled in the past decade to two million.

3. The muntjac has earned itself the name 'Asbo bambi' and its numbers are increasing more rapidly than for other types of deer. [This claim appears to be wholly insubstantiated and I shall not dwell on it further].

4. The cost of damage and injury caused by collisions between cars and deer (it's unclear whether they mean 'all deer' or 'muntjac deer') is £10 million a year.

I'm sure Dearieme will have some valuable anecdotal on what the best speed is to hit a deer (depending on its size), i.e. fast enough to ensure a clean kill on the one hand but not so fast as to render it to an inedible pulp on the other, but those statistics don't make sense as they have been culled (pun intended) from at least two quite separate sources (two of which are referred to in the article):

The Highways Agency says

- Estimated total deer population in England is 700,000 deer (I suppose it's possible that there are twice as many in S, W and NI, thus reconciling with the two million figure)

- there are an estimated 34,000 to 60,000 deer-vehicle-collisions ('DVCs') every year.

- the percentage of DVCs by type of deer involved are fallow (40%), roe (32%), and muntjac (25%), with red, sika, and Chinese water deer contributing less than 3%. In Scotland, where fallow are far less widespread, roe (69%) and red (25%) are most commonly recorded in DVCs.

The People's Trust for Endangered Species (2011 report) says:

- Invasive deer species are generally on the increase, as are native deer. Muntjac are expanding their range the most rapidly of all UK deer, and account for 22% of road traffic accidents involving deer in England alone, with an economic impact estimated at more than £10 million per year.

The Telegraph said (two years ago)

The deer population in Britain has risen sharply in recent years and is now between 1.5 and 2 million. The boom in numbers has lead to an increasing number of motorists being injured in collisions with the animals on the road.

Even assuming that they aren't all just quoting each other's figures, the 40,000 DVCs seems rather on the high side, that would mean that about one in five hundred motorists has a DVC every year, i.e. by the end of your motoring life, one in ten motorists will have hit a deer, but just about plausible. I've no idea where the £10 million for cost of accidents is from, that would average out at £250 per accident, which appears to be on the low side. Or maybe the £10 million just relates to the one quarter of DVCs involving muntjac, which works out at £1,000 cost per accident (much more plausible).

But now we know, or at least we know that we don't know.