Friday, 24 January 2020

Weird proportions

My £3,456.96 Honda CRX III "Del Sol" ca. 1996

Basic car £1,050, plus another £2,406.96 on various bits and pieces and labour:

MOT fail type stuff
ABS sensors (salvage) - £100.00
Rear trailing arm rubber bushes - £66.00
Rear trailing arm (new) - £64.38
Rear trailing arms (salvage incl. shipping from USA, ordered in haste/anger and not actually needed) - £76.10
Catalytic converter - £33.95
New clutch kit - £102
Fitting the above stuff incl. brake pads/discs and tracking - £1,119.39
Replacement number plate (original one fell off on the motorway) - £21.00

Not so essential but nice to have
Wiper blades - £24.00
Interior light cover (salvage) - £10.00
New floor mats - £32.90
Leather steering wheel cover - £15.00
New stereo - £105.00
Clip-on cup holders - £20.00
4 x Uniroyal Rainsport 3 tyres* and balancing - £219.22
MOT and new front windscreen** - £397.98

All I need now is a working aerial mechanism, as it doesn't retract properly, which is not cool. And a bit of welding on the rear arches. Maybe replacement rear panels and a respray..?

* It came with two 'budget' front tyres and two OK rear tyres, one of which was irreparably punctured last month. With the new tyres, the steering and handling has gone from 'pretty awful' to 'pretty good actually'.

** The windscreen wasn't badly damaged, but with a million tiny scratches, it looked nearly opaque when the sun was shining on it at a certain angle. Which was disconcerting to say the least.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Fender was guilty of what, exactly?

From The Guardian:

The guitar maker Fender has been fined £4.5m for price fixing by the UK's competition watchdog as part of its clampdown on the musical instrument industry.

The Competition and Markets Authority imposed the penalty on Fender Europe for breaking competition law by preventing online discounting for its guitars. It is the biggest fine issued in Britain for this type of price fixing, which is known as resale price maintenance.

The funny thing is that there used to be a Resale Price Maintenance Act. Under that Act, the Courts would have intervened on behalf of Fender against the discounters, precisely the opposite of what they are doing now.. 

UK supermarkets clubbed together and had this Act overturned back in 2001, and rightly so IMHO. DBC Reed would hotly disagree.

If a company has a monopoly, especially a government protected one or a monopoly over "essentials", then I can see an argument for government intervention, like price caps for mains water.

But Fender don't have a monopoly on electric guitars and electric guitars are hardly "essentials". They don't even have a monopoly on the iconic Telecaster and Stratocaster shapes - other manufacturers have been making copies for decades, some of which are qualitatively better than Fenders for a lower price.

And if Fender don't want to sell their guitars to somebody - for whatever reason - then under the general "freedom of contract" concept, I don't see why they should be punished.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

The state/private divide

Anecdote: I was with the Ukippers at Westminster several years ago, lobbying our MPs. When it was finished, we discussed what we were doing next and I told them I was off up to St Pauls to give the Occupy people a bit of support. Those who expressed an opinion said I was bonkers, either you're right wing or you're left wing.

I didn't see a contradiction. The elements of the EU I don't like is the corporatism and the general meddling in people's lives; I agree with the Occupy people that The One Per Cent are taking the piss. Many incorrectly assume they were 'anti-capitalist" and some were, but if you think about it, the Occupy movement was anti-corporatist (mainly anti-banks).

My view on all this is quite simple and coherent, there is:

a) "the state" or "society" (that which belongs to everybody and/or nobody), and

b) the private sector (private businesses and what people get up in their own homes or their own business premises).

All developed states/societies do fairly similar things and have similar values, we just have to accept that. Czechoslovakia split into two and each half continued doing pretty much what the predecessor country had been doing.

In a perfect world, states only do things where the benefit exceeds the cost/burden (provide public and merit goods, welfare/pensions, regulate or break up monopolies etc). There are plenty of examples. And there are plenty of counter-examples: HS2, tobacco control officers, foreign aid payments, Help To Buy etc.

To the extent that the state does things, they should benefit (or burden) everybody as equally as possible. That is the only way to maximise the value that a state can add (which they clearly can, as the alternative is anarchy or warfare); and the only way to maximise people's personal or economic liberty. The freedom of people not to be slaves is more valuable than the freedom of a minority to own slaves.

As far as possible state should not do things which only benefit a particular group of people (like immigrants getting favourable treatment under New Labour) or things which only burden a particular group of people (like immigrants being treated like crap by the Tories). Or give favourable treatment to those hereditary welfare claimants, the Royal Family. You can't favour one group without there being an equal and opposite (though often invisible) burden on everybody outside the group.

The state shouldn't really do things that only benefit owners of a particular type of asset (like land or IP) or a particular type of business (mainly FIRE sector). But where practicalities say it has to (private land ownership/occupation; protect IP under the Treaty of Rome; banking), then it should claw back those benefits in tax payments (aka Land Value Tax, taxes on IP income or a Bank Asset Tax).

In a perfect world, every state school would be "excellent" but the situation is inherently unstable. Some schools will always be better than others (vicious and virtuous circles) so people don't all get the same benefit, depending where they live. The good schools increase local land values, so again, LVT will level this playing field.

Most businesses do not get any special treatment, so they should be paying a lot less tax. The tax system should not be biased against employees and productive businesses, who have extra taxes imposed on them (NIC and VAT respectively).
The basic logic applies to everything.

Democracy is good ("a terrible system, but much better than any of the alternatives"), but with First Past The Post, most people live in safe seats so their votes are nigh worthless. So I support some form of PR (such as multi-member constituencies), that way everybody's vote has a similar weight.

A welfare state is part of parcel of what states do. Some people take the piss (see endless stories about people on disability benefits posting photos of themselves in the gym on Facebook) and some are denied welfare (see endless stories about people being persecuted under Universal Credit rules). So I support Universal Basic Income for all.

In the private sector, parties are not always of equal bargaining power and do not have access to the same information. So we need some level of statutory rights for employees to level the playing field between employee/employer and between good employers/bad employers.

But you have to be careful about going too far - that results in bad employees taking the piss; or act as barriers to entry - in relative terms, things like maternity leave (or a bad employee taking the piss) are absolutely no problem for large employers but can be make or break for small employers. If you go too far, the playing field becomes less level again.

Same goes for consumer protection, by and large it works, but as Lola has posted often enough, in some sectors (financial services) it is form filling for the sake of form filling to keep bureaucrats in work. It's a huge burden for small businesses and not such a burden for larger ones (once you've got FSA authorisation, other businesses pay you to use your registration) and of course, no barrier at all to the real fraudsters who don't bother with the forms, or just lie on the forms. The costs of this far outweigh any possible benefits and it's a kind of barrier to entry (unlevels the playing field).

I'm perfectly happy with same-sex marriage, but also I don't see the problem with that cake decorator in Northern Ireland refusing to do the cake for a gay wedding. Marriage is a "state" thing, and there's no reason for gays to be treated as second class citizens; a private business is a private business and they can turn down any customers they like, even for petty and small minded reasons. And the gay couple can shop elsewhere.

As to personal liberty, if something isn't actually or potentially harming a third party, it should be allowed. Taking drugs in your own home or business premises is fine - but not driving under the influence of drugs. Breast feeding in public is fine, as is wearing a burka. Some people (including me) find one or the other (or all) of these things objectionable or offensive. Tough, it's none of our business, we have to live and let live.

And so on and so forth.

Here endeth today's lesson.

Monday, 20 January 2020

"One in five UK businesses ‘financially stressed’, says KPMG"

From Accountancy Today:

One in five UK businesses are "financially stressed", according to new research from KPMG's restructuring practice.

The practice analysed the filings of all UK businesses with revenues over £10m in the five year period to the end of 2018. Trading performance, profitability, cashflow, liquidity and debt leverage were all analysed to produce a score to identify financial stress and distress among these businesses.

What KPMG fail to mention is that their rapacious audit fees (monopoly rent) are a major contributor towards their clients' financial stress, taking one or two per cent of turnover on average.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (478)

KLN: "Valuations and collection will be a very complicated."

Well, firstly, no they won't. We can get 90% of the way to Land Value Tax by tweaking Council Tax (and Business Rates) valuations to reflect relative values and use the existing collection mechanism, which will be easier because owners will be primarily liable, not occupants/tenants.

And complicated compared to what, exactly?

LVT would be a good replacement tax for Council TaxCapital Gains Tax, Stamp Duty Land Tax and Inheritance Tax, just to get the ball rolling.

If you want to see "complicated", click the above links to the relevant legislation. Council Tax (Local Government Finance Act 1992) is a model of clarity and brevity compared the other three acts.

Council Tax raises more revenue than the other three taxes combined with about one-tenth as much legislation and practically zero compliance costs. And it's not just legislation. Those three minor taxes require endless further guidance and an intrusive bureaucracy - and generate high fees for lawyers and accountants.

There are whole books written on these three taxes - how many books are there on Council Tax? Pretty much none. Your land and buildings are assessed and you just pay it. Don't want to pay so much? Then move somewhere cheaper.

And a proper Land Value Tax Act would be a about half the length of already brief Council Tax and Business Rates legislation put together. Instead of all the discounts and exemptions, there'd only be the roll-up option for pensioners. And I suppose a clause to say that local councils can introduce as many discounts and exemptions they like, provided they bear the full cost (either by spending less or imposing a precept on "everybody else").
(Stamp Duty on share sales is another dreadful tax, but it would seem appropriate to make up the shortfall from scrapping it by increasing the corporation tax rate so that costs and benefits cancel out).

"How to win back Northern voters" by Keir Starmer

From City AM:

Meanwhile, the start of Labour’s leadership contest has revolved around winning back Northern voters, with candidates scuttling to distance themselves from ties to the capital.

Frontrunner, and Holborn and St Pancras MP, Sir Keir Starmer was quick to point out in a recent interview that while he was born in London, that he in fact grew up in Surrey.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Great one-liner in The Next Step, Season 7 Episode 2.

Finn: "I have a photogenic memory."

Before anybody can correct him, he follows up with...

"All my memories are really good looking."

FlyBe Nonsense

This sounds like utter guff to me

The number of passengers it carries pales by comparison with better-known budget carriers such as easyJet or Ryanair.

As a company, it is only a tenth as big as collapsed holiday firm Thomas Cook, so there is little prospect of a government bailout.

But those who habitually choose Flybe see it as a vital service, because it reaches the places that other airlines fail to touch.

"Mainland UK doesn't understand how vital Flybe is to Northern Ireland," tweeted one regular passenger, Jason.

"As someone who travels with them frequently for work, Flybe's collapse would be a disaster for the NI economy.

"If this happens, Belfast City Airport will have only four flight routes. FOUR."

I'm going to suggest here that "Jason" is a PR guy for FlyBe in disguise. There's a cute trick at the end there. It mentions how many routes Belfast City Airport will have. What it doesn't mention is that there's also Belfast International Airport.

Easyjet alone fly Belfast to Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, London, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. OK, they're going to lose the direct service to places like Cardiff, but it's only another half hour from Bristol Airport to Cardiff.

And if this was so critical to people on this route, FlyBe wouldn't be in trouble, as they'd be falling over each other to snap up tickets rather than there being Belfast to Cardiff seats available next week for £140 return.

Despite Jason's heartfelt words, there are a number of other locations that owe just as much to Flybe in terms of connections to the wider world.

Cornish holiday resort Newquay, for one, has no direct rail services from London for much of the year and the journey takes about five hours. But Flybe can get you from London Heathrow to Newquay airport in little more than an hour.

Yeah, but it isn't "little more than an hour". You've got check-in time, parking, baggage, security, and all sorts of crap when you land at Heathrow. Then time from Heathrow to London on the Heathrow Express. Call it 3 hours door-to-door. And really, most of Cornwall isn't 5 hours, because go slightly east of Newquay and there's St Austell which runs direct trains to London in just over 4 hours. Other than a few people who want to go to their holiday homes, what's the critical link for Cornwall and London that can't wait 4 hours?

And if you live in the Isle of Man, Flybe's service can literally be a lifeline.

The airline has a contract with the government to transfer NHS patients from the island to medical facilities in Liverpool when they require treatment that cannot be provided closer to home.

And Easyjet also fly there, so just use them. Or get someone to schedule private jets. The Isle of Man aren't a British problem.

Small wonder, then, that Ben Bradshaw, the MP whose Exeter constituency includes Flybe's base, has spoken of the "valuable connectivity" that the carrier provides.

In fact, he described the airline as "a strategically important business".

Thanks to Flybe, Mr Bradshaw's constituents can fly from Exeter direct to a variety of destinations including Amsterdam, Paris and Geneva - places that would otherwise be accessible to them only after a lengthy trek via other places.

A lengthy trek? It's about an hour from Exeter to Bristol Airport that flies to Amsterdam and Paris.

Freelance art director Sarah Ward, who divides her time between London and Cornwall, is another Flybe frequent flyer. She tweeted that she would have to move house if the airline ceased to exist.

In an appeal to her local MP, Derek Thomas, she asked: "What are you doing to protect such vital infrastructure?"

Well, move house then. Figure out a way to work from home. Move job. You're the insane one with a 250 mile distance from home to work and depending on one airline. You did this.

If an airline goes out of business, no other operator automatically takes over their routes and there is no guarantee any would.

But hang on, this is a "vital link" to the country, but no-one can even fill a plane every day? Maybe, actually, they have a load of marginal routes like Belfast to Cardiff that most people just don't care about flying very often. Maybe it's a crap business that government should let go to the wall.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (477)

From City AM:

Transport for London (TfL) is considering funding the £3.1bn Bakerloo line extension with a tax on landowners. The proposed works would extend the line from Elephant and Castle to Lewisham via stations on Old Kent Road and New Cross Gate. 

However, the project has been left unfunded with no indication from central government that it will foot the bill. It was revealed today by New Civil Engineer that TfL is considering taxing landowners along the proposed route to pay for the line as they would likely benefit from increased property values from the extension...

The Centre for London and the Adam Smith Institute think tanks said the landowner levy would make sense. 

Adam Smith institute research associate Charlie Paice said: "Rather than relying upon central government handouts for infrastructure investment this land levy will mean that those paying are the ones who stand to benefit as the value of their properties go up.

"If land owners aren't prepared to pay for a project which will further increase their property values – then why should they expect taxpayers from the rest of the country to stump up their cash?"

Good arguments FOR. Now let's see the KLN:

However, the low-tax lobby group the Taxpayers' Alliance (TPA) took a drastically different view.

Harry Fone, TPA grassroots campaign manager, said: "Imposing levies on homeowners who had no idea of the proposal when they bought would be deeply unfair."

OK, let's rephrase that: "Income tax hikes on people who had no idea that their taxes would be used to subsidise landowners elsewhere in the country when they started their current jobs are perfectly fair and reasonable."