Saturday 31 October 2009

[Thinks] "Oh dear ... there goes my peerage..."

Fun Online Poll Results: Dampening house-price bubbles

The responses to last week's poll, "Which method of dampening house price bubbles damages the economy least?", were as follows:

Liberalising planning laws - 43%
Increasing property taxes (and cutting other taxes) - 30%
Increasing interest rates or imposing lending controls - 20%
None of the above. High house prices are good for the economy - 7%

I am delighted to see that only a tiny minority believe that high house prices are good for the economy, which is pretty much the opposite of what most people seem to think, but maybe I'm wrong.

So that's the topic of this week's Fun Online Poll, I'd like to know which of various economic variables you think that most voters care about most - i.e. not the one which one you care about; or the one that you think they ought to care about; but the one that they actually care about most in practice and the one that all major political parties seem to prioritise.

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.
Going back to the comments in last week's, I'd agree with DCB Reed and Lola rather than with Anti-Citizen One:

AC1: "The purpose of [Land Value Tax] is not to remove bubbles from the economy it's to pay for the externality that the Government grants to property owner. The best way to stop a bubble is to stop credit bubbles from forming so I'd vote for "lending controls" Whereby lending controls are simply increasing the reserve requirements of lenders."

DCB: "Post Keynes, one of the purposes of LVT is to prevent housing bubbles. If you restrict credit to stop housing bubbles, business and entrepreneurs will also be hit. Babies and bath water."

With hindsight, I could have included "Higher capital ratios for banks" as an option as well, that would be another important part of my multi-pronged attack on house price bubbles.

Quote(s) Of The Day

Well, yesterday, actually:

Alan Johnson, in his letter dismissing a scientific advisor for complaining that the government was completely ignoring his findings:

"I cannot have confusion between scientific advice and policy"

In case you thought that the main opposition party would be any better, their spokesman had this to say:

"This was an inevitable decision after his latest ill-judged contribution to the debate but it is a sign of lack of focus at the Home Office that it didn't act sooner given that he has done this before."

Full frontal attack on Home-Owner-Ism

On a Telegraph 'blog, of all places. The whole thing is well worth a read, but here's a taster:

... we know that there are vast swathes of Middle Britain where the state of the housing market is regarded as an indicator of financial, social and moral well-being, if not as a direct correlative to the size of the male Middle British appendage. See daytime television for confirmation of this. Actually, for Pete’s sake, don’t.

And don’t you just want to plank anyone who talks about “properties”? It’s a house, you plonker, it’s a BLOODY HOUSE! It’s for LIVING IN! We’re not playing Monopoly here!"

Fun with numbers: Celebrities

Inspiration: Ross.

Friday 30 October 2009

Missing beats round (4)

Heart Attack Survivor says: "Try Cream's 'Deserted Cities of the Heart' - 4 beats, 4 beats, 3 beats, 4 beats. I've known drummers give up their sticks for ever after trying that."

Genius. Try counting along to this:

The true face of Home-Owner-Ism

The Lass (aged nearly seven) drew her own version of Kirstie Allsopp and asked me to put it on my 'blog. What I like is the way she seems to be morphing into The Goblin King:

"Will no-one rid me of this turbulent Drugs Tsar?"

From the BBC:

The UK's chief drugs adviser has been sacked by home secretary Alan Johnson after criticising government policies.

Professor David Nutt had been critical of the decision to reclassify cannabis to Class B from Class C. He accused ministers of devaluing and distorting evidence and said the drugs classification system was being used in a "political way". The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which he headed, is the UK's official drugs advisory body.

A couple of these quangista actually take their remit seriously, do some proper research and go round telling the truth. Look where it gets them.

Completely twattish headline/article of the day

From this lunchtime's Evening Standard:

£10 food-and-wine deals 'fuelling alcohol abuse by middle classes'

Wine should be banned from supermarket meal deals because it fuels heavy drinking among middle-aged professionals, an alcohol abuse charity said today. Campaigners gave a warning that the popular £10 "food and wine for two" offers run by Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Sainsbury's lure in commuters keen to "wind down", and looking to save money during the recession.

Drinking levels are higher among the middle classes than any other socio-economic group, government statistics show. Of the middle classes, 22 per cent drink on five days or more a week, compared with 11 per cent for manual workers, the General Household Survey published this year found. Older drinkers also drank more regularly, with 21 per cent of the over-45s having alcohol at least five days a week compared with six per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds.

The British Liver Trust said selling wine as part of meal deals helped "normalise" excessive drinking. Spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said: "If a couple shares a bottle a night, the women would be more than double their limit by the end of the week and the man way over. That leads to serious health problems, including liver disease and premature death. These meal deals are prominently advertised and make regular drinking at that level seem like a perfectly acceptable everyday habit. They are totally wrong. Alcohol is now marketed as a staple part of our diet, the same as life's essentials like bread and milk."

I had a look at BLT's 2008 accounts in January and established that they were part-funded by the Department of Health, i.e. a fakecharity (although the bulk of income came from pharmaceutical companies or proper charitable donations).

Notes 2 and 3 to their 2009 accounts show that they received £74,000 from the Department of Health (previous year £119,500) and £60,765 from 'Community' (previous year £39,847), so their taxpayer-funded income is down a bit. Nonetheless, they found it in the goodness of their hearts to pay £229,603 for research to two hospitals that are either part of the NHS or a state-run university.

Does anybody know why the state gives these people money in order for them to give it back to a different branch of the government? Is there any point to all this except to create jobs in administration?

Repossession, Repossession, Repossession

Potentially Libellous Shite Of The Week

Yesterday's Evening Standard accompanied this article with an inset headed "Revealed: Losers under new 60-minute travel rule".

I can't find the inset online, so I've scanned it in for you below. It continues:

Under new rules, MPs living within an hour's commute by train from London will be barred from having a second home... there are likely to be just 12 MPs affected. The Standard has estimated who the 'commuter dozen' will be..." and then lists Theresa May, Chris Grayling, Anne Milton, Michael Fallon, Ian Taylor, Peter Lilley, Michael Gove, Barbara Follett, Fiona McTaggart, Humfrey Malins, Kelvin Hopkins and Margaret Moran.

Now, I haven't paid much attention to the whole MPs' expenses 'scandal', but even I remember clearly that Kelvin Hopkins MP (Lab, Luton North) is one of the few who didn't claim for a second home, having claimed the princely sum of £1,242 for 'Cost of staying away from main home' in 2007-08. (Sure, he filled his boots on 'Office running costs' and 'Staffing costs', but that's not the topic here).

In other words, he is one of the few who won't lose out, so to say that he would is a malicious distortion. The funny thing is, t'was the self same Evening Standard which listed Kelvin Hopkins as a saint five months ago, with the summary "Travels with commuters on the Thameslink to London each morning, shunning a second home."

Animal Cruelty/Kindness Of The Week

Emailed by regular commenter Bayard, some bullshit from PETA entitled Why all cats should be indoor cats (nope, that link doesn't seem to work properly - it flips straight to a picture of Pamela Anderson in a tight T-shirt - but you get the gist).

Bayard dutifully commented as follows:

"I can't believe that an organisation for the ethical treatment of animals is advocating the mass imprisonment of all domestic cats. It's like saying hens shouldn't be free-range, because they might be eaten by foxes. Cats are the least domesticated of all domestic animals and I thinks it's cruel to keep them penned up indoors. I agree with Ju above. If you live in an area where it's not safe for a cat to roam outside, don't have a cat. To keep a cat in those circumstances is pure selfishness."

That makes good sense, you might think. But he then received the following automated email:


PETA strongly recommends that all companion cats be “indoor” cats. Cats who roam outdoors face many dangers: disease, environmental hazards, attacks by other animals, and—most frightening of all—human cruelty.

Cats sent or allowed outdoors unattended don’t always manage to return. Some are abducted; others are injured or even killed. “Bunchers”—animal kidnappers—cruise neighborhoods looking for friendly dogs and cats to abduct and then sell them to dealers, who in turn sell them to laboratories to be used in experiments. Given the many dangers that animal companions face outdoors—heavy traffic, animal dealers, intolerant neighbors, bored juveniles with baseball bats, rat poison, and toxic antifreeze spills, among a great many others—cats and dogs risk their lives every time they go outdoors unattended.

If you have free-roaming cat companions, make them safe: Bring them indoors. Time and patience are both required, but the change will greatly increase your cats’ chances of staying healthy and content. The key is to make the change gradually. If you feel that your cats require time outdoors, take them for walks on a harness and leash and/or enclose your yard with a secure fence topped with Cat Fence-In, a netting kit that prevents cats from wandering from the safety of their own yards.

To learn more about ways to help protect cats and other companion animals, please visit

Sincerely, Heidi Parker, Mail Coordinator, PETA Foundation."

I'd love to be able to sum up my thoughts in a pithy yet humourous fashion, but to be honest, words fail... the only way it might all make 'sense' is to assume that the whole campaign is bankrolled by the manufacturers of Cat Fence-In...

Blogger Of The Week

I don't seem to have handed out many 'rocks' recently, so let me announce that Niall Connolly rocks! Via Captain FF, this article from the BBC:

Councillors in a rural town have staged a mass walkout after becoming fed up with criticism from a blogger. Former vice chairman Anthony Canvin said 11 of Somerton Town Council's 15 members resigned on Tuesday. On his Muck&Brass blog Niall Connolly called members "jackasses" and said a leaflet was "like a Nazi call to arms"...

When I read the BBC article yesterday evening, it included words to the effect that the BBC couldn't contact Mr Connolly, which would be totally bizarre, seeing as he posts under his real name, allows comments and even publishes an email address. The BBC have removed that bit and even added a link to his Muck&Brass 'blog (which must have done wonders for his hits).

So whatever Mr Ferguson's particular gripe is (it all seems very technical), let us raise a glass in his direction (not right now, obviously, it's not even lunchtime).

Thursday 29 October 2009

Power Grab Of The Week

Condensed version of email from Denis Cooper (with kind permission):

"An EU official has told The Times of Malta that one item in the draft conclusions of the two day EU summit which starts today, will be to extend the term of the EU Commission for an extra six months.

I've looked carefully, and there is definitely no specific legal basis for extending the term of the Commission under these circumstances, not even in a "caretaker format". And over two weeks ago I emailed the office of Commissioner Neelie Kroes about it, and the bloke (one Jonathan Todd) broke off the exchange when I posed the question: "But on what legal basis could the Council of Ministers authorise the present Commissioners to remain in post beyond the end of their five year term, which expires on October 31st?"

Anyway, they think they can do whatever they please by invoking the catch-all Article 308 TEC, on pdf page 179 here:

"If action by the Community should prove necessary to attain, in the course of the operation of the common market, one of the objectives of the Community, and this Treaty has not provided the necessary powers, the Council shall, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, take the appropriate measures."

Although in this case they might have a problem consulting the European Parliament before midnight on Saturday."

Arc Capital and Income Plc (in Administration)

Tee hee!

In a moment of weakness, I once emailed these people and have been bombarded with "Too good to be true" type investment opportunities ever since.

The company went into administration three days ago.

... and then they came for the farmers.

From The FT:

The plan [to subsidise French farmers], which the French president described as “unprecedented” in scale, consisted of €1bn ($1.5bn, £905m) in subsidised loans and €650m in cuts to land and energy taxes and social charges...

... the farm plan is the latest manifestation of the president’s transformation – through the financial crisis – from free-market reformer into full-throated state interventionist. He has already proposed government aid packages for car manufacturers, small companies, the newspaper industry, young people and banks...

Why stop there?

Why not subsidies, soft loans and tax breaks for small and medium-sized businesses; restaurants; tourism; property developers; 'high-tech' companies; start-ups; and for businesses that 'create' new jobs?

Why not increase salaries for public sector workers and increase State pensions? Why not add tax credits to dividend income and cut tax rates on savings accounts to 'encourage saving'? What about goodies for the film and TV industries, protectionist measures for 'national champions' like, er, Danone? how about grants to first time home-buyers to help them onto the ladder?

You could keep going for ever, by taxing everybody a bit more and subsidising a bit more and then taxing a bit more ad infinitum. Every time a privately-owned business collapses under the weight of all the extra taxes, you can say "See! Free markets and private enterprise don't work!" and then nationalise the f***ers.

It's all well and good blaming governments for their tendency to increase in size, but this is what people want!

And the trees are all kept equal ... by hatchet, axe and saw*

From The BBC:

A Christmas tree in the centre of Leeds has been felled on the advice of police amid safety fears about a demonstration planned for the weekend.

The tree, which cost taxpayers £2,000, went up two weeks ago in City Square. However, West Yorkshire Police advised the council it could pose a risk to the public during a planned march by the English Defence League on Saturday. Surprised commuters looked on as workmen used a chainsaw to cut down the 30ft tree early on Thursday morning.

The Islamists must be laughing themselves silly over this - what a result!

* That's a reference to a song by reactionary Canadian hard rockers Rush.


From The Metro:

Parents have been banned from adventure playgrounds because a council says only adults with criminal records checks can be allowed near children.

All grown-ups have been excluded from two play areas in Watford, apart from a few council-vetted 'play facilitators' who will help youngsters. A council notice to parents said: 'Due to Ofsted regulations we have a responsibility to ensure that every authorised adult who enters our site is properly vetted and given a Criminal Records Bureau check.'

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Economics: a two-sided equation

But everybody just looks one half, either the costs or the benefits, without ever trying to match them up.

Exhibit one, from CityAM:

LONDON Mayor Boris Johnson yesterday secured the support of business organisation London First as he continued to insist investing in Crossrail and London’s transport network was essential for the Capital’s economic prosperity.

Attending the launch of a report published by London First into the benefits of maintaining investment in transport, Johnson said his commitment to Tube upgrades and the £16bn Crossrail scheme was “fundamental and unwavering”. He added: “Over the coming months and years we need to make sure the government maintains its side of the investment needed to ensure that London, the powerhouse of the UK economy, retains its position at the summit of world cities.”

Boris looks at the benefits to London (which his job). It appears to be beyond dispute that the £16 billion cost of the Crossrail scheme will benefit the London economy by a vastly greater figure (difficult to prove, but by reverse logic, imagine the whole London rail network disappeared overnight - what would happen to the London economy then?). That's the benefit.

But what about the cost? Why on earth should "the government" (i.e. the UK taxpayer generally) bear the cost, when the benefit accrues to only a small part of the country?

Exhibit Two: The Evening Standard:

Small firms face being driven to the wall by a "triple whammy" of business rate increases, MPs were warned today.

Mark Field, Conservative member for Cities of London and Westminster, accused Chancellor Alistair Darling of seeking to "plunder" businesses and treating them like "cash cows". In a Commons debate, Mr Field highlighted the impact of three tax moves:
* The five per cent increase in business rates this year.
* The business rate revaluation, which will come into effect in April next year.
* The levy being imposed to raise £3.5 billion for Crossrail...

The move would rake in an extra £456 million for the Treasury... Meanwhile, companies with a rateable value of more than £50,000 have to pay the Crossrail levy.

I agree, now is not exactly the time for a large hike in anybody's tax bill - annual revaluations would be far better - but if Boris is asking for £16 billion to benefit London's economy, is it so terrible that the London economy stumps up a quarter of that cost (i.e. £3.5 billion plus £456 million)? Wouldn't it be even better if the London economy were asked to pay the entire cost? If the London economy doesn't want to pay it, why on earth should anybody else be expected to pay it?

Particularly pathetic are the crocodile tears that politicians shed over "small firms", while merrily f***ing them over with thousands of new regulations every year (that weigh relatively far less heavily on larger firms). That is yet another two-sided equation. But I digress.
I could arrive at the same conclusion by more circuitous route...

The fact is that railway companies seldom make money for themselves (all over the world they either hover on the brink of bankruptcy or are nationalised or subsidised) but they make vast amounts of money for other people (so there's absolutely no point in sitting round waiting for the free market to sort it out, this is one of the few things that needs a push by the government). That is why the cold-hearted and calculating property developers at Canary Wharf offered to pay for the entire Jubilee Line extension themselves. They did their figures and worked out that £400 million spent on the extension would have boosted the value of their office blocks by over £1,000 million.

So, the best way of funding Crossrail must be by a tax on land or property values, which we have in the form of Business Rates. Fairly dumb people, like Tory politicians for example, will say that Business Rates are paid by the occupying business and not the land owner (even if you could get a Tory politician to admit that public transport infrastructure benefits the landowner more than the businesses themselves).

Well, even if that were true, so what? but it isn't true anyway. No 'small businesses' will be driven to the wall...

Exhibit Three: a real life example from the Financial Times:

Ms Muir, manager and part-owner of Misyl Investments, which owns a 9,000 sq ft commercial and residential building near Portland Place, says she has been discounting rents to compensate for rising rates for the past five years.

Many of her 10 tenants are small graphic designers and publishers, and she fears some will not be able to afford to remain. "The rates are all virtually doubling but [the tenants] just can't pay any more. Increasing business rates have been eroding our rents and this might well knock the whole thing down."

Y'see, that's a proper landlady that is. She knows perfectly well that to make money, she has to keep her building occupied, but she can't expect her tenants to pay more than a certain amount in rent-plus-Business Rates. If the amount they have to pay in Business Rates goes up, she has to reduce her rents. As to her veiled threat to 'knock the whole thing down', well that ain't going to happen either (probably a criminal offence) and in any event, the temptation to do so would be avoided if Business Rates related to site-only values regardless of what was built on them.

Sure, some "small businesses" aren't tenants, they are owner-occupiers, but if such a business can't even generate enough profit to pay the Business Rates, then it is better for all concerned if they shut the business down and rent out the premises to somebody else. I covered this in my earlier post on Creative Destruction.

Maybe I'm a bit ideallistic, but shouldn't the system work like this:

1. You decide whether something is best left to free enterprise (like the Heathrow expansion, Kingsnorth Power station, both of which the Tories oppose, of course).

2. If it's something that the only the government can push through, you look are benefits and costs (and proceed if benefits clearly exceed costs).

3. You then work out who benefits and hence who should pay the cost.

4. If part of the cost is to be paid out of taxation (half will come from ticket sales, of course), you choose the tax on that which will benefit most from the expenditure.

5. You then explain it properly to the potential taxpayers (it would be enormously helpful if the cost were shared between Council Tax payers and Business Rates payers, different topic) and put it to a democratic vote. If they approve, then you go ahead. If not, then, shelve plans and shake your head at people's stupidity and selfishness.

6. And most importantly, don't listen to special pleading, ostensibly on behalf of 'small businesses' but actually on behalf of landowners. And so on.

Fun with numbers: The £18 pint of beer

Friends of the Earth explain how they calculated that a loaf of bread would cost £6.50 and a pint of beer £18 in 21 years time here:

The price of staple foods is set to rocket four and a half times above normal inflation (1) because the changing climate will put extra stress on land and resources around the world, exacerbating the existing food crisis...

Spiralling costs of basics like bread, rice and pasta will mean that many million (2) more people will struggle to buy enough food to keep healthy.

The figures have been produced by Ray Hammond, a leading expert in predicting future social and economic trends and Visiting Lecturer at the University of Oxford's Institute for the Future of Humanity. He modeled the future prices of consumer foodstuffs for Friends of the Earth using previous price hikes (3) recorded by the World Bank and projections by the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Projected prices of other staple foods in 2030 include:
£6.48 for a 800g loaf of white bread (now 72p, would be £1.44 with normal inflation)...
£18.45 for a pint of Pilsner lager (now £2.05, would be £4.05 with normal inflation)

(1) If they assume that prices will double in 21 years anyway, that equates to underlying annual inflation of 3.4% =(2^(1/21))-1. For bread to rise to 4.5 times its current price, the annual inflation would be 7.4% =(4.5^(1/21))-1. So the phrase "four and a half times above normal inflation" was clearly penned by somebody who has no idea what he is talking about; that looks more like "food prices will increase at twice the normal rate of inflation" to me.

(2) At those prices, half the world's population would have starved to death, so they mean "billions" not "many million". Twats.

(3) We know that the price of a loaf has increased a lot over the past few years:
1970 - 9p
1980 - 33p
1990 - 50p
2000 - 52p
2007 - 94p

i.e. it's doubled over the last ten years (annual inflation 7%). So if we use the last ten years to predict the next twenty, a £6.48 loaf is not entirely unfeasible (see also point 4 below).

But the further back you look, the less dramatic the increase. In fact, the price of a loaf increased more or less exactly in line with inflation between 1970 and 2007. So if you use the last forty years to predict the next twenty, we'd expect a loaf to cost £1.44 in 2030.

So far so bad.

I'd guess that the cost of wheat is a large part of the cost of bread, so the price of a loaf must track the price of wheat. But the cost of the ingredients in a pint of beer are negligible - five pence or ten pence, perhaps - the rest is brewing, bottling/canning, transport and taxes. So even if the price of those ingredients went up ten-fold, that doesn't have to add more than 50p or £1 to the price of a pint (assuming other costs and taxes remain the same).

(4) People from Oxford have got form for this, i..e Professor Stephen Nickell who predicted house prices twenty years into the futures on the basis of the last few years' increases and bravely predicted that an average house would cost ten times average earnings by 2026.

You couldn't make it up....

... but they obviously can. From The Metro:

Soaring food prices could leave UK consumers forking out almost £6.50 for a loaf of bread and more than £18 for a pint of beer by 2030 unless urgent action is taken to avert dangerous climate change, environmentalists have claimed.

A study for Friends of the Earth (1) examining how warming temperatures could affect food supplies said the prices of basics like bread, rice and pasta could all spiral in the next two decades, leaving millions hungry in the UK. Yields of staple crops are predicted to fall as global temperatures rise (2), while climate change will also put extra pressure on land and resources such as water with more droughts, floods (3) and extreme weather events expected (4).

(1) Fakecharity - part funded by UK government, part funded by the EU.

(2) Could any farmers out there (yes, Sobers, that means you) confirm or deny this?

(3) That's what I call hedging your bets. It's either droughts or floods. Or do they mean "in future the same amount of rain will fall les regularly"? And if so, how the heck they can forecast as accurately as that?

(4) Ditto.

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Hilariously Named Fakecharity* Employee of the Day**

Policy Officer Sam Dick, of "lesbian, gay and transexual charity" Stonewall, who was on Channel 4 News just now. Please note that this is a gay-friendly 'blog. But funny is funny!

* Scroll down to Note 2 on page 15 of their September 2008 accounts, Stonewall gets at least a fifth of their income from other government bodies.

** Previous winners of this prestigious award include Roger Ingham of The Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group.

Science Museum Prove It - you need to vote again

Englishman's Castle has spotted* that The Science Museum has cancelled the last vote, which had a slim majority for "Count me out" (following a huge surge in "Count me in" a day or two ago). Bugger.

So we'll have to start all over again, vote here. At the moment it's 6 "Count me In" and 82 "Count me out".

* Actually it was AC1 who tipped him off in the comments to an earlier thread, but you get the gist.

"Australia coastal living at risk"

More complete and utter bollocks from the BBC:

Australians may have to leave coastal areas as rising sea levels threaten homes, according to a new report.

The parliamentary committee report says urgent action is needed, as seas are expected to rise by 80cm (31 inches). (1)

About 80% of Australians live in coastal areas, and the report recommends new laws banning further development in coastal regions. (2)

Correspondents say the authorities are divided over whether to retreat from rising seas or defend the coastline. (3)

The report, entitled Managing Our Coastal Zone in a Changing Climate, urges the authorities to consider "the possibility of a government instrument that prohibits continued occupation of the land or future building development on the property due to sea hazard". (4)

It estimates that Aus$150bn ($137bn) worth of property is at risk from rising sea levels and more frequent storms in future years."

(1) OK, let's assume sea levels actually rose by 31". How many properties are built less than 31" above sea level? Relatively few, I'd guess.

(2) They live where it's nicest to live, i.e. near the beach and near a large town, rather than in the Outback.

(3) That's a straightforward economic decision. Costs and benefits. It's up to property owners in any particular area to decide which they prefer (and pay for it via an earmarked Land Value Tax, if a majority are in favour, to match costs and benefits). See also Netherlands.

(4) Dude, WTF? If people believe that sea levels will rise, they will prefer to build or buy on higher ground, the markets will sort it out. Maybe they're right, maybe they're wrong - it's like insurance.

(5) This is the crowning glory of nonsense, of course. Property prices in Australia are (apparently) even higher than in the UK, so the rebuild cost of all that property might be a quarter of the figure mentioned. The rest of it is location value.

Did nobody watch Superman? Lex Luthor's cunning plan was to start an earthquake that would see most of California fall into the ocean. As a result of this, the land he'd bought further inland would then become coastline and rocket in value. So with Australia, the total location value would not (necessarily) be destroyed, it would just move somewhere else, wherever all the people and businesses move.

Home-Owner-Ism: a triumph of one-sided economics

In a thread over at HPC on high house prices in the South West, somebody came up with the tired old objections to liberalising planning laws and/or having Land Value Tax:

"What about increased road traffic (twice the homes, twice the traffic maybe?), increased demand for schools, supermarkets, medical centres, fire stations, transpot links, in fact all the infrastructure that comes with increased population? Build twice as many houses there and you'll allow even more people to have second homes. (LVT wont touch the rich)."

Of course, it's easy to win an argument if you only ever look at one side of the equation, most politicians are world champions at this. So I've taken that rant apart and inserted the other side of the equation for you:

"What about increased road traffic (twice the homes, twice the traffic maybe?)"

Same number of people in same number of houses? Why is that more traffic? And if people migrate there, then there'd be less traffic somewhere else.

"increased demand for schools, supermarkets, medical centres, fire stations, transpot links, in fact all the infrastructure that comes with increased population?"

Yeah, if there are more people, there'll be more people willing to work in schools, supermarkets etc, most of whom are low-ish paid - it's the teachers, checkout girls and nurses who are hardest hit by high house prices. And what's wrong with more infrastructure? One of the best things a govt can spend money on is transport infrastructure esp. railways in more densely populated areas.

"Build twice as many houses there and you'll allow even more people to have second homes"

So what? When have I ever slagged off second homers? Provided they pay the LVT and/or stop being NIMBYs I have no problem with them.

"LVT won't touch the rich."

What does "rich" have to do with it? LVT is about reducing income tax (which will benefit high income people) and increasing taxes on land ownership (to compensate society for the external costs thereof), with all the benefits that brings. It's quite conceivable that a premier league footballer is hugely better off if we had flat income tax on his £10 million salary and flat 1% property tax on his £1 million mansion, so what? Those are the rules

Donkeys don't quite get it...

From the BBC:

Several donkeys lying on a road in a Buckinghamshire village have been hit by a car. It took place on Whaddon Road in Mursley near Milton Keynes early on Tuesday morning. The road was closed in both directions, and the car has been recovered and removed. Buckinghamshire Police and the RSPCA are at the scene. It is not known why the donkeys were lying on the road or how severe their injuries are.

No, you stupid donkeys! To maximise damage and/or human casualties, you need to lie down on a railway line! Best leave this to the bovines, eh?

Thanks to Captain FF for the tip-off.

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From The Times:

Sir, The plan for wind farm rent rises by the Crown Estate (report, Oct 26) is an example of the monopolist landowner being able to rack up rents with impunity*.

It illustrates that every landowner, or, in the case of homeowners, the bankers taking their mortgage interest, are being given a gift through added land value by the community process of planning permission. What is being given by the landlord or bank to the community for the benefit received?

Lloyd George's 1909 People's Budget attempted to tax the increased land values that these higher wind farm rents imply. We now need a 2009 People's Budget to capture this value for the public purse while reducing other taxes. It surely is disproportionate and unfair to tax the personal creative activity of work via income tax, while allowing windfall gains to landowners and mortgage lenders, achieved solely by planning gain.

Charles Bazlinton, Alresford, Hants.

* As an aside, as Crown Estates are a branch of the state, they should of course charge full market rent, i.e. as much as they can get away with. Whether we call that "tax" or "rent" is immaterial, and making Crown Estates (or any other branch of the state) pay Land Value Tax is a self-cancelling transaction, although it would be useful for costing purposes.

If you say you don't believe in Global Warming, then a Bangladeshi has to die...

From The Metro:

She may be fictional but Tinkerbell has been named as the first 'honorary ambassador of green' by the UN. Peter Pan's fairy friend has been recruited to help promote awareness of the environment among younger children.

Fun with numbers: Racist crimes

Old Holborn posted the following racist crime stat's on Sunday (click to enlarge):
The conclusion being that there were thirty times as many white victims of racial violence as you would expect, which set off the inevitable huffing and puffing.

As you will see if you read the comments, I walked right into it. I pointed out that on the basis of those figures, a black person is four times as likely to become a victim of a racist crime than a white person. It was pointed out to me that the more important point was that a black person was thirty times as likely to be a perpetrator of a racist crime than a white person, which is quite correct (in fact, subject to certain assumptions, the figures might be five times as likely to be a victim and sixty times as likely to be a perpetrator) at which stage I withdrew my original comment.

Hmm. I cannot track down the statistics referred to, not after an hour's worth of googling, and the best 'official' figures I can find are that "Less than one per cent of the White population had been victims of racially motivated crimes compared with two per cent of people from Asian, Black and Chinese and Other ethnic backgrounds" (from page 11, Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System – 2006) or that "people from minority ethnic groups are ten times more likely to be a victim of a racist incident than people from white ethnic groups" (from page 2, Better Housing Briefing, Racist harassment and housing services).

That's one heck of a discrepancy (twice as likely or ten times as likely?) so let's stick with five times as likely as a mid-figure. Assuming, in round figures, that there are 57 million white people and 4 million non-white people in this country, and there were 179,000 "race and faith hate crimes" in the year concerned (2007 Hate Crime Survey - Statistics and Trends: A Review of Select Countries), there must have been 132,000 white victims and 47,000 non-white victims.

We can't even begin to speculate on the number of racist attacks perpetrated on one minority group by other minority groups, but it must be pretty safe to say that outside of Northern Ireland, racist crimes against whites will be perpetrated by non-whites. Ergo, 4 million non-white people are responsible for 132,000 racist crimes against white people (an average of one crime per 30 non-white people), and even if we make the heroic assumption that all racist crimes against non-whites are perpetrated by whites, that is still only an average of one crime per 1,213 white people*.

So I have a nasty feeling that the original "thirty times more likely" figure is in fact probably correct.

Just sayin', is all.

* Using the same methodology and the same total number of racist crimes, if whites and non-whites had the same propensity to commit racial crimes, non-whites would actually be two hundred times as likely to become a victim; and conversely, if non-whites were two hundred times as likely to perpetrate racial crimes, the chance of a member of either group becoming a victim thereof would the same.

Monday 26 October 2009

Sublimely tasteless fakecharity name of the day

There's an article in The Metro saying that "Teenage girls are so desperate to join violent male gangs that they are carrying guns, drugs and knives as well as being forced into group sex, new research by police and charities has found..."

Ho hum, that may or may not be true*, but what drew my attention was this:

Teresa Pointing, chief executive of In-volve – a charity dedicated to helping young girls in violent situations...

It is a tradition among fakecharities to choose an existing word, but then to insert a hyphen or a space, or capitalise a letter half-way through, in order to subtly alter the meaning or to give it a double meaning. My favourite example being Smoke Less over in the USA (as in 'smoke less than otherwise' or as in 'smokeless zone'?). I understand the word "involve", and I understand the word "in" but as "volve" is not a word in itself, I can only assume, from the context, that it's an allusion to "vulva", unless somebody has a better idea?

NB, per the 2008 accounts, 98.6% of their income is "Grant income" and Note 2 lists the following grantors:

Education Department, Local Authorities, Drugs Advisory Team, Single Regeneration Budget, Probation Service, Youth Justice Board, Health Authorities, Community Against Drugs, Community Fund, Employment Services.

* It may well be completely untrue, they don't seem to care any more, as evidenced by the recent admission that Inquiry fails to find single trafficker who forced anybody into prostitution.

FakeCharities Of The Weekend

Ross nominated "Brake" and The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (see comments for gory details).

Three little words that say so much ...

Those three little words are "independent of government", of course, which appears to be NewSpeak for "government propagandists". From The Green Fiscal Commission website:

The Commission is independent of government. It is formed of Commissioners with wide experience and expertise drawn from a representative range of social, economic and political stakeholders...

... followed by a list of two dozen commissioners, nearly all of whom already hold posts on other quangos.

Fun Online Poll Results: The biggest threat to 'our way of life'?

Thanks to everybody who took part in last week's poll. The results were:

The Islamists - 60%
The BNP - 3%
Neither - 22%
Both - 15%

I expected a far higher number of people to vote "Neither", actually, as both the Islamists and the BNP are merely symptoms of something far bigger and nastier. The people who left comments appeared to agree, nominating variously:

The Greens/Big Government
The Government - whoever it is
The "diversity" lot/The Righteous
The Home-Owner-Ists
The bankers
The EU
The LibLabCon-sensus

I think that Anti-Citizen One summed up best what all these groupings (in which I would include Islamists and the BNP - the party, not its voters) have in common (he added Benefits addicts, State Bureaucrats, Bailed out Bankers, Patent-Blocking Companies and Flippers to the list), namely that they are "rent-seekers". All of the above are people who "earn their income with no mutual exchange of time".
OK, I'm sure that I'd be preaching to the converted by slagging off most of the people on that list (which is why I don't usually bother), but, to my mind, the real test of your opposition to "rent seeking" is how you answer this week's Fun Online Poll "Which method of dampening house price bubbles damages the economy least?"

It does seem to me a tad unfair that everybody is now ganging up on bank bonuses. It is intellectually consistent when small government liberals or indeed Communists criticise the idea of "privatising gains and socialising losses", but when the Home-Owner-Ists slag them off, I think that this is just sour grapes.

What the Home-Owner-Ists seem to resent is the fact the bankers have abandoned their attempt to keep the house price bubble inflated, and not the fact that the bankers have let down the economy as a whole.

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Is nobody else worried about this?

Regular readers will no doubt remember this incident of a week ago, when a cow in Australia managed to derail a train, although no humans were hurt. Not much of a result from the bovines' point of view, but not only are they learning fast, they appear to be able to communicate on an international basis. In today's Metro we read this:

A wayward water buffalo caused a train to crash, killing 18 people and wounding 39. The animal wandered on to the tracks south of Cairo when a train struck it on Saturday night. The packed first-class passenger train then ploughed through the wreckage at high speed...

Thanks to Pavlov's Cat for the email.

All your bases are belong to us!

Sunday 25 October 2009

Having a fulsome chuckle at our expense...

It's Sunday, so apart from that, it's comment-only blogging for the rest of the day (to the extent I haven't got other things to do)..

Saturday 24 October 2009

Missing beats round (3)

Van Halen's "Outta love again" came up on my iPod on the way home yesterday, and I noticed that there's a beat missing just before the chorus starts. Scroll forward to 43 seconds in and start counting:

Said that you are leaving, I don't (4 beats)
wanna hear that talk (4 beats)
Stare at disbelief in me, as (4 beats)
I just up and walk (4 beats)
Outta love (without backing vocals, 3 beats)
[new riff] (without singing, 4 beats)
Outta love (with backing vocals, 4 beats, from here on it continues in 4/4)...

"The Fantastic Mr Fox"

I took the lad to see this film today, at his request.

Ho hum. I didn't like the book and the film had a few funny moments but all in all the story was a bit repetitive - Fox has a cunning plan, he thinks he's got away with it but it then goes wrong, landing him in a bigger mess. He has another cunning plan, gets in an even bigger mess etc etc.

What I liked was the liberal use of the word "cuss" as a catch-all swearword (that I'm sure wasn't in the book), particularly when he describes a singularly dire situation as a "clustercuss". Oh, and the meanest of the three farmers smoked cigarettes, with real puffs of smoke etc.

The choice of music was weird as well. In the scene where the three farmers hire three huge diggers to uproot the tree, the background music is "Street Fighting Man" (a great song, don't get me wrong) where really it should have been "Gimme Shelter".

"The second thing was to have a property tax..."


I caught a repeat of the BBC's HardTalk interview with Ireland's former Prime Minister Bertie Ahern yesterday evening. At about one minute in, he is asked whether he allowed the Irish economy to 'overheat' and whether he should have 'put the brakes on'. He admits that maybe they did, but they couldn't put up interest rates as they had already joined the Eurozone.

And then at 1 minute 37 seconds in, he mutters as an aside, "The second thing we could have done is to have a property tax, which there was no stomach for in Ireland", and that's it. It's like the briefest glimmer of hope that there are others who understand all this, so fair play him for even having considered it, given that e.g. in the United Kingdom, any politician who suggests such a tax is immediately decried as a communist or worse.


"Count me out!"

Via Englishmanscastle, a Fun Online Poll over at The Science Museum:

PROVE IT! gives you the evidence to decide where you stand... "I've seen the evidence. And I want the government to prove they're serious about climate change by negotiating a strong, effective, fair deal at Copenhagen."

You can choose "Count me in!" (currently 370 votes) or "Count me out!" (currently 1,957 votes).

Friday 23 October 2009

Missing beats round (2)

Blondie's "Heart of glass" may not be as great as you remember it, but there is a moment of towering genius at 2 minutes 0 seconds in (at the start of the instrumental bit) where they miss the fourth beat off the end of each two-bar phrase, or if you want that mathematically, you can count it in sevens. They then start humming along at about 2 minutes 20 seconds without the missing beats (so you can count in eights again). I think on the twelve inch version of the song they mix and match both towards the end.

"Rambler trampled to death by cows"

From The Metro:

A walker was trampled to death by cows which surrounded her in a field, an inquest heard yesterday.

Anita Hinchey died from multiple injuries after falling over while out walking her dog with friend Ruth Tugwell. Ms Tugwell said she herself was afraid of cows and walked up an incline in the field outside Cardiff. When she looked back she said animal lover Ms Hinchley, 63, was surrounded by cattle.

"She appeared to trip. I assume that's when she was hit by the hoof of a cow," Ms Tugwell told Cardiff Coroner's Court.

Coroner Mary Hassell recording a verdict of accidental death for the Cardiff woman.

"Accidental death"? That's what the cows want us to think!

Innumerate twat of the week

I trust we've finished discussing yesterday's QT (I am on the road so off line out of office hours) so allow me to nominate James Haldenby for this week's ITotW Award. From yesterday's Times:

At Reform we have calculated that the true amount of benefits claimed by middle-class people is £31 billion. That is £1 in every £4 spent on benefits and enough to pay for the police service twice over. The benefit most skewed to higher earners is statutory maternity pay, where £8 in every £10 is given to people on or above middle income. Child benefit, tax credits and the basic state pension are the other main offenders, with subsidised loans for higher-education students also benefiting the better off...

Our research sets the line at an income of £40,000 for a couple with two children (ie, £15,000 of income per adult plus £5,000 per child). Others would define middle class at a lower level of income, meaning that middle-class benefits cost even more...

Middle-class people tend to oppose higher taxes, but that is the price of our entitlements. £31 billion is the equivalent of an extra 8p on the basic rate of income tax. We are being bribed with our own money.

OK, let's assume that's all mathematically correct, where is the logical error? What's the missing figure? Why does no politician just do this? If it's such a brilliant idea, how come it's not already in the MW manifesto?

The answer is simple, he ignores the means-testing. Assuming that £31 billion is shared by the richest quarter of households, that's about £5,000 benefits each per annum. If they means-tested all these benefits so that a household with gross income of £40,000 received nothing, the benefit withdrawal rate would be about 12.5% (i.e. £5,000 divided by £40,000).

So households on incomes up to £40,000 might save 8p income tax on every £1 they earn but would lose 12.5p in benefits withdrawal for every £1 they earn instead, so they'd be worse off in net terms and have an effective marginal tax rate that is 4.5% higher (as well as getting involved in the parallel universe of means-testing), but people on very high incomes would be better off as they have a marginal tax rate that is 8% lower.

That may be the outcome that James Haldenby wishes (in which case he is a twat) or it may be that he hasn't thought it through properly (in which case he is still a twat).

Thursday 22 October 2009

Beating fakecharities at their own game...

Visit Alcohol Focus Scotland and vote on the statement "Cheap alcohol is damaging health and society, I support minimum pricing".

We are currently ahead, with 72% having voted "No" out of 900 votes so far.

Bizarrely, you are allowed to vote as many times as you like. They really have thought this one through, haven't they?

Via Banned, via Sue.

Causation, correlation, coincidence or conspiracy

I was emailed a report today, titled Rethinking the UK housing system for the twenty-first century, which is a useful summary of the background to this and the current state of play, which set me off on another train of thought.

1. I genuinely believe, unless somebody has evidence to the contrary, that our economic system can be described as Home-Owner-Ism, which is inherently flawed. Nonetheless, any system, however flawed, will retain the upper hand as long as it has acquiesense of at least half the electorate. So let's look at the rise in home-ownership since 1914, from page 12 of this. As we see, the 'tipping point' of 50% home-ownership wasn't reached until relatively recently (1971):
2. Home-Owner-Ism goes hand-in-hand with NIMBYism of course; so once more than half the electorate is a home-owner and hence a NIMBY, you'd expect new house building to drop off quite sharply, as confirmed in Table 3 from the BSHF report linked to above - new construction, which had averaged over 300,000 per year in the 1950s and 1960s slid to about 200,000 during the 1970s and has not changed since:
3. One of the aims of Home-Owner-Ism is to keep house prices as high as possible. We know that the ratio between earnings and rents are fairly stable because the ratio of house-prices-to-rents and house-prices-to-earnings are more or less identical (from here)...
4. ... and that in normal circumstances, rents and mortgage payments for similar properties would be much the same, so it is more or less impossible for house prices to rise faster than earnings for a long period. Indeed it would be nice if house prices went down relative to earnings, the same as the price of food or cars or televisions, but that's another topic.

Nevertheless, rising prices create a feelgood factor that can keep even a Labour government in power for thirteen years, but the bubbles must inevitably burst. Apart from a blip after the Second World War (genuine physical shortage), the bubble era did not kick off until the early 1970s either; and every house price/credit bubble has been followed by a nasty recession that puts us further back than we would have been if we hadn't had the bubble in the first place. Here's my chart showing house prices rebased in terms of 2007 earnings (for explanation of how I derived this chart, see here):

5. Ho hum. The only other chart I'd really need is the chart showing how tax receipts, as a fraction of total tax receipts or as a percentage of property values have drifted downwards since the Second World War (continuing Richard Cobden's famous trajectory).

We know that Schedule A taxation was abolished in 1963-64 and that Domestic Rates were replaced with Council Tax (via the Poll Tax) in 1989; we also know that while Council Tax has doubled, in cash terms, since 1997, it has halved when expressed as a percentage of property values. Because Home-Owner-Ists just love a cut in property taxes, from Dearieme's dad back in 1963-64 ("It's good for us, son, but not good for the country") to our likely next Prime Minister solemnly pledging, as Item One of his Blueprint for Britain, "We will work with councils to freeze council tax for two years - saving more than £200 for the typical family."

Just sayin' is all. Feel free to make up your own minds.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Aaargh!! They've already got a "trade body"!

An article in the FT made a promising start:

An incoming Conservative government "will not sign" contracts for the second wave of Labour's flagship programme to provide the unemployed with a modernised welfare-to-work service, says the shadow work and pensions secretary... But Theresa May said yesterday that an incoming Tory administration would want to replace the flexible new deal with the Conservatives' so-called work programme...

Fair enough, as expected, the Tories are going to replace all Labour's quangos, fakecharities etc with their own quango's, fakecharities etc; sack all the Labour appointees and channel all that lovely taxpayers' money to a load of new, and equally ineffectual, Tory appointees.

Ho hum, moving on, this is the bit that makes me wonder whether I'm mad or everybody else is:

While Ms May talks of refusing to sign the deals, she told the annual conference of the Employment Related Services Association , the trade body for welfare-to-work providers...

Dude, WTF? They've already got their own lobby group? The contracts haven't even been finalised and the lucky (they hope) recipients have already set up a lobby group?

Another brilliant scheme

From The Metro:

Winter fuel payments for pensioners are an "unsustainable" response to fuel poverty and should be reconsidered, a report has said.

The Government's £2.7 billion-a-year budget for winter fuel payments might be better spent on lagging, insulating, reglazing and modernising the homes of pensioners who cannot afford to heat them properly, suggested the local government spending watchdog.

The Audit Commission said only 12% of people receiving the payments - worth up to £400 a year - are classed as being in fuel poverty. And it said that the payments do nothing to encourage energy efficiency and reduce the CO2 emissions blamed for global warming.

That appears to be half a step in the right direction, but as I said a day or two ago:

"If you increase taxes on [domestic fuel]... then home insulation becomes more attractive anyway by comparison, and if they scrapped all this loony 'extra investment in renewables' as well, then there'd be plenty of extra money for cutting vehicle excise duty, increasing the tax-free personal allowance or old age pensions so that the average user is no worse off..."

At present, the Winter Fuel Voucher is just extra State Pension. It's a bit of a gimmick (which not just add £4 to the weekly basic state pension and have done with it?) but hey. But if they stop paying it, and spend the money on insulating pensioners' homes, who would benefit more? A granny in an ex-council flat, which has neither cellar nor loft-space to be insulated; or another granny living in a three-bed semi?

If you accept MMGW as a given, then the Audit Commission's suggestion seems sensible. But if you are like me, and you neither believe in MMGW nor do you believe in subsidies (whether to the home-insulation industry or to owners of larger homes), the Winter Fuel Vouchers actually make far more sense.

For the attention of Mr Curious

Dear Sir

You asked:

"Now, I think LVT is a brilliant idea, but if it were introduced into an area as divided as California, what is to stop all the wealthy residents leaving?"

That's the clever bit. Notwithstanding that the first thing California should do is reduce its state spending, it is high taxes on incomes that make people leave an area (and cutting taxes on incomes is nearly always a good idea). High taxes on land values merely reduce the capital value of properties (while leaving overall occupancy costs much the same), and such taxes clearly cannot drive land abroad.

Therefore, for a given total tax burden in different countries, people with high incomes will tend to migrate to those countries with lower taxes on incomes and higher taxes on land or property values. But conversely, there is no incentive for people with lower incomes to migrate in the other direction - not only would the income tax burden be higher, it would be more expensive to buy a house.

I submit the real life example of hedge-fund managers leaving the UK and going to Switzerland (because of Switzerland's lower taxes on income taxes and despite Switzerland having higher taxes on property values), without there being a corresponding flow of wealthy Swiss pensioners moving from Switzerland to the UK.

I trust this is of assistance and remain

Yours faithfully.

Life copies satire

Dick P proposed a new fakecharity franchise, following a report that "More than half of all Britons have been injured by biscuits ranging from scalding from hot tea or coffee while dunking or breaking a tooth eating during a morning tea break, a survey has revealed." He agreed with my suggestion that the fakecharity be branded SafeTea.

JuliaM has now discovered that somebody actually set up such a spoof fakecharity, and lo and behold, most council workers, who are inured to filling in endless elfin safety surveys, took it seriously.

Twat in a hat

Tuesday 20 October 2009

1984(19): Home-Owner-ism

From 1984 by George Orwell

... it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction -- indeed, in some sense was the destruction -- of a hierarchical society. In a world in which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motor-car or even an aeroplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction...

Nor was it a satisfactory solution to keep the masses in poverty by restricting the output of goods. This happened to a great extent during the final phase of capitalism, roughly between 1920 and 1940. The economy of many countries was allowed to stagnate, land went out of cultivation, capital equipment was not added to, great blocks of the population were prevented from working and kept half alive by State charity.

But this, too, entailed military weakness, and since the privations it inflicted were obviously unnecessary, it made opposition inevitable. The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare.

That's the clever bit, you see.

The dominant ideology in Anglophone countries, whether by accident or design, is Home-Owner-Ism, which has only developed into a fully-fledged set of political-economic-ideological beliefs* since the 1960s or 1970s.

Unlike IngSoc, Home-Owner-Ism does not divert excess productive capacity into warfare (and thereby destroying it), it diverts excess productive capacity back into property values. This is achieved principally by restricting the number of houses that can be built; steadily reducing the tax burden on property ownership (while increasing it on everything else) and diverting as much money (a lot of it being taxpayers' money) into the banking system as possible.

So whoever happens to have been on "the housing ladder" the longest is not just top of the heirarchy, but accrues the benefits of all the excess productive capacity as well - in plain English, earnings before housing costs are relatively evenly distributed (according to skills, effort, luck etc) but disposable income after housing costs is vastly greater for those who have paid off a mortgage than it is for first time buyers - I don't mean one-and-a-half or twice as much, it is more like five or ten times as much. Unlike in 1984 where the Inner Party members keep all the power but live relatively meagre lives.

I cheerfully admit that George Orwell probably didn't mean the book that way, but even in his book, there appears to be a complete lack of new residential construction. The Proles all live in Victorian back-to-backs and the Outer Party live in blocks of flats constructed in the 1930s. When he and Julia meet up in the countryside, Winston is quite surprised to see that urban London suddenly stops and all around are it are green fields, meadows and forests.

I argue a lot with Home-Owner-Ists, and they are also masters in DoubleThink, which makes them very slippery opponents indeed, but I will cover that some other time.

* I say "beliefs" in the strict sense that a lot of people genuinely believe that half of the UK by surface area is developed or urbanised. It's not, about ten per cent is developed or urbanised.

"Just where and to whom does a quango's responsibility lie?"

I like to do my fair share of quango-baiting and fakecharity-exposing, which is mainly based on published articles and accounts, but Witterings From Witney, who does battle with them in real life, has some real horror stories to tell.

'Time for action' on fakecharities

The BBC have re-heated an article from a year and a half ago titled UK mulling fuel poverty voucher, only this time it's titled 'Time for action' on fuel poverty:

A charter aimed at ridding Wales of fuel poverty by 2018 is being launched by charities and consumer groups. Campaigners say one in four Welsh households - 320,000 - experience fuel proverty, meaning they have to spend 10% or more of their income on heating. The chair of the Wales Fuel Poverty Coalition said they have united to say "now is the time for action".

In case the words 'charities', 'campaigners' and 'coalition' don't set alarm bells ringing, a quick squizz at National Energy Action's 2008 accounts shows their main subsidiary Warm Zones Limited received £12,210,580 from the government or local councils in the year (note 5, page 11), as well as £2,797,939 in grants from various government departments/local councils, including £2,285,287 from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (note 6, page 12). It had also built up a nice pot of £6,340,233 by the year end (Cashflow statement, page 9 - the column for 2008 is incorrectly headed 2007, natch).

The whole thing is bizarre. The government has been paying these people for years to 'campaign' for an end to fuel poverty and to subsidise home insulation, while simultaneously ensuring that domestic fuel prices - for example all the 'extra investment in renewables'*, the 5% VAT and allowing the gas suppliers to run a cartel (actually, I'm not sure whether they do, I have asked the expert in the comments here).

There's no need to make it so complicated! If you increase taxes on gas (preferably at the import stage rather than at point of end-use, like VAT), then home insulation becomes more attractive anyway by comparison, and if they scrapped all this loony 'extra investment in renewables' as well, then there'd be plenty of extra money for cutting vehicle excise duty, increasing the tax-free personal allowance or old age pensions so that the average user is no worse off (on a static basis) but putting a downward pressure on usage/encouraging people to insulate their homes.

* One of the dozens of other quangos that competes in this area is the Energy Savings Trust, which cheerfully admitted that [Annual domestic] Energy bills could go over £4,000 by 2020

What on Earth is this doing on a BBC 'blog?

Via UKIPWebMaster, an article titled Alan Bown and Michael Brown - spot the difference(s) on Newsnight's political editor Michael Crick's BBC 'blog.

The main thrust of which will not be news to the well-informed reader:

Case A: Alan Bown gave a political party £363,697
1) It was his money
2) He had a business trading in this country, making him eligible to donate money
3) He was not on the electoral register when he donated although he was the year before, and also the year afterwards.

Case B: Michael Brown gave a political party £2.7m
1) It was not his money, he had defrauded it
2) His business was not trading in the UK, so therefore he was ineligible to donate money
3) He was not on the electoral register; neither was he the year afterwards, nor the year before.

Do you see the difference(s)?

I'd like to say that not much surprises me any more, but seeing this on a BBC 'blog did, to be honest.


Monday 19 October 2009

Why stop halfway*?

From The FT:

Environmentalists are becoming increasingly concerned that a Conservative government could fail to live up to David Cameron’s early promise to put green issues at the heart of government...

There are fears that Boris Johnson’s actions in London – the mayor has cut the Greater London Authority’s climate team from 49 posts to 26 – are a sign of things to come.

C'mon BoJo, now you've found the stack of blank P45s, why not do the other 26 as well? What on earth does a member of the "climate team" do all day long? Can't he just watch the weather forecast on the telly before he goes to work like everybody else?

* OK, sacking 23 out of 49 isn't quite halfway, but hey.

Aaargh!! Now they're derailing trains!

From The Metro:

One of Australia's most popular tourist trains, The Ghan, has derailed after hitting a cow in the Outback... The locomotive ran off the tracks, but there was no damage to the train, Dent said.

More free publicity for the BNP

From the BBC:

"Mr Hain has written to BBC director general Mark Thompson arguing the BNP was "an unlawful body" following a court ruling on its membership policy. The BBC said it would respond to Mr Hain's letter "in due course"...

... in his letter, Mr Hain, a prominent anti-apartheid activist before becoming an MP, said the decision should be reconsidered in light of a legal case about ethnic restrictions on the BNP's membership rules. The party has agreed to amend its constitution after the Equalities and Human Rights Commission sought an injunction, claiming the BNP was breaking the Race Relations Act by restricting membership to "indigenous Caucasian" people...(1)

As well as Mr Griffin and Mr Straw, panellists are expected to include Conservative peer Baroness Warsi, Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne and playwright and critic Bonnie Greer (2).


(1) The BNP's membership policy may well be in breach of the RRA (even though it can't be in breach of the Equality Bill because that is not enacted yet) and hence unlawful, but that does not make the entire organisation unlawful.

(2) Maybe I should write to the BBC myself and claim that my application to be Bonnie Greer was turned down because I am neither American, a woman, nor 'of African descent', in which case Ms Greer is also an 'unlawful organisation' and should be prevented from attending. Anyway, how many votes did she get at the last elections?

Sunday 18 October 2009

Jenson Button wins F1 World Drivers' Championship!!

That fifth place in Brazil just now clinched it. Unless of course 'they' retrospectively knock off a couple of points to make sure the championship isn't decided until the final race, as is traditional.

Yippee, well done Jenson etc.

Comment Only Sunday

As we all well know, people 'blog more during the week and take the weekend off. I (and presumably many others) have longer, more detailed or nuanced articles on their to-do list, which I can only do at the weekend, but the problem is that very few people read them.

So I shall try something new today, I will not post anything at all (apart from this), and will slog round every 'blog on my blogrolls and think of something supportive, amusing or controversial to leave in the comments.

If you stumble across this post, I'd appreciate responses to the simple philosophical question that I posed on Friday.

Saturday 17 October 2009

Vaclav Klaus

Missing beats round

In place of a gear-change this weekend, let's do 'missing beats' instead*.

Here's a fairly faithful version of "Rolling and tumbling" by Muddy Waters. The riff (which is in A) between the singing parts isn't repeated four times, it's repeated three-and-a-half times or it's three times with two empty beats where they slide up to the singing parts (which are in D or E) depending on which way you look at it. I'd been listening to this song for over twenty years before I noticed - it wasn't until I compared it with Bob Dylan's version on "Modern Times" (who just does the riff four times in a perfunctory sort of fashion) that the penny dropped...

* Other songs to be featured in this series will be "Heart of glass" by Blondie and "Hell in a bucket" by The Grateful Dead. I can't actually think of many others.

Fun Online Poll Results: some of you don't get out much.

I first ran this week's poll on this 'blog and then linked to it over at HousePriceCrash. The final results, split into people responding from here or there are as follows:

So well done two-thirds of you - the correct figure is indeed 'about ninety per cent'. Page 44 of this gives estimates for developed/urban areas of between 8.9% and 13.%. And those are figures for England, which is just over half the surface area of the UK, but five-sixths of the population and an even greater fraction of the economy.

In other words, my suspicions are confirmed. A third of the better-educated people who read this 'blog or HPC have either never looked at a map, taken a long car or train journey, looked out of an aeroplane window or bothered to google the topic.

Even worse than that, The Barker Review commissioned a poll among less-well-educated folk, i.e. the general public, which asked "What proportion of land in England do you think is developed?", and the responses were as follows:

Between half and three-quarters - 21%
Around half -23%
Between a quarter and a half - 19%
A quarter or less - 13%
Don't know - 15%

Which is pretty terrifying. Who is pumping out the propaganda to make people believe this and why? There's no way I can fight it, is there? I've argued with NIMBYs who insist that half our country was already built on; when I point out that it's a tenth they just reply "Well, that's still too much," instead of the rational response, which would be "Only a tenth? Oh, that's brilliant! That means there's plenty of scope to build a few more houses and factories etc."

Prompted by a post over at Steven_L's Place, this week's Fun Online Poll asks "Who poses the biggest threat to 'our way of life'? The BNP, the Islamists, both or neither?" I'm not including 'The Nanny Statists' as an option, because they are exactly the people who created the conditions in which both the BNP and the Islamists can thrive and then assumed more powers to meet the alleged threat(s).

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Boris Johnson (2)

Is this really such a good idea?

"Spreading your mortgage over 35 years"? Did I read that correctly? Click to enlarge:

FakeCharities - Tory-style (2)

We're all familiar with Labour's model of the fakecharity, i.e. set up and fund registered charities to 'campaign' for stuff that they wanted to do anyway and/or sub-contract government functions to favoured recipients.

The Tories have learned a thing or two, so to get away from the old model whereby they are openly in the pocket of 'industry lobby groups' or 'trade associations', they are now collaborating with righteous sounding organisations like the Public Health Commission or the Sustainable Consumption Institute. The latter was brought to my attention by David Phipps over at IndHome, who did an admirable job of fisking one of Call-Me-Dave's more moronic speeches, well worth a read, but let's dig a bit deeper.

As I explained a couple of months ago, the former is a food industry lobby group, and a bit of clicking tells us that the latter is a joint-venture between willing grant recipients at Oxford University and Tesco supermarkets, who want to dress themselves up as an 'environmentally friendly' business.

But then again, Labour are just as guilty of making concessions to particular businesses in exchange for money, starting with the Bernie Ecclestone donation, but other tips of that particular iceberg are their symbiotic relationship with Sainsbury's supermarkets, Lakshmi Mittal, Hinduja Brothers, Northern Rock and peddlers of 'sustainable energy', for example (there are dozens of others, but you get the general idea).

So I'm having another one of those Animal Farm moments: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

The only question which we might be able to answer is "What are we going to call these organisations?" They're not really fakecharities in the accepted sense but they're not quite industry lobby groups either. If anybody can think of a term that encapsulates the horror, please leave a comment!