Monday 30 November 2009

"A renewable energy lobby seeks power in Brussels"

Via Global Post, here's a nice little insight into how things works at the EU:

... the hard-headed lobbyists representing the renewable energy industry in Europe these days has come a long way from that image of tree-hugging dreamers.

“The European renewable energy industry has an annual turnover of about 45 billion euros and employs 450,000 people,” said Christine Lins, general secretary of the European Renewable Energy Council. EREC is an umbrella group for a series of associations representing what were once called “alternative energies.” Although the associations sometimes work with environmental campaigners like Greenpeace, their membership includes industrial giants such as Electricite de France, Shell and Siemens.

Renewable energy these days is a big business that could be about to get a whole lot bigger if world leaders agree on a package to cut global warming at the U.N. climate change conference starting Dec. 7 in Copenhagen.

EREC has an annual budget of 850,000 euros ($1.3 million) and directly employs 10 people at its Brussels headquarters, which it shares with affiliate organisations such as the European Biomass Association and the European Ocean Energy Association. In total about 100 people work at the Renewable Energy House. It is part of a vast lobbying community — some estimates put the total number of lobbyists at 15,000 — that has grown up in Brussels around the institutions of the European Union which are headquartered in the Belgian capital.

EREC seeks to influence European legislation to create "positive frameworks" for renewable energy and promote European technologies in the renewable sector. It hailed the EU's target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 to 30 percent by 2020 as a major success. The umbrella group provides information and consultancy for political decision makers from local to international level as well as seeking to reach out to the international media and other opinion makers. EREC also works as a forum for exchanges of information and promotes research on the development of renewable technology.

“We have some of our members that are the utilities, that not only run wind farms and concentrated solar thermic plants but also nuclear or coal power plants,” Lins said, "We also see that more and more hydrocarbon companies are interested in biofuels because clearly they understand that their markets are limited and that they need to diversify in order to ensure the future of their companies.”

With the 27-nation European Union committed to producing a fifth of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, Lins said the sector could be generating 150 billion euros ($225 billion) in revenues and 2 million jobs across the EU a decade from now. That could be just the beginning.

“It is absolutely feasible that we go far beyond the 20 percent,” she said, "There are no limits. Now, there is a discussion going on about the new energy policy of the European Union until 2050, and there we clearly see that renewables can contribute up to 100 percent.”

It could have been worse ...

... they could have pelted her with bacon.

Hurray! Another little pet theory borne out in practice.

As I have been saying for a while, e.g. here:

... what [quantitative easing] boils down to is commercial banks and government departments shuffling numbers on bits of paper (or on computer screens) around between themselves with little or no impact on the wider economy.

From today's FT*:

Key measures of money supply and bank lending both fell in October, raising further questions about the effectiveness of the Bank of England’s £200bn programme to pump cash into the economy.

Money supply as measured by M4 “broad” money excluding distortions from the financial sector fell 0.7 per cent in the month and by 5.3 per cent over the last three months annualised, figures from the Bank showed... The figures also showed that M4 lending excluding the effect of securitisations and financial sector distortions fell at a 3.4 per cent annualised pace in the three months to October compared with an average of about 10 per cent annual growth in the decade leading up to the crisis.

The weakness of money supply and credit is a sign that banks are reluctant to lend and consumers and businesses are holding off spending and borrowing, and underlies fears that deflationary pressures still haunt the UK economy...

Via HPC.

Damn! There goes another pet theory

Bayard asked a while ago, "Mark, do you have a handle on whether rising house prices generated Home-Owner-ism or vice versa?"

I had assumed that the two went in tandem - rising prices means that more people 'jump on the property ladder', and the more are 'on the property ladder, the more politicians will do to ensure ever-rising prices to create the illusion of wealth. My Google trawls unearthed a summary of the percentage of owner-occupiers in European countries (table 1, page 49, pdf) and the FT European House price Guide, which gives us nominal price rises between 2000 and 2008, which form the basis of the chart.

To be honest, although there appears to be some correlation, it is not that striking:
Ah well.

"Checks on parents at school events"

From The Metro:

Parents hoping to accompany their children to school Christmas events are having their criminal records checked in case they are paedophiles, it was claimed.

The Government insisted it was not policy to vet parents attending carol concerts or nativity plays amid reports schools were using the database of people banned from working with children for sex offences and for other reasons...

Graham McArthur, headmaster of Somersham primary school in Cambridgeshire, told the Sunday Times that checks were being carried out on more than 20 parents volunteering to walk his 330 pupils to a carol service at nearby St John's church on December 17...

Slow news day

Apparently a wall fell over in Caversham, Reading. That's about it so far.

Sunday 29 November 2009

Universal Inheritance

A while back I had an exchange of emails with the chap from Universal Inheritance, who propose an idea a bit like a Citizen's Income, only people would get larger one-off capital sums at certain ages, rather than a modest weekly cash income.

My main objection was that some people would just waste the money, and more sensible people would use it to buy their first home, so all it would do is push up house prices, so there'd be a transfer of cash (via the tax system) to younger people and then an equal and opposite transfer of cash back to people who want to sell a house without having to buy another, i.e. people moving abroad or people who have inherited. In the end, we agreed to disagree.

But I do like the general principle. Now, ask yourself, what is it that most of the older generation have that future generations don't, and which the older generation could grant the younger generation at no immediate cash cost?

Without going into the administrative details too much (1), and bearing in the mind that the market value of planning permission for a house in the UK is now about £100,000, how about a non-financial 'Universal Inheritance' of planning permission for half a house? In other words, landowners would not be able to apply for or be granted planning, but every UK citizen, on reaching the age of (say) 25 years old gets a voucher entitling him or her to planning permission 'worth' £50,000 (2), so that a young couple could club together, buy up a three-hundred square yard plot (3) and have their own house built (4), which costs £70,000 for a basic semi, or £100,000 for a nice four-bed detached? (5)
Here are a few first thoughts on the administrative and practical details.

(1) The problem is always the transitional measures, so it might be kinder to start off by giving everybody aged between twenty five and thirty five one tenth of a voucher each year, so that those people who had already paid top whack for a home in the past few years can cash in a bit by selling off the vouchers they don't need to help cover the mortgage payments.

(2) The value of all new and pre-existing but unexercised vouchers would be re-set each year at the average selling price of all 3-bed semi's in the UK minus the notional rebuild costs of £70,000. If the additional new supply made houses cheaper, then there'd be less need for the vouchers and they'd fall in value.

(3) Of course, some land is more expensive than others, so if you want to build in the Highlands, you'd get planning permission to build on six hundred square yards, and if you want to build within the M25, you'd get planning permission to build on one-hundred-and-fifty square yards, so people might club together and arrange for a block of flats to be built.

(4) Again, people might find it more convenient to sell their voucher to a construction company and put the proceeds towards buying an existing home, or a group of like-minded families might club together and have an estate built, but without a stack of vouchers, construction companies and landowners simply would not be given planning permission. The best they can do is lobby intensively against the system, so we'd have to make sure there is popular support for it, which in turn depends on how deep the British notion of 'fairness' runs, or whether this year's generation of new owners just turn into next year's NIMBYs.

a) So that would put a cap on the number of new homes built of about 400,000 a year (i.e. the housing stock would increase by no more than one-and-a-half per cent a year). Or the measure might depress new construction to zero, because existing home-owners no longer have the whip hand and so have to sell their houses for a lot less.

b) The right to sell all or part of your vouchers is especially valuable for lower-income couples who can only afford (say) £50,000 for the bricks and mortar, which they could finance by selling off one of their vouchers. Or perhaps they can't even afford that, and they would give their vouchers to the local council in exchange for a council house, on which they pay a below market-rent which approximates to the value of the voucher they have foregone.

(5) The model is a bit trickier with densely built areas, so existing publicly accessible open spaces like parks or nature reserves, AONB's etc would remain protected (a). Once every 'brownfield site' is used up, it is used up. But that would just drive up land values, so you'd end up with the choice between (i) 200 square yards outside London but within the M25 or (ii) seven square yards of Chelsea Barracks. Seven square yards of land isn't much of course, but it's still equivalent to a one-bedroom flat in a ten-storey block without car parking spaces.

a) Of course, every NIMBY in the country would be clamouring for the field that happens to be behind their house to be declared an AONB. To put a stop to that, only the registered freeholder of the land would be able to apply, so people like the National Trust wouldn't have to worry too much, and proper NIMBYs would be forced to club together and buy the field for whatever the farmer holds out for. I'll let regular commenters Dearieme and Sobers battle that one out between themselves.

Saturday 28 November 2009

I'm sure I had it a moment ago. It was there.

Porsche Rollups

No, seriously.

"They came out of nowhere"

From The Times:

Police were called to round up a herd of escaped cows that lumbered through a housing estate trampling flowers, knocking over bins and denting cars.

Paul Toon, 50, said that he was almost crushed. “It was very scary. I heard a rumbling sound like thunder, then suddenly a wall of black and white came charging past the house. They went from one garden to the next ripping up flowers.” Another resident said: “The cows dented my new Audi, which will cost hundreds to repair. They came out of nowhere. Luckily no one was hurt.”

The cows escaped from a field near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, and crossed the A5 in the rush hour to reach the estate...

Thanks to Pavlov's Cat for the tip-off.

The perfect alibi ...

Spotted by JuliaM at the BBC:

A Swedish man who was arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife has been cleared, after police decided she was probably killed by an elk...

The European elk, or moose, is usually considered to be shy and will normally run away from humans. But Swedish Radio International says the animals can become aggressive after eating fermented fallen apples in gardens.

Mr Westlund and the elk were last seen setting off on a luxury round the world cruise. Allegedly.

Dishwasher joke

My wife asked me to buy some tablets for the dishwasher.

"Oh dear..." I said "I didn't even realise it was poorly."

Beatrice, Fergie

They're at it again

The BBC News Channel invited the chap from Responsible Travel into the studio this morning to allow him to explain why they no longer do 'carbon offsetting', and he seemed perfectly sincere and sensible. To put the 'other' point of view, they invited somebody from Forum For The Future, which is rather unsurpringly a fakecharity, which received over £1m from the government and the EU in 2008 (see note 2 to the accounts).

The corresponding article on the BBC's website follows the template to the letter - first an outline of the actual story, then responses from a couple of fakecharities* and finally a quote from a government minister saying how great the government is but that "more must be done".

* The International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance is the umbrella body/lobby group for a whole raft of fakecharities and fakeprivatecompanies such as Carbon Clear, The CarbonNeutral Company, ClimateCare (part of J P Morgan), Climate Friendly, co2balance, NativeEnergy, targetneutral (part of British Petroleum!) and TerraPass.

Friends of the Earth was outed a while ago.

Friday 27 November 2009

I might be slow on the uptake, but ...

... here's a summary of Tory and Labour spending plans before the last general election in 2005, as reported reasonably accurately in The Torygraph at the time:

Labour was forced on the defensive yesterday over its attempt to claim the Conservatives were committed to £35 billion of "cuts" in public services"... Tony Blair and Gordon Brown claimed the "cuts" were equivalent to sacking "every nurse, every teacher and every doctor"...

Mr Darling claimed that, according to the Tories own figures, they envisaged total public spending in 2011-12 would be £663.5 billion - £35 billion lower than Labour's expenditure plans. He said that Tories were committed to further spending commitments totalling at least £15 billion. As these would have to be funded by cuts elsewhere in spending plans, the total size of the Tories' "cuts" was £50 billion.

Mr Darling said savings on this scale could not be achieved by a cash freeze. A Tory government would have to cut departmental budgets. "Far from being able to fund such huge cuts in 'bureaucracy', £35 billion is actually the equivalent of sacking every teacher, every GP and every nurse in the country - sacking 550,000 teachers, 81,000 GPs and 396,000 nurses," Mr Darling said.

I didn't bother getting involved in politics until early 2006, having hitherto seen it as a spectator sport, but looking back, that was a mushroom cloud rather than a smoking gun.

Interestingly enough, Labour have more or less hit the spending target of £700 billion in 2011-12* that they proposed back in 2005. But what's really interesting is that if you turn Alistair Darling's logic round, what he was saying was that out of £700 billion planned spending, barely five per cent was to be on we traditionally see as 'public services', i.e. teachers, doctors, nurses**. To be fair, he didn't mention law and order, but that cost about as much again.

As a cuddly liberal, I don't have a problem with a bit of spending on measures to alleviate poverty, preferably in the form of a Citizen's Income scheme, which I reckon would cost rather less than total current spending on measures to alleviate poverty - be they good (such as the tax-free personal allowance or Child Benefit), totally counter-productive (like Working Tax Credits) or downright wasteful (like tax-breaks for pension contributions), call it £200 billion per annum, tops.

So my small-ish state would cost about £270 billion, but that still leaves £430 billion out of current spending of £700 billion unaccounted for.

So let's not bicker and argue about whether refuse collection (which costs about £4 billion a year, if memory serves) is or is not a core function of the state, can we not try and work out where the £430 billion goes?

* That is a brilliant website, well worth a visit.

** Yes, we'd do far better to replace this with health or education vouchers, but that would be in order to improve the quality of services offered, and not a cost-saving measure as such.

Friday night gear change

This is a prime example of the thinking that says "Great song so far, but we have to pad it out to about three minutes". The song itself is indeed great for the first minute and a half, grinds to a natural halt during a delightful percussion section (at which stage it should have been faded out) , stops completely ... and then starts again with just percussion/vocals (see also "Living on a prayer") before the band comes back in, at which stage Messrs Chinn and Chapman think "Shit! We haven't even got two minutes' worth" so for the next minute and a half there are four (count them) gear changes, each sounding more strained that the previous one:


Photo emailed to me by M.

Luke 15:7*

This week's "sinner that repenteth" might well be Paul Hudson, who wrote the infamous Whatever happened to global warming? article a month ago and who has now waded into the leaked climate-change-fraud-email debate on his BBC 'blog.

OK, I'd worry about his claim that "action is needed to be taken from the world's biggest polluters to cut carbon dioxide emissions", but this will all only unravel one thread at a time**

* King James Bible: "I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance."

** Leg Iron used this analogy a few days ago and I've finally got round to nicking it.

More bollocks

The Metro follows up yesterday's bollocks-related stories with this:

The [police] officer has compiled a report into the use of mephedrone across the Durham force area and part of his research has focused on online forums.

The report states: 'A large number of contributors state how addictive mephedrone is and they are constantly topping up as one individual states that after using it for 18 hours his hallucinations led him to believe that centipedes were crawling over him and biting him. This led him to receive hospital treatment after he ripped his scrotum off.'

More Xmas Tree/Elfin Safety Fun...

From The Metro:

The tree that normally costs £500 has been replaced by a £13,000 fake amid fears it would fall over in strong winds. The new 10m (33ft) tall variety, has no branches and decorations, is sturdier and doesn't have to be cordoned off to keep people away, authorities claim. But residents say it looks more like a gigantic traffic cone, a witch's hat, an ice-cream cornet or even something out of Doctor Who...

Richard Randall-Jones, the town centre manager, defended the new fake tree."People think you can just go into the woods, chop down a tree and put it up in the high street. But if it blows over and kills someone then somebody is liable for it," he said.

I'm not sure how many people have ever been killed by real Xmas trees, and presumably there are as yet no statistics on how many are killed by giant cones. Does anybody else suspect that somebody on the council might have a brother-in-law who happens to sell giant cones?

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From today's FT:


Robert Zoellick (Heed the danger of asset bubbles*, November 25) mentions at least five ways being attempted in Singapore to dampen the property price bubble.

Strangely he does not suggest that it might be appropriate to increase the annual land value tax (currently 0.5 per cent of land market value) levied by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore. As head of the World Bank Group, should he not be suggesting that this type of tax be seriously considered internationally to inhibit property (ie land) price bubbles?

In Singapore, public infrastructure is funded by land value tax, which is a fair quid pro quo, since the value of land is directly related to infrastructure improvement.

Charles Bazlinton, Alresford, Hants.

* From the earlier article: "In Singapore, the 16 per cent surge in property prices during the third quarter of this year led the authorities to release more land for development and to take steps to stop borrowers from deferring payments. Other more focused measures include setting targets for the overall rate of growth of bank credit, imposing caps on the share of bank lending for real estate and portfolio investments, or higher capital requirements for riskier lenders.

In developed countries, where central banks want to keep rates low, regulators should be considering supplementary tools such as raising margin requirements on stock, bond and futures transactions, or raising down-payment requirements on commercial or speculative real estate deals."

Thursday 26 November 2009

Tony Blair

Life copies satire (again)

Woman On A Raft (who now blogs here), in a thread about patio heaters of a year-and-a-half ago:

I picked up a green living catalogue from outside Neal's Yard and it said that fire bowls, chimineas etc were all OK, and double OK if you bought them from ethical suppliers, preferably having been made by Mexicans/Indonesians whatever, from clay or recycled bottletops...

All this time, I had assumed she was being ironic.



Umbongo, in the comments to an earlier post:

Oswald then concludes (I think) that [unemployment is] somehow prevented by a flourishing O-O market. A more obvious and less laboriously constructed conclusion (again, per Friedman) is that were there not frictions in every part of the housing market then all markets (including the employment market and the transport market) would be more efficient.

Oswald is entitled to draw any conclusions he likes. I was just presenting the raw data, not saying that I agree with him in everything. The point is that high owner-occupancy rates are inimical to a "flourishing" or "frictionless" housing market, because owner-occupiers tend to strongly oppose new developments - whether that is of new executive villas, normal estates for normal families or indeed sink estates - and vote for whichever party promises the least new development. And negative equity is a real brake on (geographic) mobility.

Forgetting that O-O might be, to a large extent, a non-economic ambition. Oswald's implied solution (since it's one of the 5 "problems") must include the prevention of owner-occupiers exercising their political strength (in planning inquiries etc) so that the state (through councils/housing associations) or developers can impose their preferred solutions locally. This would certainly contribute to reducing home-ownership.

O-O is very much an economic ambition! People genuinely believe that a home should not just be somewhere to live but a source of tax-free income and capital gains. That's (partly) which O-Oer's oppose new development - to create an artificial scarcity value (or to preserve their private enjoyment of whatever public benefits accrue to people living in any area).

And what is this mantra "developers imposing their preferred solutions"? There's demand for housing from perfectly ordinary people, who'd also like to be able to afford to buy a house. The same as there's demand for cars or apples or private schools. I never hear anybody complaining about car manufacturers or farmers or private schools "imposing their preferred solutions" (except maybe the Lefties, but they're just as bad).

Such a solution might "solve" some unemployment but would certainly create some messy democratic problems.

OK, young couples who'd like to buy a house are a minority at any one time, so on a static basis, existing O-Oers can use their vote to thwart their wishes. But wasn't everybody young once? Isn't the O-O market actually a great big Ponzi scheme?

Since Oswald's paper has been posted on a blog which strongly advocates LVT as an economic panacea, Oswald's implied solution would not, of course, be a problem for fans of LVT since the downgrading of a local area would be "compensated" by a lowering of LVT.

I never said "panacea". There are two kinds of economic problems. Those that will be solved by LVT and those that are insoluble. With LVT, local councils would be doing their utmost to ensure that their area is as attractive as possible and not "downgraded", or else they choke off their only source of income, that's the whole point.

I would be happy to pay a higher LVT (as I currently pay a higher council tax) to keep my local area in the way I and my neighbours want it. However, a lower (or nil) LVT would not, I think, ever be able to compensate for the parachuting of problem families (or worse) into the neighbourhood. This lack of a true compensation mechanism is one of the basic weaknesses of LVT (unless a negative LVT is contemplated).

As to the "problem families", logic says that the best thing we could do is round them all up and make them live on some isolated army-style barracks somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Far too many people say "Oh, we can't liberalise planning laws because we'd get stuck with a council estate." How about "We don't want a council estate so we'll ask the council to allow more new housing for O-O to be built"? When did you ever hear that?

Finally, of course there's negative LVT. More LVT = less of other taxes. Whether you see that as an "income tax cut" or an "LVT refund" is a different matter.


Wrong on so many levels ...

It's difficult to know where to start with this article in The Evening Standard...

A Town Hall is poised to ban open-plan design in new housing developments because it is unpopular with Asian families.

A six-month investigation by Tower Hamlets found affordable units in the borough — aimed at key workers and people on low incomes — were vacant. But there are more than 22,000 people on its housing waiting lists.

The council believes this is because many families, particularly those of Asian origin, are not interested in homes with a combined kitchen and living space. A report on the problem says: “Separate provision would be much more suited because the [Asian] lifestyle requires separate seating space for male and female visitors and also the type of food cooked, heavy in oil and spices, which can have strong odours.”

Despite the borough's large Asian community — almost 37 per cent of the population, according to the latest census — only 12 per cent of the open-plan units were sold to Asian buyers. Almost 70 per cent of those sold recently have gone to white people.

Tower Hamlets is now set to alter its planning guidance to specify the need for separate rooms in all new developments. The Greater London Authority has recommended separate living and kitchen areas in large family units...

Developers often prefer open-plan designs because they are cheaper to build. But if they fail to find the extra space in family-sized affordable homes in Tower Hamlets, they are unlikely to win planning permission.

Waiseul Islam, chairman of the council's group on affordable home ownership, said: “Overcrowding and the demand for social housing have continued to rise locally, and shared-ownership schemes designed to assist people into home ownership haven't been as successful as anticipated.”

... so I don't think I'll even start, because it would take me all afternoon.

FakeCharity Of The Day

Andrew K over at Bishop Hill has a look at The Climate Outreach and Information Network. And doesn't like what he sees.

Thanks to Banned for the tip-off.


Three from The Metro:

Thailand makes it tougher to have sex-change surgery: Transsexuals and transgender men are a common sight in Thailand, appearing on soap operas and working at all levels of Bangkok society...

But over the past two years, a spate of castrations, especially among young men, has alarmed the medical establishment and prompted the new rules. Dr Sampandh Komrit, from the Medical Council of Thailand, said the new rules came into effect yesterday and require a person to wait a year after deciding on the surgery... "This is a very important decision in their life," Sampandh said. "After the operation, there is no way to fix it."

Testicles ripped out in a jealous attack: A source told a newspaper: 'Billy was only wearing his underpants at this stage. Helen grabbed his testicles and pulled them as hard as she could. His scrotum had been ripped open and his testicles were dangling by his legs. There was blood all over the flat.'

Men who want sex no longer risk jail by promising marriage, which is ambiguous. It could mean "Men who no longer want sex risk [being sent to] jail if they promise marriage", although it doesn't, of course.

Life copies satire

JuliaM in the comments here:

Weren't the Aussies contemplating a camel cull a while ago, but stymied by the problem of actually finding them in the outback? Well, problem solved! Commence bombing run!

From today's Metro:

Thousands of "marauding, wild" camels will be gunned down by helicopters after over-running a small town in Australia's Outback, officials have vowed.

About 6,000 of the animals have been wreaking havoc in Docker River after invading the town in search of water - trampling fences, smashing tanks and contaminating supplies. The Northern Territory government has now announced its plan for dealing with the camels, which have been arriving daily for weeks because of drought conditions in the region....

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Owner-occupation - not all it's cracked up to be

Here are a couple of charts from some research carried out by Andrew J Oswald for the University of Warwick in 1999. That makes the precise statistics a little out of date, but the overall picture seems pretty clear:

Quote of the day

At EU Referendum:

... evidence is accumulating that global warming is most definitely man-made – but not as we know it...

Everybody's offended by something

I'd guess the people most likely to be offended by the infamous Michelle Obama/ape montage are people with severe burns to the face, but hey...It's a pretty rubbish montage anyway. Whoever did this one was much more sophisticated about it:

Shock And Awe

No deaths reported so far, but that's only a matter of time ...

Emailed by Mike.

Climate money 'unaccounted for'

From The Metro:

A total of 20 nations pledged up to 410 million dollars (£247 million) a year in 2001, resulting in a pot that should be worth well over 1.6 billion dollars (£963 million). But only 260 million dollars (£157 million) has been paid into two United Nations funds earmarked for the purpose according to the latest figures, the BBC World Service investigation said.

The EU said the money was collected in "bilateral and multilateral deals", but was unable to provide data to back up the claim...

Artur Runge-Metzger, the senior climate change negotiator for the European Union, said the EU had done what it promised to do. "We can say we met the promise - climate finance has really been stepped up," he told the BBC. But he admitted the EU was unable to provide data to show it did pay the money. "It's sometimes very hard to say what is the climate bit of this financing."

Glorious. Two massive frauds exposed simultaneously.

Health scare story du jour

From The Daily Express: HEALTH SCARE: SALT KILLS 40,000 A YEAR

Are they seriously trying to say that nearly one-in-ten deaths in the UK is caused by salt?

If you go to the 'research' itself, over at The British Medical Journal, it says "Most adult populations around the world have average daily salt intakes higher than 6 g, and for many in eastern Europe and Asia higher than 12 g. International recommendations suggest that average population salt intake should be less than 5-6 g per day. "

In which case people in eastern Europe or Asia should be dropping like flies, right?

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Dangerous/Not dangerous

Two headlines from The Metro:

Balloons are 'dangerous', trader is told

Nuclear power station shut by blaze

Channel 4 News covers the climate change fraud emails (again)

Channel 4 gave it another four minutes this evening.

Their clip includes a lot of excerpts from Fox News, whose tone is pretty much as you'd expect it to be, as well as an opportunity for Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, whose launch was announced today, to explain proper science.

Benny either speaks very good English for a German or lousy English for an American... ah... he appears to be an Israeli, that might explain it.

PS, the GWPF can't be all bad - they've got Samuel Brittan on their academic advisory council.

Private Equity Fun

(Prequel: I moseyed into a Borders shop yesterday to see if they'd roll out the red carpet on the off chance I was The Buyer they were looking for, but they didn't, so I quickly thumbed through Swallows and Amazons, made my excuses and left.)

Sequel: according to the BBC, things are looking a bit grim for Borders in the UK - they've stopped taking online orders and some publishers have stopped supplying them. The best bit of that article is right at the end:

... The Borders chain was originally owned by the US book giant of the same name but was sold in June 2007 to Risk Capital Partners. Risk Capital then sold it on to the private equity firm Valco earlier this year.


Borders Inc is a quoted US company.
Risk Capital Partners are a private equity firm.
Valco Capital is a private equity firm.


As we well know, "private equity" is largely fuelled by [cheap] bank loans, and as we can see from the above example, is a bit of a pyramid scheme. It's a good job that our governments are now using taxpayers' money to bail out the banks' losses on all this, isn't it?

Footnote of the day

The Institute for Economic Affairs posted an article about the Child Poverty Action Group yesterday:

It is a bit tricky to criticise an organisation that describes itself as “the leading charity campaigning for the abolition of child poverty in the UK”. But when a charity enters the realm of political debate, as the Child Poverty Action Group frequently does, then their proposals ought to be examined without the kid gloves on...


They have since added a footnote: "A reader has pointed out that the CPAG receives a significant proportion of its income from various government departments. See Note 3 to the 2008 accounts."


Reader's Letter Of The Day

From today's Metro:

Cynic as I undoubtedly am in matters relating to government bodies and the political correctness that now prevails, I still find it disgusting that the wishes of the tax-paying majority were ignored in favour of a non-taxpaying minority - in this case, oversexed salmon.

The people of Cockermouth which has suffered terrible flooding (Metro, Mon) had asked that the River Derwent be dug deeper to prevent this crisis but were turned down by government bodies because of the rights of salmon to procreate where they choose.

I would ask two questions. Firstly, how much money was spent by government agencies in protecting these over-libidinous salmon? Secondly, how much money was not spent on the basic maintenance of these bridges?

Sue Hudson, London W2"

Not wishing to take anything at face value, I did a quick Google and find that this story was in The Daily Mail two days ago, and would appear to be true. From the article:

Jacqui White, Gote Road, Cockermouth, said: 'I attended a meeting with Natural England earlier this year when we told them we wanted to dig 10ft deeper so that the waters wouldn't flood and alleviate any flooding. But the officials there stood up and told the meeting that the salmon in the river were more important.'

Natural England have form for this. Bastards.
UPDATE: if you have another half a minute to spare, please follow the link which Banned left in the comments.

Daily Politics covers the climate change fraud emails

Another ten minutes on yesterday's Daily Politics with Professors Bob "[temperatures have risen by] about 0.75° Celsius over the last one hundred and fifty years" Watson and Fred "why hasn't there been warming over the last ten years" Singer, interviewed by Andrew "[since 1998] temperatures have ... been static or in a modest decline" Neill.

All textbook stuff. What's particularly amusing is that Watson chose a hundred and fifty years ago as a random starting point even after Singer had explained that there was a Little Ice Age three hundred years ago since when temperatures have bounced back.

Thanks to John Page for the tip-off.

Newsnight covers the climate change fraud emails

A rather lengthier piece (12 and a half minutes) starting at 1 min 12 secconds on yesterday's programme. Unlike Channel 4, they interviewed a sceptic, Fred "the models are useless ... we conclude that the cause of climate change is primarily natural" Singer, as well as a warmenist.

H/t Dearieme. The girl is indeed very plain.

Monday 23 November 2009

Channel 4 News covers the climate change fraud emails

At 18 minutes 18 seconds into part 3 of this evening's news.

They usually invite two people to give opposing views, but this time they just allowed some 'climate change scientist' to deny all charges. They did mention that Nigel Lawson has called for an enquiry into all this nonsense, we'll see what comes of that.

Fun Online Poll Results: value for taxpayers' money

Thanks to everybody who voted in last week's Fun Online Poll. Responses to the question "Who is better value for taxpayers' money?" (bearing in mind they appear to cost about the same amount of money) were:

The Royal Family - 67%
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission - 4%
Neither - 29%

Which is pretty much as I expected. FWIW, I am mildly pro-Royal family, because they are fairly cheap to run (I was once handed a Communist Party leaflet that said they cost each UK citizen 60p a year!), they bring in a lot of tourists, and more to the point, whatever we replaced them with would probably be far worse/more expensive.
Continuing in the same vein, I found out last week that the UK has, per capita, nearly twice as many public sector employees as the Republic of Ireland (or perhaps it's one-and-a-half times as many, but certainly a lot more). I've never been to Ireland, but from talking to people who have, I've never been given the impression that public services there are noticeably worse than in the UK.

So I'd be grateful if all you jet setters and globe trotters could give me a steer on how public services compare on either side of the Irish Sea. Vote here or use the widget in the side-bar.

No, I think you mean Switzerland.

From The Metro: UK must be at heart of Europe - PM.

As an aside, I note that the petition demanding that politicians say "European Union" when they mean "European Union" and "Europe" when they mean "Europe" is not going too well ...

Modest Ambition Of The Week

Borders' UK bookstores look for buyer

I wonder if they'll roll out the red carpet for me if I pop in to buy a book on the way home?

"Angry kangaroo slashes man in underwater dog attack"

Animal attacks being taken to new levels in today's Metro.

Is that what it was all about?

From the BBC:

... the capital of Afghanistan is experiencing a boom in real estate prices which defies the downward trend for property in many other parts of the world. According to local estate agents, prices in some parts of Kabul have risen by 75% in the past year.

Part of this increase is due to the prices that international agencies are willing to pay to acquire properties in the best locations. But wealthy Afghans, who have seen their property portfolios in Dubai plummet over the past year, have also pulled their investments out of the Gulf to plough back into Kabul. Most of those Afghans earned their money from contracts they have with the military and construction projects, although some acquired it from proceeds of the drug trade and buying property provides them with a means of laundering illicit gains.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Comma confusion, Comment Only Sunday

B emailed me to say that the comma in my strapline was in the wrong place - the second sentence of the telegram should read "If not duffers, won't drown"

Hmm. I replied as follows:

Ah, seeing as the original was a telegram, there wasn't any punctuation at all, so we'll have to apply logic. I have always - for the past thirty five years - understood it to mean

Sentence 1:
"I don't want to have children who are duffers, so let them go sailing: if they drown, that proves they were duffers, in which case that's no great loss" (thus implying that he doesn't think they are duffers, obviously, he's not that heartless.)

Sentence 2:
"If my assumption that they will drown if they are duffers is incorrect, then obviously duffers don't drown" i.e. I'll have to find some other way of [sorting out the wheat from the chaff].

To be quite honest, if you put the comma where you put it (and a quick Google shows that most other people put it there as well) then both sentences mean exactly the same thing. Seeing as he was sending a telegram where every word costs money, it appears unlikely that Captain Walker would just repeat himself.

I can't find my copy of the book right now, but the kids discuss it and they come to the same conclusion as I do - i.e. the first sentence is a bit harsh, so he adds the second sentence to console their mum. And seeing as Arthur Ransome wrote the telegram AND put words in the kids' mouths, that's good enough for me.


OK, I'm busy today, so shall restrict myself to leaving comments elsewhere for light relief. If you have time to spare, then why not have a crack at JH's Maths At Nine?

Saturday 21 November 2009

MSM response to those leaked climate change emails

You will no doubt have read all about this on The Air Vent, Climate Audit, Watts Up With That, Bishop Hill, Englishman's Castle and so on. One of my favourite sceptic blogs, World Climate Report hasn't mentioned it yet.

I wondered how and whether the MSM had responded, so I Googled climate change emails east anglia. The five articles that I can find are scattered among the top hundred results or so, and can be summarised as follows:

On the left, The Grauniad and The New York Times at least go to the trouble of desperately trying to keep the myth going and The BBC mentions the incident but not the contents of the emails.

In the centre, The Times mention an email which "contained a sentence about temperatures and referred to a 'trick' that could be used to 'hide the decline'". They invite a response from one or two of the authors, but the authors remained tight-lipped.

On the right, The Daily Mail have an article titled "Hackers 'expose global warming con': Sceptics claim that leaked emails reveal research centre massaged temperature data" but which is otherwise fairly neutral.

So in other words, unlike the bloggers, none of them really saw the emails as front page news. The best comment was by Patrick J Michaels: “This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud.”

It would be fun to go and visit all the warmenist blogs and see how they are spinning it, but that's for another day...

UPDATE: Buggeration. I now realise that James Delinpole has already done this exercise on his Telegraph Blog. Ah well.

Frontline Fun

Disclaimer: I am using the expression "frontline" in the modern British political sense, which means teachers, nurses etc, not in the traditional sense of soldiers on active duty, whose plight out in Afgh is far from "fun".

Republic of Ireland: public sector employees 300,000 divided by population 4,460,000= 6.7%.

United Kingdom: public sector employees 8,145,000* divided by population 61,113,205 = 13.3%

I'd be grateful if readers who have lived in both countries could leave a comment saying whether 'public services' in the UK are twice as good as in the Republic of Ireland? A bit better, a bit worse, much the same?

* See Table 5(2), column l-n, includes all taxpayer-funded jobs. Even taking the narrower definition, there are 6,020,000 public sector employees, which equates to 9.9% of the population.

Updates From a JP Perspective

JP here. Not been posting on this blog for a while, just thought I'd give a run-down of my opinions on the news over the past few weeks and some other things that have popped up in general debates...

Let's do 'democracy' at work first shall we? The EU president - So Herman van Rompuy is the new president. I couldn't really care less to be honest. People seem to be of the opinion that Van Rompuy will hold the same sway over Europe as Obama does over America, which is a load of rubbish. He's little more than a puppet for the collective leaders of the EU member countries (the Council), and will have virtually no influence over policy. Hell, he already sits on the Council as PM of Belgium. Very little will change.

Global Morality Index of 2009 - An organisation has recently ranked countries based on their 'morality'. Apparently, "Over 70 sources were scoured for information on the attitudes of the public and legal standing against morally reprehensible actions viewed negatively by all civilized and honourable beings. Interviews were conducted through various media and adjustments made to reflect differing viewpoints on immorality in these regions." Want to see the list? The highest possible score is 10, the lowest is 1...

1. Saudi Arabia 9.03
2. Iran 9.01
3. Oman 8.99
4. Mauritania 8.98
5. Bahrain 8.81
6. Qatar 8.80
7. Brunei 8.75
8. Afghanistan 8. 75
9. Togo 8.70
10. Somalia 8.57
11. Guinea 8.43
12. Iraq 8.36
13. Sudan 8.23
14. Palestine 8.19
15. Bangladesh 8.15
16. United Arab Emirates 7.67
17. Kyrgyz Republic 7.43
18. Cameroon 7.25
19. Lebanon 7.11
20. Malaysia 7.03

Right. First of all, Palestine is not a country. Second of all, Saudia Arabia still mandate that women are not allowed to sit in the front seat of a car if a man is driving, amongst other things. But what is most interesting are the bottom 5... (Only 67 countries were in the survey)

63. United Kingdom 1.24
64. United States 1.06
65. Israel 0.32
66. Netherlands 0.15
67. Denmark 0.14

Notice anything? All of these countries have been attacked by Islamic extremists in the past decade! And the top 20 are all breeding grounds for terrorism! What a crock of shit, eh?

The police - I recently had to write an essay on the role of the state police in modern society. My opponents seemed to favour a powerful state police force, I do not. However the subject quickly ran onto on-the-spot fines. Now, I feel summary justice is simply wrong. There is no way of knowing if the person in question was even guilty of anything, let alone if the sentence is proportionate (eg. someone fined £100 for throwing away a letter they took to read on the way to a bus stop in a public bin). What's more, since levying these fines is increasingly being farmed out to contractors who are paid on commission, they represent a corrosive effect on society: these 'police' are no longer "only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence," but state mercenaries given special privileges and set against the public for their own enrichment.

As to the police themselves: I do not see how being an employee of the state can justly entitle someone to greater powers over others. Either arresting people in particular circumstances (or whatever) is moral and just, in which case anyone ought to be able to do it, or it is not, in which case no one should. The growth in such powers has gone hand-in-hand with the summary punishments and 'victimless crimes' for the enforcement of which they are necessary. To return to that great Peel quote: 
"Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence."

So it should be. So it was meant to be. But it isn't, at least, not any more.

Having conceded that, though, you could well ask what the purpose of a government police force is. People certainly did when the state police were first introduced in the mid 1800s. Since the government police have no special powers in my desired new libertarian world, it hardly seems fair to, eg. pay for the policing of property crimes against large businesses out of the public purse, since they can obviously afford it themselves. And similar logic can be applied to residential areas. Each person in the UK, for instance, pays about £200/year for policing. So my street (for instance) could, for the same money, afford to employ a constable on a full time basis just to guard our street. This may not even be the best use of the money, but it's hard to see how the present government solution would provide better protection. Decentralisation of police, and taking the powers out of the hands of the state, would be more beneficial to how crime is fought, I feel.

Anyone who feels that the streets would descend into anarchy with private police, I ask, can you apply your same logic to your own side, and ask yourself: "Why don't the police, as they hold a very privileged position legally, and are by far the largest and best armed enforcement agency in this country, take over the government, shoot suspected criminals without trial, and ignore the law wherever it pleases them?"

To an extent I would say that they have done the latter two things. But that they do not do these things to the extent that society descends into anarchy as you describe, it is in the final analysis only because they either do not believe this personally to be just, fear the adverse reaction of their colleagues, or fear, in the last resort, the army suppressing such a coup. In the first and final case, the same applies to private policemen. They would still have their own moral code, and fear of the ultimate measures that may be taken to restore order. In the second case, however, and I think the dominant one in actually preventing the majority of potential police criminality, the private system is far stronger, because it invests in no particular organisation the powers of policing. A corrupt policeman or a 'vigilante' would have to fear not just the response of his friends and colleagues, but the response of other, possibly competing, organisations, the aggrieved man and his own guards, and even the response of private citizens.

Sorry to quote this again, but Peel has very elegantly summed up almost all my views on this into a single sentence (shame he founded the Met):
"Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence."

In other words, under a private system there is no dichotomy of "the police", who are above and beyond the citizen, and thereby owe him some sort of partial duty to not abuse the powers that he has claimed. There are merely individuals, some of whom are paid full time to do what is the equal right and duty of all.

Cathy Ashton

Friday 20 November 2009

More Harriet-Harman-crashing-car-while-using-mobile-phone-hilarity

From The Evening Standard:

Harriet Harman was given strong backing by Gordon Brown today after she denied breaking the law by crashing her car while using a mobile.

The Prime Minister rang her last night to express his support...

Agglomeration Of The Decade

From The Evening Standard:

Five years ago it was the West End's “cashmere alley,” a tired collection of Scottish knitware shops, airline offices, high street chains and faux “England-land” heritage stores.

The arrival of the Apple Store - the first outside America - exactly half a decade ago today - has transformed Regent Street into one of Europe's leading retail shopping destinations with an enviable and growing collection of global brands. Retail experts say the arrival of Apple - where takings are a remarkable £60 million a year - acted as a catalyst that allowed Regent Street to throw off its spinsterish image as Oxford Street's tartan clad maiden aunt...

Even in the depths of the recession Regent Street has no empty space “from Circus to Circus” and only 2000 sq ft on its northern stretch, Mr Shaw said. That gives it an overall vacancy rate of 0.03 per cent compared with 4.5 per cent across the West End as whole and 11 per cent nationally.

The “Apple effect” has also had a dramatic impact on rents, which have risen around 25 per cent since then compared with 0 to 10 per cent in the West End as a whole. While rents, which range from around £275 to £450 per square foot are still at a discount to Oxford Street, the gap is closing...

OK. Breathe in, relax, breathe out, think ...

Apple operates in a free-ish market, it looked at the cost/benefit of various locations for its new shop and went for Regent Street, invested a shedload of money in refurbishment, fancy glass staircase etc. This attracts more shoppers, so at first, tenants of surrounding shops benefit as well. So more stores want to open up there, so the landlord can put up the rents, by 25% (if the article is to be believed).

The less profitable shops can't keep up with the new rents and go out of business, and other, more profitable shops (who generate sufficient profits to be able to afford the new, higher rents) move in. Which attracts more shoppers, so rents get nudged up a bit more etc.

As a result of all this, by the time Apple's lease comes up for renewal, they'll find that their rent has gone up by fifty per cent, in other words, they'll have the privilege of paying over the odds to be near people who are themselves paying over the odds to be near Apple, and so on ad infinitum.

Seriously, which party has benefitted most from Apple's decision to move there while putting in least effort? It's a simple question with a simple answer, you just have to be honest.

Friday night gear change

1982's Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Nicole, a semi-tone up at 1 minute 50 seconds into "A little peace", combined with some of the most atrocious miming ever. Quality.

Another jolly bash at the IPPR

Announced here:

07 December 2009, 10:00am - 11:30am

30-32 Southampton Street, London WC2E 7RA

Harriet Harman, MP, Minister for Women and Equality
Dr Dalia Ben-Galim, ippr
Samantha Smethers, Grandparents Plus*

Demographic changes mean that more and more people are taking on caring responsibilities. Carers are a diverse bunch who have a variety of different needs that depend on a range of factors that include the needs of the care recipient, gender, age, labour market position and family status. As four generation families are becoming more common and many more of us becoming carers, innovative policy reform is needed if we are going to meet the future demand for care... [yadda yadda, blah, waffle].

Interestingly, they don't say that Harriet will be attending via video-link from HMP Holloway, so presumably she's expecting a non-custodial sentence?

* In 2007, Grandparents Plus received half its funding from the Basic Skills Agency which appears to be part of the Department of Education (or whatever it's called this week); they appear to have received only private donations in 2008 (see Note 9 in their 2008 accounts) but are back on the Big Lottery drip again by now.

A triumph of free(ish) markets!

From a whiney-moaney article in The Daily Mail:

More than 50 oil tankers are anchored off Britain - pieces in a game in which the only winners are market speculators. The losers are the millions of British motorists paying over the odds for their petrol and diesel...

Let's crunch the numbers and then look at the facts again:

54 tankers x 150,000 tons x 7 barrels/ton = 57 million barrels
UK daily oil consumption = 2 million barrels
Hence, UK oil consumption being stored offshore = one month's worth of UK oil consumption. That seems a staggeringly large figure, but let's assume it's correct. Isn't that A Good Thing from a supply security point of view?

I've not noticed rationing and queues at the petrol station, so there's no reason to assume that they are deliberately undersupplying the UK with oil. Seeing as there is a fixed supply of oil tankers in the world, and global production/consumption is fairly constant, we have to assume that demand for oil has fallen slightly (which is why we havn't noticed a shortage), or else those tankers would have offloaded their oil and be chugging back to the Middle East to refill.

This has a disproportionate impact on the daily cost of chartering a tanker (elastic demand, fixed supply), so what's happening here is that somebody is taking advantage of the fact that it is at present relatively cheap to buy oil and store it offshore in a tanker - but from the point of view of the customer, they are doing it for free; the price they will eventually sell it for has nothing to do with how long it was on the tanker.

From here, "A super tanker [300,000 tons capacity] currently rents out at about $90,000-95,000 a day on the spot market. When hired out for a year, it can fetch daily rentals of between $70,000 and $75,000..."

Q: If you're carrying 300,000 tons (= 2 million barrels) and it's costing you $80,000 a day, by how much would the price of oil have to rise, each and every day, to make the exercise worthwhile?

A: $80,000 ÷ 2 million = 4 cents/barrel, which isn't much of a daily movement, but after six months the oil price would have to have risen from $80/barrel to $87/barrel. If evil speculators really thought that the price would go up that much (which it might well do, or it might fall back to $40/barrel, who knows?) then they could save themselves the faff and expense and just buy oil futures (which price in the storage costs to some extent, but you don't have to worry about pirates etc). And if 'Britain's hard-pressed motorists' are worried about petrol prices going up, then they can club together, open an account with a futures broker for a modest deposit and buy a few oil futures of 42,000 gallons per contract.

H/t HPC.

Completely F***ing Insane Idea Of The Day

This is wrong on so many levels, it's difficult to know where to start.


There's one law for them and another law for us (Part 94)

From the BBC:

The elections watchdog has ruled that the Liberal Democrats can keep £2.4m in donations which it had been suggested came from a man convicted of fraud.

Michael Brown was convicted of stealing more than £30m from clients last year. The court case heard he channelled money through a company called 5th Avenue Partners to the Lib Dems. But the Electoral Commission said there was no "reasonable basis" to conclude that he had donated the money.


Whether or not "he" donated the money and what the source of that money was is irrelevant. The only question is whether 5th Avenue Partners Limited was carrying on a business in the UK, see Section 54(2) of PPERA 2000.

The first place you look when you're trying to find out about a company is Companies House Direct, which tells us that neither this company nor the similarly named 5th Avenue Partners (UK) Limited ever filed accounts, i.e. there was no reason for anybody to assume that they were trading in the UK, unless of course the company proved to the Lib Dems that it had already started carrying on a business but, being newly incorporated, had not yet filed accounts.

El Comm say that they examined an "accountants' analysis", I'd love to see that, as I am in this line of business myself. I'd assume it includes stuff like an 88(2) subscription for share capital, bank account details, rental agreements, employment contracts, PAYE and VAT registrations, payments for this, that and the other. You don't exactly need to be an expert to understand this, do you?

End of discussion.

UPDATE: Back in October 2006, a High Court, in a separate case brought by aggrieved investors, ruled that the company had not traded, although from the circumstances, what the judge meant was the company had not traded [in bonds on behalf of its investors]. Hmm.

According to El Comm, the Lib Dems managed to produce loads of evidence suggesting that this was an actual business. Ho hum.

If those are the arguments against, then I'm all in favour.

Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers rails against the idea of locally elected police commissioners over at the BBC.

I'd been in two minds about this idea so far, but (as the post title implies), if those are the arguments against, then I'm all in favour.

I'd suggest, in the interests of fairness, that the ballot paper include an extra option for "I don't want a locally elected police commissioner and would prefer them to be appointed by Whitehall".

That's that fixed. Next.

Back of the envelope stuff

Thursday 19 November 2009

Herman Van Rompuy

Because televisions use a different kind of electricity

From The Metro:

California will ban power-hungry televisions after it became the first US state to pass eficiency standards for sets... (1)

The commission estimates that TVs account for about 10 percent of a home's electricity use. (2)

The fear is that energy use will rise as people buy bigger, more elaborate TVs, put more of them in their homes, and watch them longer... (3)

"We have every confidence this industry will be able to meet the rule and then some," Energy Commissioner Julia Levin said "It will save consumers money (4), it will help protect public health (5), and it will spark (6) innovation."...

Californians buy about 11 percent of the 35.4 million TVs sold in the U.S. each year, according to industry figures. (7)

1) The first state to take bribes from a large TV manufacturer, which will mean existing stockpiles are obsolete.

2) That seems surprisingly high. Do TV's really use that much, or are US homes otherwise incredibly energy efficient?

3) They already watch four hours a day, allegedly. There's only so much you can watch, surely?

4) If consumers were concerned about saving energy, they'd buy a smaller set, surely? By all means, make it clear on the packaging how much electricity a TV set uses and what that costs per hour, but apart from that, people have to make up their own minds. If we go with 300 watts for an large-ish TV, and $0.12 per kWh price, that means a TV costs, er, less than four cents an hour to run. That's hardly terrifying, is it?

5) Wot?

6) Poorly chosen word, methinks.

7) Wot? California is about 11% of the population of the USA and they buy about 11% of all TV sets? Horrors!

Confused Thinking Of The Day

From this afternoon's Evening Standard:

Young professionals struggling to get on the property ladder are being offered knock-down rents in some of London's most sought after neighbourhoods...

In a groundbreaking £7 million scheme, Westminster council is targeting those who earn up to £30,000 a year but cannot put money aside for a deposit to buy a house because rents are so high. Tenants who sign up will pay heavily subsidised rents — up to 67 per cent off the market value. They will be expected to put aside the money they save for a deposit...

The council is buying 30 properties for the trial: tenants will be charged rents as low as £120 a week for period homes in areas such as Bayswater, Pimlico, Marylebone and Westbourne Park. That is less than a third of the £365 average market rent for one-bedroom flats in these areas...

All the flats involved in the trial are former council properties that Westminster is in the process of buying back from leaseholders for an average £230,000. The council is funding the project itself, but a spokesman said it was "negotiating" a grant from the Homes and Community Agency.

Philippa Roe, Westminster's cabinet member for housing, said ... she was "not too worried" if some tenants decided not to save while they lived in the flats, or spent their bonus payments on something other than a home. "It will help with our housing shortage anyway," she insisted.

Can anybody explain to me how any of this is supposed to make any sense?

1. This makes a mockery of the whole "right to buy" idea, which was Home-Owner-Ism taken to extremes. Westminster Council sold these flats off at undervalue over the years, and now they're buying them back for full market value (or probably slightly above), at a net loss of around £200,000 to the taxpayer, also known as "privatising gains, socialising losses".

2. In an ideal world, they would never have sold it off in the first place, and increased the rents in the more desirable areas to market value, and used the money to build more social housing a bit further out of town.

3. What's done is done, so Plan B must be to use that £7 million to build a hundred new flats a bit further out of town. Sure, rich people will end up in the nice areas and poor people in the not-so-nice areas, but that's the whole point of being rich, isn't it?

4. She does not appear to have given any thought on how to prevent people sub-letting and pocketing a huge profit at zero commercial risk. If they are really hell-bent on buying them, would it not be better to let them out for market value and spend the money on building some new flats?

5. But the crowning piece of nonsense, IMHO, is the idea that buying an already existing flat "will help with the housing shortage". There is no net increase in the number of flats. And if a higher income household can't buy this flat, then they will buy another one nearby and push up prices even further, surely?

The Internet is truly a most wondrous thing

Via Statcounter, I re-traced a Google search for the phrase in six months times, and was pleased to note that one of my posts was number five out of 279,000,000. The number one result was an article in The Times headed Climate change catastrophe took just months, which I couldn't resist reading. Assuming the reported findings to be correct, or at least sincerely held, they do put the whole thing into perspective:

Six months is all it took to flip Europe’s climate from warm and sunny into the last ice age, researchers have found...

Other research has shown that rapid climate flips are normal. In its 4.5-billion-year history, the earth has experienced at least four main ice ages, of which the last, the Quaternary, is still continuing. Within each ice age, however, there are periods when ice advances or retreats, and in the past 60,000 years alone the earth is thought to have warmed or cooled by up to 7C at least 20 times. The current interglacial period has lasted about 10,000 years.

My thesis being, before we believe anybody's predictions about what the weather will be like in the future, we should expect them to be able to explain these sudden swings in the past. And before they can explain the past, we need to know what actually happened, to which said research has hopefully contributed.

1984 (20) Home-Owner-Ism (2)

From 1984 by George Orwell:

The Party is not a class in the old sense of the word. It does not aim at transmitting power to its own children, as such; and if there were no other way of keeping the ablest people at the top, it would be perfectly prepared to recruit an entire new generation from the ranks of the proletariat. In the crucial years, the fact that the Party was not a hereditary body did a great deal to neutralize opposition.

The older kind of Socialist, who had been trained to fight against something called 'class privilege' assumed that what is not hereditary cannot be permanent. He did not see that the continuity of an oligarchy need not be physical, nor did he pause to reflect that hereditary aristocracies have always been short lived, whereas adoptive organizations such as the Catholic Church have sometimes lasted for hundreds or thousands of years.

The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life, imposed by the dead upon the living. A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate its successors. The Party is not concerned with perpetuating its blood but with perpetuating itself. Who wields power is not important, provided that the hierarchical structure remains always the same.

... which pretty much sums up Home-Owner-Ism.

To recap, Home-Owner-Ism is the belief that "property prices can only go up"; that the government should levy taxes on economic activity but not on privately collected quasi-taxes (income and gains from property ownership); if necessary, it should levy additional taxes on economic activity to reinflate the house price/credit bubble; and that the only relevant consideration for town planners is whether a development will adversely affect property values in the surrounding area, even where the wider social and economic costs of refusing to allow a development vastly outweigh the benefit to local property owners.

The Home-Owner-Ist economic model is almost as flawed as Socialism, so the system collapses every ten or twenty years (i.e. when the house price/credit bubble bursts). Just like Socialists, instead of re-examining the model, the Home-Owner-Ists blame it all on the banks (for going bust and for paying bonuses instead of lending to 'hard-pressed first time buyers'). However, unlike Socialism, which in the long run is always replaced by something closer to democracy or capitalism, Home-Owner-Ism has so far seldom been called into question and appears to be self-perpetuating.

When I criticise their ideology, the Home-Owner-Ists reply "If you think that being a home-owner is such a good deal, why don't you just stop whining and buy a house? There's a free market in houses, isn't there?".

Sure, there's a free market in houses in the same way as there is a free market in taxi drivers' licences in London - the point is that the underlying subject matter of either market is the right to participate in a very un-free market. Without the non-price rationing or implicity subsidies, houses simply would not cost as much as they do.

And, like the Inner Party in 1984, Home-Owner-Ists couldn't care less how unaffordable housing is for their own children or grandchildren - it is only important that Home-Owner-Ists remain the dominant group, and not who the actual members of that group are.

"Alcohol protects men's hearts"

From the BBC:

The study was conducted in Spain, a country with relatively high rates of alcohol consumption and low rates of coronary heart disease. The research involved men and women aged between 29 and 69, who were asked to document their lifetime drinking habits and followed for 10 years...

The researchers from centres across Spain placed the participants into six categories - from never having drunk to drinking more than 90g of alcohol each day. This would be the equivalent of consuming about eight bottles of wine a week, or 28 pints of lager.

For those drinking little - less than a shot of vodka a day for instance - the risk was reduced by 35%. And for those who drank anything from three shots to more than 11 shots each day, the risk worked out an average of 50% less.

You might think that the bansturbators aren't going to take this lying down. And they are not. The BBC article contains rent-a-quotes from three bansturbators, and not a single one from anybody representing anything like a brewery or a pub. Would it have been so terrible to get a quote from somebody saying "We told you so", even if just for the comedy value?

Wednesday 18 November 2009

The People's Republic China: probably the most badly run conglomerate in the world, ever.

There was a 'debate' on yesterday's Newsnight on BBC2, featuring the eternally insufferablePaxo, some horrible American diplomat lady and two economists (who were both of Chinese extraction, not sure if that's relevant). The debate was, superficially, about whether China* will be the economic superpower of the 21st century, the fact that the country has built up over $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves, yadda yadda, on which, inevitably, Paxo and the American lady had nothing new to add.

As we all well know, China's population is about 1.3 billion, and when faced with stupendously unimaginably big numbers like $2 trillion or 1.3 billion, it's always helpful to divide one by t'other. What it boils down to is that each Chinese citizen has a savings pot of $1,500, i.e. bugger all in the grander scheme of things. That's dealt with the basic maths.

As further background, there was an article in today's FT that said that China has been accumulating foreign currency reserves (three quarters of which are in US bonds) at the rate of $300 billion a year in recent years, which is about seven per cent of their nominal GDP, or alternatively, they've accumulated currency reserves equivalent to half a year's GDP over the last decade or so.

One of the economists made an interesting point (I can't find it in the clip). He argued that part of the reason why China constantly intervened in the currency markets to keep its currency down, was not just an insane mercantilist export subsidy, it was because a quarter of Chinese still work in agriculture (a surprisingly large figure, but appears to be correct). If they allowed their currency to appreciate, then their markets would be flooded with food produced far more cheaply by Americans, Canadians, Australians and a lot of the small farmers would be out of work.

A couple of caveats; allowing your currency to float freely and lifting import barriers are two separate issues; and the Americans subsidise their food exports, but glossing over those, this is a ver-e-ery interesting train of thought...

1. Let's imagine that China is not a "country" but a large conglomerate, with 1.3 billion shareholders and about 1 billion employees/slaves, does it not strike anybody that it is stupendously badly run (not to mention all the human rights abuses, mass corruption etc)? The workers get treated like shit and the shareholders get no return on their investment (although the senior management team, the Communist Party members, may be living the high life).

2. Like the congolmerates of yore, they make the fatal error of using the profitable side (manufacturing and exporting) to subsidise the unprofitable bit (agriculture).

3. And like paternalists the world over, they think that 'saving' is in and of itself A Good Thing, and that forcing people to 'save' (by paying them artificially low wages) is therefore also A Good Thing (a bit like the crap in the UK with forcing people to save for a pension - all that happens is, they still haven't paid off the mortgage by the time they retire and the Stock Market is just a big Ponzi scheme). Wrong, pay people their full wages, free up the markets, liberalise planning laws and people will invest of their own accord, and probably in far better investments that US bonds.

4. What sort of a cretinous policy is it to not only subsidise your own exports (i.e. give money to richer countries like the USA, Europe), but then instead of investing the the meagre profits back in China to improve people's lives - whether in housing, new factories, combine harvesters, environmental stuff, safety measures in coal mines - they lend it all back to the USA again?

5. China had to invest in USD, i.e. lend it to the USA, to keep their currency low of course. But as and when they withdraw that money, they will find that the USD relative to the Chinese currency will fall, and the value of US bonds will fall, so they'll be lucky if they get back half what they invested. So basically, every Chinese factory worker has been slaving away 24/7 for a decade and the best he can hope for is the equivalent of $750? That's his performance related bonus? That's his return on investment?

6. In summary, in a decade, economists and management consultants will be holding up China as a good illustration of how not to run an economy, and Mercantilism (or 'State Capitalism') will hopefully be popped in the drawer labelled 'Failed economic ideologies' along with Socialism and Corporatism (and, if I have my way, Home-Owner-ism), and we'll wonder why people ever saw them as a potential 'global economic powerhouse' etc. A bit like we'll be wondering why anybody was so daft as to believe in global warming.

* I shall follow custom and refer to The People's Republic of China as "China", as opposed to The Republic of China, or "Taiwan", the civilised bit that has a low corporation tax rate and proper Land Value Tax.