Friday 31 January 2014

Cameron is a Tit

From the BBC

"In the most serious crimes [such as] child abduction communications data... is absolutely vital. I love watching, as I probably should stop telling people, crime dramas on the television. There's hardly a crime drama where a crime is solved without using the data of a mobile communications device."

That was to a parliamentary committee: The reason we need a charter is because CSI:NY use data to find abducted children. Which if you've ever watched it is, has highly entertaining, but highly unscientific forensics. It's like saying that New Yorkers on average incomes have huge apartments because you've watched Friends and Sex and the City.

In reality doing things like deep packet inspection of data is going to yield you nothing about child abduction because it's an individual thing. No-one is out there Skyping their friends that they just abducted a child (unlike say, drug dealers who communicate with each other). The useful data is cellphone location data from either the adult or the child, and we already have that.

And even with deep packet inspection, everyone is now encrypting their data packets, so unless you've got the public key of every single site out there, you can't read them. So, you're knackered.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (315)

From Labour Uncut:

Madasafish says:

... the article talks glibly about Land Taxes(1) but not all land is equal. An acre in Central London is worth more than an acre in Northern Scotland.(2)

So... “Just 189,000 families (roughly 0.6 per cent of the UK population) own two-thirds of the UK’s 60 million acres.” is meaningless.(3)

So if that is the standard of the thinking behind this proposal, it’s just not thought out.(4)

1) No, the article refers specifically to Land VALUE Tax.

2) Yes it is. Does the commenter realise how much more? Probably not: "a hundred thousand times as much" is the answer to that.

3) Agreed actually, I've banged on about this before and the LVTers do themselves a disservice by repeating this: it's true but irrelevant. 0.6% of the population own two-thirds by area, but if that's all owner-occupier farmers, they do not have a disproportionately large share of the total value (maybe 1% or 2% of the total value, they need it for their business, so fair enough). The top 0.6% of the UK's rent collectors probably 'only' collect a third of all land rents (it's difficult to calculate).

4) The commenter's main objection shows that he hasn't even read the article properly, that's the standard of KLN we're getting nowadays.

"Thousands of Sellafield nuclear site workers told to stay away as 'elevated' levels of bullshit are detected"

From The Daily Mail:

The Sellafield nuclear site has been evacuated this morning because of 'elevated levels of bullshit'.

Thousands of non-essential staff have been sent away or told to stay at home following problems overnight. Sellafield in Cumbria is the largest nuclear site in Europe and bosses said the raised deliberate misinformation levels occurred 'naturally' in the northern part of the two mile site...

Sellafield was the world’s first commercial cover-up, and has suffered 21 'leaks' in 60 years:

In 1957, a misunderstanding broke out in No 1 of the twin ‘piles’ or reactors, which became the worst public relations disaster in British history. It was only discovered 50 hours later, and took three days to think up a plausible explanation. The discharge was caused by obfuscation building up in the reactor after a series of prevarications. As the arguments raged, workers at the plant used hoses to try to cool the public outrage.

However, inaccurate official statements escaped through the 400ft-high chimney and rose over the Lake District in a long grey plume. Eventually, deception fell on to the local countryside or was caught in a changing wind, which blew it further inland towards Wales and over the sea to Ireland...

In 1983 there was a notorious 'discharge incident' where misleading information was leaked, shutting a 10-mile stretch of beach and sea.

In 2005 it emerged there was gobbeldygook leaking from a cracked chamber, which may have been undiscovered for eight months.

Bosses have been fined heavily after the incidents.

It is also claimed by groups like Greenpeace that various leaks while it was being built means that the Irish Sea is one of the most falsified stretches of water in the world because chicanery was diluted and dumped into it.

Word of the Day: Geek

From the Daily Mail

Supermarket giant Tesco has removed a range of clothes featuring pictures of animals wearing spectacles and the words 'nerd' and 'geek' after a mum complained they would cause her toddler son with eye problems to be bullied.

Aneliese Whittaker, 28, of Ifield, Surrey, launched a campaign demanding the t-shirts be pulled from sale claiming they 'stereotype' people who wear glasses - including 18-month-old Logan.

Logan was born with dense cataracts in both eyes and wears thick 'goggle-like' blue-rimmed specs with powerful prescription lenses.

Suzie Dent, the Dictionary Corner lexographer on Countdown recently explained in her book the history of the word "geek" and how it referred to circus grotesque performers. Then got used as an insult for obsessives (e.g. computer geeks). But as she rightly observed, it's recently become a badge of honour. To be a computer geek means that you know your way around a computer, and that's a valuable skill. Which is why Tesco are now selling t-shirts with the word geek on it. Because people actually quite like the association.

Now, the boy does wear some very thick glasses and it's likely that some kids will be horrible to him and we'd rather not have that. But that's hardly Tesco's problem, and it's hardly going to change whether you have t-shirts with the word geek on or not. So, for god's sake, grow a backbone, Tesco.

George Osborne's economic miracle

Is just a carbon copy of Blair-Brown's isn't it?

Since I started taking a closer interest in these things, i.e. a year or two before I started 'blogging, it must have been clear that the entire 'growth' in the economy since the late 1990s was fuelled by two things:

1. A house price/credit bubble incl mortgage equity withdrawal.

2. Government deficit spending.

This is not a sustainable model, of course, so the relative shares of these two in contributing to nominal growth shifted from the fomer to the latter. Blair-Brown managed to keep it going for ten years until the wheels came off in 2007 (Northern Rock) although many consider the official end to be in 2008 (Lehmann Brothers).

Whatever we slagged the Blair-Brown government off for applies in spades to the current lot.

They realise that household borrowing to fund land speculation had reached an upper limit of about £1,200 billion (this total has hardly changed for the last five years) so they are resorting to ever more desperate measures (Help To Sell, interest rate subsidies, inflation, general mood music etc) to squeeeze out the last few drops.

Their cunning plan is only working in London and the South East, in the rest of the country, house prices have been pretty much flat for a decade, if you adjust for inflation.

So they then turn to Blair-Brown's secret weapon #2, government deficit spending. It's a good excuse to nick loads of money for themselves and their kleptocrat chums, but they are running a deficit of at least 7% of GDP and have been doing for four years (or about six years if gloss over the personnel reshuffle at the top of the UK government four years ago).

And all this is only producing nominal growth of 2% a year or something, which is probably not real growth at all. Whatever happened to the lefties' favourite weapon, the multiplier effect? If there were such a thing (there isn't) then surely that 7% deficit would be producing at least 8% growth?

Some recovery, huh?

Thursday 30 January 2014

Another "car attacks house" story

From the BBC:

"I heard lots of revving and then the car must have just shot out of her driveway opposite, across the road, through my parents' brick wall and into the kitchen."

It is believed the car, an automatic, began revving uncontrollably. The woman tried to put it in park, but that meant going through reverse gear. The car then accelerated backwards.

The accident destroyed the room, which had been newly-renovated in December, as well as hitting the gas and water supplies. Emergency services and gas engineers spent four hours making sure the area was safe.


From the BBC

Doctors say a potential treatment for peanut allergy has transformed the lives of children taking part in a large clinical trial.

The 85 children had to eat peanut protein every day - initially in small doses, but ramped up during the study.

The findings, published in the Lancet, suggest 84% of allergic children could eat the equivalent of five peanuts a day after six months.

Excellent news. If you know someone with a peanut allergy it's potentially fatal and you've got to be careful, go out carrying an epi pen, etc. It still doesn't mean they can eat a bag of peanut brittle, but any contamination of nuts will not cause a problem. Well done to the people at Addenbrooke's for making the world a slightly better place.

There's a word for this, and it's known as mithridatism. Named after King Mithridates VI who was so scared of getting poisoned that he took small amounts of poison to build up a resistance. Ironically, he was later facing capture by Rome and tried to commit suicide by poison but couldn't because of this and had to get his bodyguard to stab him instead.

It's been a feature of some fiction, featuring both arsenic and iocaine, but in the real world people it's used by people who have to handle cobras as they can then build up a resistance to the venom.

"Looking back into the mists of time"

From the BBC:

... Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger dismissed the claims that the rain would have overwhelmed the river system even if it had been dredged as "pathetic".

"It is an absolutely ridiculous excuse," he said. "This never flooded to this level ever in living memory, and we've got people who have been here for a long time. If you look back into the mists of time you don't have this."

Let's have a look back into the mists of Wiki:

The Somerset Levels.. is a sparsely populated coastal plain and wetland area of central Somerset, South West England, running south from the Mendip Hills to the Blackdown Hills...

The Somerset Levels consist of marine clay "levels" along the coast, and inland (often peat-based) "moors"; agriculturally, about 70 percent is used as grassland and the rest is arable...

One explanation for the county of Somerset's name is that, in prehistory, because of winter flooding people restricted their use of the Levels to the summer, leading to a derivation from Sumorsaete, meaning land of the summer people...

People have been draining the area since before the Domesday Book. In the Middle Ages, the monasteries of Glastonbury, Athelney and Muchelney were responsible for much of the drainage.

The artificial Huntspill River was constructed during the Second World War as a reservoir, although it also serves as a drainage channel. The Sowy River between the River Parrett and King's Sedgemoor Drain was completed in 1972; water levels are managed by the Levels internal drainage boards.

Do MPs not even do the most cursory background reading about the area they are supposed to be representing?

The Railway Family

From Wiki and Wiki:

During World War II, Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) is a British officer who is captured by the Japanese in Singapore.  The story follows the adventures of his children, who are forced to move with their mother (Dinah Sheridan) from a luxurious Edwardian villa in the London suburbs to "Three Chimneys", a house near the fictional 'Great Northern and Southern Railway' in Yorkshire.

Lomax is sent to a POW camp, where he is forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway.  The three children, Roberta (Bobbie) (Jenny Agutter), Phyllis (Sally Thomsett) and Peter (Gary Warren), find amusement in watching the trains on the nearby railway line and waving to the passengers.

During his time in the camp, Lomax is tortured by the Kempetai primarily for building a radio. The children become friendly with Albert Perks (Bernard Cribbins), the station porter, and with the Old Gentleman who regularly takes the 9:15 down train.

Meanwhile, to earn money to survive during her husband's absence and still suffering the psychological trauma of his wartime experiences, Mother writes and sells stories to magazines about her husband  and best friend Finlay (Skarsgård), finding and confronting one of his captors.

After many adventures, including saving the lives of dozens of passengers by alerting a train to a landslide and rescuing a Russian dissident, Mr Szczepansky, the family returns to the scene of Lomax’ torture and manages to track down his captor, Japanese officer Takashi Nagase (Sanada), who appeals to the Old Gentleman for his help, "in an attempt let go of a lifetime of bitterness and hate".

More nonsense on currencies

From the BBC:

The Bank of England governor has said an independent Scotland would need to give up some power to make a currency union with the rest of the UK work.

Mark Carney said such a move, proposed by the Scottish government, "requires some ceding of national sovereignty". He also said the risks of not having a strong agreement had been demonstrated by problems in the Eurozone.


There are plenty of examples of countries using "somebody else's" currency, i.e. countries not actually in the official Euro-zone which use the Euro or whose currencies are pegged to the Euro.

For sure, notes and coins issued by those countries might not be accepted as legal tender in the Euro-zone itself, but so what? We always had that with Scottish bank notes in the UK, and this is a bit of a red herring as 99%* of transactions by value are entirely electronic nowadays.

Would Scotland have to pay a slightly higher interest rate on GBP-denominated borrowing that England and Wales, or a higher interest rate on EUR-denominated borrowing than Germany or The Netherlands?

Quite possibly, that depends entirely on Scotland's credit rating. We know that interest rates on government debt are different in different countries in the Euro-zone. That's no different to UK businesses all using GBP but paying different interest rates on their borrowings.

If Scotland reduced public sector waste, ran a sensible tax system, got their economy going and didn't run large deficits, then they'd end up being able to borrow more cheaply than England & Wales or the PIIGS, that's for them to sort out.

The size of the country or economy plays little role in this. The Netherlands has lower borrowing costs than Germany because they run a tight ship. See also: Switzerland.

But what we have learned is that currency unions benefit the wealthier, central and more productive regions and make things even worse for the poorer, peripheral and marginal regions, and much the same applies to using a common currency, even if there is no formal arrangement in place.

So basically an independent Scotland can use whatever currency it wants, GBP, EUR, SCP, USD, that is a relatively minor decision (see also: Vaclav Klaus' comment about sorting all this out in an afternoon when Czechosovakia was split up).

All that matters is whether Scotland is run properly. If they mess up, then whichever currency they use, it will end badly for them.

* Made-up figure, I couldn't be bothered looking it up.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

"Facebook 'praise' for term-time discounts sparks campaign"

From the BBC:

With about 250 friends on Facebook, childless Paul Cookson did not expect "praise" he posted to have much impact. He wrote that he was "delighted" to be offered "discounts" by tour operators who reduced their prices outside school holidays and other peak times.

A few friends agreed, and followed his request to "share this post if you have also taken advantage of term-time discounts". It soon went viral, and more than 143,000 people have shared it so far.

"It's more fun behaving like a big kid when there are no actual kids watching!"

Supporters also began signing an online petition calling for the government to recognise the industry's achievements in the New Year Honours List and this has now gone far beyond the 100,000 signatures needed for a possible debate in Parliament.

Mr Cookson's initial post, entitled "In praise of term-time discounts", noted that non-parents were "rewarded" for doing the right thing and not taking their holidays during the busy school holidays. It came about after he got a great deal on a holiday for him and his long term girlfriend, with whom he has no children.

"Term-time discounts and no screaming kids? What's not to like?"

He told the BBC he was stunned by the response on Facebook, with many people encouraging him to "carry it on and fight". So the 41-year-old set up a Facebook group called Term Time Discounts, in which many other childless people - young and old alike - have shared examples of great value getaways.

One of the group's members posted a link to the e-petition, which is entitled: "Thank holiday companies for giving us cheap breaks during off-season!"

"Cycling Scotland advert banned over 'bare legs'"

From the BBC:

A television advert promoting safe cycling has been banned for showing a young woman cyclist wearing an above-the-knee length skirt. The advert, part of a campaign by Cycling Scotland, seeks to encourage drivers to pay cyclists as little attention as they would the back of a bus.

But the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it should not be shown on TV again as wearing provocative clothing was "socially irresponsible". Cycling Scotland said it was not a legal requirement for female cyclists to dress modestly and demurely.

An accident waiting to happen (artist's impression)

The national cycle promotion organisation for Scotland told the ASA that wearing a short skirt or open cardigan and carrying a shoulder bag in a manner likely to 'lift and separate' was a personal choice for the individual - a fact it considered was reflected in the advert with footage of various cyclists both with, and without, exposed limbs or a hint of cleavage on display.

Cycling Scotland also referred to its clothing policy, which discussed the possible undesired outcomes of partially dressed young women cycling, including causing unchaste thoughts and "influencing a driver's behaviour to be less careful when interacting on the road".

"Farmers urged by WWF to do more to prevent flooding"

From the BBC:

Farmers getting public grants should be forced to capture water on their land to prevent floods downstream, environmentalists have said.

Green group WWF said farmers should get subsidies only if they agreed to create small floods on their own land to avoid wider flooding in towns and villages.

The average family pays £400 a year in grants to farmers. Farmers' leaders rejected the idea but said they would support incentives to farmers to prevent flooding.

WWF is already working with eight farmers on the young River Nar in Norfolk in an experimental project to restore upstream rivers to their original state.

Rivers have been squeezed into straight, fast-flowing channels over hundreds of years to hurry rainwater off fields. But that has contributed to flooding of prime agricultural land downstream. Fast-flowing rivers also carry silt which causes rivers to clog up.

The greedy so-and-so's!

They want compensation to compensate them for no longer getting subsidies for causing flooding on other people's land.

As ever LVT will sort this out. Farmland subsidies are negative LVT and so ought to be abolished anyway.

I observe that assessing the value of farmland is a lot trickier than assessing location values in developed, urban areas, but we could just reinstate Agricultural Rates to all non-forestry land at a token figure of about £20 per acre per year, regardless of whether the annual value is £10 or £100, and see what happens.

The point being, that farmers/landowners will stop farming the least productive bits of land, they can plant trees on these instead to do a bit of tax-free forestry, and if the land won't even support that, they can leave it as flood plain or allow other enthusiasts/landowners further downstream to reinstate 'natural' woodland.

The good news is that the bits which the farmers will stop using first are precisely the least productive bits - i.e. the least accessible bits (steeper slopes) and the most-likely-to-flood bits (right next to streams and rivers) and those are the best areas to reforest (helps soak up rainwater) or leave au naturel (flood barrier).

As a quid pro quo, we could apply the same tax exemptions which forestry gets to actual farming. Forestry incurs by and large no CGT, IHT, income or corporation tax on profits and is VAT-zero rated - and gets relatively little in the way of grants.

We might as well go further and exempt farmers and forestry businesses from Business Rates on their outbuildings or from having to deduct PAYE from their workers' wages (fair's fair).

Job done. Whether £20 per acre is the right amount, we will have to wait and see, the optimum cut-off amount might well be higher than that.

"Lenny Henry honoured at Critics' Circle TV Advert Awards"

From the BBC:

Lenny Henry has been honoured by top TV critics for his small screen role in Premier Inn's classic British commercial 'A Great Night's Sleep Guaranteed'.

The comedian, a relative newcomer to voiceovers/cameo appearances, picked up the best 'reader of doggerel' prize at the Critics' Circle TV Awards for his "titanic performance" as anti-hero Bald Bloke With A Beard.

Henry told the BBC the filming had been "a massive emotional journey".

He said: "The day was like a therapy session, but with lots of laughter. And a nice cheque from my agent."

The slot won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 and is considered one of the great budget hotel advertisements of the 21st Century.

The character of Bald Guy With A Beard, who sits on a bed in a T-shirt, has been played by actors as diverse as John Travolta, Sean Connery and Ben Kinglsey.

"If I'd thought about that going in I wouldn't have left the house," joked Henry.

Like most of his jokes, nobody found it in the slightest bit funny, but his inane mugging clearly indicated that he thought it was.

It'll be your homes next

From the BBC

A Labour plan to ban smoking in cars carrying children is due to be put to a vote in the House of Lords later.

Labour peers are to table an amendment to the Children and Families Bill detailing their proposal for England.

The party says that if it is not passed in this vote, it will be included in its manifesto for the next election.

Of course, the smoking ban was all about protecting workers in pubs and hotels.

It's part of a gradual process of denormalisation. Once you get a law enforcing smoking in your car with children, because it's a closed space, it's a very small step to banning smoking in a home with children.

But don't think you'll get any joy from the Conservatives

Smoking should be banned in cars carrying children, says England's public health minister.

Anna Soubry said her personal view was that it was justified on "child welfare" grounds.

Several health groups have called for the move, but it has been resisted so far by the government.

The prime minister has said while he supports the smoking ban in pubs and clubs, he is "more nervous" about legislating what happens in cars.

You can interpret that how you like, but I wouldn't trust it.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Buckingham Palace

From the BBC

Buckingham Palace should be opened to more paying visitors when the Queen is not in residence to fund improvements to the royal estate, MPs have said.

The Public Accounts Committee criticised the Royal Household for mismanaging its finances.

Chairwoman Margaret Hodge said there was "huge scope for savings" on the annual £31m of taxpayer funds given to the Queen to spend on official duties.

I'm not sure how much people think this will raise. It's already open throughout August and September and gets around 400,000 visitors at about £35 each, which is around £14m. I can't see how you're going to add to that.

Wouldn't it be better to sell it off? 42 acres of real estate in Westminster? Google recently paid £650m for 2.4 acres in Kings Cross, so it would have to be worth at least £10bn for the land. That's a much better use of it than collecting £15-30m/annum.

Put the Queen into Kensington Palace (which is empty and was good enough for George II) and you can do all the pageantry for the tourists there.

"In farming news"

Via JuliaM via David Thompson from the BBC:

Methane gas released by dairy cows has caused an explosion in a cow shed in Germany, police said.

The roof was damaged and one of the cows was injured in the blast in the central German town of Rasdorf. Thanks to the belches and flatulence of the 90 dairy cows in the shed, high levels of the gas had built up.

Then "a static electric charge caused the gas to explode with flashes of flames" the force said in a statement quoted by Reuters news agency. Emergency services attended the farm and took gas readings to test for the risk of further blasts, said local media.

Cows are believed to emit up to 500 litres of methane - a potent greenhouse gas - each per day.

I love that last sentence, they couldn't resist it, could they? But given the facts, would it not be more appropriate to describe methane as a 'cow shed gas' rather than a 'greenhouse gas'?

Idiot Farmer

From The Daily Mail:

Farmers have criticised the BBC programme Countryfile after a report claimed that sheep were to blame for causing flooding. Journalist and environmentalist George Monbiot said on the show:

"Sheep in the hills cause floods in the flood plains. We are very prone to flooding... one of the major reasons is because all the vegetation has been removed and soil compacted by the hooves of the sheep and water just flashes off the pasture."

So it's a bit more nuanced than "blaming sheep", for a start.

He's on to something here, is George, he wrote a lengthy article in The G about it, all makes perfect sense if you gloss over the inevitable references to Climate Change.

Sheep farmer Gareth Wyn Jones, of Llanfairfechan, North Wales, who lost 300 sheep on the hills in last winter’s snow, said he had complained about the programme.

He added: "Farmers are furious with the comments on the programme. The floods can’t be blamed on sheep on the uplands of Wales and elsewhere. I’d like Mr Monbiot to see what the life of an uplands farmer means."

What sort of fucking relevance does that have?

It's like Person A claiming that McDonalds generate too much packaging waste (which might or might not be true) and Idiot Company Director hitting back by saying: "I'd like Person A to see how hard our employees have to work."

Retard, presumed guilty.

"UK economy growing at fastest rate since the peak of the last credit and house price bubble"

From the BBC:

The UK economy grew by 1.9% in 2013, its strongest rate since the last peak of a house price and credit bubble in 2007, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

But gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the fourth quarter slipped to 0.7%, down from 0.8% in the previous quarter, it said. And economic output is still 1.3% below its 2008 first quarter level,

"We've seen growth in those parts of the economy which benefit from high house prices, artificially low interest rates and lax lending," said Joe Grice, chief economist at the ONS.

"The FIRE sector, and London in particular, is lapping it up, just like they did in the years leading up to 2007."

Responding to the figures, Chancellor George Osborne said: "These numbers are a boost for the economic security of hard-working bankers and estate agents. It is more evidence that our long-term economic plan is working.

"For them, at least.

"But the job is not done, and it is clear that the biggest risk now is that the bubble pops again just before the 2015 General Election, to allow that to happen would be abandoning the plan that's delivering jobs and a brighter economic future to our party donors."

Ed Balls, Labour's shadow chancellor, said: "Today's growth figures are welcome and long overdue cut and paste job of Blair-Brown's economic policies after three damaging years of flatlining.

"But, for working people facing a cost-of-living crisis, there's always the possibility of a bit of mortgage equity withdrawal. Beats working, doesn't it? You only end up paying tax on that. Their kids can pay it all off afterwards."

"Immigration Bill won't do the job, says Tory MP Dominic Raab"

From The BBC:

Heathrow-based immigration officer William Inman, known to his colleagues as 'Immigration Bill', "is well-intentioned but he won't do the job of preventing criminals entering the country", a Conservative MP has warned.

Dominic Raab has proposed issuing a final warning to Immigration Bill, calling for him to do his job and send home those sentenced to more than a year in prison.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this was a "practical" proposal.

But the Home Office praised Heathrow officer John Robins, known to his colleagues as 'Rabid Jack', saying he was beating all his performance targets for ensuring foreign criminals could not "cheat justice".

Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?

Film Review: Byzantium

I'd been wanting to see Byzantium for a while. It's a vampire movie directed by Neil Jordan who had previously directed Interview with the Vampire, but it's set in a faded seaside town with a couple of female vampires in the lead played by Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan.

It's quite a lot like Interview with the Vampire in some ways - contemporary, unglamourous setting with flashbacks to the past. But that doesn't mean it's a copy. It's a very different story.

I liked it a great deal. Arterton is great at playing the brassy hooker/vampire without going over the top and Ronan plays the awkward schoolgirl well. The contemporary setting works well for a vampire story, with the flashbacks stopping the visuals from feeling too monotonous.

It's showing on Lovefilm and I think Netflix, so well worth a look.

Monday 27 January 2014

Deeply gratifying Google searches

Number One out of 11.5 million :-)

Land Monopoly Black Hole.

Hats off to Ben Jamin' for coining the phrase.

Fun Online Polls: Beer duty, VAT, house prices and wages

The results to last week's Fun Online Poll were as follows:

What does the government get more of if a pint of 4% beer is sold in a pub for £3.00?

Beer Duty -34%
VAT - 66%

Well done to the two-thirds of you who got it right: the Beer Duty is 43p and the VAT is 50p.

So why does the pub industry keep complaining about Beer Duty and only very occasionally about VAT? If we cheerfully gloss over the effect of the smoking ban and assume that the main competition for pubs is people deciding to buy booze in the supermarket and drink it at home, if the pub industry were well advised they would only complain about VAT and if anything they would support an increase in Beer Duty.

That would enable pubs to reduce their selling prices - whether for booze, food or soft drinks - and it would push up the selling price of booze in the supermarkets, thus tilting the playing field back in their favour. Ah well.
This week's Fun Online Poll is based on a slogan coined by DBC Reed in the comments earlier:

"You can have high house prices or good wages, but not both"

A bit simplistic yes, but ultimately there is a trade-off and it is one of many choices a society has to make.

Choose here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Shifting a whole town, part the manieth.

Part of an occasional series, previous instalment.

From The New York Times:

LAGO ENRIQUILLO, Dominican Republic — Steadily, mysteriously, like in an especially slow science fiction movie, the largest lake in the Caribbean has been rising and rising, devouring tens of thousands of acres of farmland, ranches and whatever else stands in its way.

Lago Enriquillo swallowed Juan Malmolejos’s banana grove. It swamped Teodoro Peña’s yucas and mango trees. In the low-lying city of Boca de Cachon, the lake so threatens to subsume the entire town that the government has sent the army to rebuild it from scratch on a dusty plain several miles away...

This is one of those extreme thought experiments being played out in real life.

The lake is rising for whatever reason (being the NYT they blame it all on Climate Change, go figure). So the existing town has to be evacuated.

And that town was laid out in a certain way, people live there, there were probably good areas and bad areas etc. And inevitably, some people will have owned the more valuable plots, some people owned less valuable ones and some will be tenants.

Whether the town is flooded or not, if enough people leave, the value of land in that town will plummet (see also: Detroit). Those who owned land have lost the lot, that's just tough.

So what happens if the government builds a carbon copy of the existing town, street for street and house for house somewhere out of the flood risk area - if everybody relocates to the new town, then once everybody has settled in, those land values will come back to life, they will be $ for $ the same as in the previous area. While physical dry land/buildings have been lost, the land values haven't.

The question is: to whom does the resulting total land value belong?

This is easily answered by first asking: who creates and sustains the land values? And if that is too difficult, imagine that the government drags its heels and takes so long to build the new town that everybody just abandons the old one and goes elsewhere on the island and it remains a ghost-town with land values of £nil (see also: China).

Sunday 26 January 2014

Bad Comedy

From Rufus Hound's blog

The NHS is the one of the single greatest achievements of any civilisation, ever, anywhere in the history of the world. Great Britain decided that being broken wasn’t your fault. If bits of you got smashed off, started going wrong or gave up entirely, it would do it’s best to stick them back on, put them right or find you a new one. It essentially made being healthy a human right. 

Up until 1948, only wealthy people had access to doctors. Your likelihood of surviving disease was based on your income. In other words, if you were poor, you were fucked. Then came World War Two and with it a generation of young Britons who died in foreign fields, fought for queen and country, opposed fascism and sacrificed nearly everything.

The only way through it was for everyone to pull together – prince and pauper, dustman and duke. The sense of nationhood that sprang from this tragedy, the sense that “we’re all in this together”, meant that within three years of the war finishing it was decided that the state would cover the healthcare costs of its citizens. That, regardless of your own personal wealth, you could expect medical attention as and when you needed it.

My tips to Rufus Hound is that if you're going to do satire, it's important to throw a few gags to tip people off.

Just saying things like the "single greatest achievement of any civilisation, ever" don't make it obvious. Something like "inhabitants of planets orbiting Betelgeuse see the NHS as the envy of the galaxy" work much better. And "only wealthy people had access to doctors" would be much better as "wealthy people would visit their doctors suffering from stomach upsets having had a couple of grilled peasants for lunch". And I'd also throw something in about how the evil Tories opposed any sort of insurance system as they wanted to turn poor people into glue.

"George W Bush and I were at root of 21st-century wars, says Tony Blair"

From The Observer:

Tony Blair has reignited debate about the west's response to terrorism with a call on governments to recognise that politicians like himself and George W Bush have become the biggest source of conflict around the world.

Referring to wars and violent confrontations from Syria to Nigeria and the Philippines, Blair, writing in the Observer, argues that "there is one thing self-evidently in common: acts of terrorism are perpetrated by people like me who think they have a divine right to impose their will on others. It is a perversion of faith."

Identifying Bush and more recently Obama as an ever more dangerous phenomenon, the spread of which is easier in a one-party-two-brands system, he says: "The battles of this century are likely to be the product of extreme political ideology, just like those of the 20th century – and they could will be fought around the questions of the cultural or religious difference between the USA and their poodles on one side, and 'everybody else' on the other."

The former prime minister, who led the country into the Iraq conflict in 2003, appears to acknowledge that previous aspirations to export liberal democracy were complete hokum at best.

UPDATE: Newsthump did much the same article a day later, theirs is probably better Religious extremism at root of wars, insists religious extremist at root of wars

Multi-car insurance

This is something else where I am amazed that they get away with it.

Assuming you are a two-adult household with two cars, it is usually cheaper to insure both cars with the same insurance company, and if you are a many-car household, much the same applies, you get discounts for each additional car.

However, it strikes me that the discounts are nowhere near big enough, because the marginal extra risk associated with one extra car is negligible, it is only the number of drivers which really matters.

Taking a two-car family (like mine), a lot of the time we are both in her car or both in my car, while the other car is safely parked up at home. In other words, a lot of the time the total risk is much the same as if we only had one car.

And there are some journeys which one or the other of us has to make, like picking up the kids or going to the supermarket, so the fact that I am using my car at any moment means it is less likely that she will be using hers. The total number of miles we drive between us is barely higher for us having two cars than if we only had one.

It's the same with a single, unmarried car enthusiast who has half a dozen useable cars on his driveway, he can only be using one of them at a time.
Ultimately, I'm not sure that compulsory private third-party insurance makes sense anyway.

a) There are three basic principles to insurance:

i. Risk spreading, where one specific party cannot bear the full cost if his project goes wrong, so he invites lots of other people to take a small part of the risk, and

ii. Risk pooling, where large numbers of people are running a very small risk of incurring what is for them a very large loss (like your house burning down). But from the insurance companies' point of view, that is not really a risk at all, they know that every year x,000 houses will burn down and that they will have to pay out £y million, so they divide that £y million by z million people with a house and everybody chips in a couple of hundred quid a year to a common fund.

iii. Self insurance. If you only own one home, you have to have fire insurance. However poor value it is, you wouldn't be able to sleep at night if you didn't have it. But what if you are Prince Charles and own thousands of homes? You know perfectly well that every few years one of them will burn down. It's cheaper paying for one to be rebuilt every few years than is to pay for insuring each one.

(Of course, we have to have some sort of criminal sanctions for unduly reckless drivers who kill or hurt somebody, or even if they don't, separate topic.)

b) But as most households own a car or two and nearly everybody is at risk of being hit by somebody else's car, whether as driver, passenger, pedestrian or owner of physical property, and the amount of damage you suffer as a result of a collision bears little relation to anything apart from sheer blind bad luck. This brings us safely into the realm of self-insurance - not for each individual but for the UK population as a whole.

(It's not like fire insurance where each owner has some influence over the risks, i.e. if you own a big house the total potential damage is much greater than if you own a small one; if you install loads of fire alarms, your risk is lower than if you don't etc.)

c) And the total amount of damage caused by thirty million vehicle owners to the rest of the population is a fairly stable figure (and tiny as a % of GDP). For some reason, the cost is recovered only from car owners, even though non-car owners are also at risk (of them or their front wall being hit).

d) So if you ask me, it would be cheaper and more efficient to bypass the insurance companies and just fund the third-party element out of general taxation (or out of fuel duty, or whatever seems appropriate), that way absolutely every risk is pooled in the same place, administration costs are minimal because you don't need dozens of separate companies collecting hundreds of millions of payments a year, you don't need expensive advertising.

e) This logic does not extend to fire and theft insurance, those are specific risks over which the owner has some control, the same as with fire insurance for your home (see above). There are plenty of people (like me) who simply don't bother with fire and theft insurance for their cars because worst-case having to spend a couple of grand on a replacement is well within my means, meaning that people like me wouldn't need this faff with insurance every year. Her Indoors is a bit more car-proud than me, so she probably would insure hers for fire and theft (even though I wouldn't bother with hers either), fair enough.

f) The only downside I can see is that insurance companies would lose a huge source of easy revenue… oh, right.

Saturday 25 January 2014

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (314)

Here's another one which keeps coming up and which I have now added to The List.

"Over sixty per cent of voters are home owners and turkeys don't vote for Xmas"

This is a non-argument.

Even if were a valid objection, you might as well point out that considerably more than 60% of people have income on which they have to pay income tax and/or employment income on which they have to pay National Insurance; that nearly everybody buys goods and services subject to VAT etc.

If 'the tyranny of the majority' were an important factor in designing a tax system, then we would find that the only taxes levied would be those only ever borne by a minority (for example alcohol, tobacco and gambling duty, possibly corporation tax and Business Rates).

And as a matter of fact, for most households (certainly for most working age households) their earnings as a share of total national earnings is much higher than the value of their home as share of total land wealth, so shifting taxes from the former to the latter will reduce the tax bills for most households (quite dramatically, as it happens).

Those who would see their net income fall would mainly be members of The One Per Cent whose entire income consists of monopoly income (land rents, mortgage interest, the value of banking licences etc). Everybody else, and the productive economy as a whole, wins.

So if we did have 'the tyranny of the majority', Land Value Tax would be the way forward!

Saturday afternoon gear change

Janis Joplin, "Me and Bobby McGee", includes an in-your-face full tone gear change at 1 minute 16 seconds:

Friday 24 January 2014

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From City AM Forum:

Compulsory saving

[Re: Brits told: Save six times more for your pension or face poverty, Tuesday]

It's not clear that a compulsory savings scheme would help to solve the pensions crisis in the UK.

Aside from philosophical issues as to whether the government should be able to mandate what individuals do with their money, there are practical problems to address.

In Australia, which introduced such a scheme in 1992, savings were paid out in a lump sum on retirement. But many just accumulated debts throughout their adult lives (anticipating the retirement payout), and ended up no better off in net terms.

Gerald Patterson.

Ah... only in The Daily Mail

From The Daily Mail:

The mother of a gifted young ballerina who threw herself under a train demanded action yesterday against the ‘toxic digital world’ of the internet that glamorises suicide and self-harm.

Tallulah Wilson, 15, had been hooked on photo-sharing websites, where users encouraged her to harm herself...

Tragic, tragic. And what's The Mail's special angle on this..?

Tallulah, the youngest of three girls whose parents are divorced, lived with her family in a £1million house in West Hampstead, North-West London...

Hat tip, Anorak

Thursday 23 January 2014

Gloriously Shit Ideas Of The Day

From the BBC:

Parents who earn a combined income of more than £80,000 should have to pay if their children go to the most popular state schools, a report suggests.(1)

Private headmaster (2) Anthony Seldon raises the idea for left of centre think tank, the Social Market Foundation.

He said it would break "the middle-class stranglehold on top state schools" (3) and provide additional funds...

Dr Seldon said parents who were the top earners would pay the fee the state pays, which would be about £6,000.

Fees at the most oversubscribed state schools could be the same for the most affluent as those at independent day schools, about £15,000 a year for some primary schools, and £20,000 at secondary schools.(4)

He said a quarter of the money raised through charging should be retained by the school, with the rest redistributed among other state schools...

Speaking to BBC News, Dr Seldon said:

"There's a tremendously unjust system at the moment whereby the rich and the successful and those with strong elbows buy houses in catchment areas of successful schools; (5) they pay for tutoring, they elbow their way into top schools and this pamphlet is designed to enhance social justice."

...The proposal to offer poorer pupils places at independent schools says their fees should be paid by a government grant capped 50% above the cost of sending them to a state school.(6)

1) Dude WTF? Those self same people are paying more than their share of the cost of state education via the income tax system. This sort of means testing on speed just increases marginal tax rates even further.

2) Aha, now it makes sense. Want he wants is to increase the demand for private school places by reducing the cost differential between state and private sector. The money-grubbing shit.

3) How does he work that out? If, as he suggests further down, the state school concerned is allowed to keep some of the money raised, they'd have every incentive to accept as many pupils from higher income backgrounds as possible, so that would lead to increased segregation.

Unless he hopes to achieve this by driving children of better-off parents into private education - that's the only rational explanation

4) See 2).

5) Now he's getting down to the nitty gritty. What he is proposing is really a kind of twisted Land Value Tax or income tax surcharge which is only payable by the small sub-set of people who a) live in the area, b) earn a lot and c) send their children to the local state school. The only merit in his idea is that this would push down house prices in the catchment areas of good state schools.

The point of Land Value Tax is to reduce and replace other taxes and to apply to everybody. So we might end up with a situation where all the homes in the catchment area of a good state school are bought by higher earners - which is what happens anyway.

So what? They'd be paying the [land value] tax and they get the benefit, unlike Seldon's system where they pay the [income] tax for nothing in return and then pay again for the benefit.

6) Aha, yet more income for private schools, add that to 2) and 4). Except his maths is whack (he's only a fucking head teacher, after all, not somebody who knows anything), how on earth are parents of "poorer pupils" supposed to pay the difference between private school fees and the £9,000 grant?

He's got that one arse about face anyway. If we are going to have vouchers, give them to all children equally, that's the best system. If it's "social justice" he's after, that sorts itself out by definition because those vouchers are funded out of taxes paid by the "sharp-elbowed middle class".

The Rules of Football (4)

From Deloitte's Annual Review of Football Finance:

This year they spared us the wailing about "players' wages keep increasing as a % of club revenues" and even saved me the bother of pointing out that nearly all increases in club revenues go into higher wages:

Europe's premier leagues

• Within the Premier League total [revenues] of £2,360 million for 2011/12 [up by 4%], Premier League clubs' revenues ranged from £320m (Manchester United) to £53m (Wigan Athletic)...

Wages and transfers

• The total wage bill, across all employees, of Premier League clubs in 2011/12 was £1,658m (up 4%), ranging from £202m (Manchester City) down to £35m (Swansea City).

• There were six Premier League clubs with total wages above the average of £83m, all of which finished in the top eight positions in the table. 13 Premier League clubs had total wages in a relatively narrow range between £35m and £64m…

• Premier League clubs' total wages are projected to have been c.£1,800m for the 2012/13 season. Given the upcoming step-change in 2013/14, the key question is how much of the extra £600m revenue will be spent on wages?

• If historic trends are repeated, increasing wages will absorb about 80% (£480m) of the extra revenue.

Funeral Parlour Joke

A conscientious old lady goes into a Co-op funeral parlour to pre-pay her own funeral.

The undertaker goes through the forms and asks her, in hushed and respectful tones: "Would madame like to choose a headstone?"

"Oh no,"
replies the old lady brightly, "I want it to be a surprise."

Wednesday 22 January 2014

"Police to ask home secretary to approve use of super soakers across country"

From The Guardian:

Chief constables are shortly to press the home secretary, Theresa May, to authorise the use of super soakers by any police force across England and Wales to deal with an anticipated heat wave.

The Association of Chief Police Officers says that the need to protect people "from ongoing and potentially lethal short term temperature spikes" justifies the introduction of the manually pressurised water guns across Britain for the first time.

The London mayor, Boris Johnson, has already announced a consultation on the introduction of high capacity squirty pistols as a fun way for the Metropolitan Police to cool people down on the streets of London this summer.

The World Is Hot Enough

From Wiki and Wiki:

MI6 agent James Bond meets a Swiss banker to retrieve money from Sir Robert King, a British oil tycoon who has caused an unequivocal and continuing rise in the average temperature of Earth's climate system.

Bond tells the banker that King was buying a report stolen from an MI6 agent which concluded that since 1971, 90% of the warming has occurred in the oceans. Despite the oceans' dominant role in energy storage, the banker threatens Bond but Bond overpowers him.

The banker is killed by his assistant before he can reveal that the term "global warming" is also used to refer to increases in average temperature of the air and sea at Earth's surface. Bond escapes with the money.

Back in London, the global air and sea surface temperature has increased about 0.8 °C (1.4 °F). Bond gives chase to the assassin on a boat on the Thames to the Millennium Dome, where each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth's surface than any preceding decade since 1850

Bond offers her protection, but she refuses. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that scientists are more than 90% certain that most of global warming is being caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities - such as the assassin attempting to escape via hot air balloon.

Bond traces the scientific understanding of the cause of global warming to Renard, a KGB agent-turned-terrorist. Following an earlier attempt on his life by MI6, Renard was left with a bullet in his brain which is gradually destroying his senses, with about two-thirds of the increase occurring since 1980.

Bond flies to Azerbaijan, where Sir Robert King's daughter, Elektra is overseeing the construction of an oil pipeline. During a tour of the pipeline's proposed route, the IPCC says that the largest driver of global warming is carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion and land use changes such as deforestation in order to build pipelines, and are then attacked by a hit squad in armed, paraglider-equipped snowmobiles.

Wine Taxes

From Jancis Robinson

Have you noticed the quality of supermarket wine declining?  Have you noticed prices of mass-market wine in the UK rising over the last few years?

The explanation lies in the mealy-mouthed declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer each Budget day when he announces, usually in a rather self-satisfied way, that for taxes/duties on alcohol there will be 'no change'. What he means is not that there will be no change to duty rates but that there will be no changes to the measures for a duty escalator brought in in 2008 whereby wine duty rises automatically by inflation plus 2%. So, every year, duties on wines and spirits rise inexorably, by 50% since 2008, as set out years ago.

Sneaky bastards. And most of the media haven't picked up on it.

Who pays the piper etc.

Policy Exchange have 'done a Demos'.

Their new report rides the old Help to Save - Defusing the pensions time bomb bandwagon.

This meme/myth is based on people's complete and utter lack of understanding of the fundamental difference between businesses investing and households saving:

- Business investment is A Good Thing as it increases productive capacity, and the best source of funds is current, ongoing income. You get a match between "what consumers want" and 'what producers provide".

- Household saving is on balance A Good Thing, mainly because of the benefit of spreading your consumption evenly over a lifetime of fluctuating income, i.e. some households dis-save (borrow) and others save and it all evens out. Household saving does not in and of itself increase productive capacity and might even reduce it. The City wants to brainwash you into spending less on goods and services and spending more money on shares, i.e. tomorrow's shareholders give it to today's shareholders. Surely it is better for businesses to earn money from customers spending money than for today's shareholders to earn money from selling shares in companies with lower earnings?

They also gloss over the fact that there is a limited amount of interest or dividend yielding assets for people to invest in, so it is physically impossible for all pensioners to end up with at least £9,000 in private pension income.

So what it boils down is the usual "we want the government to take a large chunk of your salaries and give it to the boys in the City, who will use it to chase up share prices and push down bond yields.

"After having taken a massive cut for themselves, the net benefit to you poor deluded savers overall will actually be negative.

"And there's a bonus! The more of your salary is taken away now, the longer it will take you to pay off your mortgage! Win-win!"

Let's just see if there are any clues as to who is behind it, shall we?

About the Author

James Barty is the Senior Consultant, Financial Policy for Policy Exchange. Prior to joining Policy Exchange he worked in the financial sector for more than 20 years, including 17 years at an investment bank and four years at a hedge fund.


We would like to thank all of the people who have taken the time to talk to us about this vital issue. The feedback we have received has been invaluable and we have tried to incorporate it into the report.

We would particularly like to thank Alan Brown and the Global Strategic Solutions team at Schroders who kindly provided a considerable amount of input and help to us in the research and writing of this report.

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From The Metro:

Last week, the Sutherland family were prosecuted for taking their children out of school for a week's holiday. Now, 16-year-old Lewis Clarke has reached the South Pole (Metro, Mon) and presumably missed several weeks of education.

His school, QEH in Bristol, is independent. I assume the Sutherlands' isn't, and there different rules apply.

But should the principles be the same? Should Clarke's parents also be prosecuted? Perhaps the school could if it chose to but has evidently given its approval.

Adham Fisher, Leicester.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Whatever is the world coming to..?

From The Mirror, February 2013: Mum, 22, arrested on child trafficking charges after 'trying to sell her kids on Facebook for $5,000'

From The Mirror, January 2014: Pregnant teenager 'sells unborn baby on Facebook for just £68'

Facebook is a social networking site! If you want to sell stuff you use eBay or Gumtree.

I can't make up my mind whether this is hilariously funny or depressingly sad...

From The Wrexham Leader:

THERE was pandemonium at a discount shop when tempers flared over a half price sale.

Police were called to the 99p Store on Regent Street, Wrexham, when crowds of furious shoppers refused to leave after prices on sale items were put back up to 99p...

Shopper Sharon Roberts, from Rhosnesni, said: "I was in there for nearly two hours queuing to get to the till. Then the manager took the posters down from the window.

"People were absolutely furious and that's why the police were called. Tempers were flaring and people were shouting. The shop finally said people could have items on a buy one get one free."

Nice Bit of Nimbyism in the Caring Sharing Guardian

From the Guardian:

Of course, we need more housing in this country. But our ward is already the most densely populated in Barnet, and there has to be a limit. Few would accept a skyscraper in the middle of a country lane.

This isn't as bad as that, of course, but at three-and-a-half times the size of the previous building, it's just too big. Some people will call us nimbys – but who else would ever notice? To discredit somebody just because they live nearby and would be adversely affected is to say: anything goes.

It's already the most densely populated in Barnet because it's the bit of Barnet that's the nearest to London (I've worked out where it is on a map). It's the bit of Barnet that is within 35 minutes of Kings Cross, whereas the bit where my Great Aunt lived is 55 minutes away. And most people would much rather commute 35 than 55 minutes. And if you've got a bit of it that's now redundant in the 35 minute zone (like a Vicarage), you build on it rather than the bit that's 55 minutes away.

This is the problem for all NIMBYs. They want the benefits that come with a place - short journey to work, lovely views of the countryside, but get rather upset when other people try to gain those same benefits, especially if it means losing something that they think they're entitled to (but have no rights over).

Read the rest if you like. It's full of authentic NIMBY gibberish about the habitat of owls and newts.

"Scottish pubs urged to offer wine in thimbles"

From the BBC:

Scotland's bars and pubs are being urged to promote the sale of smaller measures of wine.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said thimble measures should be made more widely available.

The Scottish government and the drinks industry have joined together to promote a voluntary campaign for more responsible drinking.

Representatives of the drinks industry will later sheepishly admit that they signed up before they noticed the caveat "responsible" but that it got too embarrassing to back out.

Mr Matheson said tackling Scotland's difficult relationship with alcohol was one of the government's key priorities. He said that pubs and bars often only sold wine in medium (175ml) and large (250ml) measures instead of in much healthier 5 ml thimbles.

The Minister also recommended that beer be served out of 25 ml shot glasses and that spirits be served by pipette. He also suggested that stronger spirits could be served as a fine mist.

Fun Online Polls: Idiot lobbyists campaigning against the wrong thing

A spokeswoman for the pubco lobbying body was on Radio 4 this morning, ostensibly complaining about moves to introduce a "statutory code of practice" for the way that pubco's treat their tied landlords (who are in fact tenants), a deeply unhappy relationship at best.

She waffled on a bit about "self-regulation" and it being a free world, nobody is forced to become a tied landlord, it's cheaper paying rent than borrowing money to buy your own pub etc, fair enough, I have no strong opinion one way or another.

But she highlighted what a bunch of idiots they are when right at the end she said it wasn't pubco's killing off pubs, it was the government doing it with Beer Duty, which according to her "has increased 42%" but without saying since when, so that's a meaningless statement.

Apart from the fact that it was the smoking ban, something supported by a majority of the population, which is killing off pubs, can you spot her deliberate error/omission?

See if you can guess, using the widget in the sidebar.

Monday 20 January 2014

Reader's Letter Of The Day (2)

From last Friday's Guardian, actually:

Ed Miliband's plans for the political realignment of the middle class may well founder on the issue of home ownership, which you identify (Editorial, 15 January) as the key to middle-class self-identification.

With house (basically land) prices so high, Labour's only recourse would be to its old post-war model of the development corporation, compulsorily purchasing land at agricultural prices and retaining any planning uplift while developing houses for sale or rent, preferably on garden city (and village) principles.

Ideally a revived middle class could benefit from increased job mobility via a computerised letting service and move first into high-spec rented property then, after saving a deposit from the affordable rent, buy a house, as of old.

A land value tax would be necessary to cap any current land value inflation, so maintaining the house price stability achieved.

DBC Reed, Northampton.

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From the FT:

Sir, The ease with which banks outwit politicians* is well summarised by Philip Stephens (Comment, January 17).

One central point that eludes politicians, is that any reduced growth coming from higher bank capital requirements can easily be countered by simply having the central bank and government create and spend extra base money into the economy.**

Moreover, the idea that raising capital from about 3% to about 4% (as currently envisaged) will have any effect on growth is a joke given that Milton Friedman and others advocate/d raising the ratio to100%.

Ralph Musgrave, Durham.

* Bankers don't actually outwit politicians, they own them. The bigger parties are just the political wing of the banking movement.

** He understates the case: higher bank capital requirements will have absolutely no detrimental effect on growth whatsoever, so the proferred solution is entirely unnecessary, but hey.

I can think of one possible answer to that..

The BBC asks: Why are India's tigers killing humans?

There are about 1,700 tigers left in the wild in India. In the past five weeks, 17 people in four states have been killed by tigers. Jay Mazoomdaar investigates the reasons behind the current spate of killings…

One possible answer, which the article doesn't mention, is that thanks to do-gooding Westerners, with their fund raising and preservation nonsense, have ensured that there are more tigers (fewer being shot etc).

It makes you ashamed to be a Westerner, it really does. If there were still wild boars and bears on the loose in the British Isles, killing our livestock and dozens of people each year, would we thank the Indians if they put in an all out effort to stop us wiping them out?

Methinks not.

Fun Online Poll: Units of alcohol per week

Pub Curmudgeon has written up the results to last week's Fun Online Poll here.

If anybody has a bright idea for this week's Fun Online Poll, please leave a suggestion in the comments.

Sunday 19 January 2014

An interesting model in Cafes

from the Guardian

A Russian cafe chain called Ziferblat has opened its first UK store in east London. It provides tea and coffee and Wi-Fi for nothing – but it's 3p a minute to sit there. I know. Genius.

But in Shoreditch where this is based, this makes sense. The biggest chunk of a cup of coffee in that area is the space you're occupying drinking it. You compare the price of a coffee in central London with the price of a coffee in say, Swindon, and there's a bigger difference in price than the price of the coffee beans (about 20p of the cup)(1). The extra rent is being added into that coffee.

If someone has 2 coffees in an hour instead of 1, all that's really costing a restaurant is in coffee beans and maybe milk. Staff, rent, heating, lighting are all fixed for the period. They're sitting at the same table, denying it to other customers whether they drink 1 or 2 in the same period. By charging for rent, it's charging based on the most expensive bit of the coffee being drunk.

Saturday 18 January 2014

The Daily Mash on top form

From The Daily Mash:

A UK Independence Party councillor has blamed recent storms and floods on the Government's decision to legalise gay marriage.

David Silvester, who defected from the Tories last year in protest at David Cameron's support for same-sex unions, claimed he had warned the Prime Minister that the legislation would result in 'disasters'…

Glorious, go over and read the rest yourself.

Missing beats round (5)

Joan Jett & The Blackheart's cover version of "I love rock'n'roll" is full of missing beats.

For example at 55 seconds in, the last line of the chorus is "So come and take your time and dance with me". The word "me" is the last beat of that bar and also the first beat of the next bar:

Friday 17 January 2014

VAT is the worst tax of all #974

Because it is so inherently f-ing snobby.

From The Evening Standard:

A world-renowned bellydancing teacher today revealed her dismay at being forced to pay a £52,000 VAT bill after tax inspectors ruled that her art was recreational, not educational…

Miss Cheruvier, who runs the Fleur Estelle Belly Dance School, fought to overturn the assessment, but has had her case thrown out at a tax tribunal.

She said bellydancing was a "serious and systematic course of study" and that she should be given the same VAT exemption as private tutors in subjects such as maths and English.

However, Judge Edward Sadler ruled that her private tuition was "recreational" rather than "educational" and was therefore not exempt from VAT…

He said: "Most forms of dance are inherently recreational, that is, for the enjoyment and satisfaction of the participants rather than for their intellectual development.

"A form of dance may move from the recreational to the educational where it is studied in the context of its history, cultural background and relevance, artistic aspirations and achievements, and critical appraisal."

Even golf courses hate bankers

From The Daily Mail:

A claustrophobic mortgage banker has told the story of how a round of golf ended up with him plunging into a sinkhole that opened as he walked across the 14th hole...

The story has a very sad ending.

He survived to tell the tale with a broken shoulder rather than being sucked down into our planet's molten iron core.

Questions that don't need an Answer

From the Telegraph

It fell to Dieter Zetsche, the chief executive of Mercedes-Benz, to summarise the debate during the Detroit show.

"The car that will take you home after you have had too much to drink is a long way off," he said. "But is that what we really want?" 

"Ed Miliband urges bank mergers to tackle 'broken' market"

From the BBC:

The UK's second and third tier banks are too powerful and should be forced to give up "significant" numbers of branches to larger players, Labour leader Ed Miliband is to say...

Doll revolution

A Labour government would "turn the tide" by creating another credit bubble which would force failing "challenger" banks such as Abbey National, Bradford & Bingley, Northern Rock or Britannia into the arms of larger more efficient institutions such as Santander, which will boost High Street competition.


Miliband will promise a "domino effect" whereby smaller entities such as the Britannia would drag mid-tier partners such as the Co-operative Bank down with them and end up being swallowed by a hedge fund, and if no white knight could be found, the failing banks will simply be nationalised.

Different light

The Labour leader will say that there was no natural upper limit to the possibilities, citing the forced merger of Lloyds and HBOS and the RBS/NatWest takeover as shining examples of the benefits of market liberalisation, both of which resulted in the combined entities being part-nationalised and state-funded.

All over the place

But the Conservatives said Labour's policies were "all over the place"...

In his speech at the University of London, Mr Miliband will liken the "broken" banking system to the energy market, claiming "too much power is being dissipated in too many hands" and this has a detrimental effect on banker's bonus pots.

A Labour government, he will say, would instruct the Competition and Markets Authority to report within six months of the May 2015 general election what the minimum limit on a bank's market share should be and the timetable for future mergers and subsequent bail-outs, which should be completed by 2020.

Thursday 16 January 2014

Sandbanks Beach Huts

From the BBC

A council has made more than £5,500 from a beach hut waiting list within a few hours of it opening.

Borough of Poole said 223 people paid £25 to join the waiting list for huts on Dorset's exclusive Sandbanks beach, which reopened on Tuesday. 
The council said the non-refundable fee was to make sure that people joining the list genuinely wanted a beach hut…

The waiting list, which has been closed for seven years, reopened online at 12:00 GMT but crashed moments later. 
By 09:30 GMT on Wednesday, there had been 8,540 views of the booking web page and 355 phone calls to the inquiry line.

A council spokeswoman confirmed that the booking system had "keeled over" and added: "Everybody wanted to register straight away so they can be top of the list."

There are about 150 beach huts in Sandbanks and, before registration reopened, there were already about 80 people remaining on the waiting list…

There are more than 1,000 huts along Poole's coastline, most of which are leased annually, and around 80 more are due to be built. Borough of Poole council said it had reopened the list because it had "reduced significantly" to 193 applicants across all its seven locations.

Waiting lists for huts in Shore Road, Flaghead, Canford Cliffs, Branksome Chine, Branksome Dene and Hamworthy are due to open in the next six weeks.

Great. Poole Council has made £5K from some booking fees. That'll cover the cost of hundreds of meals on wheels.

But you know,when you've got 8540 people trying to hit your page within minutes of it opening to rent a beachhut on Sandbanks where the cost of houses hit the millions, it might give you a clue that maybe you've underpriced the rent.

I'm pretty sure that if the same thing happened with a Keycamp holiday camp (rather than taking months to sell out), that they would consider pushing the prices up the following year.

Seriously, does anyone actually need to do this any longer? Stick the beach hut rentals on eBay and let people bid on them. You'll quickly discover the market price that people want to pay and they've got the sort of infrastructure that can handle it.

It's what we did with the 3G and 4G auctions. You've got something in limited supply that was created by god/gaia/billions of years of evolution of the universe and is maintained and defended with the help of state spending, so you extract as much money out of people who'd like it and spend it on the people.

A plan to reduce the waiting lists by limiting leases to five and 10 years was dropped in 2012 after objections from existing tenants.

Which is another sign that the rental value is too low. If they were priced correctly, people might grumble a little but they'd hardly be that bothered. They'd go and find somewhere else to go instead. These people are rent-seekers, sponging off the state to enjoy things at below the market price.

One of the Troubleshooter programmes had Sir John Harvey Jones visiting Morgan where he asked why they didn't raise the price of their cars, as all it did was to give money to scalpers who took places in the queue, bought the cars and immediately sold them for a profit. And I'd bet all the land values of Sandbanks that some of those people with long leases aren't staying in the huts but making money on the side sub-letting them.

When you start thinking about 1,000 huts, a gain of £5500 is pissing in the sea compared to what they could be making.

Dude, we've spent it.

The Guardian runs the following twattish article:

Last Wednesday, every single Norwegian became a millionaire – without having to lift a lillefinger. They owe the windfall to their coastline, and a huge dollop of good sense. Since 1990, Norway has been squirreling away its cash from North Sea oil and gas into a rainy-day fund.

... converted into pounds, the 5.11 trillion krone becomes a mere £100,000 for every man, woman and child... We pumped hundreds of billions out of the water off the coast of Scotland. Only unlike the Norwegians, we've got almost nothing to show for it.

Yes, we've seen this sort of drivel in The Daily Mail and at ConHome plenty of times, the only variant is the next bit:

Our oil cash was magicked into tax cuts for the well-off, then micturated against the walls of a thousand pricey car dealerships and estate agents.

How the oil money was allegedly spent seems to depend entirely on the prejudices of whoever is writing the twattish article. The Mail and ConHome would say "We wasted it on welfare payments to scroungers", UKIP would say "We wasted it on payments to the EU", the Islamists would say "We wasted it on wars of aggression against our peace-loving Brothers in the Middle East", the BNP would say "We wasted it on aid payment to nig nogs" etc etc.

Even worse is the SNP who say that "Westminster stole our oil money", well fact is, the extra Barnett money the Scots get back from Westminster has been broadly equal to the North Sea oil tax revenues and it all nets off.

(I might as well point out that the £5 billion of North Sea oil money we've spent was at least publicly collected and pales into insignificance compared to the amount of taxpayers' money wasted by selling off council houses at undervalue and then having to pay Housing Benefit instead, we're talking tens of billions, maybe as much as a hundred billion, pissed up the wall right there.)

Boring, boring, boring:

Politics aside, the salient points here these:

a) There are only 5.1 million Norwegians. Pro rata for the UK population, our fund would have been £8,000 each.

b) That money has been building up over forty years, so divide £8,000 by forty, the UK has been spending £200 more per person per year, that's your £8,000 gone.

c) Both Labour and Tory governments have appalling records on public spending, that £200 is only about 2% of the total amount they spend per person each year anyway, i.e. the square root of f- all.

d) There's not much point whining about a non-existent £0.5 billion oil fund when the UK has run up a national debt of £1,000 billion (or whatever the horrifying figure is). In relative terms, it's the square root of your answer from c). Maybe our national debt is £0.5 billion lower than it otherwise would have been, who knows?

The Ship of Theseus

This seems appropriate to post in honour of the actor, Roger Lloyd-Pack, who passed away today. Not only gave us the unforgettable Trigger, but also Owen in The Vicar of Dibley. And for Potter fans, Barty Crouch Sr. He was one of those great character actors who inhabited the roles he played that generally go unsung compared to often, less talented stars.

To anyone who doesn't remember it, there's a moment in Only Fools and Horses where Trigger gets an award for keeping his broom for 20 years. Then remarks that it's had 17 new heads and 14 new handles. It's funny because of course, what seems like a great achievement isn't really.

But there's a philosophical question in this too, that was originally asked long ago by Plutarch when referring to replacing all the timbers on the Ship of Theseus: if you replace all the timbers on a ship over time (or the head and handle on a broom), is it still the same ship?

Car attacks house, today's episode

From The Daily Mail:

A 28-year-old woman has described the terrifying moment a speeding car fleeing police officers ploughed into her house as she slept.

She was in bed at her semi-detached property in Leeds, West Yorkshire, when the BMW skipped over a grass verge and smashed into her front room at 2am yesterday.

Three-bed semi detached houses like that in Leeds sell for anything between £90,000 and £300,000, it all depends on exactly which part of Leeds (sadly not stated in the article).

The Daily Mail doesn't usually mention the house price if it's in a low-value area, so we'll have to assume more towards the £90,000 end. Or less, if the downstairs bay window is all smashed in.

My tip: don't buy a house at the top of a T-junction.

"Vodka and fed bull"

Excellent play on words by The Daily Mail to accompany their article, which disappoints slightly by starting with the punchline and then working backwards, getting bogged down in ever more irrelevant trivia as it goes on:

A cunning farmer managed to catch a runaway bull by getting it drunk on vodka mixed in with his feed.

The animal escaped from the farm in Kallmünz near Regensburg, Germany, in the summer and the farmer had been trying to catch it ever since. It had been evading capture by hiding in the Bavarian woods and the owner was getting desperate.

He applied to the vets for permission to shoot and kill the beast as it was causing concern in the local area. The Local reports the permission was denied and he was still unable to snare it.

He tried tracking it for six months and shooting it with a tranquiliser but it failed and the bull was still running free [etc]

Wednesday 15 January 2014

"Horse in M4 crash near Membury Services"

From the BBC:

A number of vehicles were involved in a serious crash on the M4* after cars hit a horse running across the carriageway.

The M4 was briefly closed eastbound between junctions 14, Hungerford, and 15, Swindon East, after the smash near Membury Services at about 04:45 GMT.
Thames Valley Police said the crash involved five vehicles, including a van which overturned.

The male driver was freed by fire-fighters and taken to hospital. The horse died at the scene. Police confirmed no-one else was injured and said the van driver is not thought to have life-threatening injuries.

* It's not clear how a horse can affect the broad money aggregate quite so disastrously, but hey...

"Coming out: I went to work expecting the worst day of my life"

From the BBC:

A table of the most gay-friendly employers is being published later by campaign group Stonewall. But what reaction can people in traditionally gay-friendly industries expect from colleagues after they come out as straight?

On paper it was a perfect afternoon. Wales were minutes away from a rare Six Nations win over England.

Watching in a London pub, James Wharton - an 18-year-old fashion magazine sub-editor from Shoreditch - should have been revelling in watching thirty grown men in tight shorts engaging in 80 minutes of gratuitous mud-wrestling with his four friends, who all work in fashion, interior design or advertising.

"I should have pretended to be jubilant," he remembers. "I'm normally quite a loud character with my mates but I was in my box, I was depressed."

One-by-one they asked him what was wrong: "Is it debt? Problems back home?"

Then, as at least one of them already suspected, "Are you straight?"

"I wouldn't have minded so much, but I had to miss the women's beach volleyball finals on the other channel."

"George Osborne issues 'reform or decline' warning to UK"

From the BBC:

The United Kingdom is falling behind many other European countries, India and China and must reform if it wants to halt the decline, George Osborne has warned.

In a speech the chancellor pointed to the country's spending on welfare-for-the-wealthy and its "competitiveness problem".

"We can't go on like this," he said at a conference organised by two UK-sceptic groups.

It followed the Conservative leadership rejecting a call from 95 of its MPs to allow Parliament to block interest subsidies to banks and the ripping up of planning laws for the benefit of large land-bankers.

Labour said David Cameron's "weakness" regarding his party was preventing reform, while the UK Independence Party said the prime minister had repeatedly "caved in" to horrible young people who wanted more affordable housing.

Earlier this week Home Secretary Theresa May confirmed that the United Kingdom's banking and landowner subsidies would continue to be paid out of taxes levied on all its citizens and other businesses and the Conservative backbench MPs' plan was unworkable.

Well duh: "A credit boom before each bust"

Douglas Carswell in The Spectator states the bleeding' obvious:

Here is a graph that shows the four economic downturns Britain has been through (red lines) over the past forty years.

What I find strking is that each downturn was preceded by the same thing: a surge in the growth of money (blue line). In other words, the bust followed an unsustainable credit-induced boom…

The man in the street can't see the increase in credit or the credit bubble, as it is a bit abstract, but what we can easily see is land price/house price bubbles, which are always debt fuelled.

That's where nearly all the extra credit goes - into buying and selling the same old land and buildings which have always been there, they are already built on/built and so little need for further investment above and beyond annual maintenance etc.

You can't have a credit bubble without a land price bubble and vice versa, they are the same thing, two sides of the same coin.

And we know how to dampen land price speculation (and reduce taxes on real economic activity and investment), don't we?

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Is it, y'know, just me?

From the BBC:-

On another occasion Mr Travis allegedly assaulted a female student after asking her to guard his camper van at Nottingham Polytechnic, where he was appearing as a DJ, between January 1983 and March 1984.

When Mr Travis came out of the van he grabbed her left breast, before saying "securi-titty", the prosecutor said. He later kissed the student before she ran away, after which she "felt stupid and humiliated".

First of all, it's all allegations, so may or may not be true, in the court etc

If he did these things, is this really worth prosecuting? Someone was a bit of an unfunny letch 30 years ago. Return a slap or knee to the groin and get on with your life. That's what girls did that I knew. She felt "stupid and humiliated"? So what? I've feel stupid and humiliated on a regular basis and within a day or two I move on.

Is it really going to be justice to give someone a criminal record and stick them on the sex offenders register  for that?

"Angry bull elephant tramples and flips car carrying British couple"

From The Evening Standard:

Footage of an angry bull elephant over turning a car in which a British teacher was travelling has emerged.

The elephant was filmed attacking the vehicle as it drove through South Africa's Kruger National Park.

Sarah Brooks, from Lincolnshire, was on safari with her partner when the incident happened. Their vehicle was slowly following the elephant down a road.