Friday 28 February 2014

"Landmark crackdown on fake shares fraudsters"

From the BBC:

Criminal gangs who tricked taxpayers into investing in worthless bank shares have been targeted by police in the biggest ever national crackdown on the fraud.

The operation resulted in 110 arrests - mostly in Westminster and the City of London with one further arrest in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. Police targeted the masterminds and facilitators of the "bail out" fraud - so-called because of the fact that banks were bailed out.

There are thirty million confirmed victims of the racket in the UK and the losses run into the tens of billions.

Detectives say the aim of the two-year investigation, codenamed "Operation why-the-fuck did they bail out RBS and Lloyds?", is to "decimate" bank bail out fraud in Europe.

They believe it is the biggest ever operation against the crime.

D'yer mak'er

Emailed in by Michael Hawes (who had a good reader's letter in The Independent this week), from The Jamaica Gleaner:


In the meantime, the Government appears set to continue with the system of charging property tax on the unimproved value* of properties.

Eric Allen, commissioner of land valuation, said moving to a system of charging property taxes on the improved value would use up a lot of time and resources. He said property tax was currently charged based on location.

Phillips said while applying property taxes based on the improved value would be more effective in getting the wealthier to pay more, it would require the authorities to examine "every single parcel, and you have to arrive at a valuation of building and other accoutrement and other improvements that have been made".

The minister said the reasoning behind applying taxation on the unimproved value of properties is that it would provide an incentive for persons to do improvements to their properties. He further said that policymakers of the day felt that applying the tax on the improved value could send the signal to persons that they are being penalised for making improvements to their properties.

* 'Unimproved value' is a bit of a misnomer actually, what they mean is the 'site premium' or 'location value', i.e. the extra rental value of a building on favourable Site X compared to the rental value of a similar building on marginal Site Y, where the rental income is just sufficient to cover the bricks and mortar cost but generates no surplus above and beyond that.

Thursday 27 February 2014

Back to the future

From the BBC:

The weekly earnings of full-time workers in the UK fell, in real terms, each year between 2008 and 2013, official figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says in cash terms earnings grew, by only 2% a year, from 2009 to 2013. But after taking inflation into account the purchasing power of those earnings suffered an overall fall of 8%.

This means that the real value of the UK's average weekly earnings are now back to the level of 2002.

From the BBC:

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which publishes the [English Housing Survey] each year, said:

"The proportion of all households in owner occupation increased steadily from the 1980s to 2003 when it reached a peak of 71%. Since then, there has been a gradual decline in owner occupation to the current 65%."

It pointed out that private renting in England had been steady at about 10% of all households during the 1980s and 1990s, but had since grown sharply, nearly doubling in size.

From the BBC:

The number of tenants in England and Wales forcibly evicted from their homes last year after court action reached a record high.

Some 37,739 private and public sector tenants had their homes repossessed by court bailiffs in 2013, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice. That is the highest number since records began in the year 2000.


However, the number of homes being repossessed by mortgage lenders at the end of 2013 was the lowest in a decade.

In cases that involved court action, 12,147 people had to hand back the keys to their home between October and December last year. The Ministry of Justice put that down to low interest rates and a "proactive approach from lenders in managing consumers in financial difficulty".

"Mark Berry named by ADL as Britain's most popular bus driver"

From The Evening Standard:

Mark Berry has been named as Britain’s most popular bus driver in a survey by the UK's leading coach and bus manufactuer Alexander Dennis (ADL).

A regular driver on the 36 and 68 Manchester to St Helens routes, Berry pipped the London 257 route stalwart Paul Lawson to be crowned the country’s king of buses. 

The poll by ADL ranks the nation’s top bus drivers according to their influence on the UK’s ever-growing passion for public transport.

It also reveals that the Clapton to Victoria Station 38 bus remains the nation’s most frequent, running once a minute at peak times. Passengers' other favourites included queuing in the drizzle and waiting outside Victoria Station.

Berry commented: “Good gracious! I’m very honoured, thank you.”

To see the full list of the UK’s top bus drivers, along with typical waiting times for some of the nation’s favourite bus routes, pick up the latest copy of the ADL price list - available in Waitrose branches from Thursday February 27.

Cracking Daily Mail headline

Mother of Towie star is crushed to death in freak accident inside barn at her £500,000 Essex home

Global Warming - the solution

from the BBC

New research suggests a strong link between the powerful smell of pine trees and climate change.

Scientists say they've found a mechanism by which these scented vapours turn into aerosols above boreal forests.

These particles promote cooling by reflecting sunlight back into space and helping clouds to form.

So, we just need everyone to put pine air fresheners in their cars and drive them around a lot to make sure that we get plenty of cloud coverage.

"Standard Life could quit India"

From the BBC:

Standard Life is putting in place contingency plans to relocate its call centres back to the UK if Indian people vote for independence and if material uncertainties about money and regulation are not sorted to its satisfaction.

In its annual report, published on Thursday, the chairman of the Edinburgh-based pensions and savings firm, Gerry Grimstone, says India has been a great base for outsourcing some of the company's administrative functions but that, "if anything were to threaten this, we will take whatever action we consider necessary - including transferring parts of our operations out of India again - in order to ensure continuity and to protect the interests of our stakeholders".

According to Standard Life's chief executive, David Nish, the company - which has had call centres and IT functions in India for 19 years - has "started work to establish additional registered companies to operate outside India, into which we could transfer parts of our operations if necessary".

"This is a precautionary measure to ensure continuity of our businesses' competitive position and to protect the interests of our stakeholders."

Standard Life is the first business with a significant Indian presence to warn that maintaining it may be untenable in the event of a vote for independence.

"What? India has been independent since 1947? Why did nobody tell me? Oh God! Do they still use sterling at least?"

Celebrity horse attack

From The Daily Mail:

A polo player who taught Princes William and Harry has died in a freak accident in Florida after his horse fell on top of him when the animal was hit in the head with a mallet.

Mexican Carlos Gracida, often described as the Queen's favourite player, was a favourite instructor with celebs and royalty, giving lessons to Prince Charles and his sons as well as King Constantine II of Greece and actor Sylvester Stallone.

The 53-year-old dad-of-two won most of the world's major tournaments, including the US Open nine times and the British Open 10 times.

"More power, worse taste"

Something else which struck me, but I didn't have the nerve to mention, was admirably expressed by Richard Godwin in yesterday's Evening Standard (scroll down to end of article):

After many weeks of distressing reports from Kiev comes a little relief. The images of the looted bling on show at the palaces of deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych not only show that the revolution has been successful — they are proof of the moral corruption of his leadership...

Now it’s not as if the world’s media really owe a corrupt, murderous autocrat a fair ride. But I can’t help thinking that if you pointed a camera at the combination of lucre and tat on show in the homes of most heads of state — including our own — you would come to a similar conclusion.

Yup, it seems perfectly fair to me to judge how corrupt a society's rulers are by how well they live and how much wealth they extract merely for co-ordinating and running public services. It's not like they do the real donkey work, that's the teachers, bin men, coppers etc. who do that. Setting a few targets and bossing them around, attending meetings of Heads of State and so on is the easy and fun part.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

"I admit it. I got it wrong about UKIP"

Autonomous Mind's post title is slightly misleading.

After pointing out that UKIP is, much like the other parties, pretty much a policy-free-zone, what follows is an interesting summary of the actual mechanics of leaving the EU and what it might mean in terms of 'free trade' (which for the sake of this discussion we shall agree is A Good Thing).

I've disabled comments here, leave a comment over there instead.

"Peter Robinson quit threat over IRA Hyde Park bomb case"

From the BBC:

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson has threatened to resign unless there is a judicial inquiry into secret letters given to more than 180 Irish republican paramilitary suspects.

In 2009, Mr Robinson was deeply hurt and embarrassed when secret letters came to light which his wife sent to various property developers on behalf of her young lover.

The DUP leader said he was not prepared to remain as first minister in a power-sharing government "kept in the dark" about such an important matter. It is rumoured that he did not like being "kept in the dark" by his wife either.

He was speaking after the trial of Donegal man John Downey collapsed. Unlike his marriage, which rather surprisingly did not collapse.

Downey denied killing four soldiers in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing. It is not known how whether his wife had any affairs with soldiers and if so, whether the liaisons took place in Hyde Park.

"UK women are 'best in bed' in Europe"

From the BBC:

The UK has more women who are 'good in bed' than any other country in Europe, according to European Union figures.

Data agency Eurostat, which looked at 19 countries, found nearly a quarter of UK women - 23.9% - were recorded as being 'good' or 'better' in bed in the year 2008 to 2009. Just over 22% of UK men were classed 'built for comfort, not built for speed', coming second only to Malta.

A woman is defined as 'good' or 'better' in bed if her body mass index (BMI), the result of a calculation involving weight and height, is above certain levels.

The BMI correlates fairly well with sensuousness. Statisticians found the share of 'good in bed' and 'even better in bed' women increases with age in all of the 19 member states that data was available for.

The data come from the European Health Interview Survey (EHIS) and was published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

Last month, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley launched a bid to reduce obesity levels in England by 2020.

The minister said: "The downside is that 'good in bed' can often mean 'pretty useless in the back of a car'".

How to work out your BMI

* Work out your height in millimetres and multiply the figure by its logarithm to base e
* Measure your weight in kilograms, convert that to imperial and then convert the result into millimetres
* Divide the square root of your weight in millimetres by the thirteenth root of your weight in millimetre equivalents and then multiply by i
* Add your shoe size and a large pinch of salt
* A BMI of less than 18.5 is 'unenthusiastic'
* A BMI of 18.5-25 is 'good' in bed
* A BMI of 25-30 is 'better' in bed
* A BMI of 3,000 or above means you messed up the calculations

"Soccer" Mardi Gras Thongs Pulled

From the BBC:

Lingerie giant Victoria Secrets is suspending the sale of Mardi Gras thongs after Brazil's authorities complained they soccerised the country's image.

One read "Shooting in the box?" next to a Brazillian striker; another printed a heart shaped like a soccer ball with the phrase "I love Footer".

Brazil's tourism board, Embratur, says it is vehemently against any products that link Brazil's image to football appeal. Victorias Secrets is one of Mardi Gras's main sponsors and its bikini provider.

Following the controversy, the company said it was withdrawing the thongs - a limited edition meant for sale in Austria.

"Victorias Secrets always pays close attention to the opinion of its consumers and partners," its statement read.

'Nobby Stiles'

"Therefore, it is announcing that these products will not be sold anymore."

Earlier on Tuesday, the country's tourism ministry had already criticised the products saying "any links between national festivals and images with soccer appeal" were against the country's official marketing policies.

"Such an attitude indirectly contributes to tourists thinking that we're a bunch of people with a nerdy obsession with football rather than a place with lots of beautiful women who are gagging for it".

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From City AM:

[Re: Holidays cost more at peak times. The reason is basic economics, yesterday]

My argument is that companies don’t charge “extra” during school holidays. That’s the normal price. Instead, they offer discounts out of season.

Mark Wadsworth

I would have normally put a :-) at the end of that, but it didn't seem appropriate.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

The Flagship Tenant

Continuing the general theme of "The Death Of The Traditional High Street" and "Retail Mix Control", as well as the related topic of "how land ownership smashes The Invisible Hand to pieces", let us consider the issue of "The Flagship Tenant".

NB, this is not to be confused with the concept of the flagship store.

The concept is of general application and has to do with kick starting the process of agglomeration. Here's an example from Free Office Search:

The Maxim Industrial Park provided a significant amount of new office space in Glasgow when it opened this year but the development has yet to find a "flagship tenant".

Speaking to the Hamilton Advertiser, Andrew Lapping, non-executive director of Tal Land Developments - the company behind the office scheme - explained that more space in the office park will be rented out once a large tenant is in place.

"Once we have a flagship (tenant) in place then we are sure the office space will fill up soon. This was indeed the case with our development in England and we firmly believe it will be the same with Maxim," he stated.

An old example of this is the original Canary Wharf building, now referred to as Number One, Canada Square.

From The Independent, 1993 (I didn't know we had the internet back then!):

MIRROR Group Newspapers, publisher of the Daily and Sunday Mirror, People and Sporting Life, is to move into Canary Wharf Tower, in Isle of Dogs, in a five-year, rent-free deal that allows it to back out if the Jubilee Line extension is not built...

You always get this with new office blocks or shopping centres. The landlord knows that he is not just tapping into the general rental stream that arises from the general location, but that this can be enhanced if he can tap into the more specific benefits of agglomeration.

Larger well-known retailers with their own 'brand' will attract shoppers of their own accord, and once they are there, you will get the smaller, less known more niche retailers as well to broaden the general shopping epxerience.

So it makes sense for the landlord to offer a flagship retailer a low rent or rent free initial period (relative bargaining power and all that), and once he is in place, the smaller retailers will be happy to open up nearby and pay a higher rent than otherwise. Sooner or later, the process becomes self-perpetuating, and the original flagship retailer has to start paying rent, because he benefits from the presence of all the other outlets which have opened up in his wake as much as they originally benefitted from his presence (the landlord ends up collecting the lot).

But more or less the opposite happens on The Traditional High Street, because all the units are owned by individual landlords or proprietors who have no interest in the overall rental value of the whole street.

All a landlord cares about is squeezing out as much rent as possible from his one or two units, if he can't get what he imagines his units are worth, he will either give up the battle and leave the shop empty and gradually deteriorating or he will hand it over to a charity shop. Both of these strategies are encouraged by Business Rates exemptions and both can lead a high street into decline, this is the opposite of the process of agglomeration explained above.

An owner-occupier business often keeps slogging on long after it has stopped making sense (they don't realise they could make more money by renting the shop out to a new more profitable business). This is also encouraged by the fact that actual business profits are taxed heavily (something they notice) and the rental value is taxed relatively lightly (which they just put up with).

If all the little land owners on a failing high street acted for their own common and collective benefit, then a few of them would knock down their buildings and replace them with a car park or put up a larger building and offer it to a 'flagship' retailer for low or no rent, but clearly this doesn't happen because all the other land owners would have to agree to pool the total rental value/extra business (enhanced by the presence of the car park or the flagship retailer) and share it with the people who've agreed to knock their buildings down.

Here endeth.

"William Hague: All women should feel shame of rape in war zones"

From The Evening Standard:

All women should feel “shame” at the world’s failure to prevent
rape being used as a weapon in war, William Hague will warn today.

In a hard-hitting speech in Washington, the Foreign Secretary will condemn as “unladylike” the “shying away” from confronting sexual violence in conflicts.

He will tell of the 50,000 women raped in Bosnia during the Balkans war 20 years ago and who have still not obtained justice for the crimes committed against them.

He was also due to highlight the “endless list of conflicts”where women, children and men have been brutally assaulted including in Rwanda, South Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Liberia.

“It is still considered unusual for a woman to raise these issues,” Mr Hague was set to say in his speech at Georgetown University.

“But rape and sexual violence are crimes which overwhelmingly happen to women. And that they should happen, while the world does nothing, should shame all women.

“Indeed to shy away from talking about these facts is in itself unladylike.”

"Simplify taxes now"

Allister Heath talks sense for a change:

It would be great if Ben Gummer, the Tory MP for Ipswich, gets his way. He wants national insurance contributions (NICS) to be renamed the earnings tax. This would be a far more accurate way of describing a little-understood levy...

To make matters worse, NICs are dishonestly divided into an “employees” bit (at 12 per cent and two per cent) and an “employers'” share (13.8 per cent on almost all pay). In reality, as most economists would agree, there is no difference: employees pay all of it.

The forces of supply and demand determine workers’ total cost; the fact that some of this is made up of wages and some non-wage costs makes no difference. If employers’ NICs were abolished, wages would eventually rise commensurately. So-called employers’ NICs are a stealth tax on workers.

The total tax bill on wages, salaries and bonuses, including income tax and all NICs, is shockingly steep. Earnings above £7,717 face 12.1 per cent; this increases to 22.7 per cent from £7,769; then to an astonishing 40.2 per cent from just £9,440.

The tax rate then spikes punitively to 57.8 per cent from £41,450; fortunately, that is merely a weird aberration and tax dips back to 49 per cent from £41,558, where it settles; eventually, it explodes to 66.6 per cent from £100,000 before falling back to 49 per cent from £118,880. Earnings above £150,000 face a cumulative tax rate of 53.4 per cent.

It’s time some clarity were injected into our hopelessly complex tax system.

It's just a shame that he didn't squeeze in a mention of the extra high marginal rates for many lower earners, i.e. benefits withdrawal, working tax credits withdrawal and student loan deductions.

And unfortunately he ignores VAT. He appears to have succumbed to the delusion that this is a tax on "consumption" not "production" and of course his beloved banking and residential construction sectors are either VAT exempt or zero-rated.

If you treat VAT more correctly as a tax on "value added", the bulk of which is wages, those marginal rates for people in the productive sector all go up by about ten percent*.

* assuming that an employee gets all the marginal extra income from a sale, the customer pays £100, 20/120 = £16.67 goes in VAT, 13.8/113.8 x £83.33 = £10.10 goes in Employer's NIC, leaving £73.23 gross wage; from which 32 per cent basic rate tax plus NIC is deducted = £49.80 net wages, a marginal tax rate of 50.2 per cent; not the 40.2 per cent he mentions.

Film Review: Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

Much Ado About Nothing is a slightly strange film. It's shot in black and white, in modern costume, with a mostly American cast of the sort of people that appear in lots of Joss Whedon films and TV series (it was directed by Whedon). Having cast members from Firefly and The Avengers quoting Shakespeare is initially a bit strange.

Overall, I think it's a more difficult film to watch than Branagh's, but probably slightly more rewarding. Branagh's film is more sumptuous and pleasing to the eye, but the seriousness of the situation involving Hero and the surrounding characters has far greater weight in Whedon's film, which also makes the Beatrice and Benedict story more solid.

It's also, for me, better cast, mostly because I think Emma Thompson just doesn't bring out the character of Beatrice as well as Amy Acker does. Clark Gregg has the air of a powerful Governor in the way that Richard Briers doesn't. Nathan Fillion is funnier as Dogberry. And as the original had Keanu Reeves as Don John, that wasn't hard to top. On the other side, Kate Beckinsale was probably better as Hero.

In case anyone thinks I'm ill or something, reviewing romances is rare and two in a row is not a pattern, just coincidence. Normal service of superhero, gun and car chase movies will be resumed soon.

Arguing with the Daily Mail

One of the problems with people's perspective on the Daily Mail is that just because they disagree with them, they think the Daily Mail are liars. It's my experience that when reading a Mail article that they never lie. They might put more emphasis on certain things than others, they may base their reporting on sources that suit them and not the ones that they don't, but you'll rarely find a bare faced lie in the Daily Mail.

So, in many ways, the reporting of Harriet Harman at the NCCL is going to get pretty interesting because people on the left are defending her against the Mail's accusations, because their own biases are that the Mail are wrong 'uns and Harriet Harman is a good person. Harman is calling it a "smear campaign" despite the fact that a smear campaign describes spreading lies to distort someone's reputation, when in reality, there isn't as far as I can see, a single lie in the Mail's coverage.

I've read the Mail's accusations, and they've got evidence to back it all up. Damian Thompson in the Daily Telegraph wrote a less dramatic and more analytical article about Harriet Harman and the NCCL back in 2012 that certainly suggests that she had a rather different view on certain things back in the 1970s than she now suggests.

Monday 24 February 2014

"Herd of rampaging cattle cause bloodshed and mayhem in Kent!"

OK, I might have over-sensationalised an article from Kent Online a bit:

Stunned people cud not believe their eyes when they saw a calf running freely along one of Sittingbourne's busiest streets.

Witness Stuart Waite was on his way to work when he saw the animal heading down London Road towards the town centre before turning into Chalkwell Road. Udderly surprised by what he was seeing, he milked the moment and took pictures of it moo-ving along the street.

Thankfully, drivers in both directions had slowed down in both directions - otherwise the steaks could have been a lot higher due to it having a free reign [sic] of the highway.

Now the cow [steer, actually] - being delivered to a school farm after being bought at market - has been nicknamed Bolt after sprinter Usain Bolt...

"Buckingham Palace suffers from the highest level of royalty in the country..."

From The Evening Standard:

... with almost four times the European legal limit, according to the latest figures.

Buckhingham Palace, the Queen’s London residence, had the highest level of queens and princes in 2012. Researchers found the palace included 1 monarch, with the main contributor being Queen Elizabeth II. The EU legal limit is 0.3.

Figures released by DEFRA following a freedom of information request reveal 3 of Britain’s royalty blackspots are in the capital. Others include Clarence House, which registered at 1 prince and 1 duchess, and Kensington Palace with 1 duke and 1 duchess.

The fourth and fifth locations were Sandringham and Balmoral - which has been measured at up to 1 monarch and several princes and princesses - but only at certain times of the year.

Staggeringly ill-informed comments about National Insurance...

... over at The Daily Mail:

In among the dross, the currently best rated comment plus reply:

macular degenerate, limassol, Cyprus:


MarkM, London, 1 hour ago

Well said! So, let me get this straight: NI was supposed to be for pensions, the NHS and other welfare but successive governments have stolen it for their own ends (i.e. re-election campaign bait).

Now, instead of stopping the shameless theft of the much-needed funds as the baby-boomer generation starts to need it, their proposed resolution is to 'rename it'? The concept of the NHS gets a lot of undeserved flack when it has been the plundering of that financial war chest that needs to be addressed and the criminals, like Osborne, locked up.

In popular imagination, National Insurance "pays for" contributory benefits, the old age pension and the NHS. Heck knows what made people pick these three things out of the hat, but there you go.

Those two comments suggest that spending on those three areas is much less than the amount collected in National Insurance, don't they?

Truth is, just over £100 bn a year is collected in National Insurance; about £5 bn goes on contributory benefits; about £90 bn is spent on old age pensions; and about £120 bn goes on the NHS.

Oh, hang about... the government spends more on those things than is collected in National Insurance. If you want to call this "re-election campaign bait", then fair enough, but it's the other big taxes (income tax and VAT) which are paying for half of it.


Fun Online Polls: Four day week & Ukraine

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

If your employer offered you a four-day week for the same pay, which day would you take off?

Monday - 40%
Tuesday - 2%
Wednesday - 22%
Thursday - 4%
Friday - 30%
Other, please specify - 2%

TBH came up with the most cunning 'other' answer: "I'd have it rolling each week - and then buy a weekly season ticket one day later every time - that way I'd collect 20% savings on rail fares."

I'd take Wednesday myself. Monday is always depressing, whether you're at work or at home, and Friday is always bearable, whether you're at work or at home, so that'd be day off wasted in either case.
This week, between a rock and a hard place.

What's the less-bad option for Ukraine: remain a satellite of Russia or align itself with the EU?

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Dartmoor Homies

From Sarah Woolaston in the Guardian

A seismic change may be about to rock our national parks and other areas of outstanding natural beauty; and it is concealed within the technicalities of a proposal to grant landowners permitted development rights, without the need for planning permission. This would allow for up to three dwellings to replace or convert existing farm buildings.

If this addressed the desperate shortage of affordable housing in our national parks it would be worth considering. Sadly it is set to make a dire situation worse while destroying the landscape and a fragile rural economy.(1)

The average house price within the Dartmoor national park is in excess of £270,000; nine times the median local income and over sixteen times incomes in the lowest quartile. The chance of finding affordable rented accommodation is also grim, and the situation is forcing out young people and families with serious consequences for rural communities.(2)

An increase in housing supply will do nothing to reduce prices if it caters for an entirely different demand. The proposals would allow for new developments to be almost twice the guideline size for affordable housing.(3)(4) Rather than meeting a genuine need they would unleash a second and luxury homes bonanza, creating yet more ghost villages and hamlets inhabited only at weekends or in season.(5)

The impact of a free-for-all will be huge – not only because developers are likely to prefer to convert remaining heritage outbuildings, but because of the chilling effect this prospect is already having on schemes to build homes for local people.

Since the reduction in capital grants, the best mechanism for creating affordable housing has been through granting planning permission on so-called exception sites. Where the landowner knows there is no possibility of selling to developers at open market housing rates, affordable housing is cross-subsidised by a small percentage of open market value properties.(6)

But with the prospect of a free run at open market development with few strings attached, values are set to rise sharply and we will kiss goodbye to the only realistic opportunity for development land at prices that can deliver housing for local people.

Suburbanisation(7) of our national parks might also deliver the final coup de grace to their fragile ecosystems, already under pressure from changing grazing patterns over recent decades. While cattle and sheep make way for pony paddocks in lower lying areas, loss of grazing livestock from the open moor will lead to a further degradation from heather to gorse.(8) Who can blame them if hill farmers, asset rich and cash flow near zero, opt to fragment or sell their holdings and livestock. They have long struggled to maintain their way of life with scant recognition of their service to conserve this precious landscape on our behalf.(9)

The planning minister, Nick Boles, has been bold in his effort to build more housing. He has walked towards the nimby gunfire on behalf of the people he believes should have the opportunity to own their own home. I hope he will look again at the unintended consequences of the proposed changes and place the need for affordable housing above pressure from developers.(10)

When Lewis Silkin introduced the national parks and access to the countryside bill to parliament in 1949 he described it as a "people's charter for the open air". The open countryside of our national parks deserves our protection but also the living, breathing communities who conserve them for the future. We can build more homes for local people by supporting community land trusts and incentivising investment in genuinely affordable housing projects. The proposed measures, by further inflating land values(11), will kill off any hope for village housing initiatives and puts at risk some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.

1. From what I can tell, the proposal is to build houses in farm buildings. It is going to add housing. Even if all that housing goes to 2nd home owners, how does it make the situation worse than it is now?
2. If people in Dartmoor need people doing jobs in Dartmoor, they should be paying them a lot more, then. If they don't then people will leave. Seems the market will resolve itself.
3. All housing is affordable. Yes, I know what she means, but it's a daft expression.
4. Bigger housing? That sounds like a good thing to me.
5. How? This is converting former farm buildings. Even if every one of them simply uses it as a 2nd home, it will not remove any people.
6. Eh? What's she saying here, that some land is too cheap for landowners to sell? But I thought that houses were selling for £270K?
7. I thought these were all going to be 2nd homes? Now they're suburban?
8. Fine. That's what nature wants it to be, let it happen.
9. Conserving the landscape? How is deliberately changing it, conserving it?
10. Who the hell does Sarah Woolaston thinks builds "affordable homes"?
11. Firstly, it might inflate some land values on those farms - they can now build houses on farm buildings, but how is that going inflate overall land values?
12. How? Someone is going to take a derelict old farm building and put a nice new building in its place. Isn't that going to make it better?

Of course, everyone likes to play the poor people bogie in this situation, but almost no-one works in the main bit of Dartmoor. There's the prison and the army stuff, and a few village shops and pubs, but it's not like there's a major industry up there. If you're born somewhere in or near the park, chances are you'll be looking for work in Exeter or Plymouth. For those people who do need to live in the park, you can buy homes in Okehampton for about £135K, which is hardly a long drive into the park.

The reality is that homes in national parks are very expensive because of the historic protection afforded to them, that no-one can build more homes near them. And this is well-off homies kicking off about the fact that expensive houses that they own are going to become cheaper in price as more housing stock is added.

Sunday 23 February 2014

"Cow destroyed after posing a danger to public"

Emailed in by Steve A, who adds "You’ve been neglecting your bovine stories recently. So here’s a case of mistaken identity that ends in death."

[Mea culpa, I got a bit carried away with sink holes.]

From The Swindon Advertiser:

A COW has been destroyed after escaping from a farm between Calne and Lyneham this morning.

Wiltshire Police were called to an incident shortly before 9am after a member of the public reported that a bull was on the loose on the main road. Members of the public were warned not to approach the animal while officers attended the scene.

It later transpired that the bull was in fact a cow…

Valuation Office Agency: Private Rental Market Statistics (England only)

I discovered something new this week at the VOA website.

You can download their spreadsheet for average rents. If you take Tab 2.5 for 3-bed homes, which is primarily semi-detached and terraced houses, which we can take as our basic unit of housing; multiply average monthly rents in 324 local authority districts by 12; add on £22 billion for existing annual taxes on housing (Council Tax and TV licence fee); and finally knock off £4,000 a year per home for running costs/depreciation of bricks and mortar; you end up with a site premium (total rental value less actual running costs) of £162 billion for the approx. 22 million homes in England.

Gross that up for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and you end up with a nice round £200 billion.

You could make
- lots of little downward adjustments to that figure (the average figure for England is skewed upwards by eye-watering rents in Inner London so average rents in the other three countries will be lower); and
- lots of little upwards adjustments (using averages for large areas with approx. 70,000 homes in each understates the total site premium: an area with an average rental value of exactly £4,000 does not have a total site premium of £nil, because half the homes in that area will have a total rental value of more than £4,000 and will thus have some site premium)…
but by and large, my estimate of "about £200 billion" for the total site premium of UK residential land seems about right, and if it isn't now, it will be within a year or two.
On an even more arcane note, I've had debates with three or four different people who agree with the general principle of replacing the big bad taxes on earnings and output (VAT, National Insurance, higher rate income tax etc) as well as existing "property taxes" (council tax, business rates, IHT, SDLT and so on) with a tax on current site premiums for residential and commercial sites.

But their point of disagreement is that this would disproportionately increase business profits and hence the rental value of commercial sites. What they are really concerned about is that in political terms, the best kind of tax is one which somebody else pays, so instead of pencilling in £200 billion for residential and £40 billion for commercial, I should be pencilling in a lower figure for the former and a higher one for the latter.

Well, first of all, I have to admit that we'll never know until we try.

1) One counter-argument to their logic is that taxes on business are ultimately nearly all borne by individuals i.e. households anyway, so most of the tax reduction would increase household incomes (pre-housing costs).

If we got rid of e.g. VAT and National Insurance, it seems highly unlikely to me that all of this would just feed through into higher business rents. For that to happen, gross wages would have to fall by the amount of NIC currently being deducted, and instead of the VAT reduction being split five ways between lower prices-more output-higher wages-higher profits-higher rents, it would all have to go into higher rents collected by the landlord as rent or higher "profits" recorded by owner-occupier businesses.

2) The other counter-argument is that there is no hard and fast difference between commercial and residential land. It's the same land just being put to different uses. With a massive reduction in taxes on actual business activity, the number of businesses, the amount of business being done and the number of people being employed would go up, so some land currently used for residential or not being used at all would end up being used for business activity; whether that's flats above High Street shops being used as offices or people starting a business from home is nigh impossible to measure anyway and certainly impossible to forecast.

Assuming that all sites were being put to their optimum use (ha!) that means that the extra rental value of these re-zoned areas would not be substantially higher than the rental value of adjoining residential land.

Film Review: Sunshine on Leith

It probably helps that I quite like the music of The Proclaimers, but I also rather liked the film Sunshine on Leith which is a "jukebox musical" including many of their songs.

Like most jukebox musicals (and there's nothing new about them, Singin in the Rain is almost entirely existing songs), there's a convoluted thing of creating a bit of plot that allows a song to fit (e.g. a character going to America prompts Letter from America).

But unlike most musicals, it doesn't feel like it skimped on making some good stories involving the characters, which feel more natural than most musicals. The performances by Peter Mullan and Jane Horrocks particularly stand out. And it's certainly "feel good", but where that normally is a term used to describe something schmaltzy and saccharine, it's more genuinely warm here.

Saturday 22 February 2014

Material for an interesting pub conversation

A Femen activist/self-publicist in Dresden had the nerve to appear topless in public with the slogan "Thanks Bomber Harris" daubed across her torso, but somehow lacked the nerve to show her own face while doing so (which sort of defeats the object, doesn't it?).

I don't see what's so offensive about "Thanks Bomber Harris", the people in Bomber Command were just doing what the official UK government had asked them to do, they helped defeat the Nazis, and by and large we should be grateful towards them.


Friday 21 February 2014

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (317)

The KLN goes like this:

But rich people will just register their homes in the name of an offshore company, so the government won't be able to collect the tax.

This flies in the face of all known reality, as the UK has something pretty similar to LVT on commercial premises called "Business Rates". A lot of commercial premises are - for one reason or another - registered in the name of offshore companies, but non-payment is minimal, about one or two per cent of potential revenues.

Logic says that there is little or no need to find out who the actual owner of land is, because in case of non-payment, the government can simply sell the property and recoup the tax that way.

At this stage, the smartarses, who don't understand that a tax on land values always reduces the net income collected by the owner rather than adding to the tenants' costs, will say that this is because the tax is collected from the occupier, not the owner.

Well so what? In case of non-payment of LVT, it's fair to ask the occupier to pay it (the occupier might well be the indirect owner of the offshore company anyway), and if he doesn't want to pay it on top of the current rent, he's free to leave or negotiate a lower rent.

In a rare outbreak of commonsense, the UK government decided to impose a modest LVT on high value homes registered in the name of offshore companies etc a couple of years ago (called "ATED" or Mansion Tax Lite).

If the KLN stacked up, then revenues from such a tax would be precisely zero.

Well jog on, you Homey f---ers, revenues from the Mansion Tax Lite are actually five times as high as predicted.

So there :-b

"With the chancellor’s Budget approaching, which tax is the most damaging to Britain?"

... asks City AM.

Now, this whole "economy" thing depends on people exchanging labour, goods and services, no man is an island and all that, that is how wealth is created in the first place. So any tax or group of taxes which discourage such transactions are bad taxes.

So top of any sane person's list must be all such taxes - VAT, National Insurance, income tax and corporation tax, in that order.

VAT is the most distortionary and costs the most jobs and chokes off the most potential businesses; Employer's NIC is worse than Employee's NIC but both are worse than income tax (being applied to a narrower base); higher rate/additional rate income tax is worse than basic rate income tax; and corporation tax isn't exactly a good tax but it is not that bad, it's like having an unwelcome preference shareholder who gets a fifth of your profits in cash.

Between them, these four major taxes raise about £400 billion and give us a typical marginal rate on earnings/profits of nearly fifty percent.

So do the respondents mention these really bad taxes..?

Do they fuck!

City AM wishes to burnish its Home-Owner-Ist credentials and the two respondents single out Inheritance Tax and Stamp Duty Land Tax, which between them raise £10 billion or so; IHT on its own raises less than the TV licence fee, FFS.

Don't get me wrong, IHT and SDLT are not in any way "good" taxes and I'd get rid of them anyway, but they are minor irritants in the grander scheme of things.

"Nigel Farage 'can hardly wait' to debate EU with Nick Clegg"

From the BBC:

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has accepted a challenge from Nick Clegg to have a public debate on the merits of the UK's membership of the EU.

"I can hardly wait," he told LBC radio, saying the deputy prime minister was "all over the place" on the issue.


The Lib Dem leader threw down the gauntlet to Mr Farage on Thursday, saying he was the right person to debate the issue of Europe with the UKIP leader.

At the debate itself, Nick Clegg will open by stating that half of UK exports go to other EU member states and then drawing the unsubstantiated conclusion that "three million UK jobs depend on EU membership".


Nigel Farage might mention that other member states have every interest in keeping free trade with the UK because following Clegg's logic, about four million jobs in other EU countries depend on exporting to the UK, but the likelihood is that he will respond with the entirely irrelevant fact that Norway and Switzerland export more to the EU per capita than the UK, entirely glossing over the fact that small countries always export (and import) more per capita than large ones.


Nick Clegg will then completely change the topic and say that the EU has guaranteed peace and freedom in Europe for sixty years. Instead of the UKIP leader pointing out that this would have happened anyway, the Western world being largely peaceful, the UKIP leader will go off on a tangent and say that we should be thanking NATO, an organisation which most people have forgotten still exists.

The Deputy Prime Minister is widely expected to extol other supposed benefits of EU membership, such as free movement of people, goods and services.


Mr Farage is again expected to miss the obvious point - that these could be negotiated anyway on a bilateral basis on terms to suit ourselves - and will instead trot out some populist, borderline xenophobic nonsense about "millions of immigrants from Roumania and Bulgaria" and point out that most voters thought that free movement of people and capital was a disadvantage of EU membership, not an advantage.

Having thus gained the upper hand with the last few people still paying attention, Mr Farage will then throw it all away by putting in a special plea for the UK financial sector and saying that EU capital and supervisory rules would "throttle Britain's banks", something which most sane people would be fully in favour of.

Shake it

Similarly, Mr Clegg will lose what little sympathy he has managed to elicit for the integrationist cause by pointing out how many people from Middle England now own a holiday home in France or Italy and then going completely off piste by claiming that the EU is combatting global warming.

The debate is likely to continue in this fruitless tit-for-tat vein for until the last viewer or listener has switched over to another channel.

All about

Neither politician is expected to mention the amount of money which the other has claimed in salary and expenses from the EU because neither wishes to remind voters about how well they have done for themselves out of politics.

Pundits expect that no more than half a dozen people will change their view on the EU one way or another and the majority will decide that the whole thing is a complete wank fest, although Farage hopes to strike a chord by closing his arguments with the completely baseless claim that "Britain is a small, overcrowded island".

This is how to do it.

From Reuters:

Opponents of Ukraine's president declared political autonomy in the major western city of Lviv on Wednesday after a night of violence when protesters seized public buildings and forced police to surrender.

Raising the prospect of Ukraine splitting along a historic cultural and linguistic fault line, the regional assembly in Lviv, a bastion of Ukrainian nationalism near the Polish border, issued a statement condemning President Viktor Yanukovich's government for its "open warfare" on demonstrators in Kiev and saying it took executive power locally for itself.

[I accept that it is quite possible that the wicked Western empire-builders, the EU and the USA/CIA have been fomenting these protests in Ukraine in order to get one over the Russians, but frankly, the Russians are far, far worse by any standards. As a landlocked country stuck between these two blocs, there isn't really a middle way for them and faced with the choice I'd rather be in a satellite of the EU/NATO than of Russia.]

There's a lesson here for Scotland.

You don't need to muck about for years bickering about which currency to use, what kind of passports to issue, who gets the embassies and all that minor administrative nonsense, you just sneak off while the central government is busy with some other crisis - whether that's slaughtering protesters or tramping around in Wellington boots is neither here nor.

Best of luck Galicia! The question now is, will the EU follow through and recognise it as a separate country or will they chicken out as per usual? (I do suspect that plenty of top Eurocrats are in the pay of the Russian oligarchs anyway.)

See also: Somaliland.

Is this really worth it?

From the BBC

Three men aged 88, 92 and 94 have been detained by German authorities on suspicion of being guards at the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

The homes of a number of men were raided in three German states, months after prosecutors investigating Nazi-era war crimes announced they were recommending charges against 30 people.

The three men taken into custody have been sent to a prison hospital.

More than 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, were murdered at Auschwitz.

I know there's a thing of justice prevailing and all of that, but one or two of them will be dead before they come to trial, where they'll be facing identification from people with fading eyesight and bad memories (the youngest person is likely to be 75). Then at worst they'll end up in something like an old people's home.

And what's their crime? Being prison guards, which makes them (apparantly) accessories to murder. So, what about all the soldiers of the German army that defended Poland from invasion of the Red Army that allowed Auschwitz to remain open? Are they not accessories? Train drivers that carried Jews to the death camps? The men who made the ovens? You can argue that anyone who in any way assisted the Nazis in any way is an accessory to the murders at Auschwitz by that reasoning, and therefore a very large percentage of the elderly German population should be on trial.

Which is why we don't generally do this sort of thing with bad regimes today. You accept that there is a systemic element and you round up the leaders of the system, shoot them and let the footsoldiers go.

Picking Winners (Music Style)

From the BBC

Rock band Drenge are among 14 acts to receive a government grant to help promote British music abroad.

The Derbyshire brothers hit the headlines when they were endorsed by MP Tom Watson in a resignation letter to Labour leader Ed Miliband last year.

Other acts chosen include London grime MC Afrikan Boy, Scottish band Holy Mountain and composer George Benjamin.

The grants will be given to the acts' independent record labels to help market themselves overseas.

If there's one area of the free market that you don't want government to go anywhere near, it's the pop music market. There are thousands of acts that make it and lots that don't.

Even if you're talking about established artists, there's no guarantee that they'll make it in the USA. Robbie Williams tried and didn't break America. The biggest of the Britpop bands in America? Not Oasis or Blur, but Elastica. Whitesnake were bigger in the USA than here. Which might suggest that something that's less "rock" does badly, but then Radiohead did pretty well, as did Coldplay. And boy bands have a history of not exporting at all, but then along comes One Direction.

So, trying to work out who is going to sell abroad is almost impossible, even with acts that have sold well here. And really, if they've sold well here, haven't they made the money to invest their own money?

"Fifty years on from the Beatles arriving in America, the Music Export Growth Scheme will give more talented young British artists the chance to be successful on the international stage."

Up to £2.5 million in grants will be made available over a two-and-a-half year period. More successful applicants will be announced later this year.

And what grants did the Beatles get? Or Duran Duran? None. They, their record companies and management just did the work and got the pay when it worked.

Thursday 20 February 2014


Separated at birth

Plebgate sacrificial lamb PC Keith Wallis and Nazi fighter ace Adolf Galland:

Sink Holes and Shale Gas Extraction - two birds with one stone

Now that sink holes have gone mainstream, The Daily Mail has published a handy map showing the most "at risk" areas:

It strikes me that there is a pretty high overlap between those "at risk" areas and areas which would be suitable for shale gas extraction:

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but people don't want to live in a house which might be swallowed by a sink hole and neither do they want to live near where shale gas is being extracted. And as a society, we are better off building houses on solid ground and extracting the shale gas.

So great - we can relocate people away from the sink hole/shale gas overlap areas, build new house for them elsewhere (using recycled materials we get from carefully dismantling their existing homes) and then let the shale gas people get on with extracting the stuff, safely away from where people live.

(I'll refrain from explaining how the resulting land and natural resource rents could be collected for national benefit, let's get the basics right first).

"The secrets of tapping into community generated land values"

The Daily Mail runs another article explaining how the already-wealthy can tap into a nice stream of unearned rental income generated by the very people who will end up paying the higher rents and prices in future and by amenities which are financed/provided by "everybody else":

4. Youth

Age demographic is a crucial factor in determining the areas which will realise the most growth. Places that have a high population of younger people in their twenties and thirties will inevitably experience house price growth in a relatively short space of time.

The majority of these people will be young professionals who will require proximity to local retailers and transport links which will encourage more local business owners to the area.

Consequently, you will be able to see areas morph into small urban villages in response to heightened demand from younger people with disposable income.

5. Amenities

Check proximity to amenities. Places that have a supermarket, a school, access to a major motorway or train line and local shops within a five mile radius will be sure to become future hubs for homeowners, if they haven’t already... 

City AM On the Mansion Tax

From City AM:

The total UK tax take has been remarkably stable at 35 per cent of GDP since at least 2000. When governments spend more than this, it is because they borrow the difference. But there is increasing pressure to run balanced budgets and this has left politicians scrambling to think of new ways to find additional revenue. One particularly bad idea is wealth taxes – levied on the value of an asset, rather than on the income it produces.

At the moment, we have just one of these: inheritance tax(1). It’s widely disliked and people will go to great lengths to avoid it, which is why the inheritance tax code has to be so comprehensive and complex. In a sign of just how unpopular it has become, the Conservatives’ revival in popularity can first be dated to George Osborne’s 2007 pledge to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m. Gordon Brown postponed an election so that he would not have to fight on this issue.(2)

But we are now facing a new wealth tax – the so-called mansion tax, which proponents would like to levy on houses worth £2m or more. It is, of course, not really a mansion tax. You can easily get a true mansion – with rolling acres, a tree-lined avenue, and house with ten bedrooms – for less than £2m in most parts of the country. Yet there are parts of London where three bedroom Victorian workers’ cottages will be classified as “mansions”. This is really a London tax, of course, which is why it is so popular in the rest of the country.(3)

The problem is that wealth taxes are not only widely hated, hated even more than income and consumption taxes, but are extremely damaging to our long-term economic prosperity. They are equivalent to feasting on our economy’s seed corn.

Wealth taxes take long-term investment in an economy and consume it immediately. Those who have to pay the tax are either going to have to sell assets to pay the tax, or pay for it out of their earnings, earnings which would have gone disproportionately into longer-term investment(4). Having mortgaged the future by running up massive debts, we now see politicians determined to undermine our economy’s ability to earn the money necessary to pay back those debts.(5)

But the harm to business and the economy does not stop there. Looking specifically at the mansion tax, many small businessmen need to use their homes as bank loan collateral to fund their businesses(6). Reduce the value of a home through a mansion tax, and you reduce the ability of small businesses to borrow(7). The full details of the proposed mansion tax have not been made clear, but a 10 per cent reduction in capital values in affected homes is a reasonably conservative estimate.

It is a measure of how blinded our political classes have become to what creates a successful economy and society that they would even consider wealth taxes. Wealth taxes send an message to entrepreneurs and businesses that nothing is out of bounds: look elsewhere if you want to invest, innovate and earn.(8)

James Sproule is chief economist at the Institute of Directors.(9)

1. Incorrect. How does the chief economist at the IOD not know about business rates?

2. Funny. Damian McBride never mentioned it. And as IHT only affects a few thousand people, mostly rich, solid Tory voters, I really doubt it.

3. And as London seems to be very rich, while also having the most money spent on it of any region of England (, that seems fair enough.

4. But if we didn't have money going into expensive homes "as an investment", we could perhaps instead have spent it in real investments instead.

5. Buying land doesn't earn money. It's pure rent-seeking. The country doesn't get richer as the result of someone "investing" in a piece of land.

6. Maybe if we lowered the amount that people were taxed on their incomes, they'd have a lot more left over to invest in a business without having to go to the bank. If we're talking about people creating a new business, we're talking about productive people and the beneficiaries of a Land Value Tax are productive people.

7. And in terms of borrowing, what banks like to lend against is assets, and mostly solid, easy to sell assets like premises rather than patents. The people who invest in hi-tech companies like ARM or Mind Candy are venture capitalists and other companies. So, reducing the values of land would make these assets cheaper. 

8. Like Hong Kong? Somewhere that had LVT for a decades and went from poverty to being one of the wealthiest places in Asia in 30 years?

9. And apparently a professor of economics. Jesus.

Facebook Buys WhatsApp

From Sky News

Facebook has agreed to buy the mobile messaging company WhatsApp for $19bn (£11.4bn), the social network has announced.

The company said in a statement that it would pay $4bn (£2.4bn) in cash and $15bn (£9bn) in Facebook shares as part of the deal.

The app's founders and employees will get $3bn (£1.8bn) of the shares as restricted stock that will vest over four years after the deal closes.

The purchase marks the largest single acquisition in Facebook's 10-year history.

WhatsApp is a real-time mobile messaging service with more than 450 million monthly users. The app has more than one million new registered users each day.

The thing with online social networks is that the value isn't so much in the site but in the network of users.

So, what Facebook are always nervous about is any new competitor that gains a bit of ground because it might be that everyone switches from Facebook to that new network. When a new network gets to the sort of "hundreds of millions of users" level, they have to get in there and buy them up so they don't threaten Facebook.

There are two downsides to this.

1. It's very expensive. You can't keep on giving away 5% of the company and a couple of year's profits to buy companies with little revenue stream.

2. It just incentivises more competitors to create build-to-flip social networking companies that Facebook is going to have to buy, making things worse. And the thing is, social networking really isn't a very hard problem for software developers.

Fundamentally, I think social networking is just not a sound business. It's built on venture capitalist money, and what those venture capitalists do is to get a great site developed that bleeds money while raising the customer base in the hope that a bigger company or mug shareholders will come along and buy it. Then the investors are stuck with a site that's not making money, so they start sticking ads on the site to try and make some, but the result is that this then annoys users (who won't pay the full value of their site) who go and find the next non-annoying social networking site. Rinse. Repeat.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From The Evening Standard (19 Feb 2014, page 47):

We were delighted by Danny Dorling's endorsement of a land value tax.

The Holy Grail of high wages/low house prices can be achieved by collecting taxes from the rental value of land instead of from earnings and output. Our calculations show that replacing council tax, VAT and National Insurance with a fiscally neutral Land Value Tax would leave most young couples £10,000 a year better off.

As well as reversing the rising tide of wealth inequality, such a measure would dampen the boom-bust cycle and lead to more efficient use of existing buildings.

Land Value Tax was supported by figures as diverse as Marx, Churchill and Milton Friedman. Now that corporations can shift profits between jurisdictions at the touch of a button it has ore relevance that ever as land cannot be hidden abroad.

Mark Wadsworth, Young People's Party.

The Swiss Airforce - Please leave a message.

On Monday morning the hijacked Ethiopian airplane entered Italian airspace and was duly met by an escort of Italian air force jets. The Italians passed the escort over to the French on Monday morning as the plane entered French airspace and then as the plane approached Swiss airspace, its final destination being Geneva/Genf, the French attempted to hand the escort over to the Swiss airforce.

Unfortunately it was by now only about 6 am and it turns out that the Swiss airforce does not come to work until 8 am (week days).

"Switzerland cannot intervene because its airbases are closed at night and on the weekend," spokesman Laurent Savary told AFP.

It also appears that airbases close for 90 minutes for lunch.

Time for a change of career me thinks.

"British sinkhole spike prompts warning"

Woo hoo, everybody's into sink holes now, they've even finally got round to blaming them on Climate Change:

Britain is likely to face the strange and disturbing threat of more sinkholes opening up in the weeks and months ahead.

The warning comes from the British Geological Survey (BGS), which has been studying a recent spate of collapses across the country. In a typical year, geologists would expect to see one or two sinkholes appearing, but this month's tally has reached six so far...

Some rocks host networks of natural caverns while others are riddled with old mineshafts. Depending on the soil and rock suspended above of these cavities, a sudden incursion of water from heavy rainstorms can lead to massive strains and, ultimately, to collapse.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Anagram of the day



They said it, not me.

The effluent has hit the affluent

Nearly there...

What is particularly annoying about aeroplane hijackers is when they hijack a flight en route from A to B; force the pilot to land in C instead; and then demand safe passage to D.

Why don't they just get on a 'plane to D in the first place; or having hijacked it, ask the pilot to land in D instead of C?

From The Evening Standard:

An Ethiopian Airlines jet with 202 passengers and crew on board was hijacked today by its co-pilot.

The 30-year-old man landed the Addis Ababa to Rome flight safely in Geneva before climbing out of a window on a rope and asking for asylum.

So at least he landed where he wanted to end up, but…

a) Is Switzerland more generous with asylum than Italy, where the 'plane was headed anyway?

b) Why didn't he just get himself on a flight to Switzerland in the first place? Geneva's quite a bit further than Rome, so he might have run out of fuel, which would have been embarrassing for all concerned.

c) Why the window/rope stunt? Why didn't he just go down the stairs with everybody else?

Readers' Letters Of The Day

Here are another couple of items which were on my to-blog list, which popped up in today's Metro:

So Scotland might not be able to join the EU if it becomes and independent country? That sounds like a big incentive for the Scots to vote for independence from Britain.

Keith, Warwickshire.

There is of course no such country or even place as "Britain", but the point stands.

Chopping onions doesn't seem to make you cry any more. Try it.

Paul, Surrey.

Now this I definitely have noticed, very gradually over the past twenty years or so. I wondered whether it was just me, or building up a resistance with age, but clearly it isn't.

Did they go to the trouble of breeding "non-lachrymal onions"? Quite possibly they did, but why didn't they boast about it?

It's so amazingly popular, they can rely on word of mouth, they don't need to pay for expensive TV adverts or anything...

Monday 17 February 2014

Television wars

Robot Wars

Road Wars

Cupcake Wars

Storage Wars

Shipping Wars

Food Court Wars

Flooding update

A comment relayed on wattsupwiththat postulates another reason the severity of this year's and last year's floods in Somerset and once again, the finger points at the EA and their absurd plan to "rewild" the levels. To those still convinced of the blamelessness of the EA, their policy map must be somewhat of a disappointment.

"Ed Miliband: Labour's plans to solve London housing crisis"

From The Evening Standard:

Ed Miliband today warns that London’s position as the global property capital is in danger unless hundreds of thousands of new luxury apartments are built and left standing empty.

Writing in the Standard, the Labour leader says a stream of new multi-million flats and houses is vital to ensure that property developers can tap into the seemingly unstoppable inward flow of hot foreign money.

He commits Labour to develop a “next generation of new high-rise blocks” similar to Number One, Hyde Park and The Shard, where aspirational Arabs and Chinese oligarchs can hide their wealth while benefitting from the efforts of those working in the booming South-East and the rest of the country which is subsidising it all.

He also sets out plans to speed up luxury housebuilding in London’s 32 boroughs, including action against council tenants sitting in flats on prime land and moves to increase the number of empty foreign-owned mansions on Bishops Avenue.

“There is a chronic shortage of vacant high-end homes in Britain, and nowhere is this clearer than in London,” writes Mr Miliband. He credits the ballooning cost of housing for creating a seemingly unstoppable wealth-generating machine for many non-domiciles. “Their hopes are rising as fast as prices are rising beyond everybody else's reach.”

He says: “And it is also easing matters for large landowners, both in the public and private sector. Indeed, the RICS recently highlighted the potential inward investment by skilled kleptocrats as the biggest opportunity to cement London’s position as one of the world’s most piratical cities.

"I've had my house in Hampstead Heath valued at nearly £3 million," he concludes, "It's fucking brilliant, isn't it?"

"Insurers urged to process flood insurance misselling claims quickly"

From the BBC:

The prime minister is urging the insurance industry to deal with future claims arising from misselling of flood insurance as quickly as possible.

Mr Cameron's official spokesman said the insurance industry should do its best to maximise help to flood-hit victims by rejecting all claims under the original policies on the basis of some obscure small print or other as quickly as possible, followed by a "speedy" processing of all the misselling claims which will be submitted after the resulting shit storm.

He declined to say whether the sector should be offering "premium holidays" to those whose claims for flood damage will initially be rejected.

"I've heard Cornwall's nice," added the Prime Minister.

It is hoped that flood victims will have received their compensation payments for missold insurance by 2018 at the latest.

Pinewood Studios

From the BBC

The famous film company Pinewood is to set up a new studio in Cardiff.

Pinewood Studios Wales will be based at the former Energy Centre building in Wentloog and will form part of the company's global network.

The deal was announced on Monday by First Minister Carwyn Jones and Pinewood Shepperton chief executive Ivan Dunleavy.

From the BBC (May 2013)

The rejection of a £200m expansion of Buckinghamshire's Pinewood Studios is "hard to believe" in the current economic climate, company bosses say.

The 15-year project for new studios, stages and streetscapes at the site in Iver Heath, was turned down by South Bucks District Council on Wednesday.

It ruled it was an "inappropriate" expansion into green belt land.

If you read both articles, they wanted to build 100,000 sq/m of studio in Buckinghamshire and now have 180,000 sq/m in Newport.

So Pinewood tried to expand where they were, the Homeys opposed it, so Pinewood decided to move a bit of the studio to Newport (not Cardiff) which is not so Homey.

They'll soon find they can operate cheaper out there at which point most of the rest of the studio will probably move.

"Kingsmills massacre: Alan Black says estate agents involved"

From the BBC:

The lone survivor of an IRA massacre of ten Protestants believes estate agents may have been involved, a coroner's court has heard.

On Monday, a solicitor for Alan Black made the claim at the preliminary hearing of a new inquest into the Kingsmills shootings.

The attack took place near a property which came on to the market in the County Armagh village of Kingsmills in 1976.

The victims were all first time buyers who were shot dead when an IRA gang ambushed the mini-bus taking them for a viewing.

Sink holes go mainstream

The Daily Mail has done a round up of some recent sinkhole stories, with the following splendid headline-cum-opening paragraph:

Terrifying holes that are opening up all over Britain: They're appearing at FIVE TIMES their normal rate and further bad weather could mean we haven't seen the last of them


From a BBC article about blight-resistant GM potatoes...:

There was also a difference in yield, with the GM variety producing double the amount of tubers.

The scientists say that since the potatoes are grown from tubers rather than seeds, they are sterile and the issue of GM pollen escaping into the wild does not arise.

One area the scientists cannot comment on is the taste, as they were barred from eating the GM variety. However, they do not believe there is any mechanism by which the new genes can impact the flavour.

Who on earth barred them from having a nibble; why; and how did they enforce it? There's no reason to assume they'd be terribly poisonous or anything, is there?

Fun Online Polls: The cause of the floods & The Four Day Week

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

Who or what is to blame for the floods in England? Multiple answers allowed.

EU and Greenie nonsense - 94 votes
Not dredging rivers - 88 votes
Barbara Young (former EA chief) - 66 votes

Building on flood plains - 62 votes
Chris Smith (current EA chief) - 56 votes
Deforestation in uplands - 35 votes
Labour under-investment - 31 votes
Wrong type of rain - 27 votes
Gay marriage - 18 votes
Savage Tory cuts - 11 votes
Climate Change - 10 votes
Other, please specify - 15 votes

So now we know. Rather alarming that more people think gay marriage might be the cause than "Climate Change", which appears to the new name for "weather".

A few people mentioned "water", "the weather" and "the wettest January for 250 years" as possible other explanations, but those were covered by "Wrong type of rain" or "Climate Change"
This week's Fun Online Poll is a something we chat about at work occasionally:

"If your employer offered you a four-day week for the same pay, which day would you take off?"

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Missing the Bigger Picture

From the Daily Mail

Now Swedish supergroup Abba have revealed they had good reason to wear such garish stage costumes – because it saved a little money, money, money on their tax bill.
The band, whose spangly flares, catsuits and platform heels were considered naff even in the 1970s, exploited a Swedish law which meant clothes were tax deductible if their owners could prove they were not used for daily wear.

Two odd things about this story

1) I'm pretty sure that a performer wearing a lounge suit could claim it as a business expense anywhere, as long as they only used it as stage wear.

2) At the time, Abba chose to stay in Sweden paying 70-85% tax on their very high earnings rather than clearing off to live in Las Vegas or Monaco to save lots of Money, Money, Money.

Nick Cohen on Fear

I don't normally recommend him, but he's on the money here.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (316)

I mentioned to a typical Londoner (youngish, renting a flat with boyf) that I would probably stand at the next local elections.

She asked me what my policies were , to which the simple answer is "High wages and low house prices instead of low wages and high house prices". She liked the sound of that.

I then gave her the two-minute crash course in how this can be achieved and asked her whether she liked the sound of being about £10,000 a year better off. And that's taking the highly pessimistic view that their landlord would "pass on" every single penny of the LVT he has to pay, spreadsheet from para d) here:

Hmm, sounds good, she said, but that means that there will have to be regular revaluations and the LVT might/will keep going up.


I've heard this one many a time from older Homeys, trying to justify them collecting rent and taxes, but not from somebody who's paying the rent and taxes.

She liked the sound of paying less overall in tax/rent/mortgage interest, but would only vote for it if the saving were a fixed and known amount rather than being a moving target, despite the fact that whatever happens in the revaluations, she will always be hugely better off under a 50/50 LVT/flat income tax system than under current rules, and by and large, each future shift of £1 from income tax to LVT will save her around 50p.

That's like somebody accepting a free ticket in a lottery which more or less guarantees them a fixed extra income of £10,000 for life; but turning it down if the more or less guaranteed extra income is an unknown but always large positive figure (which might well be more or less than £10,000).

All very depressing.

"Sochi 2014: Great Britain's men's curling team lose to Norway"

From the BBC and Wiki:

Great Britain's men's hair stylists face a crucial final round-robin match against China on Monday in the Olympic curling in Sochi. China are seen as a relatively easy team to beat as they have notoriously thick, straight hair...

Murdoch admitted he did not perform at his best:

"I had a couple of bad ones out there," he said. "We probably made a bad tactical decision in using smaller barrels to create spiral curls or ringlets. We had them on the ropes a little bit a few times but in the end their decision to go for larger barrels to give shape and volume paid off.

"We never really took our chances by switching between Teflon, ceramic, tourmaline, metal and titanium barrels, each of which has its pros and cons. We could have been a bit more clinical and been in front, back and sides a lot earlier.

"We showed that we are crimping some good stuff in our first five and, certainly our last five, we created some decent waves and curls in hair using a variety of different methods as well.

"We are going to have to come out tough tomorrow. And whatever happens, we won't be making the disastrous mistake of getting our straightening and curling irons mixed up again."

All three podium places are likely to go to teams from Africa and the Caribbean.

Saturday 15 February 2014

"Hemel Hempstead to be evacuated"

The Invisible Hand

... is the expression used, among other things, to describe the phenomenon that even though the private economy is split up into lots of smaller organisations, some co-operating and some competing, when you look at it as a whole, it looks as if it had been deliberately organised that way to achieve a reasonably near-optimum level of output, employment, profits etc. (in the absence of state intervention and natural or government-granted monopolies and so on).

So the Honda car you bought from the Honda showroom was not really built and sold to you by one huge organisation called "Honda". There is an endless chain of sub-contractors, suppliers, franchisees and so on. For some reason, things tend to work slightly better this way, if there are lots of smaller enterprises, each focussed on doing one or two things really well.

Now, if the entire Somerset Levels were owned by a single landowner, it seems likely that he would have looked after his own interests by dredging rivers, digging more channels, keeping certain areas forested, leaving marshy bits at the edge of rivers, building his buildings on stilts or on higher ground (or whatever it is that he would do) and so on.

But the Levels are owned by 1,000 farmers with an average of 170 acres each (source). Each of them is trying to get as much out of his little bit as possible, so the farmers on higher ground chop down their trees; the ones near the river want to use all the land rather than leave it fallow; if your farm is on low lying ground, that's where you'll build your buildings; I'm not aware that they all chip in to a common fund to dredge rivers.

UPDATE: they do have Drainage Rates actually, see comments.

And so things go wrong, and when things go wrong, they all start whining that it is the government's responsibility. I suppose it is true that the government absolved them of this responsibility and then messed up, but all the same, it illustrates the general observation that once it comes to land ownership, The Invisible Hand simply does not function (which in turn suggests that land ownership is the result of state intervention or a monopoly situation).

See the related topic of retail mix control. A large part of the reason for the demise of "The Traditional High Street" is precisely because they are divided up into tiny units, each owned by a different people, and there is no incentive to co-ordinate and co-operate to get the best overall use.

Friday 14 February 2014


I know you can't believe everything (anything?) you read on Facebook, but I found these two comments interesting:

Rascal N Dear: Ukraine is already in virtual collapse because of the level of rent-seeking, which has skyrocketed in the last four years and is almost completely being concentrated into the hands of a small group of unbusinesslike individuals (and their proxies, like Serhiy Kurchenko). People are giving up on doing business. Small business has seen over 200,000 entrepreneurs quit in the last few years. That's a disaster for Ukrainians.

Rascal N Dear: Problems began in 2010 when pension contributions were suddenly foisted on sole entrepreneurs, which quintupled the minimum monthly tax rate. Then in January 2012 more changes (three categories with % rates rather than flat taxes) came that drove more of them into the shadow economy. The only source I can offer now is Ukrainian:

The future for the UK?

Satire copies satire

The Daily Mash 13 December 2013:

THE writer of a Mail Online story about a ‘baby mama’ has said she once had dreams of doing something worthwhile...

“I was good at English at school. The teachers really liked my stories and said one day I might write a book. I remember having lots of ideas for books, wonderful books full of humanity and meaning.

“Books that didn’t feature the phrase ‘baby mama’. Or ‘side boob’. But the past, as they say, is another country.”

She added: “This office is three stories up. If I jumped out of the window, would it be fatal? Or do I need to go up on the roof?”

The Daily Mash 14 February 2014:

A MEN’S magazine editor is disgusted with himself for doing anything his advertisers ask him to...

“Last month we published six pages of paid-for crud about ‘must-have’ electronic gadgets from various retailers. One of them was a digital barometer, for Christ’s sake.

“Basically I’m prostituting the magazine and myself, although prostitutes have more dignity because they’re doing it to survive. I do it to buy more Ben Sherman shirts.

“Sometimes I go home and shower for hours, trying to wash away the shame of claiming women will sleep with any man who has a patio