Monday 30 June 2014

Kids TV

If Basil Brush and Dr Who get caught as nonces, there's no BBC 1970s Saturday teatime TV that can be shown.

Sumoking's Libertarian Corner

Iraq and the EU

Just a small thought:-

It seems like Iraq has failed because it's an artificial construction of 3 tribes, forced together, initially by us, and later kept together by strongmen like Saddam Hussein. And isn't this similar to Yugoslavia? A load of people stuck together after WW1 with the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian empire, who fought each other, got a dictatorship (the king), then a different dictatorship (Nazis), and then another (Tito) and when he died and there was no tough guy, they fought each other.

The EU is made up of a number of countries that are broadly organised around their tribes. Or, they historically kicked out people from other tribes that stirred up trouble, until they got to roughly a tribe per country. And OK, there's people who feel a bit split or unsure about which country they belong to, like the Scots, the Northern Irish, the people of the Basque regions and a few Cornishmen, but the French mostly want to be French, the Italians Italian and the Danes Danish.

And we all want to trade, and maybe having loose trading blocs is quite a good idea. We can probably even see benefits of certain things being standardised in a trading region, like safety signs. But when you start getting into areas like currency or foreign ministries and defence, that's where the alliance oversteps itself, and steps into things that people in a country want someone from their "tribe" to decide. Which is why this just isn't going to happen. The more the EU push at things, the more likely they're going to end up breaking up the whole thing.

GPs spotting Cancer

From the BBC

GPs with a poor record in spotting signs of cancer could be publicly named under new government plans.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to expose doctors whose failure to spot cancer may delay sending patients for potentially life-saving scans.

Labour called the idea "desperate" and accused Mr Hunt of attacking doctors.

The Royal College of GPs said it would be a "crude" system and one that could lead to GPs sending people to specialists indiscriminately.

It warned this could result in flooding hospitals with healthy people.

Which is, actually, what we should be doing. Why go to the monkey, instead of the organ grinder?

I caught a few minutes of the Jeremy Vine show where a former cancer sufferer and someone from the BMA were on and talking about how GPs thought her cancer was IBS, or gallstones. When she got to see a pancreatic specialist, he immediately rushed her into surgery. And it turns out that part of the problem is that some cancers in some areas are very rare, which means that GPs, along with handing out antibiotics for chest infections and prescriptions for the pill and signing passport forms are expected to spot that.

Let's make a comparison with the software industry: when you build a large website, you typically have a range of people involved. You have a graphic designer who makes it pretty, a web designer who takes the design and makes the HTML and CSS code, an accessibility specialist who makes it work fine for disabled people, some internationalisation specialists who make it work with foreign languages and deal with things like building sites for Israel where they are left to right. Then you've got Javascript specialists who make the site do clever things when you press a button. Then engineering guys on the back end that build the code that runs on the servers that checks your password and accepts your orders. Security testers supporting them. And behind those are the database specialists who do the bit of actually storing stuff, and supporting them are the database administrators who make sure the databases are performing right. Oh, and server maintenance too.

I mostly work on the back end of things. I can do a bit of the web design stuff too. But what I know is that if I get a problem in that area, it's going to take a lot longer for me to fix say, something not appearing right in Internet Explorer 8 than a couple of friends that are full-time web designers and instantly know what the problem is. It's not because they're smarter than me - it's because they've been specially trained in those bugs or maybe seen it before, or their boss did, or something else.

15 years ago, you could do the whole job. There was 1 browser to worry about, no-one worried about disabled users, SEO or Russian bots that were hacking websites at random. As things got more complicated, we increased specialisation.

The point I'm trying to make is that for all the "GPs must do this better", that isn't going to work. GPs have a limited amount of time each day and limited experience in fields of medical diagnosis as they're expected to cover everything. They simply aren't going to get the training or experience that tells them that something that on the surface might be a gall stone might be a cancer. Because they're only seeing a few cases of what sounds like gall stones each week, and very few of those are cancer.

On the other hand, if all you do each day is look at possible gallstones, you can either be specially trained to look for cancers, or else, you'll gain the experience of symptoms that means you can make a rapid diagnosis.

So, the real answer here isn't to red flag cancers, it's to get rid of most GPs and train up specialists earlier in various areas of the body. People who can be specially trained in one area, people who can gain knowledge and experience in a particular area.

Stupid argument against merging Income Tax and National Insurance

Via MBK, from The Times:

Income tax and national insurance will be merged under plans being lined up as a key element of the next Conservative manifesto. George Osborne came “within a whisker” of implementing the plan in the budget and is now looking again at the policy for the general election...

There are fears, however, that the move, which would involve merging two computer systems, could cause another Whitehall IT disaster and lead to problems similar to those that have beset universal credit. Concerns over the software caused Mr Osborne to pull back from an announcement in April, according to informed sources.

There is no need to merge both systems; you just hike the basic rate of income tax to 32%, the higher rate to 42% and the additional rate to 47%, then you can shut down the parallel NI system entirely - Employer contributions don't go towards your "payment record" anyway.

Clearly, pensioners, landlords and people with savings income will be moaning about having their basic rate of tax increased, in which case you either tell them to put up or shut up (at least there is no Employer's NIC on those sources of income!) or you continue taxing them at the lower 20% rate (dividends remaining tax free for basic rate taxpayers).

Or, if you want to keep bureaucrats in work running two parallel systems, you could hike Employee's NI to 32%, 42% and 47% respectively and exempt their income from income tax, it comes to the same thing.

More promisingly, from City AM:

MERGING incomes tax and national insurance could be supported by the public, according to work announced today by PwC.

The firm arranged for a jury of 22 representative members of the public to discuss taxation for two days, and the group expressed support for the idea of merging the two taxes on income...

The focus group also indicated support for higher bands of council tax, along with the abolition of inheritance tax.

Amen to that.

Annual taxes on the value of land and buildings = good; taxes on transfers (Inheritance Tax or for that matter Stamp Duty Land Tax, Capital Gains Tax) = bad.

They still don't realise that VAT is the worst of both worlds: a tax on income/output and a tax on transfers, but hey.

Flexible Working Laws

Reading the Guardian's report of this, it all seems rather pointless

The new rules do not alter the previous basis on which an employer is entitled to reject a flexible working request. There are eight business reasons an employer can use, which include the burden of additional costs, an inability to either meet customer demand, to reorganise work, or recruit new staff.


There is no obligation to provide you with an appeal, unless this is part of company policy, although it is good practice (as advised by Acas) for firms to have an appeals process.

Fun Online Polls: Interest rates and penalties

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

Will the Bank of England increase the base rate before the next General Election, and if so, when and by how much?

No - 19 votes

Yes - 34 votes, timing as follows:
July - September 2014 - 5 votes
October - December 2014 - 17 votes
January - March 2015 - 8 votes
April - May 2015 - 4 votes

As to the amount, the votes were as follows:
Half a per cent - 14 votes
A quarter of a per cent - 22 votes
An eighth of a per cent - 3 votes

So overall, we are predicting a quarter per cent increase in the last quarter of 2014 (which I think is what I chose).

Hmm, we'll see.
Apparently there's a big important football competition on this month somewhere abroad, so to celebrate, let's do something football related.

Take your penalty kick in the side bar!

Sunday 29 June 2014

Indian Pub Marketing

The concept of Indian Bicycle Marketing - where competing suppliers with a very similar product market it in different ways to different people - doesn't just apply to the market segmentation carried out in India decades ago, of course.

I primarily use the term to apply to the LibLabConUKIP-sensus, but the general principle applies to e.g. pubs as well.

After last Friday's YPP meet up, I got chatting to a pub manager who was in London to attend a regular firm conference. After some light hearted banter about Londoners all being basically overgrown babies (from which I shall not exclude myself), he said that the pubco's also engage in Indian Bicycle Marketing.

He explained that Mitchell & Butlers have cottoned on to this and have a pub 'format' to suit every stage of your life cycle:

- When you are young and want to ogle young women in short skirts and be hassled by their frustrated suitors, or indeed a young woman who wants to wear a short skirt and have her pick of the same, you go to an O'Neill's (which is about as Irish as John F Kennedy, Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan),

- When you get a bit older and earn more, you go to an All Bar One, which has waitresses in crisp black uniforms serving reasonably priced food on anything but a plate (bits of wood or slate, with a wooden spike hammered through your burger),

- When you have young kids you take them to a Harvester aka The Castle, who also serve good value food and have bottomless soft drinks to keep the kids happy,

- When you want to go somewhere with the in-laws with the kids in tow, you go to a Toby Carvery.

- I'm not sure which niches the Sizzling Pub Co's and Vintage Inns cater for - more aspirational young parents and the rural Baby Boomer downsizers, perhaps?

So it would appear that I am just as gullible as yer average punter, I have visited each of the first four 'formats' and would warmly recommend each of them, I just never realised that these people and their marketing departments can predict the changes in my behaviour that accurately.

But it's all just beer, drinks and food, isn't it?

Art News

From The Guardian and The BBC:

A dress used in a photograph to targets the issue of women's bottoms has been sold and will be removed from the model that was wearing it, a scaffolding company has claimed.

The creation shows a women holding a tennis racket and scratching her arse.

It appeared in Athena shops across the country, including one in West London, just a few miles from Wimbledon, where the UK's tennis tournament is held.

Saturday 28 June 2014

More fun with taxi drivers

Reader's letter from a recent FT:

… Taxi service forms part of the transportation industry, long a regulated industry for the very purpose of providing the travelling public protection in areas such as insurance, safety, quality of transport and consistency of fares.

Raw, free-market unregulated competition in a field of transport was shown to be flawed when in the 1970s and 1980s US President Ronald Reagan deregulated the airlines. I believe one consequence was a reduction of traffic and of service to and from less-frequented cities (meaning cities of lower volume and higher cost to serve by the airlines).

In protecting city transport travellers, while at the same time not ignoring technological innovations, a rule of reason and fairness is required. Established cab drivers often have invested a considerable sum in the purchase of a licence or medallion, and are bound by strict terms of contract to the taxi-owning enterprises. Their interests require some thoughtful form of protection by the local authorities.

Boynton M Rawlings, Paris, France.

I get the point about safety, but the rest is drivel.

What if airlines had never been regulated? They would never have flown to "less-frequented cities" in the first place, so the fact that they stopped doing so is irrelevant. He might as well compare the relatively unregulated market with a hypothetical regulated market where airlines fly regularly to every last little village, no matter how few passengers wish to take the flight.

The same goes for buying a taxi licence. That is state-created property; there is only "value" because there is an artificially restricted number of them, pushing up the profits which the lucky licence holders can earn. So the value of the licences do not represent net wealth, best case they are a zero sum game but in this case they actually measure negative wealth, an overall loss to society - the higher fares which consumers have to pay and all the services which are not provided by those shut out of taxi driving.

There are plenty of jobs on which the state places no numerical restrictions, and so you don't have to pay a retiree for permission to do them - following his logic, every job could or should be so restricted, generating a one-off windfall gain for present incumbents, a position which can then never be reversed because of the one-off windfall loss to future licence holders.

Seeing as he has not come up with any reason why the number of permits has to be restricted, his argument is surely null and void. If the state wishes to place qualitative restrictions on taxi divers such as clean licence, safe vehicle, no criminal record for assault etc, well that's fine, but that is quite different to having quantitative restrictions.

Friday 27 June 2014

More Nonsense from Planet FS Regulation.

I have been working with a new company who are raising development capital. One of their ways of doing this was to specifically create their stock in a manner consistent with being suitable for SIPP (Self Invested Personal Pension) investment. All the backing documentation is of admirable quality and clarity. The promoters have used this method previously and successfully. They are both serial entrepreneurs with excellent CVs and track records of success in launching businesses.

As you know, the whole purpose of a SIPP is that the members can manage their own funds and choose their own investments.  You do not need an insurer, an investment manager or an adviser. It's DIY. So, as we are an 'advisory' business, why are we needed in respect of investing in this unquoted equity?

Well, the FCA has carried out another of their 'thematic' reviews, this time into SIPP companies and what they call 'non-standard investments'. In this process they interviewed a number of SIPP providers and assessed their due diligence processes. I have been told by one of the SIPP trade body people that whatever DD was done it was never enough in the eyes of the FCA. In any event, as it is a SIPP why are the SIPP companies required to carry out DD in the first place? It's the responsibility of the member. Yes, there is a sensible requirement that pension assets need to be able to be valued in some way, and in the case of unquoted stock there are established accounting methodologies for doing this.

We are now involved because one of these new FCA requirements is that members wishing to invest in 'non-standard assets' must be 'advised'. That is, you are not allowed to invest directly. You must go through someone like us. (The experienced cynic in me knows that the real reason for this is that if it goes wrong - or more accurately if the FCA can see an opportunity to create a bit of marketing for itself - they can make claim against our PI insurance and our assets.).

The SIPP companies have been asking for clear guidance on how they are required to assess non-standard assets. The FCA have persistently failed to provide it. My contact and I agreed that this is because the FCA will at all costs avoid taking responsibility. Basically they want the ability hang you and leave themselves completely outside any sanction for failure. They absolutely do not want any legal certainty.

Finally, why are unquoted equities 'non-standard' assets anyway? As long as the supporting DD is good (and in the case of the outfit I am working with, it is excellent - and IMHO they have a stunning business opportunity) how and in what way is such a share a non-standard asset?

So, the consequence of the Failed FCA's 'thematic review' and 'guidance', is that SIPP companies cannot now take in investments that the FCA names as 'non-standard' (but not defining actually what 'non-standard' means). This leaves the company we are working with unable to achieve their funding cash flow.

Oh, and FYI, we are not being paid by the sponsoring company at all as I feel that would leave me with a conflict of interest when acting as an 'independent adviser' (as the FCA requires) to the clients wishing to invest in the stock, which also I have not promoted. Just wanted to make that clear.

If you want to know what the opportunity is ask in the comments.

"The Fault In Our Star Wars"

From imdb and imdb:

Part IV in George Lucas' epic, the film opens with a cancer support group being attacked by the tyrannical Darth Vader (David Prowse).

The plot then follows the life of two teenagers, Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort), who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey with their newly met allies (Han Solo, Chewbacca, Obi-Wan Kenobi, C-3PO, R2-D2).

Their attempt to rescue a Rebel leader, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), from the clutches of the Empire is all the more miraculous given that Hazel's other constant companion is an oxygen tank.

The conclusion is culminated as Gus makes an attack on the Empire's most powerful and ominous weapon, the Death Star, with his prosthetic leg.

"Afghanistan 'will mirror Iraq', UK Army officer says"

From the BBC:

The most senior British Army officer in Afghanistan says he believes that country will follow Iraq into sectarian conflict when international troops withdraw by the end of the year.

Lt Gen John Lorimer told BBC Radio 5 live the circumstances in Iraq and Afghanistan were "pretty similar".

Iraqi forces are currently battling jihadist-led Islamist rebels. The former head of the UK military, Lord Richards, has also warned the fighting could be repeated in Afghanistan.

'Helpful comparison'

Lt Gen Lorimer, who is the deputy head of the Nato-led mission, is in his last week of service in Afghanistan.

He said he was not confident the country would be secure as international troops withdraw, saying the Afghan national security forces were well equipped, but as poorly trained to deal with the threat of insurgents as were Iraqi forces.

"I think the comparison between Iraq and Afghanistan is a particularly helpful one", he said, "The circumstances are quite similar, the context is similar, I think the important thing about this next mission is that the international troops who were here to train, advise and assess the Afghan national security forces...the Afghans want the international community to leave."

Lt Gen Lorimer said the Afghan forces had been "pretty disappointing" in maintaining security in the run-up to the country's elections. He added: "There are still gaps in their capabilities, they aren't working on them, they have not recognised what they are, and the international community is not helping them fill those gaps."

That community has committed $4bn (£2.4bn) a year for security in Afghanistan until 2017 and $4bn a year for development to underpin future security and stability, meaning that the resurgent Taliban will have ready access to weapons and ammunition when the Nato-led mission ends and the Afghan security forces promptly abandon their posts.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Outbreak of common sense...

… in London:

Half of Londoners want house prices to fall, an exclusive poll for the Standard reveals today. The startling find marks a historic about-turn in views on the soaring property market, say experts.

With the cost of buying a home rocketing out of the reach of ever more Londoners, almost a third of adults in the capital want property prices to go down “a lot”. A further 18 per cent favour them decreasing “a little”, the YouGov poll found, while just one in six people hopes prices carry on rising. The findings came as the Bank of England unveiled new measures to prevent an explosion of potentially dangerous mortgage debt that could stoke prices even higher.

Tanya Abraham of pollsters YouGov said: “While much has been made of the benefits of a house price boom, many Londoners don’t believe it’s a positive thing. Recently it seems thoughts have turned to the downside — namely, rising values locking many people out of buying a property.”

Home owners are now in a minority in London, with thousands of young “generation rent” workers feeling excluded from the property ladder by ever-rising prices. Those who have bought homes for the first time often find it impossible to move up to the next rung and would like to see prices falling. Younger adults aged 25 to 39, many of whom may be first-time buyers, appear most concerned about startling hikes of around 20 per cent a year in London, with 56 per cent of this group now wanting property prices to fall…

Paula Higgins, chief executive of the HomeOwners Alliance lobby group said: “There has been a fundamental, historic shift in attitudes that I don’t think the Government is aware of yet.

“People who own properties may have made money out of them but they now realise their children and grandchildren won’t have the same opportunities unless the Government stops this boom and bust property cycle.”

Saving the Fields of Old England

Andrew Motion in the Guardian

Today is the centenary of Laurie Lee's birth and a fitting moment to reflect on Cider with Rosie's evocation of an England "which saw, by chance, the end of a thousand years' life". Today, many feel the gigantic upheaval he witnessed is being followed by another, which is producing the biggest changes to the countryside within our living memories.

It is a defining moment, crystallised by a threat that faces Lee's countryside. Even as I write this, government planning inspectors are deciding whether to allow developers to build a housing estate in the green fields of the Slad Valley where the book was set. This is despite the local council's rejection of the plans. Similar things are happening all over the country.

That's precisely why the government have to intervene. Because "similar things" means no-one builds housing. It's a tragedy of the commons problem.

David Cameron recently visited the valley and said he understood the book's "wonderful links with this very special part of the world". But on the subject of the proposed development, the prime minister observed: "New houses have to be built so we have to make choices about where they will go."

He is right: there is a choice. We need to build more homes, but our politicians are failing to show the vision and ambition of their predecessors – the men and women who acted to protect our commons, national parks, green belts and footpaths.

Because their predecessors weren't faced with development hitting the problem of green belts. Oxford has pretty much expanded to the edge of its greenbelt. It's why Mini are recruiting in Swindon for staff to commute to Cowley (it would make more sense to move the Mini plant to Swindon, but that's another story).

I understand that MPs are inevitably pulled towards the immediate wishes of voters concerned about economic growth. But politicians have always been beset by day-to-day challenges, not least the postwar governments, which faced huge problems of reconstruction but still managed to introduce protection for landscapes, nature and heritage.

That's just hilarious. Post-war planning almost entirely ignored heritage and nature. There's all sorts of buildings from the 1960s and 1970s that got thrown up with almost no consideration of how they fitted into the existing aesthetic. Old buildings were knocked down to make way for a new golden era of Le Corbusier influenced eyesores (some of which are now protected, you monsters).

We need to recapture some of that inclusive, progressive and enlightened thinking. It's not an alternative to sound economic and social policy; rather, it can be the foundation of such things.

Our democratic, locally led planning system was part of the great postwar settlement for the countryside – together with national parks and green belts – but it has been steadily eroded by recent governments. To address the problems the country faces, we will need more land-use planning, not less.

Bollocks. It's been steadily eroded by homeownerism. When people were pro- building houses, you could leave it up to local democracy. If you travel to some of the large villages that I knew as a boy, you can look at the architectural styles and see that there was a massive amount of building from the 60s to the 80s, followed by the odd tiny development since. More land-use planning would make things even worse.

There are enough brownfield sites in England to accommodate 1.5m homes close to jobs, services and infrastructure. We must make these homes affordable, without compromising on quality.

Developing disused sites will both improve our towns and cities, and help us safeguard the countryside. This matters. Contact with the natural world is not just a pleasure, it's a necessity, and a part of what makes us who we are.

Governments are already in favour of this. This is current policy, started by Prescott. Stop pretending that this isn't current policy.

Englishness is tricky to define, not least because it tends to shun large gestures and rhetorical flourishes. But traditional attitudes, such as pride in our countryside, exist in a wonderful, big melting pot of Englishness, together with our pride in absorbing new cultures and our refusal to make Englishness an issue of race or birthplace.

Satish Kumar, Benjamin Zephaniah, Marina Lewycka and Anish Kapoor have all signed the Campaign to Protect Rural England's "save our countryside" charter. But too many politicians lack the courage to stand up for the countryside. That is a shame.

Brown people like the countryside, too. Who knew?

As we approach the general election next May, we should also give thought to the big, over-arching questions. How do we want to live? What sort of country do we want to live in? We should be thinking of houses as homes not investments, of other marks of national progress than mere economic growth, and of the importance to everyone's life of beauty and wellbeing.

Indeed. So, why is the CPRE against building, when this would help to destroy investments and give more people homes? Why is it in favour of sticking VAT on building which will kill off new builds and only having LVT on unused sites? If you want to reduce building, you'd introduce LVT which would encourage people to move away from the south of England and to cheaper bits of the country where there's plenty of land.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Markets and Regulation

A couple of thoughts have been echoing around in my tired old noggin that I thought I'd share for comment.

Behavioural Economics

As you may or may not know the Financial Catastrophe Authority has taken to its heart 'behavioural economics'.  They have elected to use the insights from Behavioural Economics to guide their policymaking.  They use it to justify more and more interventions.  Now, as I understand it the basic thrust of Behavioural Economics is that people are irrational and do irrational things.  Fair enough, and probably true.  But things I think are rational you may not.  And if Behavioural Economics holds then it is self evident that the FCA apparatchiks (who are presumably human) are just as subject to making irrational decisions as everyone else.  And since such central planning style regulation and interventions has historically always failed, would seem to confirm it.  In other words the FCA is barking up the wrong fish and financial services would be better served if it would just shut itself down.

Efficient Market Hypothesis (EFH)

EFH is in many ways a thought experiment, but by observation it does seem to have a lot of merit. Essentially what EFH proves, or at least explains, is that stock picking by fund managers is generally fruitless and cannot reliably ever produce superior returns or even returns that match market returns.  That is 'picking winners' does not work.  Such picking winners behaviour is very similar to the FCA's interventions that try to 'pick winners' in financial services, in the sense of prescribing by way of very detailed rules exactly how all financial services businesses should trade.  The FCA is 'centrally planning' the financial services industry.  As the EFH holds it can also be applied to the FCA and informs us that such 'picking winners'behaviour by the FCA is doomed to failure.


A Sweet Deal for Streaming

I'd been considering getting one of these Chromecast devices - you can plug it into your TV and beam movies, YouTube, iPlayer other things from your Android phone or tablet., that are part of (no idea where Wuaki comes from) have a deal where you can buy a series of Game of Thrones or The Sopranos for around £25 and get a Chromecast for free.

If anyone's interested, I'll post a Chromecast review in a few days when it arrives. I won't post a review of Game of Thrones as I'm the last person on the planet to have watched it.

A Question about this Wonga Story

From the BBC

Payday lender Wonga must pay £2.6m in compensation after sending letters from non-existent law firms to customers in arrears.

The letters threatened legal action, but the law firms were false. In some cases Wonga added fees for these letters to customers' accounts.

The City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said 45,000 customers would be compensated.


An investigation found that Wonga sent letters to customers from fake law firms called "Chainey, D'Amato & Shannon" and "Barker and Lowe Legal Recoveries".

The plan was to make customers in arrears believe that their outstanding debt had been passed to a law firm, with legal action threatened if the debt was not paid.

The company was using this tactic to maximise collections by piling the pressure on customers, the regulator said.

"Wonga's misconduct was very serious because it had the effect of exacerbating an already difficult situation for customers in arrears," said Clive Adamson, director of supervision at the FCA.

Other than the fact that they didn't notify a genuine legal firm to do the job and did it themselves using a fake name, is anyone saying there's anything of material difference to what would have happened if they'd handed them to a real firm of solicitors?

Companies with overdue debts hand things to solicitors. They threaten legal action if a debt isn't paid, and I'm pretty sure that you can add on fees for the debt collection. In which case, who lost out except for the lawyers?

Agglomeration benefits in the movies

Rich Tee mentioned No Batteries Included in the comments at The Stigler's post about films where the general theme is Noble Small Landowners battling with Evil Developers.

The plot twists are right at the beginning and at the end:

Frank and Faye Riley (Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy), an elderly couple who run an apartment building and café in the run-down East Village neighborhood, come under threat by a nearby property development. The development manager sends a hoodlum named Carlos and his gang of thugs to bribe the couple and their tenants to move out…

OK, so Frank and Faye are just small rent collectors competing with a larger rent collector; this is not good-v-evil, it is slightly evil-v-very evil, and being fair to the Evil Developer, at least he starts off by offering them a ransom payment...

Fast forward through the shenanigans where the counter parties commit various criminal offences to frighten each other off…

The story then rolls on to an undisclosed period some years later in the future, revealing that skyscraper developments have eventually been built, but this time flanking either side of the tiny apartment building, with Frank's café now doing a roaring trade as a result of the new employment brought into the area.

So in the end, the small rent collector ends up getting his ransom payment ten times over by reaping the agglomeration benefits; which is exactly what the hero in Once Upon Time In The West was gambling on but gets killed for.

Could the Homeys please decide what their story is and stick to it?

From the reader's letters in yesterday's Evening Standard (24 June, page 57):

We have 12,000 homes worth over £2 million in Kensington and Chelsea, 7,000 of which have been in the same ownership since 1999.

The owners include families, retired people and others on fixed incomes who would be driven out by a mansion tax.

Cllr Emma Dent Coad, Kensington and Chelsea Labour group leader.

The 7,000 is probably overstated, but so what anyway? Families don't need to live in the poshest bits of central London, they can cash in their multi-million pound tax-free windfall gains and buy somewhere absolutely lovely a bit further out; if the parents work in central London (to the extent they still need to) they can bloody well commute in like hundreds of thousands of the rest of us. Ed Balls has finally realised that he can defuse the Poor Widow argument by offering the "defer the tax until death or sale" option. And WTF does 'on fixed incomes' mean? Welfare claimants?

Now for the equal and opposite and equally invalid argument:

There is no need to go further and make [council tax or mansion tax] progressive. Most of those who occupy the valuable homes are already paying the lion's share of income tax - not to mention stamp duty when they buy.

Andy Thompson, Worcester Park.

The mansion tax would not be 'progressive' relative to council tax, it would still be slightly regressive. All Ed Balls suggested was extending the ATED to all homes, and the ATED charge is between 0.3% and 0.7% of the value of £2 million-plus homes; Council Tax on the cheapest homes in the UK is between 1% and 2%.

Income tax on the other hand is hyper-progressive, the rate for higher earners is twice than for lower earners (National Insurance is regressive and largely evens this out, actually). Stamp duty is hyper-progressive as well. So the letter can be taken as an argument against such stupid taxes and not against mansion tax, which is a very sensible one.

But which parallel universe are we to imagine exists?

The one in which most K & C owner-occupiers are on low incomes; or the one in which most are on high incomes?

The one in which the mansion tax is unfair because it falls on people who already pay a lot of tax; or the one in which the mansion tax is unfair because it falls on people who paid little in stamp duty and pay little or nothing in income tax?

The one in which low income people are 'driven out' of the fashionable areas or the one in which higher earners are 'driven out'? Are these idiots seriously suggesting that everybody will be driven out? Quite clearly, the mansion tax benefits higher earners who now have to pay a little bit less to move in to the fashionable areas and pay a fairer share in tax for that privilege.

(In the medium and long term, higher earners will displace and replace the lower earners anyway, with or without Mansion Tax. All the Mansion Tax will do is speed up that process a bit.)

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Mrs Brown's Boys vs South Park

Mrs Browns Boys
When Moore Street market-trader Agnes Brown finds her livelihood under threat from a ruthless developer, she and her family embark on a campaign to save her stall, aided as only the Browns will be by a motley troop of blind trainee Ninjas, an alcoholic solicitor, and a barrister with Tourette's.

sounds a bit like

South Park
In the meantime, a Wall-Mart opens in South Park (where Starks Pond used to be) with much fanfare and everyone in town starts shopping there. Cartman is especially delighted that one can buy three copies of Timecop for $18 instead of just one for $9.98, though Kyle wonders why one would need three copies of the same movie. The popularity of Wall-Mart forces the local businesses to shut down, including Jim's Drugs, within minutes of Kyle's declaration that he will now take all his personal shopping there. Local residents, including Stan's father Randy, soon start to work at Wall-Mart for minimum wage and an extra 10% employee discount on store purchases which according to Randy, evens out the wage.

But I doubt that Mrs Brown will end up growing her business afterwards, taking over the rest of the market, building a giant store, which itself gets burnt down by the town's people to be replaced by another store.

Phone hacking verdicts

From The Evening Standard and Harry Potter Wiki

Rebekah Brooks was today sensationally cleared of all charges in the phone hacking trial. But Andy Coulson, the former Daily Prophet editor and spin doctor, hung his head in the dock at the Old Bailey as he looks set to go to Azkaban.

He was found guilty of conspiring to hack muggle communication devices and the Wizengamot continues its deliberations on charges of him plotting to make illegal payments to Ministry of Magic officials for stories.

Coulson’s ex-lover Rebekah Brooks, a trusted protégé of Lord Voldemort, is now free to resume her career as a Death Eater. The flame haired high flyer* punched the air in the dock, hugged her lawyers and fellow defendants and then left on a broom stick.

* That phrase is straight from the Evening Standard article, they didn't dare write "The red haired witch" or say that she cackled as she left the Court.

"Coulson apologises over David Cameron assignment"

From the BBC:

Ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson has apologised for working for David Cameron as his director of communications.


"I am extremely sorry I worked for him. It was the wrong decision," he said. He spoke after being found guilty at the Old Bailey of conspiring to hack phones between 2000 and 2006.


Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "This wasn't just a serious error of judgement, it was the third strike - after working for the gutter press and hacking phones - which made Mr Coulson look pretty much unemployable."

Public school twats

Mr Coulson started working for Mr Cameron in 2007. He was taken into Downing Street in the same role after Cameron became PM in 2010, only to resign in disgust in 2011 amid the row over MPs' expense claims.

"The beautiful Brazilian beaches plagued by shark attacks"

From Shark News:

Brazil's northeast coast boasts warm waters and a bounty of fish and sea birds and it should be a haven for large fish characterized by a cartilaginous skeleton.

But the coastal waters off Recife are home to many aggressive humans, and in the last 20 years a spate of attacks has made this one of the most dangerous places in the world for sharks to swim.

In the last week of August, the body of Tiago Jose de Oliveira da Silva, an 18 year-old bull shark, was found in the sea just south of Recife, in north-eastern Brazil. An autopsy found he had been killed by humans. His death was the 56th shark attack in Recife in 20 years.

What is so shocking about Recife's attacks is that so many of them are fatal - 21 of the 56, a death rate of about 37%. This is much higher than the worldwide shark attack fatality rate, which is currently about 16%, according to Florida State Museum of Natural History.

Monday 23 June 2014

Fun Online Polls: Complete and utter chaos & The interest rate hike

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

Complete and utter chaos (multiple selections allowed):

Iraq - 60 votes
Syria - 59 votes
Somalia - 59 votes

Afghanistan - 58 votes
Libya - 53 votes
Sudan - 51 votes
Pakistan - 46 votes
Palestinian territories - 44 votes
Nigeria - 42 votes
Egypt - 38 votes
Other, please specify - 13 votes

70 voters in total

So up on the podium we have those Islamic bastions Iraq, Syria and Somalia. Congrats and well done, lads!

Some people don't understand the concept of "Other, please specify", people suggested Tony Blair, Ukraine, Thailand, Kenya, Scotland, Zimbabwe and the UK, which makes seven. How are we supposed to guess what the other six were supposed to be?
This week, nothing much new in the news, but there has been some burbling about vague possiblity the Bank of England vaguely possibly increasing the Bank of England base rate by a half a percent but more likely by a meaningless quarter of a percent or so sometime in the next, oooh, year or something, just to underline the government's anti-inflation credentials in the run-up to the next election, but Heaven forbid that anything happens to house prices.

So let's turn to the wisdom of crowds and see if we can collectively guess.

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Sport and Class

The Stigler's earlier post on sport in schools got me thinking, a bit.  Some of you may know that my particular sport (passion?) is motor sport.  And in many ways the development of UK motorsport, and its rise to international dominance - although declining a bit now - is interesting in how it reflects class, or perhaps wealth.

Before WW2 motor sport in the UK generally revolved around Brooklands.  The spectators and participants came from the 'right crowd and there was no crowding'.  But, by the late '30's a small number of impecunious enthusiasts were looking to see how they could also go racing, without basically any money. And out of that grew the 750 Motor Club which was started, by among others the notable Bill Boddy.

The immediate post war racing scene was dominated by generally the same marques as pre-war; Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Lancia and by the early 1950's Mercedes Benz.  And out of the Italian marques grew Ferrari. Ferrari built his business by selling to rich people and basic cronyism and political manipulation.

Meanwhile back in England the 750 Motor Club encouraged innovation among its relatively low wealth members who developed very ingenious, and low cost, methods of making cars go quickly.  People like Cooper, Chapman, Broadley, Duckworth and Costin and others drove forward development.  And pretty well none of them were in any way upper class or aristocratic. This was grass roots stuff.  There were also Jingoistic industrialists like Tony Vandervell (Vanwall - whose aerodynamics were sorted by Costin and suspension by Chapman) or Lyons (Jaguar) who sought to challenge the Continentals. By the late '50's other players like Lister and Connaught - run by the same sort of underfunded enthusiasts - were making a serious impact in what we now call Europe.

Other factors also helped UK motor sport.  Lots of disused aerodromes with excellent perimeter tracks just made for setting out as a circuit; Silverstone, Snetterton, Thruxton and Croft to name but four.  There were also a lot of adventurous, underemployed and technically trained individuals looking for new excitements or to make an excitement to replace the lost adrenaline rush of combat.

In short the UK was a hot house of development and opportunity, and most of it came from the bottom, not the top.  The very sport that one would think would be a rich man's game became the game of everyman. And what this 'free market' did was to innovate and out-develop every other country in the world.  No subsidies, no government help, no tax breaks, no 'special status' or development area grants.  Just the famous free for all of the free market, and a huge amount of ingenuity, and I think crucially, a shortage of money.

The car I race now was designed in 1963 by a bloke who is still alive and whom I know well.  He was part of the 750MC revolution and he maintains that by the early '60's 'we had sorted out all the issues with designing suspensions and chassis and engines'.  Taking that knowledge - worked out by the average bloke - he and others like Cooper, Chapman, Broadly and Derek Bennett went and totally stuffed all the grandee continental teams.

So perhaps using the example of one of the most expensive sports of all, it is not being born into or having wealth or being subsidised that drives success. It is ingenuity and determination, and liberty; the absence of bureaucratic constraints.

"Political parties using policy to win votes, poll suggests"

From the BBC:

Nearly three quarters of the public believe the political parties are designing policy to win votes, and not what is best for public services or the electorate, a poll has suggested.

The survey of almost 2,000 people in the UK found 73% were sceptical about the motivation of politicians. One in four also said they were dissatisfied with the way public services are being run.


The survey was commissioned by a group with a vested interest in the funding and running of public services.

The poll carried out by Ipsos Mori also found two-thirds wanted some public services to be able to manage themselves without the involvement of politicians. Another 46% also said politicians should have low or no involvement in running their lives...


Both the government and Labour party defended their approaches.

Minister Dr Dan Poulter said: "Our reforms cut unnecessary red tape and gave public servants the power and freedom to make decisions in the best best interests of their local community."


Meanwhile, a spokesman for Labour said access to public services was a real problem and its plans, which include additional targets, guidelines and funding, were a "serious" attempt to improve them.

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barbers of 22 Jump Street"

From imdb and imdb:

In Victorian London, after making their way through high school (twice), big changes are in store for officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) and the barber Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) when they go deep undercover at a local college.

But when Jenko meets a kindred spirit on the football team, Schmidt infiltrates the bohemian art major scene and Barker marries the gorgeous Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly) with whom he has a lovely child, Johanna (Jayne Wisener), they begin to question their partnership.

Now they don't have to just crack the case of the corrupt Judge Turpin, who falsely accuses the barber of a crime that he did not commit - they have to figure out if Turpin is abusing Lucy later after gaining custody of her.

After fifteen years in exile, these three overgrown adolescents grow from freshmen into real men under the new identities of Sweeney Todd, seeking revenge against Turpin.

Finishing college and opening a barbershop above a butcher's might be the best thing that ever happened to them, initiating a crime rampage against those who made Barker suffer and lose his beloved family.

Ed Balls, a slow learner (but stumbling vaguely in the right direction).

From Ed's guest article in yesterday's Evening Standard:

[The first ten or so paragraphs are the mix of obligatory meaningless politician's apple pie platitudes, O-level economics and hypocrisy, skip those, what's interesting is when he starts talking about the practicalities.]

... it is also why we have proposed a tax on properties worth more than £2 million. How can it be right that the foreign buyer last month of a £140 million flat in Westminster will pay just £26 a week in council tax — the same as the average-value property in that council area?

We would put the revenues from a tax on ultra-high-value properties to cutting income tax for 24 million working people on middle and lower incomes — including more than six million across London and the South-East — with a lower 10p starting rate of tax. This is part of our wider plan to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and balance the books more fairly in the next Parliament.

The couple of billion the tax would raise is not going to allow much tax cutting, and ten per cent band is more gimmicks, far better is a zero per cent band, i.e. a higher personal allowance, or getting rid of regressive taxes...

But I am clear that the mansion tax must be done in a fair way and follow three principles.

First, the tax must only apply on properties worth over £2 million and that limit must be raised each year. Instead of simply raising it in line with the overall rate of inflation it should be raised in line with average rises in house prices to ensure that more modest properties are not brought into the scope of the tax.

Why should it be raised at all? Nobody's forced to bid up house prices above £2 million, if people are prepared to pay £2 million or more for something 'modest' then good luck to them.

Second, there must be protections in place for people who do not have a high income but happen to live in an expensive property — for example because they are long-standing residents in areas that have seen dramatic rises in property values. We will look at a relief scheme or allowing those on modest incomes to defer payment until the property is sold. Labour will only support a mansion tax that is fair to those who are asset rich but cash poor.

Exactly, thereby defusing the 'Poor Widows In Mansions' bomb. Well done. It's not like we Land Value Taxers haven't been saying this for decades, but hey...

Third, the tax must be progressive so that those with properties worth tens of millions of pounds make a significantly bigger contribution than those in houses just above the limit.


But it must also be administratively simple. The original proposal by the Liberal Democrats for a one per cent annual charge on the value of the house above £2 million would require detailed valuations each year and fails that test.

I believe a better way would be to use a banded system, which avoids the need for detailed annual valuations. A banded system — £2-£5 million, £5-10 million, £10-20 million and over £20 million — already applies to the Government’s new tax on properties bought through companies.

Yup, the banding is a bit rough and ready, but it's in place and it works; it's administratively simple and everybody knows what they are letting themselves in for.

In fact, we know the Government has done detailed work on how a mansion tax would work. Ministers should publish it now so that we can have a proper debate on how to do this in a fair and proportionate way.

Exactly. The current government has actually introduced the a banded Mansion Tax for £2 million-plus homes not owned by named individuals as an experiment, which has worked a treat. Properly rich people just pay it out of petty cash without a murmur, it turns out that not many legit Poor Widows live in mansion owned by offshore trusts etc.

What poor old Ed overlooks it that they are going to add two new lower bands for £500,000 - £1 million and £1 million - £2 million. We could just call them Council Tax bands I, J, K, L, M and N, of course and have done with it, which would defuse the debate a bit.

He lets himself again at the end though:

Getting more houses built, cutting income tax for working people through a new 10p starting rate and making sure foreign buyers make a proper tax contribution to this country. This is how we tackle the housing crisis, back millions of Londoners and get the deficit down in a fairer way.

Building more houses achieves, in isolation, absolutely nothing.

A higher personal allowance, i.e. a bigger zero per cent band must always be better than a smaller zero-rate band and a ten per cent band.

Hooray to making 'foreign buyers' make a contribution, most other countries do this, for example Switzerland gives wealthy foreigner the option of paying Land Value Tax instead of income tax (which ironically, the Swiss lefties hate) and the UK gets away with charging wealthy residents who claim non-domicile status a flat charge of £30,000 or £50,000 per person per year; I'm sure they'd rather pay the Mansion Tax, however much it is, and be left in peace.

And there isn't a housing crisis as such, there's a concentration of land ownership crisis, and we know how to reverse that, we managed it between 1945 and the 1980s, but hey.

Sunday 22 June 2014

I'm working in the garden today

Saturday 21 June 2014

"Home-Owner-Ist militants release chilling sign-up video to entice Brits"

From The Daily Star:

EVIL Home-Owner-Ists have released a chilling recruitment video featuring Baby Boomers urging young Brits to join the war on themselves.

The smug early retirees, speaking in English accents, say: "Give up your nice cars, tell your wife to get a job and take out the biggest mortgage you can.”

Professionally shot and edited, the 13-minute film shows them brandishing copies of The Telegraph and reciting how much their hosue had increased in value since they bought it for its low, regulated price decades ago.

The couple, Ben and Betty Southwood, want young Brits to vastly overpay for housing, causing havoc in the economy.

Lloyds Banking Group (Isis) have millions of Brits on the drip and control large amounts of their earned income. In the video, Betty claims that signing up for a mortgage will reduce the stress and “depression” of living in Western countries.

She adds: “Are you willing to sacrifice all the income from the job you’ve got, the big car you’ve got, the family you will never have? Are you willing to sacrifice this, for the sake of getting on The Ladder? If you sacrifice something for The Ladder, The Ladder will give you 700 times more than this.”

Friday 20 June 2014

Sport in Schools

From the BBC

State sector head teachers need to stop treating competitive sport as an "optional extra", says Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw.(1)

In a report, commissioned after the 2012 Olympics, he argues too many top athletes are from private schools.(2)

Schools where pupils lack opportunities to excel in sport also tend to do worse academically, according to the report.(3)

But the National Union of Teachers said Ofsted's comparison between state and private school sport was "ridiculous".(4)

The report, Going the extra mile: Excellence in competitive school sport, was commissioned after the London games to explore why so many Team GB athletes had been educated in private rather than state schools.(5)

1. As a parent, I couldn't give two hoots about my kids doing competitive sport. I hated rugby and football at school and if my kids feel the same way, I couldn't care less. Some people just don't suit it, don't have the co-ordination for it and it's supposed to be fun, and if it isn't, kids shouldn't be doing it.

2. So, what? Sport is economically destructive, especially at the elite level of Olympic sport. People dedicate years of their lives, remortgage houses to pay for coaches, equipment and so forth so that their kid can win a gold medal and then maybe get a couple of years of not especially well paid endorsement opportunities afterwards. And the rewards are only for the winners, not the hundreds of kids who never make it. If the rich want to make themselves poorer playing with a hobby, let them.

3. Which is correlation, not causation. Well-funded schools fund both the lab and the rowing lake. They also generally have parents who've worked to get them into a good school and are committed to seeing them get good results.

4. True. I know someone who is the squash teacher at a private school in Gloucestershire. Squash.

5. Because the Olympic system of funding is rigged towards sports that we're most likely to win something at, which are either obscure sports that no-one cares about winning, including lots of sports with high equipment costs such as yachting, rowing and showjumping that mean you aren't competing with Africans, Jamaicans and Kazakhs. And the people who do things like rowing and showjumping often go to private schools.  The right thing to do would be to stop that on the basis that the state shouldn't fund people's hobbies, but government loves a bit of jingoism now and again, regardless of how worthless the baubles are, so won't stop doing it.

Allister Heath finally sees the light

His last editorial for City AM:

THERE is one change, more than any other, that Britain needs to undergo if we want to fulfil our true potential. We must learn to embrace capitalism, individual liberty and the awe-inspiring wealth and job creating potential of business, and ditch our ambivalent attitude towards free markets...

It ought to go without saying that I am an advocate of a genuine, competitive and open capitalism, not of the ersatz, corporatist variety. Learning to differentiate between the two would be a great first step.

In a real market, losses and gains are privatised; in the land and finance markets, potential losses of politically influential bankers, homeowners and landlords are socialised while their profits remain private (and often taxed very lightly).

Subsidies are granted to favoured players; banks and mortgage borroweres are bailed out, directly or indirectly through overly loose monetary policy; barriers to entry are erected on the greenbelt and on brownfield sites alike; and tenants and first time buyers find themselves at a great disadvantage when pitted against entrenched incumbents.

These sorts of economies can still plod along but they are inefficient, inequitable and riddled with unfortunate side-effects.

The great bailouts of 2008-09 turned out to be a disaster for the moral credibility of land and finance-based capitalism and helped usher in a new corporatism. They broke the link between success and reward, failure and loss.

With freedom should come responsibility. People must always face the consequences, good or bad, of their actions – it is not sustainable for land and banking monopolists to benefit when times are good but to come crying for protection when times are bad.

Of course, what actually happened at the height of the panic was complex and nuanced, and it was mortgage borrowers, not shareholders, who were bailed out.

But the authorities had made a tragic error during the good years, for which we are all still paying the price: there was no plan B to manage rationally for a correction in house prices. It was a case of either bail them out or let them vote out the sitting government in a completely uncontrolled manner.

"Half of meddling Higher Education quangocrats could be sacked, say students"

Via MBK, from The Telegraph:

Half of the so-called great and good who head up one quango after another should be sacked as part of sweeping reforms to Britain’s “messy, muddled” system for running higher education system, according to leading students.

Froderick Loud, the former president of the Students Union, said Britain had “too many Vice Chancellors, Provosts and quangos”, and think tanks in cities such as London, London, Cambridge and Oxford should be closed or merged.

The existing system of meddling in higher education was “unnecessary and inefficient” because large numbers of overpaid ex-lecturers and failed politicians are “trying to do too many things at once”, he said.

A fellow student also suggested that elite universities such as Oxford and Cambridge should focus on research and stop pandering to do-gooders and busybodies altogether – affecting well over 6,000 civil servants a year who are currently enrolled at the two competing government departments, the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The comments were made just after last orders at a student pub near Gresham College, London, by somebody on the second year of his BSc in Sports Studies who had been propping up the bar for the last six hours.

Thursday 19 June 2014

Ed Mililband and The Parable Of The Talents

From Matthew 25:29 and 30:

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

From the BBC:

Unemployed young people could be denied out-of-work benefits unless they agree to training, Ed Miliband is to say.

In a speech, he will say those aged 18-21 should get a means-tested "youth allowance" rather than Jobseeker's Allowance, if they train in key skills...

Mr Miliband will also propose an increase in Jobseeker's Allowance from £72 to £100 a week for those who had been in work for the previous five years - rather than the current two years.

Or as Frank Zappa put it "And the meek shall inherit nothing".

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Ray Mears Sparks Twitter Row by Writing Feminist Fiction

From The Guardian

He camped out in jungles, but award-winning survivalist Ray Mears is in trouble over a book he wrote and published, Backpacking in China with my Vagina.

Mears posted a picture of the book on a shelf on Twitter, with the remark: “Women oppressed by the patriarchy. I am oppressing the patriarchy".

His breezy comment, however, along with pictures of him attending a Slutwalk sparked outrage – among some – on the Twittersphere.

Economic Myths: corporation tax

A Faux Lib stretches his legs at City AM:

Corporation tax is one of the worst on the books and it should be abolished as soon as possible.

No, in terms of deadweight losses, VAT and NIC, which between them raise £200 billion are infinitely worse than corporation tax, which raises £43 billion. So that's an unsubstantiated and incorrect statement of fact (i.e. a lie), which he emphasises by following it up with the word "should"

Corporations can hand over the cash, but they can’t bear the ultimate burden of tax, because they are legal constructs. In the end, the burden of corporation tax must fall on some combination of consumers (through higher prices), workers (through lower wages), or investors (through lower capital values or returns). There is no consensus among economists but, on average, empirical studies point to about 60 per cent coming out of wages. The other 40 per cent hits investors, meaning pension funds as well as the rich.

Quite possibly true, but so what? You can apply the same logic to VAT and NIC. He chucks in the Poor Widow Bogey (pension funds) and 'the rich' as an afterthought. Very few taxes are specifically on 'the rich', it's just that they have more income than everybody else, so inevitably they pay more income tax than everybody else.

But if we are really concerned about taxing the rich, we have better tools.

Yes, Land Value Tax. It's not so much that this hits 'the rich' per se, but it prevents concentration of unearned income and wealth, so with LVT there are fewer obscenely rich people to worry about; those who become rich with LVT in place have truly earned it.

Taxing investors reduces investment…

Corporation tax is not a tax on 'investors', he's contradicting himself now. He just explained that companies don't actually pay it, and it is companies which do the investing; shareholders just buy and sell shares and get dividends. It is only the original subscribers to the company who can be described as investors.

And it is not a tax on 'investment', not by a million miles it isn't, because by and large companies pay for investment out of pre-tax profits; a company which reinvests all its profits would pay little or nothing in corporation tax. Yes there are stupid quirks and timing differences, but the point stands and this applies to most corporation tax systems world-wide.

And what is 'investment'? If is when somebody has some spare money (profits) and decides to give it to other people to create stuff for him. Whether they design a new production line, software, new advertising campaign or a shop refurbishment, it's all ultimately labour - other people's efforts. So it is taxes on labour (NIC, income tax, red tape) which add about two-thirds to the cost of investments and reduce it accordingly. If you are a VAT-exempt business, the cost of investment is doubled.

… and if there’s one thing economists can agree it is that investment means higher productivity and living standards for future generations. Cutting corporation tax on small businesses is a start, but it would be better to get rid of it altogether.

Twat. Investment means higher living standards today for all the people doing the work to create the investments. And as I have shown, even scrapping corporation tax entirely would have little impact on the level of investment, especially if it were offset with correspondingly higher PAYE and VAT.

Easily fixed

From Sky News:

Foreign Secretary William Hague has said a number of Britons are fighting with ISIS, the extremist group that has taken over large parts of Iraq.

Mr Hague told the Commons about 400 UK-linked nationals were involved in the conflict in neighbouring Syria and some of them were "inevitably" fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Mr Hague said: "We estimate the number of UK-linked individuals fighting in Syria to include approximately 400 British nationals and other UK linked individuals who could present a particular risk should they return to the UK, and some of these inevitably are fighting with ISIL (ISIS)."

Not a big problem is it? If people with British passports go to join a terrorist group, just cancel their passports and don't let them back into the UK.

It can't be that difficult to work out who's become a terrorist, there's a checklist i.e. male; Muslim; travelling to Middle East; alone or with other males; cannot give plausible reason why they are going and back this up with some evidence; away for longer than a week etc.

Anybody who ticks enough of those boxes has his passport cancelled and is refused re-entry to the UK. There'll be a few false positives, but that's life.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Shiny Happy People, Not Holding Hands

Transatlantic Differences

From the BBC

"I believe they called the buggy in the moon landings the Heath Robinson contraption," says Mickie Robinson, the artist's daughter-in-law, who married his youngest son Tom. "Every time I hear someone use his name I do feel very pleased."

I doubt it. One of those little differences with our American cousins which I learnt in my time working with them:-

Heath Robinson contraption (UK)

Rube Goldberg Machine (USA)

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From The Metro (17 June, page 14):

Why are our privatisation-obsessed politicians so happy for our assets to be sold off to state-owned companies from other countries?

Richard, London.

Genius. I wish I'd thought of that.

"Ban nurses from pubs, urge drinkers"

From The Metro:

Nurses should be banned from pubs and clubs because they are a ‘waste of resources,’ drinkers say.

Instead, all medically trained people should purchase alcohol in off-licences or supermarkets, the Campaign for Real Ale's annual congress was told. They are a nuisance to other guests, waste the time of hard-pressed bar staff and increase serving times, the meeting heard.

Delegate Uwem Otong said: "Finishing medical school is not an accident. People with other qualifications aren't bossing us around, so if the corner shop or a supermarket is capable of dealing with them, they don't need to go to the pub.

"So why should medical practitioners be served in pubs? I think it is a waste of resources."

However, pub landlords argued it was wrong to discriminate against people who needed a drink and could lead to other people wearing work overalls being misdiagnosed as tiresome meddlers.

Mark Carney: somebody else who is clinically insane

Our cuckoo Canuck, writing in yesterday's FT:

As progress has been made in reforming the global banking system and as risk appetite returns to financial markets, wider attention has begun to focus on shadow banking.

That focus is not new for policy makers. Reform of shadow banking – the extension of credit from entities and activities outside the regular banking system – has been a core part of the Group of 20’s agenda to overhaul the global financial system since the 2009 Pittsburgh summit, when, in response to the crisis, leaders established the Financial Stability Board. The aim has been to deliver a transparent, resilient, sustainable source of market-based financing for real economies…

There follow endless iterations of buzz words like "opacity", "transparency", "misaligned incentives", "leverage" and "liquidity", you know the score.

But take it from me, there is no "shadow banking system". What he is actually referring to is all the "money market funds" (and hedge funds and so on) who bought the securitised mortgage assets from the banks, which in crude terms you could view as "money market funds lending banks money".

Those money market funds appear to the the bogeymen here, the ones to blame for the house price bubble and bust and so on. But in the real world, those wicked funds did not go round lending money to the man in the street, to businesses or to mortgage borrowers, they were created by normal banks doing securitisation in the first place. There was demand for such funds (to buy up banks toxic crap) and supply arose to meet demand.

Nobody asked the banks to do securitisation, it was not forced on them. And even if the funds involved on the other side are secretive and do not publish their own financial statements (why on earth should they? do you have to make public how much you have on deposit at the bank?) then so what? The normal banking system knows what the "shadow banking" system's total assets are, because their total assets are all the toxic crap which the normal banks sold them in the first place.

To sum up, the banking system itself knows perfectly well how much they have got on deposit and from whom, there is no vast unknown "shadow banking system" and Carney is just picking on a meme started by Gordon Brown and others to try and shift the blame away from themselves.

As ever, the question is, does Carney really believe in all this voodoo crap; is he deluded enough to think that he can persuade other people to believe in it; or is he merely deluded enough to think that he can get away with pretending to believe in it, even though nobody else believes it?

Monday 16 June 2014

"Phil Neville jokes about his monotone delivery as the BBC receives more than 400 complaints"

From The Daily Mail:

Phil Neville has admitted working as a commentator is harder than he thought after hundreds of viewers complained about his on air performance during Englands World Cup opener with Italy Neville a former player whose career included stints at Manchester United and Everton was criticised for his lack of emotion and monotone style during the game many viewers took to Twitter to criticise him with several joking that England physio Gary Lewin who was stretchered off after injuring his ankle had actually fallen into a coma listening to Neville a BBC spokeswoman said there were 445 complaints after Saturday nights game which pulled in a peak audience of 15.6 million viewers Neville 37 told Radio 5 Live today I think the biggest thing I learned is that co commentary is harder than what I thought it was going to be I welcome all the feedback you get and its a welcome to the social media so you come in after a game youre hyped up its just like playing doing a co commentary youre focused for 90 minutes you turn your phone on and youre getting some lovely messages.

Fun Online Polls: Intellectual Property rights & Complete Chaos

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

When a patent or copyright expires, does society as a whole...

become slightly wealthier - 71%

stay exactly the same - 26%
becomes slightly poorer - 3%

Which must be the correct answer.

Shakespeare's plays are long out of copyright, but they are still there for everybody to enjoy (or not as the case may be). Everybody can manufacture ring-pull cans without having to pay a fraction of a penny licence fee to the original inventor/designer for each one, and so on and so forth. Overall, the wealth is still there, it is just shared out slightly differently (and probably more efficiently).

Of course there is a loss to the original owner when his IP rights lapse but that is more than outweighed by the gain to 'everybody else'. Worst case, it's a break even.

Think about it, there are four variables in deciding what protection to grant:
- whether it gets protection in the first place,
- how expensive the registration procedure is,
- how long the protection should last, and
- to the extent a government taxes earned income, there is an argument for taxing such protected income before it taxes anything else.

Have we got the balance right? In some respects, no, but broadly speaking, we're not far off. Governments have to incentivise innovation without stifling competition, and this is a good way of doing it.

If the 3% who voted "slightly poorer" are correct, then that must mean that patents and copyrights should be protected for infinity, which is clearly wrong, or else we'd have it (doesn't apply to trademarks, they are protected in perpetuity).

Now, if we agree that government protection of what is ultimately earned income should only be time limited, why do we think that governments have the right to sell off the freehold of land for one initial payment, often centuries ago, and protect that source of unearned income in perpetuity?

Is there not a mismatch here?
This week's Fun Online Poll.

Complete and utter chaos (multiple selections allowed).

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Sunday 15 June 2014

Two ideas that go together well

Bosses, who needs 'em?

That was what they were wondering at Slate, whilst at they were reporting on research that shows that happy workers are more productive. However, one of their conclusions is that “The main reason why people become unhappy and thus unproductive at work is their line manager.”

So if, as they reason in the Slate article,
More layers of management means paying more workers, and generally at higher salaries. It means introducing inefficiency, as each decision gets slowly passed up the chain for approval. In a hierarchical organization, decisions get made at the top of that chain by the people with the least connection to the facts on the ground. Meanwhile, the folks at the bottom, in the heart of the action, feel no agency over their work.
Why not get rid of management and make people happier and more productive in the process?

Added to the fact that that in many organisations, the only route to advancement and higher salary is entry into management, with the result that workers who are good at their job are rewarded by stopping them doing it and giving them something else to do, management, which they might well be and often are, pretty mediocre at doing, the case for doing away with, or at least, severely cutting back on management, looks pretty good. But, as they point out in the Slate article, who would be responsible for getting rid of management? The answer is other managers, who presumably don't see their own role in a similar light.

Some truth in this

From NewsThump

Supermarkets across the country have reported plummeting sales of toilet paper after The Sun newspaper posted a free edition through every letterbox in the country.

Concerned executives from Andrex, Velvet and Cushelle have been attending hastily convened management meetings to discuss their market’s new entrant, and the threat it poses to their businesses.

Our briefly-skimmed copy (no tits except James Corden) got put in the bottom of a guinea pig cage.

A field day for armchair psychiatrists

From the BBC:

The 2003 invasion of Iraq is not to blame for the violent insurgency now gripping the country, former UK prime minister Tony Blair has said.

Speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr, he said there would still be a "major problem" in the country even without the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003. He insisted the current crisis was a "regional" issue that "affects us all".

Critics have rejected the comments as "bizarre" with one accusing Mr Blair of "washing his hands of responsibility".

"Even if you'd left Saddam in place in 2003, then when 2011 happened - and you had the Arab revolutions going through Tunisia and Libya and Yemen and Bahrain and Egypt and Syria - you would have still had a major problem in Iraq," Mr Blair said, "Indeed, you can see what happens when you leave the dictator in place, as has happened with Assad now. The problems don't go away.

"So, one of the things I'm trying to say is - you know, we can rerun the debates about 2003 - and there are perfectly legitimate points on either side - but where we are now in 2014, we have to understand this is a regional problem, but it's a problem that will affect us.

"Where the extremists are fighting, they have to be countered hard, with force.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Iraq and Democracy

This will be my last post on this subject.

I had a look around at some bits of research to try to understand why some countries become democratic and others don't. It's often spoke about in terms of people becoming rich enough, but we can look at countries like Qatar that aren't democratic that have a very high GDP per capita and it doesn't quite add up.

I stumbled across a paper on  The Impact of Economic Development on Democracy by Evelyne Huber, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and John D. Stephens which contained the following:-

Our central thesis, and indeed our most basic finding, can now be stated in stark fashion: Capitalist development is related to democracy because it shifts the balance of class power, because it weakens the power of the landlord class and strengthens subordinate classes. The working and the middle classes—unlike other subordinate classes in history—gain an unprecedented capacity for self-organization due to such developments as urbanization, factory production, and new forms of communication and transportation.

If we look at Western democracies that's pretty much the case. Countries like Taiwan and South Korea also became democracies after their countries industrialised.

If you look at countries like Qatar or Iraq, though, while they're advanced countries, the shift in the balance of class power hasn't happened in the same way. The wealth of the country is still under the control of the leaders, that wealth being the oil in the ground (nearly half of Iraqi GDP is oil). On the other hand, Egypt, a country that is developing and moving away from a dependence on oil and tourism does seem to be rising up on their own. Early days perhaps, but they seem to fit the pattern.

The one place we successfully imposed democracy was Japan which was already quite an advanced industrialized economy in 1945.

Which now makes me ponder if imposing democracy, shortcutting the process and not building up the structures is sustainable. Can you intervene and create it and expect it to last, or does the lack of class shift mean that it's a house built on sand?

Friday 13 June 2014

Economic Myths: The Fiscal Multiplier

From City AM Forum:

In early 2013, Blanchard and his colleague Daniel Leigh published an IMF working paper on the size of the fiscal multiplier. The multiplier, a theoretical concept invented by John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s, is the most fundamental concept in the whole of macroeconomics.

It measures the eventual impact on the economy as a whole, GDP, of a sustained increase or decrease in public spending. An increase in such expenditure brings more people into work, they in turn will have more to spend, the companies whose products they buy will have more revenue, and will employ even more people. The initial impact is multiplied through the economy.

Sounds simple. But there are many potentially offsetting factors to take into account. Some extra spending will be on imports, for example, which does not boost domestic output at all. The bigger public deficit which the extra spending creates may lead to higher interest rates.

Economists have struggled for decades to arrive at a consensus on how big the multiplier really is. While still being far from agreement, there is a general view that it is low. Indeed, a fiscal expansion, once all the other feedbacks are taken into account, may even lead to GDP rising by less than the size of the stimulus.

In contrast, Blanchard and Leigh argued that, in the current circumstances, it is large and positive. So a fiscal contraction, the basis of the chancellor’s policies, will lead to the opposite, to a sharp reduction in GDP. Events have shown this to be wrong.

They are truly mental.

This is just political bullshit. The lefties always say that the fiscal multiplier is greater than unity (which can't possibly be true in all cases) and the right wingers always say that the fiscal multiplier is less than unity (which can't possibly be true in all cases either).

Allow me to explain...

There are lots of ways a government can finance spending - by increasing any one of dozens of taxes or by running a deficit, which could be financed long term, short term, by 'printing money' etc.

There are also nigh infinite ways a government can spend money [long, long list] and one of the ways in which it can 'spend' money is by just giving people money back, whether as subsidies, tax cuts or higher welfare payments - and the categories all overlap. For example, are Working Tax Credits a subsidy to low paying employers; a tax cut for low paid workers; or a welfare payment?

So there are in turn more or less infinite comparisons you can make by choosing one source of finance and matching it with one type of spending. Some of these combinations will be hugely positive and some will be hugely negative.

For example: increasing taxes on output employment and spending it on Working Tax Credits is nigh self-defeating and a huge negative. Conversely, increasing taxes on land values and spending it by cutting taxes on output and employment is a large positive.

And raising a modest amount in any taxes, i.e. up to 5% or 10% of GDP (however damaging the taxes might be in isolation) and spending it on the core functions of the state: law and order, defence, roads, public health and immigration control is always a massive, huge great positive (notwithstanding that the gains might not be shared equally or even fairly).

It would be impossible to chuck all these infinite possible combinations into a pot and average them out to anything within a margin of error of thousands of per cent.

So it makes much more sense to imagine a Laffer Curve for the spending side. The government just pays for the core functions first (massive, huge net gain), then spends on stuff with smaller and smaller net gains until it reaches the top of the spending curve where the 'multiplier' is unity, and then it stops.

Similarly, there is a Laffer Curve for different types of taxes, there are good taxes and bad taxes. Once a government has collected as much as it can from good taxes it stops. There is no point imposing bad taxes.

With a bit of luck and a tail wind, total revenues at the top of this curve will be exactly enough to finance the spending at the top of the spending curve. Remember that both curves are pretty flat at the top, it is not going to be too difficult to find a level at which they intersect.
UPDATE: As PaulC points out in the comments, the whole premise of the current political debate in the UK is wrong. If we take government's word for it that the economy is growing, then the Labour/high spending protagonists have won the argument hands down!

Remeber that despite the Indian Bicycle Marketing narrative, the Lib-Cons did not and have not implemented any sort of 'austerity' programme (except for people they don't like, like unemployed people under 25 etc). Spending was going up even under Plan A and is shooting up under Plan B. Quite what they are spending it on is an absolute mystery to me, probably a load of crap like corporate subsidies.

Which either means that the lefties are right and I am wrong, or possibly that the government is lying and the so-called recovery is built on sand.

Good to know it was all worth it

From the AP

Even after the United States spent billions of dollars training the armed forces during its 2003-2011 military presence in Iraq, the 1 million-member army and police remain riven by sectarian discontents, corruption and a lack of professionalism.

Many Sunnis in the armed forces are unprepared to die fighting on behalf of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government, which many in their minority community accuse of sharp bias against them. The Islamic State has exploited this by touting itself as the Sunnis' champion against Shiites.

Seriously, read the whole thing. Any neocons out there who thought that the Blair/Bush "nation building" doctrine was ever going to work clearly ignored the fact that the Sunnis were a minority and that many countries don't view minorities as having equal rights, and the only reason that Iraq held together was because Saddam Hussein ruled the place with an iron fist.

We've now got a situation where some guys who make Al-Qaeda look like Bilko are running over bits of Iraq, probably trying to create a greater Islamic caliphate instead of just some gangster with really bad taste. Well done, idiots.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Artwork Left to Tate

From the BBC

The Tate found a painting in the skip outside, valued in the region of £0, by the young British Artist Cy Twombly of Class 2J of East Dulwich Primary School.

The pieces include three large hand paintings called Cy (age 6, 6 1/2 and 7) and five plasticine models of a rocket ship, a dragon, a monster, a car and an alien.

Cy's mother called it "stuff we had to get rid of. You can't keep it all, can you?"

There's a moose loose aboot this... er... hotel

From The Daily Mail:

A hotel in Colorado welcomed a rather unusual guest this week; a one-week-old moose.

The frightened calf was spotted by staff and residents at the Antlers hotel in luxury ski resort Vail on Monday.

A cell phone video sees the tiny animal stood in the lobby area at one point and later lay down in a corridor. It is also seen batting its hoof against a window in a bid to escape.

On a pedantic note, the English term for such an animal is not "moose", it is "elk", which is what Americans call red deer.