Thursday 28 August 2014

I am getting fed up with this...

Some months ago I was done for speeding by a mobile camera van.

Fair enough I was over the 'speed limit' (which in my sad old Kim's Game way I try very hard to stick to). Did the speed awareness course and suffered some hours of sophistry and learned a couple of useful things and went on my way. Thing is, I know for a fact that the piece of road I was done on has actually got safer over the years.

I know this because I surveyed it for safety and alignment, 'traffic management', traffic flows, turning movements (the van was near a left/right staggered junction on a rural dual carriageway) and all the rest of it in the mid eighties when the road was the main A12 into Ipswich and parts North. At that time it was OK-ish at 70. Now it's 50. I was caught at 57. And because it has been bypassed, all the hazards - especially the turning movements and traffic volumes - are a fraction of what they were. So it's bollocks that the speed camera was for 'safety measures. (It was hidden as well of course).

Since then I have intensified my Kim's Game. Why not? It relieves the boredom.

Today I was dodging gently along back to the office travelling from Darsham via Yoxford and Sibton back to my office in Ipswich via the pretty way.  I was trundling through one of the villages at about 30 and the character of the road changed to more rural and I was just thinking to myself  'hang on what's the bloody speed limit here?' (having not been recently aware of any repeater signs) when there, hidden in the verge in an obscure way was another camera van. I have no idea if I was over the limit or not, I think my speedo was about 35, but we shall see.

The point is though that I am pretty sure that the 30 mph repeater signs were all obscured by foliage.  OK.  So I can go back and spend another day surveying and photographing it all, but what's the bloody point?  I certainly cannot afford that time and if I do and prove the case I still won't get my costs and then I will be well out of pocket.

I have a view that they 'authorities' do the things that they can do most easily.  It's easy nowadays to process speeding tickets.  It's easy to process parking tickets.  The authorities can then say 'we've caught X tens of thousands of speeding people' as if that proves anything.

Meanwhile, in Rotherham...

Economic myths: the fungibility of funding.

Everyone who has not just returned from holiday in the Takla Makan desert must be aware of the Ice-bucket Challenge. As a fund raiser, it's been a brilliant success, but it is not without its critics. Scott Gilmore doesn't think much of it, but his piece is a classic example of the fungible funding error. Put simply it goes like this, "If they didn't spend all that money on X, we could have more money spent on Y". It is particularly prevalant in criticism of Government spending policy.

In this case, Mr Gilmore makes the erroneous assumption that the money given to the ALS charity was already earmarked and ring-fenced for donation to charity, when in reality it was neither of these things and the vast majority appears to have been given by people who would not normally consider giving to charity, and, even if they did, it appears to be additional giving, not taken out of an existing pot marked "For Charity".

In most cases it's usually a newspaper like the Daily Mail saying that x no of nurses could have been employed for the money flushed down the drain in the latest government cock-up, conveniently overlooking the simple fact that, if the Treasury wanted to spend more money on employing nurses, it would already have done so. In fact, so ingrained has this error become, that NHS nurses are now the basic unit of government spending by which everything else is measured, which Mark has pointed out before. The irony is that NHS nurses only make up about two or three per cent of total government spending, but just as schools'n'hospitals are always pushed to the front when cuts to public spending are being mooted, nurses similarly have pole position as alternative expenditure when waste is being discussed.

"Apple to release iWatch"

From The Evening Standard:

Apple is to release a pioneering smartwatch when it unveils the new iPhone 6 next month, according to reports...

The watch, which is rumoured to have a 2.5in screen, is expected to use Apple's latest iOS 8 operating system and will be wearable in the style of a normal wrist watch. It is believed the watch will feature the company's HomeKit function, meaning users could be able to control lights and open and close garage doors at the touch of a screen in their house...

The gadget is also expected to be compatible with Apple's Health app, allowing users to monitor their worsening levels of fitness, brought on by the very fact that its wearers are too f---ing lazy to even get out of their armchairs when they want to turn the lights on or off.

"My big brother punches me in the arm ten times a second...

... it really Hertz."

Damned if they do, damned if they don't.

From the BBC:

The UK is "deeply elitist" according to an analysis of the backgrounds of more than 4,000 business, political, media and public sector leaders. Small elites, educated at independent schools and Oxbridge, still dominate top roles, suggests the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission study...

It found that those who had attended fee-paying schools included 71% of senior judges, 62% of senior armed forces officers, 55% of permanent secretaries (the most senior civil servants) and 53% of senior diplomats...

Figures for top people who went to Oxford and Cambridge paint a similar picture. Some 75% of senior judges, 59% of the Cabinet, 57% of permanent secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists, 38% of the House of Lords, 33% of the shadow cabinet and 24% of MPs hold Oxbridge degrees.

Yes, the top level of the public sector is a bunch of self-serving, self-selected, inbred, clueless twats, we knew this.

But I think that Oxford and Cambridge are between a rock and a hard place here.

Oxford says that 56.8% of its intake is from state schools; for Cambridge it's 63.3%. So they're still skewed towards private school pupils, but it's not out of all proportion.

Now, those top two universities want to get the cleverest students, with a reasonable smattering of children of supremely wealthy parents to make large donations. Fair enough. And if those top two universities have the cleverest students, whether from state school or private school, we would expect their alumni to be at the top of many professions.

So ultimately their dilemma is this: if we take the most able state school pupils in preference to some private school also-rans, then we are doing out bit for equality and social mobility. But if we do that, then even more of our alumni will get into the top jobs and we end up being slammed for being elitist again.

And quite possibly, the equality campaigners are confusing cause and effect.

It's not so much that the self-selected people get to the top because they went to Oxford or Cambridge; they probably got into Oxford or Cambridge for the same reason that they get top civil service jobs. The same applies to those who went to private school.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Benefit cap fun

1. From The Telegraph, June 2012:

The Prime Minister was expected to unveil plans to set benefit payments on a regional basis during a speech in Kent today.

He was due to say: "We are looking at whether public sector pay should be more responsive to local pay rates and that is something we should look at for benefits too."

However, the remarks were cut from the final version of his speech setting out plans to overhaul the “out-of-control” benefits system.

I don't know why he cut that bit, but I do remember that The Daily Mirror and other left wing sources were up in arms about this at the time. Having regional benefit levels is a terrible idea of course, but it's one of those dumb ideas which keeps coming back to haunt us.
2. The Tories actually did something sensible (not realising what they were doing, I assume) and introduced a cap on the total amount of benefits which any household can claim of £500 a week. Clearly, no household gets anywhere near £500 in non-housing related benefits; the only households nominally receiving more than that were those living in expensive areas claiming Housing Benefit (the worst benefit of all, as it actually goes to private landlords and pushes up rents and prices for the working population). Cue much squealing from Labour MPs with seats in London.

So the benefit cap reduces the north-south differential in the amount of welfare payments households which can get; it is the opposite of regional rates for welfare payments; and it is primarily a cap on Housing Benefit. Win win win!
3. The Tory government having otherwise made a complete mess of welfare reform, the Labour opposition continued the journey round the clock of stupidity.

From the BBC, June 2013:

This was the week Labour looked to show it could be trusted to control the welfare bill, with speeches by both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

But one aspect of what Ed Balls called "iron discipline" has already run into trouble within the party. The shadow chancellor floated the idea of regional caps on benefits. He suggested the Low Pay Commission could advise on where to set the cap in different parts of the country.

The result could see the current £26,000 benefit cap maintained or raised in London and the South East, but lowered in areas like the North East, Yorkshire, the North West and South West. The argument is that housing costs vary widely across the country, and it would make sense to differentiate.

But the idea has gone down like a lead balloon amongst Labour MPs in the North East.

Northern Labour MPs opposed this for exactly the same reason they had opposed the Tory suggestion of a year earlier; they were saying the right thing for the wrong reasons, but never mind.
4. Now Labour has re-suggested the original shit idea of differential regional welfare caps, but instead of opposition coming from northern Labour MPs, it's coming from southern Tory MPs:

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has floated the idea of setting "regional" rates for maximum welfare payments to dilute the strict cap introduced by the coalition.

He has suggested the current £26,000 annual limit on a household's benefit claims could be raised in areas with high rental costs such as London. But new analysis released by the Tories showed that the figure could rise to £54,000 a year in wealthier London boroughs like Kensington and Chelsea...

Tory Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said: "Labour still stand for dependency and benefits as a lifestyle choice. We will do everything we can to prevent Labour turning the clock back."

To a large extent this is Indian Bicycle Marketing, but in a bizarre sort of way, northern Labour MPs and southern Tory MPs have come to the right conclusion here, albeit from completely different starting points.

What is more puzzling is that UK politics is all about keeping rents and house prices as high as possible; this is the government party's main responsibility and its best chance of being re-elected, so why any large party would propose a cap on Housing Benefit is a mystery to me.
UPDATE: Sobers in the comments nominates this family as one which got more than £500/week in non-housing benefits.


Excluding Council Tax and Housing Benefit*, they got just under £500. And families with a disabled parent, an unemployed parent and six children at home are isolated extreme cases.

* Please note that this household lives in a "former council house", so that's £76 a week which Thatcher or Blair are costing the taxpayer.

"Cameron to support Tusk for Council president at EU summit"

From EurActiv:

British Prime Minister David Cameron is prepared to support Fleetwood Mac's double-platinum album as the next president of the European Council, according to the The Guardian.

By suggesting the 1979 double album to fellow EU leaders at the summit in Brussels on Saturday (30 August), Cameron hopes to influence the incoming European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, known as a fan of easy listening, with a candidate supporting a slightly more experimental musical agenda.

Tusk had previously asked EU heads to "Think about me" and "Save me a place" (side one), they countered by asking "What makes you think you're the one?" (side two). The LP then stated that that selection process was "Not that funny" (side two).

However, according to The Guardian, Tusk threatened to withdraw from the nominations, stating "That's enough for me", provoking Cameron to retort that Tusk would "Never make me cry" (side three).

Cameron and Tusk discussed its candidacy and the summit over phone on Monday (Guardian, 25 August). Cameron adopted a softer tone, greeting the critically acclaimed album with "Honey hi" and describing it as a "Beautiful child" (side three), although Tusk reportedly said that it would "Never forget" all of Cameron's earlier rhetoric (side four).

Cameron believes that Tusk, which cost $1 million to record, could balance Juncker's soft rock agenda. The British prime minister also believes that it would be good for one of his childhood favourite albums to take on the EU top job, The Guardian said.

Yes, that's the whole point.

From The Daily Mail:

We eat THREE times more at a barbecue than at a normal dinner… A survey found we consume as many as 1,800 calories at a barbecue, while a typical meal at home has 500 to 700 calories.

So they mean "three times as much", not "three times more", for a start.

Either way, isn't that a bit like saying "We drink more beer in the pub than in Bar Mitzvah class" or "We eat more cake at birthday and wedding parties than in police custody" or something?

And the story is a puff piece for AXA PPP Healthcare to give them an excuse to waffle on about healthy eating.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Fair play to ASH

The WHO has gone completely mental...

The World Health Organization says there should a ban on the use of e-cigarettes indoors and that sales to children should stop.

In a report the health body says there should be no claims that the devices can help people quit smoking - until there is evidence to support this.

WHO experts warn the products might pose a threat to adolescents and the foetuses of pregnant women.

Is it perturbing or reassuring that ASH, who have pumped out so much of this anti-nicotine garbage propaganda over the years, appear to be reining it in a bit..?

Hazel Cheeseman, at the charity Action on Smoking and Health, said there was no evidence of any harm to bystanders and warned regulation needed to be proportionate.

She added:

"Smoking kills 100,000 people in the UK alone. Smokers who switch to using electronic cigarettes in whole or in part are likely to substantially reduce their health risks.

"Although we cannot be sure that electronic cigarettes are completely safe, as the WHO acknowledges, they are considerably less harmful than smoking tobacco and research suggests that they are already helping smokers to quit."

Even the "100,000" figure is a step back from their previous exaggerations.
UPDATE. "Unknown" left a link to NHS Smokefree: "Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in England, accounting for more than 80,000 deaths each year. One in two smokers will die from a smoking-related disease."

Well, call it half a million deaths a year, a fifth of people are smokers, so going by those figures about 50,000 people each year die somewhat earlier than they otherwise would have done as a result of having smoked. It's going a bit far to say that even 50,000 people are "killed" by smoking, let alone 100,000, but it's not as entirely plucked-out-of-the-air unreasonable as other claims which ASH have made.


I was delighted to see a van just drive past emblazoned with FFS Limited - Freight Forwarding Solutions.

When I'm bored one day, I think I'll incorporate similar companies for "Logistics Management For Any Organisation" and "Warehousing, Transport, Freight".

"Elk freed from Dresden office building"

We haven't had one of these stories for ages, from

The elk, which has been spotted several times in the Dresden area during the weekend, had been grazing nearby when he was startled by a group of onlookers and police and fled.

“This is a sign of panic,” said a press spokesman for forest management company Sachsenforst. “He doesn't know where to go any more.”

After five hours in the office block the animal was anesthetized, loaded into a container and taken away on Monday afternoon. He was released in eastern Saxony.

Which reminds of this story, from The Daily Mail:

Almost 25 years since the Iron Curtain came down, deer roaming the Czech-German border still balk at crossing areas where electric fences one lay.

A study of the animals in the Sumava national park, in the Czech Republic, has discovered that red deer are avoiding the once perilous areas where three parallel electrified fences were patrolled by armed guards - despite the creatures having no living memory of it.

Nearly 500 people died trying to cross the barrier, which isolated the communist world from the West. According to a seven-year study, the invisible border has become instilled in the [deer] population, and will be handed down generations.

Monday 25 August 2014

Fun Online Polls: Alcohol health warnings & Bank Holiday weather

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

A committee of MPs says that alcoholic drinks should carry health warnings. Do you agree?

Yes - 2%
No - 13%
They already do - 17%
Oh FFS, I despair - 68%

I'm with the majority this time, thank you everybody who took part
This week's Fun Online Poll:

"Is it more likely to rain on a Bank Holiday?"

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Sunday 24 August 2014

Giant kilometre long crack in the earth's surface of the week

Submitted by Pablo:

Economics. What is it good for?

Reading this and this got me thinking.

If we think that we know all this stuff, the temptation - on the part of prodnoses - is to use it to interfere.

Alternatively we could think of economics as a discipline that tells us why we need to tell those prodnoses to bugger off.?  That is its best purpose.  Telling people why they should NOT do stuff.

Is economics best use as a negative or positive thing?

Discuss and inform me.

Saturday 23 August 2014

Sainsbury's Brand Match

The check-out girl actually handed me this one with a straight face...

Sinkhole of the week

From The Daily Mail:

A 100ft-wide sinkhole that is so deep the bottom cannot be seen at one end has appeared overnight just yards from a farmer's house in County Durham.

John Hensby, 71, says his partner Sam Hillyard, 39, first discovered the hole on Thursday morning, adding that it has been growing ever since. And Mr Hensby now fears that heavy rain forecast for the coming days could be about to make the situation even worse...

Going down bleating.

An orgy of shroud waving in yesterday's Evening Standard, here are some of the punchlines:

Londoners were asked if they thought they would have to “pay more” under a mansion system advocated by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The results show that 15 per cent believed they would — despite only two per cent of the capital’s homes being worth more than £2 million. The poll also showed 49 per cent of Londoners “strongly” or “tend to” support the idea of a mansion tax while 18 per cent are opposed...

A spokeswoman for Mayor Boris Johnson said many pensioners would find a mansion tax “devastating”. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has indicated low-income pensioners would be allowed to postpone tax payments until they, or their heirs, sell the property. A Lib-Dem spokesman claimed there was “overwhelming support among Londoners” for their proposals.

But pensioners Tim and Penny Hicks, who bought their house in a former slum area of Notting Hill in 1968 for £11,750 and now see it worth an estimated £3 million, said a mansion tax would be “iniquitous”.

Why does no-one mention Ireland?

The Scottish independence referendum is much in the news as we come up to the vote and one of the main weaknesses of the nationalists is their insistence that they will keep the pound, which the unionists decry as unworkable. Indeed, it was on this very point that Alastair Darling landed his most telling blow on Alex Salmond in the recent televised debate.

Yet no one ever seems to mention the experience of Ireland, where the newly independent state used sterling for seven years and then pegged its currency to the pound for a further fifty. You would have thought that the nationalists would be holding this up as an example of what could be achieved, and putting the unionists on the defensive, challenging them to say exactly why it couldn't be implemented for Scotland, but they don't.

It's just another mystery, to go alongside why the Tories, who would be almost guaranteed a majority in Parliament if Scotland were independent, are so against independence.

Friday 22 August 2014

Something else which really annoys me...

… is the really poor grammar which the anti-smoking lobby uses.

Exhibit A

Wrong. Smoking is forbidden "on" these premises, not "in".

Exhibit B

Wrong again. "Smoking can" is white and "damage the sperm" is red, then "and" is white again, leading you to assume that this is a list of things which smoking "can" do.

In which case it should end with "decrease fertility", not "decreases fertility". Alternatively, the word "can" should be red.

"Global warming slowdown could last another decade"

From the BBC:

The hiatus in the rise in global temperatures could last for another 10 years, according to new research.

Scientists have struggled to explain the so-called pause that began in 1999, despite ever increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The latest theory says that a naturally occurring 30-year cycle in the Atlantic Ocean is behind the slowdown.

The researchers says this slow-moving current could continue to divert heat into the deep seas for another decade.

However, they caution that global temperatures are likely to increase rapidly when the cycle flips to a warmer phase.

I love the concept of the "so-called pause". Either it was or it wasn't.

Thursday 21 August 2014

All entirely predictable, and entirely predictably stupid.

From the FT:

In a dusty industrial estate next to the world’s biggest iron ore port in Western Australia’s remote Pilbara region, business has never been so bad.

“The rents got so high in the town that when the boom ended, businesses began to die off everywhere,” says Jo Woodward, owner of Jems, a ramshackle building with an eviction notice stuck to its padlocked gate...

Western Australia’s “Pilbara Cities” plan was launched in 2010, at the height of a boom driven by iron ore and the discovery of natural gas off the coast. Several billion dollars have been spent on hospitals, roads and housing to transform the dusty mining towns of about 15,000 people each into living spaces that attract families.

But fears are growing that the drop in mining construction and a recent slide in iron ore prices threaten the future of the flagship project...

“We are focusing our efforts on the type of ‘city-building’ amenities and services such as parks and cafĂ©s, which will ensure families want to come and live here,” says Kelly Howlett, mayor of Port Hedland.

“A population of 50,000 is a realistic target. About 1,000 people make Western Australia their home every week and they can’t all go to Perth,” she says.

But locals warn a cooling economy is putting this at risk. Rents have halved in Karratha, record numbers of properties are listed for sale in both towns and some new housing developments lie empty.

Please sir, may we have some more?

Reader's letter from today's City AM:

[RE: Cameron unveils "family test" for government policy, Monday]

David Cameron insists that families should be at the heart of everything politicians do.

But apart from making provision for "problem families" and impact assessments, he didn't say what the government could do now to make things better.

The first area that springs to mind is the effect of removing legal aid from family law cases.

Second, and somewhat ironically given the Prime Minister's keenness to retain a United Kingdom, why does Scotland have such beneficial provision for the rights of cohabitess, but England and Wales do not?

Finally, in order to speed up the process whereby separating couples can make a clean break, why not offer legal aid for family law arbitration?

Marylin Stowe, senior partner, Stowe Family Law.


Once I'm in charge I'll put all of these vultures and bottom feeders out of business by introducing statutory default prenup/divorce rules (like so many other European countries), which kick in if couples have not made their own private agreement.

There's a Laffer curve of everything - make the rules too favourable to women and men won't get married; make them too favourable to men and women won't get married. So you can tell whether the statutory rules are "about right" if the maximum number of people get married and the minimum number of people get divorced.


No wonder the country's in trouble.

From the BBC:

Schools in England are braced for "volatile" GCSE results, following significant changes to the exam system.

Go on, why's that then?

This year's results will reveal the outcome of a much greater emphasis on exams at the end of the two-year course and a reduction in coursework and modular units.

Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University, warned of "shocks in store" for some schools, depending on "how much they relied on gaming the old system".

Hooray, say all the people (like me) who like the white knuckle ride of the exam experience and look down on all this "coursework and modular units" nonsense, it's a recipe for favouritism and cheating, not to mention involving more work for pupils, not just cutting and pasting stuff off the internet, but sucking up to teacher all year long.

So it's not really "changes to the exam system", it's "a return to the exam system".

But wold this lead to "volatile" results?

We all assume that they give the top few per cent an A, the next few per cent a B and so on, just because they are doing proper exams again doesn't change that.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Random sounds

For the past few months, I've been getting random sounds when viewing Mark's blog. It started out as a vaguely relevant song "This is what you want, this is what you get", then progressed to adverts for Jersey as a tourist destination and now seems to be some US musos rambling into a microphone. Neither Mark nor I have any idea what is going on. Does anyone else have a clue?

Rabbit Hutch Homes. LVT will sort it out.

Under LVT, we would basically be swapping our tax into payments for land rent. As rents are based on affordability, the logical conclusion of this, is that State revenue becomes current taxes + current rents= 65% GDP.

Luckily for us small government fans, things aren’t quite so simple. Allocational efficiency as a result of LVT reduces demand i.e. Poor Widows In Mansions out, young families in. We also have to take into account that increased discretionary incomes do not all get spent on land/location rent.

Average UK household discretionary income, with £160,000 mortgage debt, is around £14,000 per year.

Assuming we have equilibrium, under LVT, that becomes £25,000 + 50% less mortgage debt = £31,000 or an extra £16,000 or so.

Given the choice, how many people would forgo the 50% less mortgage, and opt for a new home that was twice as big/twice the quality or a combination of both? Under LVT they'd still have an extra £11,000 per year to spend on other stuff.

The point being, higher discretionary incomes do not all get absorbed in higher rents, and a good proportion of it under LVT will no doubt go into building better homes.

We only need Greenbelt planning and building regulations because capitalised land rents skew the market.

Hilarious Sinex/Optrex mix-up with interesting results.

I had developed a slight but very itchy stye in my left lower eyelid and my nose was rather bunged up, so I bought a small squeezy bottle of Optrex eye-drops and a small squeezy bottle of Sinex nasal spray.

The Sinex is very good at decongesting (if that's a verb) but after a few weeks of using the Optrex, the stye still had not cleared up. A few days ago, the inevitable happened and I filled up my left eye with Sinex by mistake. It stung like [something that really stings plus expletives] and I rushed back to the bathroom to splash water into my eye as best as possible, which is trickier than it sounds.

My eye was red all day long and I felt pretty stupid.

The interesting part is this: when I checked in the mirror the next morning, the stye had completely disappeared and my eye/eyelid has been fine ever since.

"Gazza conflict: Israel targets Hammers chief"

From the BBC:

West Ham football club say the wife and child of its main shareholder, David Sullivan, have been killed in an Israeli air strike on the southern English town of Theydon Bois.

At least 11 Theydonians have died since hostilities resumed on Tuesday, with both sides blaming each other for the former England striker's increasingly erratic behaviour.

The Israeli military said it had carried out 60 air strikes in response to reports that the Newcastle United hero was blasting his Sandbanks neighbours with classical music.

Six weeks of fierce Beethoven have left almost 2,100 neighbours deaf.

A spokesman for the club expressed "profound regret", adding that Gascoine had actually played for Tottenham Hotspur, which is a few miles up the road from West Ham.

"China's erite talget New Yolk lear estate"

Flom the BBC:

With Chinese househords getting lichel, a glowing numbel of peopre ale investing theil cash in Amelican lear estate.

Buyels flom China and Hong Kong spent $22bn, 72% mole than they spent the yeal befole, snapping up high end homes flom Carifolnia to New Yolk City.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

They own land! Give them money!

From City AM:

Brussels set to make payouts for farmers hit by Putin’s sanctions

EUROZONE fruit and vegetable farmers hit by the Russian govern­ment’s food sanctions are set for a payout, with Brussels pledging €125m (£99.9m) in compensation to those affected yesterday.

The action is designed to help prop up food prices in the single market. Dacian Ciolos, the EU’s agriculture commissioner, said that the action was meant to “reduce overall supply of a number of fruit and vegetable products” so that there would not be too much downwards pressure on prices.

Outbreak of common sense...

… in Berlin.

To sum up that article from Spiegel, the Berlin "Verwaltungsgericht", which translates as "administrative court" has told the Berlin "Landesamt" which is the lowest instance, that it cannot simply ban the Uber taxi app on such spurious grounds and the original ban has been lifted pending a full decision of the court (quite which one is not clear).

So the lawyers will be earning themselves silly putting in increasingly meaningless counter-applications and counter-counter-applications.

Exactly the same thing happened when the city of Hamburg tried to ban Uber back in July, that was promptly suspended by the Hamburg administrative court.

Monday 18 August 2014

Public and private sector residential construction

We have now established beyond reasonable doubt that the so-called home builders, Barratts, Taylor Wimpey and the like are nothing of the sort, see e.g. here and here.

The construction is carried out by subcontractors and Barratts et al are a cartel of land bankers who dribble a few new homes onto the market each year in order to realise part of the value of their "investment portfolio" (as Taylor Wimpey describe their land bank) without depressing its overall value.

The official stat's for completions in public and private sectors show that private sector completions have averaged 167,000 a year since 1960 (once austerity had ended and the economy was going again); and until Thatcher more or less shut down construction in the public sector in 1980, an average of 167,000 new units of social housing were built.

It's actually difficult to pin down the role of NIMBYs in all this (as despicable as their motives usually are); they are clearly behind the fall in construction of social housing, and the biggest cheerleaders for selling it off at huge discounts, but it's doubtful whether they have any influence on how many homes the land bankers dribble onto the market.

Seems fair enough to me.

From The Telegraph:

Take two drivers: both have spotless records and the same car, which they park on their respective drives. But the motorist who lives in London will pay three times [as much] insurance than a comparable driver in the Isle of Man.

Car insurance costs are determined by a driver's postcode, with those living in locations deemed more of a theft risk paying inflated premiums - regardless of whether or not they are responsible drivers.

What on earth are they complaining about? I don't think there's any "deeming" going on here, the insurance companies know perfectly well where cars are more or less likely to be stolen, and assuming insurance companies to be competitive inter se, the premiums cannot be inflated. And does being a "responsible driver" make it less likely that your car will be stolen? Methinks not.

(I must admit I'm a bit disappointed to see that I live in a "high risk" postcode, but hey).

Oh no, we're not land banking or anything like that...

From Bovis Homes' Interim Trading Statement:

· 54% increase in legal completions to 1,487 homes (H1 2013: 963 homes)

· A record 4,597 consented plots on 23 sites added to the land bank

· Growing consented land bank of 17,702 plots as at 30 June 2014 (31 December 2013: 14,638 plots)

· 19,608 plots of strategic land (31 December 2013: 20,108)

Righty-ho, if they sell 3,000 homes a year, that's enough land for the next twelve years. I wonder whether they've also stockpiled enough bricks for the next twelve years?

And anybody who says that they need this land in advance to enable them to build houses in future, the answer is that they don't build houses.

Their 2013 accounts show that they had 741 employees, these are primarily sales and admin people. Building a house is on average two or three man years, so the 3,000 homes they sell would require 6,000 - 9,000 workers - but these people are all subcontractors who are perfectly happy building houses and being paid for it, they do not demand a share of the planning gain.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Economic myths: Mortgage affordability

Turnbull 2000 in the comments to the previous post:

House prices to average salary is an obsolete benchmark. It has been for a decade.

It's now about monthly affordability. With dual income, 30 year mortgage terms and low interest rates becoming the norm, a couple on 25K each can afford a property of £250,000. I've long expected UK house prices to settle at 6-7x average salary, perhaps 10x in premium areas.

OK, compare and contrast with fifteen years ago:

Nationwide median price paid by first time buyers Q2 2014: £159,804
Assume £15,000 deposit, mortgage repayments on 4% mortgage over 30 years, monthly repayment = £698 per month.
Median household income (guess) = £45,000 gross, so mortgage repayments = 19% of gross.

Nationwide median price paid by first time buyers Q2 1999: £55,618

Let's assume that the median wage has gone up by about half over that period so median income was £30,000, so the deposit which people could have saved up out of earned income was one-third lower and the amount which people could pay off each month was lower.

So £10,000 deposit, mortgage repayments on 6% mortgage over 15 years = £391 per month = 16% of gross £30,000.

So those who bought just in time before house prices went mad could have easily paid off their mortgage by now, the mortgage repayments were lower as a percentage of income to start with and by the end they were very affordable i.e. being nearly £300 a month less than what today's first time buyers have to pay, or only 10% of gross. The savings would be even more than that for a 1999 buyer who took out variable rate mortgages, which most did.

Today's first time buyers are stuck with a higher monthly payment for twice as long, with wages rising more slowly than retail price inflation.

The point is that a doubling in house prices mean that people pay twice as much for their mortgages, whether that's twice as much per month for the same mortgage term, or for a mortgage term which is twice as long is irrelevant. It's two ways of measuring the same thing. Twice as much is twice as much.

(And we don't even know whether Nationwide normalised their price paid figure for the fact that fifteen years ago FTB's were more likely to be buying a house and today they are more likely to be buying a flat.)

Saturday 16 August 2014

UK house prices are now about seven times earnings

Shaun Richards at Mindful Money has looked at Halifax' recent statistic that house prices are 5.02 time earnings...

Putting it another way using median earnings for everyone the ratio of earnings to house prices is now 6.9.

Well worth a read.

I left a comment as follows:

There is another reason for going with your 6.9 figure and that is because you have to compare like with like.

Halifax' £186,000 house price is not the average (that's about £260,000 according to the ONS) it appears to be the median.

So you can compare median house price with median wages = 6.9

Or you can compare average house price with average wages = 7.4

Friday 15 August 2014

"Berlin bans Uber app citing protection of taxi driver privileges"

From the BBC:

The mobile taxi app Uber has been banned in Berlin by the city's State Department of Civil and Regulatory Affairs.

In a statement, the authority said it had banned the app on passenger safety grounds and threatened the firm with a 25,000 euro (£20,000) fine for ignoring the order.

Uber said it would challenge the ban. It is the latest setback for Uber, which has faced bans and protests in cities across Europe.

The Berlin authority said passengers may not be covered by insurance because they aren't traditional cabs.

If they are worried about the possibility of uninsured drivers etc, then surely they would have to ban cars completely? That's the only way I can see.

Whether there should be a rule that people who drive other people round for money have to take out a particular kind of insurance is a completely different debate to the debate as to what marketing/communication channels such people can use, surely?

Thursday 14 August 2014

Jo Pavey

From the BBC

Forty-year-old Jo Pavey became the oldest woman ever to claim gold at a European Championships when she won a thrilling 10,000m and got Team GB's campaign in Zurich off to the perfect start.

Pavey, a mother of two who only gave birth to her younger child Emily 11 months ago, ran the perfect tactical race to match the gold won by her old friend Paula Radcliffe in Munich 12 years ago.

There's a bit of talk about this "only 11 months after giving birth", but in certain sports, particularly stamina events, there's actually some evidence to suggest that having a baby can be good for sporting achievement. From the Wikipedia article about abortion doping:-

A study of athletes before and after pregnancy by Professor James Pivarnik at the Human Energy Research laboratory in Michigan State University has found there is a 60 per cent increase in blood volume and that this could improve the body’s ability to carry oxygen to muscles by up to 30 per cent. This would have obvious positive effects on aerobic capacity. Other potential advantages are obtained from the surge in hormones that pregnancy induces, predominantly progesterone and oestrogen, but also testosterone, which could increase muscle strength. Increases in hormones like relaxin, which loosens the hip joints to prepare for childbirth, may have a performance enhancing effect on joint mobility.

No-one's really sure if "abortion doping" ever occurred. I doubt it happened in the DDR simply because their female athletes were generally so doped up on everything else that they didn't need it.

"Five myths about the gender pay gap"

For a bit of light relief, I read an article at Comment Is Free:

... to make the pervasive myths slightly easier to debunk, here are five retorts. Ladies, if the continued experience of being devalued is getting you down, you can always distribute this piece to pay-gap naysayers. Off we go!

There is no gender pay gap

Alas, there is a gender pay gap...

The gender pay gap only exists because women have babies

... it isn’t quite true. I say “quite” because it’s undeniable that the time women take off to become mothers – often out of necessity because of maternity leave arrangements and childcare costs – has an enormous impact on wages.

But according to figures based on the Office of National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Incomes, the pay gap between men and women in their 20s has doubled since 2010.

Let's do these together.

I checked the ONS thing, the 'gender pay gap' for median full time wages is as follows:

18-21 - 8%
22-29 - 6%
30-39 - 9%
40-49 - 29%
50-59 - 32%
60+ - 27%

So that's one heck of a jump between under and over 40, which can largely be explained by women having taken career breaks for babies and/or women with kids choosing jobs with regular or predictable hours, i.e. less overtime, no long business trips, no night shifts, no working away from home etc, which as you might expect are lower paid.

Under the age of 40, the gap is so small as to be not worth worrying about. She makes a false comparison about the gender pay gap for people in their 20s having doubled since 2010, the long term trend is a narrowing of the gap and if there is a blip when it increases from 3% to 6%, well so what.

The gender pay gap exists because women aren’t as assertive as men

Women aren’t ambitious enough to pursue top jobs

That's the same argument twice and difficult to prove either way. Cause and effect.

The pay gap has a load of practical explanations and is nothing to do with sexism at all

This one's weird.

She links to list of anecdotes about the condescending behaviour suffered by some women in 'traditionally' male jobs. There's no doubt that this behaviour exists and it is regrettable, but it has f- all to do with the 'gender pay gap'.

And when women get together it is quite normal for them to belittle their husbands, even when their husbands are present. It's not pleasant either, but men just put up with it. What goes around comes around. (Clearly, men occasionally moan about their wives when they're among friends but seldom when their wives are present.)

Daily Mail crime/house price story

From The Daily Mail:

A top legal academic was savagely beaten when he answered the door of his £2 million home to a gang of knife-wielding robbers.

The Evening Standard took it to a new level:

Scotland Yard said the men - believed to be Eastern European - burst into the address after the homeowner answered a knock at his door just before 10pm on Monday...

Police say the victim was pushed to the floor and then repeatedly punched in the face and body while the men demanded money in the attack at his £2million home until his daughter raised the alarm...

Detectives today released images of the victim and CCTV footage of one outstanding suspect running away in an effort to trace him. He is seen sprinting away from the address in Kings Road, where properties sell for £1.5 million, and dodging traffic in The Broadway.

Why not keep going?

The suspect fled down Kings Road, where homes sell for £1.5 million, turned left into Trinity Road, where flats change hands for £600,000, crossed the railways bridge onto Ashcombe Road, where a semi-detached goes for about £800,000, and was later arrested at a £150,000 flat in Barking, east London.

Tragic Twist on Home-Owner-Ism

At The Telegraph.

Now, we know that LVT would sort out 'developers premia', and 'location rent'. But how does it deal with this?


Wednesday 13 August 2014

"Michael Gove’s wife attacks Nick Clegg's wife for Spain trip while PM's wife is away"

From The Evening Standard:

Michael Gove's wife today accused Nick Clegg's wife of failing in her duty to help her husband do his Government duty by going on holiday at the same time as David Cameron's wife.

Sarah Vine risked reigniting tensions between the Deputy Prime Minister's wife and herself with her criticism.

“Deputy PM Nick Clegg's wife has just one real job to do. Look after her husband while he looks after the country while the actual PM's wife is on hols watching her husband pointing at fish,” she wrote in her Daily Mail column. “And where has Cleggy's wife been all week? Spain. Great.”

Mrs Gove and Mrs Clegg have had a series of bust-ups over issues such as free school meals and who has the nicest handbags. They have sought to patch up relations several times but today’s comments are unlikely to help.

"Spain? "she continued, "Three days in Butlins, that's all we can afford now that Michael has lost his Secretary of State salary top-up. I know that she was behind that.

"The utter foreign bitch."

Being fat is now "politically correct"???

It is weird.

Political correctness is all about creating a climate of fear, fear of the thing itself or of being perceived as that thing etc.

For some reason, politicians and various do-gooders like yapping on about an "obesity epidemic" or "obesuty crisis" (being a complete misuse of those words), so I had hitherto assumed that being fat was politically incorrect and persecuting fatties was politically correct.

Apparently not. From The Daily Mail:

A weight-loss expert has blasted retailers for using size 16 mannequins, claiming they are 'normalising' obesity.

Presenter of the TV show Fat Families, Steve Miller told MailOnline 'political correctness is encouraging people to stay fat'.

He has urged society to adopt 'shock tactics' to tackle the obesity epidemic head on.

In any event, those size-16 mannequins look a perfectly normal shape to me, the size-10 ones are definitely borderline anorexic.

Presumably Steve Miller is a joker who wants to take the money and run.

Ref BenJamin for VAT so for employment taxes

I want to increase an employee's pay by £2,000 per annum from £23,000 to £25,000. That is an extra £166.67 per month gross = £113.33 net to him.

So how much does that cost me? Calculation from our book keeper:

Current cost per month is £1,916.66 + £173.01 = £2,089.67

Total cost per year £25,076.04.

Cost per month would be £2,083.33 plus Employers NIC £196.00 Total per month £2,279.33

Total cost per year £27,352.00.

So, I spend £2,276 and employee gets £1,360. Employment tax = £916.

Why does anyone bother?

VAT Shrink

VAT is becoming ever more popular among politicians aroung the World. Hardly surprising. Most people think it's the least damaging tax. I suppose the logic must be that less domestic consumption doesn't ultimately hurt production (that much).

From todays Telegraph:

"How Japan's massive VAT increase has crippled the economy

Japan's economy contracted sharply in the latest quarter after a sharp rise in sales tax from 5pc to 8pc in April led households and companies to cut spending"

This has lead to quarterly contraction of 1.7% GDP. While it's probably a little early to draw any firm conclusions regarding the effect of the VAT rise, things aren't looking too good so far.

So 3% VAT hike = 1.7% off GDP.

In the UK, VAT is 20%. How much is that off GDP? How much of the slightly-less-bad taxes (income tax and corporation tax) would we get from that missing GDP? Answer = about two-thirds as much as VAT currently raises.

As this report in the Economist makes clear, if there isn't a rebound in the third quarter, the next hike to 10% will be put on ice. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

I'm glad I never had to sit through this film or explain the flaws to my children.

Fraggle submitted The Goonies to BJ's compilation of films which illustrate Georgist principles.

The plot is the usual basic 'evil developers vs noble Homeys' plot, but there are three perverse twists:

A ruthless crime family calling themselves the "Fratellis" have somehow escaped from jail and are now hiding in a town of Astoria, Oregon. Home of a secret kid society known as "The Goonies", their leader is Michael "Mikey" Walsh, and they are enjoying their last weekend together as a system of contractors have bought their neighbourhood (1) and are considering on transforming it into a golf course(2).

However Mikey, stumbles upon a mysterious map to a treasure of a famed pirate "One-Eyed" Willie. So, The Goonies embark on an adventure to find the treasure and save their neighborhood. However, they also came across the Fratellis. So, The Goonies have to stay one step head of the Fratellis and find the treasure while avoiding a system of traps(3).

1) The heroes' parents have sold their homes to the golf club, no doubt they held out for ransom payments on top, so what are they complaining about? The normal plot involves the evil developer frightening and bullying Homeys off their land and/or trying to buy it at undervalue.

2) Most 'evil developer vs noble Homey' films involve a developer putting land to a more profitable use, i.e. a block of flats in place of a bungalow, a shopping centre on some fields etc. It would make no commercial sense to replace housing with a golf club (or in the instant case, extend a 'country club') because you can simply make more money from fifty acres of land used for housing (with a few hundred family homes) than from fifty acres of land used for a golf club (with a few dozen members). Remember that in the UK and probably in the US, the amount of land used for housing is approximately equal to the amount used for housing.

3) In Homey mythology, what is on or under your land belongs to you whether you created it or not. The hidden/lost pirate treasure is only accessible via the Fratellis' house, ergo the treasure belonged to the Fratellis anyway.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Seems fair enough to me.

From the BBC:

Drivers are being charged different prices online for the same car rental based on where they live in Europe, the European Commission has said.

Charges vary for some motorists, even if they are picking up the same vehicle from the same location and from the same hire company.

The Commission said that price discrimination based on residence broke the rules of the EU's single market...

The Commission highlights one case in which a German driver searched online for a vehicle to hire in the UK. When the driver filled in Germany as country of residence, the price doubled.

OK, car hire companies make a reasonable profit (£50 a day? 100 a day? It's ages since I hired a car) from the well behaved drivers who return the car on time and without damage. Clearly, that income has to be averaged out over days when the car remains on the forecourt, and they can only get top whack for hire cars which are fairly new, so knock off depreciation etc.

The problem is, it only takes a pinch of shit to spoil a bucket of porridge. If a car hire company loses one car in ten every year (or one in five, or whatever it is), that eats up most of their profit from the well behaved drivers.

These companies have records on which cars went missing, or were badly damaged but the driver disappeared and we can safely assume that these records show that 'foreign' drivers are a worse risk (remembering that British drivers are foreigners in most countries). That extra they have to pay is like an insurance premium.

If this were not the case, then the companies would undercut each other down to the level where the premium for foreign drivers is lower.

Or possibly they are operating a cartel and genuinely ripping people off? Who knows?

Aha, there's a name for this stupid way of talking...

From a BBC article about Australian Question Intonation:

The potential spread of vocal fry could be an interesting case study. The phenomenon sees the speaker use their larynx in such way that a lower creaking or rattling quality enters their voice. There has been a great deal of discussion about it in the last few years in the US, with Kim Kardashian and Lena Dunham - when acting in TV comedy Girls - cited as examples.

I'm glad that others have noticed this.

Particularly vain women on the telly talk like this (e.g. all the women in Made In Chelsea, if you ever happen to have the misfortune of being in the room while somebody is watching it) and my wife and a lot of her friends have adopted it.

Vocal fry is more or less the opposite of AQI where at least you can understand the words and you just have to guess whether it was a question or a statement. With vocal fry, the last couple of words in each sentence are usually nigh inaudible, which makes it really, really annoying as you have to keep asking them to repeat the last bit, or you just decide that anybody who talks like that doesn't have anything interesting to say anyway.

"Video: Football fans show support for pro-Palestinian demonstrators"

From The Evening Standard:

Football fans outside a pub in central London can be seen showing their support for pro-Palestinian demonstrators in a video being shared online.

The group of men appear to be Leeds Football Club supporters who have travelled to the capital to watch the team play Millwall on Saturday.

On the same day a huge protest took place across the capital to demonstrate against military action in Gaza.

In the video, shot outside The Green Man pub in Euston Road, the football supporters can be heard shouting “Free Palestine!” and applauding the protesters.

"Expats face £400 million tax raid"

Emailed in by MBK from The Telegraph:

Expats who rent out their homes in Britain will be stripped of the right to use the personal allowance, under a tax raid prepared by George Osborne...

Under Treasury proposals released for consultation, the allowance would be restricted to people with a “strong economic connection” to Britain, bringing the tax regime into line with the US, Canada and much of the EU.

The move could affect up to 400,000 people and raise the exchequer an extra £400 million a year. It would include 175,000 people who live abroad and earn an income from property in Britain.

What's the problem?

Isn't there a traditional KLN that "Landlords will just add the tax to the rent so tenants will end up worse off?"

Go on then, let's see those 175,000 bump up their rents by a few thousand quid a year.
In any event, the whole article is complete nonsense.

Most countries levy full income tax on income arising in that country, in particular rental income. Most international tax agreements say the same and further, most countries include residents' overseas rental income in total taxable income, with a credit for any tax already paid at source (i.e. in the country where the land and buildings are).

So although some non-resident landlords might end up paying a bit more UK income tax, by and large, their tax bill in the country in which they live will come down by an equal amount.

Dinero says: "All else aside there is an irony in a proposal that those that live away from the products of taxation spending, pay more towards it."

Nope. The tax is on benefits received, i.e. land rent, itself largely the product of taxation spending. Further, the article talks about UK pensioners, who are getting proper cash money from the UK taxpayer.

Monday 11 August 2014

Fun Online Polls: Private landlords & Alcohol health warnings

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

Which statement is correct: Private landlords in the UK…

… pay more in income tax than they receive in Housing Benefit - 17%
… receive more in Housing Benefit than than they pay in income tax - 83%

So most of you got it right.

There is no official figure for income tax paid on rental income. HMRC's Table 3.4 says that total income tax paid on "Property, interest, dividend and other income" was £10.8 billion in 2011-12, I can't find a more up to date figure. Let's assume half of that is on rental income = £5.4 billion. If you do a fair guesstimate of what they would be paying assuming the usual deductions and exemptions, the tax would be about £6 - £7 billion a year.

So let's call it £6 billion for sake of argument.

The figure for Housing Benefit paid to private sector landlords is more reliable. According to the DWP, in 2012-13 there are about 1.7 million claimants in the private rented sector receiving an average of £105 a week each = £9.1 billion a year.

John says: "The tax regime in this country allows setting buy to let mortgage against tax bill stupid not to."

Yes, there is a pretence that rental income is normal earned income, so you can deduct interest paid from taxable rental income. But then again, rental income is treated as unearned income for National Insurance purposes, i.e. there isn't any. So that's a win-win.

Proper earned income is liable to NIC; and interest is not an allowable deduction against investment income (except in certain very narrow circumstances, which are quite reasonable).
The bansturbators are having another field day:

Health warnings on alcoholic drinks should be introduced to combat problem drinking, a parliamentary group says.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse said labels should warn about the harmful effects of drinking.

So that's this week's Fun Online Poll.

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Movie Roundup - from the ridiculous to the sublime

First up was Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie where a bunch of galactic losers ends up coming together and becoming the good guys. It's hugely entertaining stuff, a great example of how to make popcorn cinema. Funnier and sillier than most Marvel movies, but the moments of serious are only more engaging as a result. Thoroughly recommended.

Then, I caught Under the Skin on streaming. I'd really enjoyed Jonathan Glazer's earlier film Sexy Beast. (he's also the director of the famous Guinness commercial with the surfers) and it had good reviews, too. It's really interesting looking and is brilliantly shot, but I've got to admit that I was quite baffled by it and perhaps a bit lost, especially with the character of "motorcycle man" and had to find a few YouTube videos to explain it all, which kinda fit. I don't normally need things in a film spelt out, but I think the director had given so little information that many of the things you see are open to multiple interpretations. If you have a different interpretation, it doesn't fit. Which might be why critics are raving about it (they can see the meanings in the film) but audiences are not so favourable.

Saturday 9 August 2014

They own land! Give them money!

Man Killed as Laptop Battery Explodes... not

from the BBC

A man was killed when a charging e-cigarette exploded and ignited oxygen equipment he is believed to have been using, Merseyside's fire service said.

David Thomson, 62, was found in the living room of a house in Penkett Road, Wallasey.

A small fire in the bedroom of the property had gone out before firefighters arrived, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS) said.

The exact cause of death is yet to be established, with an inquest now due.

An MFRS spokesman said: "The subsequent fire investigation identified that an e-cigarette that had been charging in the bedroom exploded, caught fire and ignited the oxygen tube of an oxygen concentrator, which may have been in use by the occupier."

Myles Platt, MFRS area manager said: "The investigation into the cause of this fire is continuing but at this stage it is thought that the charging device being used at the time may not have been the one supplied with the e-cigarette.

See how long it took to get there?

There's a bit of a problem with people using bad chargers for laptops or bad batteries that can lead to explosions. Most are actually fine, but it does happen. And I've yet to see the BBC report those stories. But e-cigarettes causing fires? No problem.

"Pub told to change its name by Bear Grylls' lawyers because it has the words 'bear' and 'grill' in it"

From The Daily Mail:

A grill style eatery has been told to change its name by Bear Grylls’ lawyers because it has the words ‘bear’ and 'grill' in it.

The Bear Grill in Stafford town centre received a letter from the adventurer’s lawyers calling for the company to remove any reference to ‘bear’ or 'grill' including its name, logo and website.

A spokesman for The Lewis Partnership, who turned round the struggling pub two years ago, said they plan to change its name because they do not have ‘the energy or inclination’ to fight ‘faceless’ lawyers.

"We haven't decided a new name yet, it's a toss up between 'The Ray Mere' and 'The Ben Fogie'. We should be safe with either of those, shouldn't we?"

Friday 8 August 2014

Georgist Film List

Just had a quick scout around to compile a list of films with a broadly Georgist theme.

This is what I've come up with so far.

 Captain Boycotte
 Superman I,
 the Manaugua Bean Wars,
 Heroes for Sale
Jean de Florette
There Will Be Blood.
Quantum of Solace

Please add to the list. Perhaps we can get The Stigler to give us some reviews?

Daily Telegraph in Treasonous Slur!

In a shocking departure from faithfully  reprinting corporate press releases word for word, as if that passes for journalism, the Del Tel has launched a scathing and treasonous attack on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

"West hits Russia with food export ban"

From the BBC:

The EU, USA and some other Western countries are imposing a "full embargo" on food exports to Russia, in response to Russia's actions in the Ukraine.

President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy said it would include fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, milk and dairy imports. Australia, Canada and Norway have agreed similar sanctions.

Elsewhere, Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Ukraine's freedom and future were "under attack," promising support against Russian "aggression".

The latest developments come during heightened tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine, where heavy shelling was reported in the eastern rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Thursday.

Thursday 7 August 2014

End of the Bush/Blair Doctrine

From the BBC:

Up to a quarter of Iraq's Christians are reported to be fleeing after Islamic militants seized the minority group's biggest town.

The Islamic State (IS) group captured Qaraqosh overnight after the withdrawal of Kurdish forces.

IS has been gaining ground in northern Iraq since June, and also controls some of Syria.

The US has warned that the situation for Iraq's minority groups threatens to become a "humanitarian catastrophe".

Following up from something that DBC Reed said, it used to be said that "he might be a bastard, but at least he's our bastard". The Bush/Blair view was "he might be our bastard but he's still a bastard". A more modern view would be "they're all bastards, so you might as well at least pick one that's friendly to you and not too unreasonable".

Personally, I don't believe that democracy can happen in most of the Middle East. Too much centralisation of economic power based on oil means that it's a winner takes all game with tribe fighting tribe for the money. So, you've got a choice between gangsters and theocracies. On balance, I think the gangsters are probably better. I'm not saying they're peachy, but theocracies have all the problems of gangsters plus they'll introduce a ton of rules about how you have to live. All gangsters care about is being top dog and getting richer. The Shah of Iran was fine with you wearing a miniskirt and listening to ABBA. Just don't try and depose him. But post-revolutionary Iran didn't want that or the ABBA and miniskirts.

I think the IS situation in Iraq is basically the end of "regime change" and the neocon agenda. It's not just that the post-invasion of Iraq was a clusterfuck, it's that trying to turn these people into the sort of pluralist society we have in Britain just can't be imposed. Look at Northern Ireland - we can't get them to vote for parties except along "part of Ireland/not part of Ireland lines" sectarian lines. Why did anyone think that Iraq was going to be all smiles?

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (333)

From, interspersed with some drivel about people in rural areas being taxed out of existence:

Taxing only land would increase the cost of owning land, discouraging those with low incomes from purchasing land. Thus fewer people would be landowners...

Wealthy people and corporations tend to hold their wealth in assets other than land nowadays. Shifting the tax burden to land would only dissuade them more from holding land, thus the tax would not be progressive, but simply tax those that needed a lot of land to operate their business, such as farms.

Dude WTF? Both 'poor' and 'wealthy' people would own less land? Do these people even think about what they write?

All of this ably rebutted by Derek:

Sounds good in theory but in practice you will find that places with higher land taxes tend to have higher percentages of landowners because land taxes tend to lower the purchase price of land. Thus people don't need such large mortgages to buy it. They also find that the increased taxes are balanced by lower interest payments on those mortgages. So the ongoing cost is no different. Cheaper land encourages those with lower incomes to purchase. Thus more people would be landowners...

And if the rich are dissuaded from owning land that means that there is more for the poor to buy. After all someone must own it.

As it happens the value of the land that a person [occupies] is pretty closely related to how rich they are, so the Land Value Tax is more progressive than many people think. However it is also a voluntary tax in that nobody forces anyone to buy land. People can always rent land instead and pay no taxes. But they still choose to buy.

Why? Because ownership of land is a status symbol. Just as a billionaire buys a Bentley to show off when a Toyota would meet their travel needs more cost effectively, so they will buy expensive houses with huge estates and pay the taxes even though they could save a fortune by moving into an apartment in Nowheresville. It's a matter of prestige. They can afford to and you can't.

Clearly, Derek's point about conspicuous consumption is correct.

But the point is that really rich people don't own land because they are rich; they are rich because they own land/collect rents.

It is easily explained and easily observable that if land is heavily subsidised and lightly taxed, ownership will tend to become more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands over time.

Whoever starts with the most land (measured by rental value), even if that is only slightly more than what everybody else has got, can get richer and the expense of those who have less or no land (i.e. tenants). So it is then easier for him to buy more land than it is for tenants, who have little in the way of savings as they are paying it all in rent. That's the whole point of the game of Monopoly (invented by a Georgist to illustrate the point).

So reducing the subsidies and increasing the taxes on land leads to wider and more equal ownership. Nobody wants to own/occupy more than he actually needs (and the need to show off is a real human need), just like any other consumer good.

(LVT is not the only way of having a wider spread of ownership. Between 1945 and the 1980s, rent controls and savage taxation meant it was barely worthwhile being a private landlord any more so most of them sold up; mortgage restrictions meant they didn't get much of a windfall gain when they sold up.

This is what led to the rapid fall in landlord-owned homes/rise in owner-occupation levels during that period. Scrapping the controls and restrictions has led to an equally rapid increase in landlord-owned homes/decline in owner-occupation levels over the past 15 years.)

In through the out door.

From City AM:

Top software company Sage Group yesterday announced that Stephen Kelly would succeed Guy Berruyer as group chief executive from 5 November...

Kelly is currently operations chief and head of efficiency for the UK government where he works to cut red tape and improve the government's contacts with IT suppliers.

The new role will land Kelley with a basic annual salary of £790,000 and he will be part of the company's annual bonus and performance share plan. Furthermore, Kelly will receive a one-off performance share plan award of £987,500 with a six-year vesting period against demanding share return performance conditions.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

In the end, The Forces Of Darkness ground me down...

... and about an hour ago, we bought the house we've been renting for the past six years (for cash, of course) for an absolutely insane amount of money (thirty years' rent, if truth be told), but that still looks pretty reasonable when you look at what similar houses on the same street sold for over the last five years.


We are doomed, I tell you, doomed.

From the BBC:

Supermarket giant Morrisons cannot rebroadcast an advert for burgers after a watchdog ruled that it "condoned poor nutritional habits".

The TV commercial showed a mother preparing a burger for her daughter while they talk about school.

The girl then removes the salad, onion and tomato from the burger and leaves them on the side of her plate.

The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that this "suggested she was not going to eat the salad later".

It didn't "suggest" anything:

And Morrisons' defence...

Morrisons was represented at the hearing by industry body Clearcast, which approved the advertisement before it went on air.

It argued that "the daughter did not look disdainfully at the salad items or make a face that implied she did not like them or would not eat them in the future" and that "it was perfectly feasible that she would return to it later".


"Bernie Ecclestone offers prosecutors $100m bribe to avoid bribery charges"

From Newsthump:

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone has offered German prosecutors $100m in order to make his bribery charges go away.

The 83-year-old billionaire went on trial in April, charged with bribery, but those charges might now go away if he can line the correct German pockets with the right amount of money...

A Thought on the Nature of Bureaucracy and Hope

The one thing bureaucrats never do is push for a reduction in their remit.  All 'failure' is attributed to them not doing 'enough' with not 'enough' money, or not 'enough' power and authority.  They never ever confess that maybe, just maybe, they need not be doing what they are trying to do in the first place.

To sustain this bureaucrats spend inordinate amounts of our wealth (and therefore our time) concocting huge 'analyses' leading to the production of long, and almost unreadable 'reports' that 'prove' their case for expansionism.  These are always couched in the terms like 'protecting the consumer' or 'making markets work better' (the last is self evidently absurd).   They call all this their 'work', but as nothing they do is in anyway connected with the actual process of wealth creation, it is anything but 'work'. At best it is just an activity, like doing jigsaws. At worst it is wealth destruction.

To rebut these self serving nonsenses takes equivalent effort, cash and time. In effect the poor bloody citizen is paying thrice. Once he pays the bureaucrats.  Then he spends his own time (and money) constructing a rebuttal.  And then he has to spend another equivalent gobbet of time making up for the time and money expended on the previous two gobbets.

Individuals stand absolutely no chance of mastering all of the arguments to rebut these bureaucratic dictates.  This encourages bureaucrats to carry on, as they know that they can bog us down in trench warfare.  We end up having to fight them on ground of their choosing.

Until now.

Yesterday I cross-posted on here a post from a Telegraph blog which was a response to something I had written.  I was pretty sure it was mostly cobblers (in the H2G2 sense - that it 'was something almost, but not entirely, quite unlike tea logic').  I couldn't quickly work out how it was wrong, so I cross posted it to here, where it garnered about 25 responses (excluding mine) which quickly revealed the flaws in the arguments.  I sort of crowd sourced the rebuttal.  This took little effort and almost no time at all.  My rebuttal was complete, and time and cost efficient.  It forced the poster to move to the defensive. I had moved the argument to ground of my choosing.  We had left trench warfare and moved out into the open to a battle of manoeuvre.  The attacker had become the defender.

This is very encouraging indeed as I am very concerned that the UK and the West in general is moving towards a grim Randian future that bodes ill for liberty.  But maybe, just maybe, the interweb is redressing the balance.  After all information is power, and if we can all access it, the monopoly of the bureaucrats is broken.

No wonder 'they' want to censor and control it.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Warsi gets arsey...

... over Gazi:

Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi has resigned from the government, saying its policy on the crisis in Gaza is "morally indefensible"...

Labour leader Ed Miliband told the BBC: "The government's position is wrong and I think Sayeeda Warsi's statement is completely right about this." He said that Mr Cameron had to "think much more clearly" about policy on Gaza and had to "break his silence" over Israel's actions.

The UK government's does not appear to have any 'policy' whatsoever on the current Israel-Gaza flare up, and rightly so. It's none of our business, not our fault, not our problem.*

I mean, if there were any Jewish members of the Cabinet (I'm not sure there are) would we expect them to resign for the fact that Cameron has failed to 'condemn' Hamas' idiotic behaviour?

* I'm not exactly Cameron's biggest fan, but he is a great war leader, up there with John Major. For whatever reason, right or wrong (i.e. oil), Cameron and Sarkozy decided to help topple Gaddafi and they got away with it, quick in and out, job done. Choose your battles and choose ones you can win (see also the 1991 Iraq/Kuwait pushover, also not uncoincidentally about oil), not this Iraq or Afghanistan nonsense.

I think that this deserves a wider audience...What do you think?

I have been wasting too much of my time making and responding to comments on here.

The following was posted in response to a post of mine. (Mine tend to be as brief as I can make them)

"Don't fall for the idea that future tax revenue are required to pay-off government debt. In fact, it is a myth that taxes "pay" for any government spending.

When an economy is at 'full capacity', (i.e. very low unemployment and all resources in the economy being used productively), a government may wish to spend say £20 billion on something everyone agrees is needed - it could be repaying govt debt, defending the country, building hospitals, whatever.

When it spends this money it inevitably causes inflation - this is because you have more spending chasing the same amount of goods and services. The amount of goods and services does not change because the economy is already at full capacity.

To enable the government to spend without causing an inflationary spiral, the government taxes by an equal amount to prevent the private sector spending by the same amount - so overall the spending (public and private) remains roughly constant, so no inflationary spiral.

So the extra tax is to prevent an inflationary spiral when the economy is at full capacity - it is not required to "finance" govt spending. This is why government economics is nothing like household economics.

However, when an economy is the position ours is in with excess capacity, spending by government is permissible without taxation as it doesn't cause inflation.

Given that our economy has not been at full capacity for over 30 years (hence the high unemployment), the government does not need to increase taxes or cut spending elsewhere to "pay" the interest on govt debt or to "pay" for anything.

The big question is why does the government issue bonds at all and pay interest to private investors? Why doesn't the government just create the money at the mint or Bank of England - this won't be inflationary as there is spare capacity.

An answer often given is that when governments issue bonds someone has to surrender money to the government. If it wasn't for the bond that money would probably have gone into the banking system instead. This is called a 'reserve drain' and was clearly necessary when we had the Gold Standard/Bretton Woods or some other type of Fixed Exchange Mechanism.

The theory is outdated and based on the idea that there is a liquidity trap in the banking system. This was true 1945 to 1972 when the Bank of England forced all banks to buy up 50% of government bonds in order to deplete bank reserves and so prevent the money supply rapidly expanding due to banks being able to lend out massive amounts into the real economy.

Since 1972 until 2009 the corset has been removed and the uk money supply ballooned as banks weren't required to buy up government debt (pension funds did it in this period). This caused the massive build up of debts that caused the collapse in 2008 -

Since 2009 over 90% of government debt is being bought up by UK banks (because gilt yields are so low pension funds can't make enough money from the gilt interest to cover their future liabilities).

The result of this is that the biggest risk of inflation we face is the eradication of the governments budget deficit. The £150 billion a year public sector deficit acts as a reserve drain on banks. The gilts the banks buy up from the government to allow the deficit means their reserves are depleted by £150 billion a year. Given leverage levels in banks this potentially means that £1 trillion or so is taken out of potential circulation.

Of course this doesn't truly matter as since 2009 the Bank of England has been making good the difference by buying up an equivalent £150 billion or so a year of outstanding government debt from banks.

The overall effect of course is that the effect of deficit and QE are cancelled out. The only thing that happens is that the government cancels out about £150 billion a year of outstanding government debt. The money supply neither widens or contracts.

So the the theory of deficits and funding them via banks buying them is utterly destructive and irrelevant when we don't have the need of fixed exchange rates. By issuing bonds the government can take money away from the banking system and make sure that it is being spent. The issue is that it doesn't need to be done this way and shouldn't be. All that happens is that taxpayers pay another subsidy to the banks and we get crashes every few decades. This is also what causes inflation and recessions.

However, it's pretty obvious that for countries with their own floating currency, deleveraging banks and with economies working at way, way below spare capacity that you can use QE to clear government debt at will without any inflationary effects.

This is obviously in the UK since there is £375 billion sitting in the Asset Purchase Facility. This money "unaffordable" government credit card bills. At the same time over a third of the debt they are moaning about is stuck in the government owned Bank of England with no hope of it ever being anything other than cancelled and retired.

To add to the hilarity the Treasury, through a wholly government owned agency called the Debt Management Office pays interest on the £325 billion in the APF to the wholly government owned APF. This money is just building up and will eventually (as all profits for the Bank are) be returned to the taxpayer. You couldn't make this up.

So clearly in economic circumstances such as now you can print money directly, buy outstanding government debt and retire it with no inflationary consequences.

Nevertheless Governments are continuing to use an explanation built up at a time of Bretton Woods with full employment, fixed exchange rates and no deleveraging to explain why they don't use the QE to clear down debts.

QE is a pure asset swap. No money is entering the economy. All that is happening is that outstanding public sector debt is being retired. Look at the M4ex money supply figures. They are contracting despite £375 billion of QE and £150 billion a year deficit spending.

The Uk money supply is contracting very rapidly:

Look at the graph half way down. It is showing M4ex is contracting (by 5% at last measure). M4ex needs to grow at a rate of at least 5-10% per year in order to hold off contraction of the money supply. There is no prospect of core inflation.

Policy interest rates are at 0.5%, there are 5 million people looking for work, bank capital adequacy ratios need to double according to Andrew Haldane, Basel 3 and the Vickers reforms kick in in a few years meaning capital creation will slow down further. It is perfectly and utterly safe to retire the £375 billion in the Asset Purchase Facility.

The arguments Lord Turner, the IMF and many others are making that is perfectly safe for the UK to retire the £375 billion of debt in the Asset Purchase Facility are of course absolutely moot.

The QE cannot possible be reversed until the government has eradicated its deficit. If the APF sold the debt whilst the government was running the deficit the effects would be two fold-

1. Gilt yields would go ballistic making the deficit difficult to fund.

2. The reserves in private sector banks would be very rapidly drained so the uk money supply would crash. Bank lending would plummet. We would enter a deflationary depression.

The deficit is not really being paid down at all. Even the OBRs wildly optimistic estimates have the deficit persisting until 2018.

This is without factoring in their idiotic under estimate of the fiscal multiplier (they were expecting 6% growth over the last two years remember). Now we know for certain that austerity is utterly self defeating and as long as it persists the economy will stay flat with only QE keeping it from entering a fully fledged depression. The deficit doesn't decrease and all we get for our troubles is unemployment, declinging in living standards and reduced quality of public services.

By 2018 most of the gilts in the APF will have reached maturity and retired themselves. This is of course why the Tories would never do it. It would reveal the Tory economic strategy for what it is - a policy purely designed to keep the UK economy on its back permanently whist raising unemployment, lowering living standards all in order to suppress wage demands in order the Tory donors gain more profit.

I rate that as a tour de force of Keynesian analysis.