Friday 30 November 2018

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (449)

The spat on Twitter rumbled on for a bit:

CityUnslicker: I pointed out repeatedly that creating a system that over time will transfer all property rights to the government (it will, in every recession) and that allows government to set taxes on corporate incomes rather than profits will/

That last bit is bollocks, he can only be referring to turnover taxes like VAT, which is very much the diametric opposite of Land Value tax. He doesn't say what it "will" either, but we can safely assume Something Absolutely Terrible.

Me: Are you confusing "property" with "land" again? Do you not realise that output and earnings are truly private property and thus shouldn't be taxed, or taxed a lot less?

Cheerfully ignoring the question, CityUnslicker continues digging himself into the hole:

We would all be at the mercy of the state to give us a job or shelter at their whim. Who wants that? The reality of LVT is so different from your theoretical pontificating on here.

Sobers takes a similar line:

... private land ownership enforceable by an independent judiciary is a huge bulwark against State tyranny. The first act of any tyranny is to remove the ability of the individual to own and control land, because owning land gives an individual power against the predations of the State, and any would be dictator needs to remove that power as a first step to dominating the population.

And giving the State the power to determine who occupies a piece of land (which is what LVT does, it makes the State the effective landowner and the nominal owner the tenant) means that if it wants to the State may remove any or all owners from their land by the simple expediency of increasing the 'rent' until it can not longer be paid.

Their stance is inherently contradictory, but it appear to be that private land ownership (and subsidies thereto) are somehow sacred, but that output and earnings are fair game for taxation (to fund public services which create and sustain land values), as they are magically not really anybody's "property".

OK, let's build that into our LVT administrative model and invent some new administrative rules:
- if a person is in arrears with LVT, the government is allowed to claw it back from their annual income, even if it reduces it to zero;
- if there are still arrears once their entire income is taken, the government is allowed to seize and sell off any of that person's non-land assets;
- if there are still arrears after all assets have been seized and sold off, those arrears are waived. Under no circumstances will there be any enforcement of debts against that person's land and buildings.

That should keep them happy! Nobody will ever lose their home because of LVT arrears. Or do they maybe want to rethink their outrageous claim that people's income and non-land assets aren't really people's property?

Thursday 29 November 2018

A word doesn't rhyme with itself (2)

Opinions are sharply divided over whether a word rhymes with itself (it's as futile as arguing whether 1 is a prime number or not).

IMHO it does not, it is the height of laziness and defeats the whole object of poetry/rhymes. A really crass example of this is The Gambler by Kenny Rogers. OK, OK, it's taken me forty years to notice.


Verse one
On a warm summer's evening, on a train bound for nowhere
I met up with a gambler, we were both too tired to sleep

Verse five (or is it a chorus? There's barely a difference):
'Cause every hand's a winner, and every hand's a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.

Verse six
And when he finished speakin', he turned back toward the window
Crushed out his cigarette and faded off to sleep

Nobody move or everybody and everything gets hurt!

A delicious double dose of doolally today, both from BBC front page:

A no-deal Brexit would hit UK-EU security ties and have a "real impact" on protecting the public, security minister Ben Wallace is to warn.

In a speech to law enforcement leaders, he will say the "heart of effective security is close co-operation".

Mr Wallace will say Theresa May's deal, which MPs vote on next month, sets the foundations for the most comprehensive security relationship in EU history.


Large parts of the British economy are not ready for a no-deal Brexit, Bank of England governor Mark Carney has said.

Fewer than half of businesses have initiated contingency plans, Mr Carney told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said the UK would need a transition period to adapt to whatever form of departure from the EU Parliament chose.

He also denied that the Bank's warning no-deal could lead to a UK recession was intended to scare people into backing his favoured form of Brexit.

Remember kids, it's not true until they deny it.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

UKIP MEPs exceeding expectations.

As explained here, I expected about one-third of UKIP's 2014 intake of 24 MEP's to have resigned by this year, i.e. down to 16.

This is all rearranging deckchairs now, so it doesn't really matter, but they appear to have beaten their target, from Wiki:

UKIP has 15 members in the European Parliament, with representatives in eleven of the twelve European Parliament constituencies in the UK. Twenty-four UKIP representatives were elected in the 2014 election, but ten have since defected.

"Defected" is a bit harsh. One of them resigned and UKIP appointed a replacement MEP. Most of them quit out of principle, see e.g. here or because another MEP beat them up.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Mixed imperial/metric units

Pub Curmudgeon on yesterday's post:

As fuel is actually sold in litres, it might make sense to use miles per litre, but mpg is the established figure, and creating a hybrid unit combining Imperial and metric units would annoy a lot of people on both sides of the debate.

I'm not sure it would. There are already examples of mixed units, my favourite being tyre sizes:

Example: 215/60R15

215 is the width of the tyre in millimetres.
60 is the aspect ratio or tyre profile.
R means it is radial construction.
15 is the diameter of the wheel rim in inches.

Yup, they mix metric, imperial and a ratio - 60 = 60% of 215mm = 129mm = the distance between the edge of the rim and the tread, or possibly shoulder, of the tyre.

Monday 26 November 2018

Miles per gallon vs litres/100 km. Both rubbish units.

In the UK, we have always expressed fuel economy (or 'gas mileage' as Colin Chapman called it in the 1950s) in terms of miles per gallon, while Europeans express it in terms of litres/100 kilometres. Some car adverts you see in the UK give both.

(One is clearly the inverse of the other, ignoring the different units. A good mpg is a big number, a good l/100km is a small number. The quick way to convert from one to the other is to divide 282 by it, so 40 mpg = 7 l/100 km and vice versa. For completeness, 16.8 mpg = 16.8 l/100 km).

Both are inherently flawed. All you really want to know is how much it costs in petrol to drive a certain distance, and they both require one more step than necessary:

UK example - a 40 mpg car doing a 50 mile trip, petrol is £1.20/litre:
- 50 miles divided by 40 mpg = 1.25,
- 1.25 times 4.55 (to get from gallons used to litres used) = 5.7 litres (and I defy you to do that in your head - shortcut is times by 5 and knock off 10%)
- 5.7 litres times £1.20 = £6.83

European example - a 7 l/100 km car doing an 80 km trip, petrol is €1.40/litre:
- 80 km by 100 = 0.8
- multiply 0.8 by 7 = 5.6 litres
- then multiply by €1.40 = €7.84

Far better would be to express it in terms of miles/litre (or km/litre in Europe). 40 mpg = 8.8 miles/litre; 7 l/100km = 14.3 km/litre. That only needs two steps:

- 50 miles divided by 8.8 = 5.7
- 5.7 times £1.20 = £6.83

- 80 km divided by 14.3 = 5.7
- 5.7 times €1.40 = €7.84.

Just saying.

Sunday 25 November 2018

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (448)

Sobers on KLN 447:

[agreeing with the KLN]"The logical progression of land value tax is to enact government control over the whole economy"

And you don't think that has happened already? The history of the 20th century (and continuing today) is that when you give the State power over something at some point they will abuse that power. Sometimes immediately, sometimes after a period of time, but abuse always follows, often of an extreme nature.

Private ownership of land that the State cannot remove is a huge bulwark against tyranny - remove it at your peril.

That's circular and contradictory non-logic, so it's difficult to know where to start. So let's start with the last statement and write down what we know:

1. Land ownership and the existence of a State are synonymous, you can't have one without the other. So the statement is as fatuous as saying "Universal suffrage is a huge bulwark against state tyranny". It was the state (i.e. society as a whole) which decided that we'd have universal suffrage in the first place.

2. Envisage the following scenarios:

- The Normans invade England. "Hey Anglo-Saxons! We are here to liberate you from the tyranny of common ownership of land, we are going to parcel it up and anoint ourselves as land owners. As the defeated country, you can call us Sir and pay us rent! That's your best bulwark against state tyranny!"

- The Europeans invade North America: "Hey Native Americans! we are here to liberate you from the tyranny of sharing nature's bounty, we are going to parcel up the land and decide who owns what. As sub-humans, you can bugger off to ever dwindling reservations! That's your best bulwark against state tyranny!"

- Local councils start large scale council house building in the 1920s and 1930s, offering decent housing to working and middle class families for a fraction of what they are paying private landlords. Working and middle class families: "We want none of your truck! Us paying half our wages in rent is our landlords' best bulwark against state tyranny!"

Doesn't seem very plausible does it?

3. Public spending creates and sustains location values, and some locations benefit a lot and some not at all. So funding public services by levying a charge on those sites which benefit most from public spending is fair as between different landowners and is of course based on the explicit assumption that land is privately owned. LVT and land ownership go hand in hand. To say that LVT negates the existence of private landownership is nonsense.

4. LVT is largely an economic thing. so let's look at economic tyranny. Land owners benefit from public services; public services cost money; so taxes have to be levied to fund them. It is clearly state tyranny if one group (workers, businesses and consumers) are paying all the taxes to fund public services and the benefits all accrue to a different group (land owners). The fact that half the population are in both categories (i.e. working owner-occupiers) detracts nothing from this point - people moan about all the tax they pay but celebrate rising house prices. Far better to cut out the middleman.

5. Implicit in Sobers' claim is the notion that land-owners are protected from 'state tyranny', but what about tenants? Are your children who start their first job and rent somewhere somehow less deserving of protection against state tyranny than you are? Do landlords selflessly pass on the protection from state tyranny to their tenants? Nope, they charge them full whack for the privilege of accessing public services, with the state (courts, bailiffs) acting as enforcers on their behalf.

6. The private/personal right to exclusive occupation of specific land and buildings is of course fundamental to a modern capitalist society. There is a huge net benefit to it. But is that net benefit fairly distributed? Clearly not. Tenants are paying twice; once in tax and again in rent. That is exactly the same tyranny as perpetrated by the Normans, it's the same iron first but in a velvet glove.

7. There is a Laffer Curve of Freedom. When slavery and serfdom (hitherto enforced by the State) were abolished, that reduced the freedom of land/serf owners and slave owners, but increased the freedom of former serfs and slaves. Overall, it was an increase in freedom/reduction in state tyranny.

When the right to vote was extend to non-landowners in the UK in 1918 (about one-third of men and two-thirds of women didn't have the vote until then) that increased the freedom of all the newly enfranchised to take part in democratic decision making. By definition, it reduced the powers/freedom of landowners (mainly men) to decide government policy. Overall, it was an increase in freedom/reduction in state tyranny.

Similarly, while funding public services out of levies on land values instead of taxes on output and earnings reduces the freedom of landowners (the freedom to exploit workers and businesses twice over), it increases the economic freedom of a far larger group. Our median voters - working owner-occupiers - are net winners as their tax bills will fall and disposable incomes will increase. So overall, a win for economic freedom and reduction in state economic tyranny (forced transfers of wealth from a large group of 'hard working families' to a small group of what are effectively welfare claimants).

And so on.
The first statement shows a complete lack of grasp of history.

- Over the centuries, western European governments have gradually relinquished control. Until the 18th or 19th centuries, minor crimes, primarily those against landowners such as trespass or poaching, were routinely punishable by death. The death penalty is now more or less a thing of the past in developed countries (the USA is an outlier).

- In the 1914-18 war, politicians and generals thought little of sending tens of thousands of men to die in a single machine gun battle. They were a lot less callous in the 1939-45 war, politicians and generals cared a lot about the casualty rate. Conscription and National Service have been phased out in most countries.

- Compared to the horrors of the past, I can live with crap like the ban on smoking in pubs and them spying on our emails. It's not like I say anything in private emails that I don't say publicly on this here blog and the smoking ban is to a large extent tyranny of the non-smoking majority, not tyranny of the State.

Friday 23 November 2018

Rent-to-own buyers vs mortgage prisoners

Both these stories came out in the past couple of days, it's an interesting compare and contrast.:

1. From the BBC:

Plans to cap the costs of buying domestic goods such as TVs and fridges through rent-to-own shops have been welcomed by the stores' customers...

First, the FCA will limit the amount of interest that customers pay. From April 2019, they will pay no more in interest than the cost of the product itself. So if a cooker costs £300, they will pay no more than £600 in total, including the cost of credit.

However, rent-to-own shops will still be able to charge for insurance and warranties on top of that.

Second, the cost of the goods themselves will be limited. Shops will be able to charge no more than the median - i.e the middle price - of three mainstream retailers.

Whether those high interest rates are justified, bearing in mind the default risk and the cost of collecting regular small payments I do not know. Their 2017 accounts show a profit margin of 5% on sales for 2016 and a huge loss for 2017. So probably they are justified overall (half of customers get ripped off; the other half default, same as Wonga).

2. From City AM:

In the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, lenders were dishing out large mortgages and asking for tiny deposits in return. Property values were rapidly outpacing wage growth, and buyers were being allowed to borrow eight times their annual salary.

For many homeowners, the problems started after the crash when the regulators forced the banks to toughen up their lending criteria. This meant that people with large mortgages couldn’t negotiate a better deal – either because they no longer passed the affordability checks, or because their credit rating had been damaged.

As a result, tens of thousands of people are now “mortgage prisoners” – trapped on their lender’s high-interest standard variable rate (SVR), paying hundreds more each month than the average fixed-rate deal.

... the real sticking point is a piece of EU law known as the Mortgage Credit Directive (introduced in 2016). Essentially, this directive is stopping the banks from waiving affordability criteria – even for those borrowers who want to move to a new lender without increasing the size of their debt.

That's a foul excuse. Why can't the government just cap the interest rate payable by "mortgage prisoners", the same as they are suggesting for the rent-to-buy sector?

... while all of this is positive, Nicky Morgan points out that this does nothing to help the 140,000 customers who have mortgages with inactive lenders like Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley.

The mortgage books of those two banks were run by the UK government, so they wouldn't have needed to do anything legal or formalistic, just drop the interest rate a bit, nothing to do with the EU, job done.

Only they can't do that any more because they have sold the mortgages on to other institutions who now want their pound of flesh, and who could probably accuse the government of misselling them the second-hand mortgages.

I would also assume that this is just a back door way of allowing 100% mortgages again.

Yes... but what happened next?

From the BBC:

"The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2-3C warmer and sea level was 10-20 metres higher than now," said World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Jolly good, let's take that at face value.

What strikes me is that they are always telling us that the CO2 concentration in the air is so high that we have reached, or about to reach some sort of tipping point, a point of no return, irreversible climate change, runaway global warming etc.

So why don't they tell us what happened last time CO2 levels were this high? Did temperatures continue shooting up? According to the long term temperature chart here, nothing much happened and we happen to be near the top of a 100,000 year cycle.

So the next Ice Age will be upon us soon enough. Brrr!

Thursday 22 November 2018

Game Theory

It was clear to all seasoned EU-watchers from the morning of 24 June 2016 on that the most likely course of events would be a second referendum aka People's Vote, at which we simply give in and vote to Remain.

With previous unfavourable referendum results, "they" tweaked the terms of the deal to make it a bit more favourable and re-ran the referendum, that's always worked so far. They've modified this plan, which is - and always was, once "they" had dusted themselves down and got over the shock - to agree a Brexit deal that is so shit and so unfavourable that is won't get through Parliament (too many fundamentalist Remainer MPs and too many fundamentalist Leaver MPs).

Hey presto, another referendum is called to 'break the log jam' and a few percent of moderate Leave voters vote Remain next time round, job done, trebles all round!

Doing something sensible like adding "rejoin EFTA" to the referendum options and allowing ranked voting is not on the cards, because "rejoin EFTA" would almost certainly win by default - for a few people (including me) it would be the first choice, for most Leavers and Remainers it would be the second choice - which is not a favourable outcome from the EU's point of view.

So if you are an MP with a conscience, or a voter in the next referendum, you only have one logical course of action - that is to vote in favour of Theresa May's Brexit agreement, however deliberately shit and unfavourable. The alternative would illustrate once and for all that the EU will always get its own way and get away with anything, which is not a good outcome.

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (447)

Exchange on Twitter with CityUnslicker, who has apparently left the real world far behind to a parallel universe where democracy has been suspended and you are not allowed to draw analogies from what actually happens in the here and now:

MW: Seeing as govt spending goes largely into higher rental value of land, fairest kind of tax is a service charge based on rental values aka land value tax. The more taxes it replaces, the better.SDLT, council tax and business rates should be first to go.

CU: You can kiss goodbye to the high street then even more so than now with that policy.

MW: What's morally or economically wrong with paying rent? Why should public services be paid for by group A (workers and businesses) for the benefit of group B (landowners and banks)? That's Communism under a different name.

CU: The state owning all the land and the [sic] deciding who can rent it off them and what price IS communism.

MW: Lying again! Here's the actual system: Landowners continue to own land. Market in land continues between private buyers and sellers. Buyers and sellers agree prices, landlords and tenants agree rental values. Govt levies a service charge on value of services provided.

CU: I [sic] your logic is faulty. If a renter can't pay the government will foreclaose. If the government raises the tax high then it will acquire more land. The logical procession [sic] of LVT is to enact communism. There won't be a free market in land when the got has acquired all the land!

MW: yes, govt will foreclose, sell land and buildings to another private buyer, retain the arrears and pass the balance to the previous owner.

That's why collection rates for business rates (quasi-LVT) are the highest of all taxes for the least faff on either side. The simple threat that the govt *could* do this means that 96% of payers pay in full on time.

So your claim is as fatuous as me saying "if a borrower can't pay the mortgage, the bank will foreclose. If the banks increase interest rates, then they acquire more land. The logical progression of banking is to enact bank control over the whole economy". That's never happened.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

But apart from that, how was the birthday party?

At least 40 people are killed and 60 more injured in suicide bomb attack on gathering to mark the Prophet Mohammad's birthday in Afghanistan

"Putin’s bodyguards given prime land and plum jobs"

Emailed in by Jack B, from The Times:

President Putin’s former bodyguards have been rewarded for their loyalty with appointments to key posts, while their families have received high-value land near Moscow in an allegedly corrupt property scheme, a Russian newspaper has claimed.

Not much different to what William The Conqueror and his descendants were up to, in other words. Funny how The Times doesn't look at UK land ownership in the same light.

Sunday 18 November 2018

Nobody move or the school dinners get hurt!

Longrider has stumbled across a classic of the genre.

No point me summarising or it would spoil the punchline.

Friday 16 November 2018

"At the end of the day it'll be fine. A little speed bump. Everyone will forget all about it."

From the BBC:

Cannabis retailers in Canada began to run low on supplies from the very first day of legalisation a month ago. How long are shortages expected to continue as the new market for recreational cannabis finds its feet?

This is a great real life experiment. It'll be interesting to see how long it takes for supply to rise to meet demand (at current prices). Part of the delay is probably down to bureaucratic stuff, but you can't set up a cannabis farm and get the stuff certified and to market overnight.

Problem is, we'll never see an article reporting that suppliers are up to volume and things are running smoothly, it's just not particularly interesting.

Thursday 15 November 2018

Evening Standard channels its inner Daily Mail

From The Evening Standard:

Mrs Muhammad was shot shortly after 7.35 am as she did the washing-up, her husband told the Evening Standard.

Scotland Yard said the woman suffered a wound to the abdomen during the attack in the £500,000 house in Newbury Park.

Wednesday 14 November 2018

What's your optimum distance from a tree?

It would be easy to write a few paragraphs listing all the plus points of trees: they clean up the air; are net oxygen releasers; somewhere for birds to nest; provide welcome shade in summer; somewhere to shelter in a sudden summer downpour etc etc. So much so that politicians love being associated with tree planting (that was rather serendipitous - I noticed that post just as I started writing this one).

Most relevant for this discussion is that they look nice (whether that is an aesthetic thing or simply because they are associated with all the Good Things listed in the bog standard opening paragraphs on trees).

From closer up and on a practical point of view, trees are a pain in the arse. They undermine foundations; soak up so much water that other plants won't grow around them; drop leaves on your lawn and in your gutters; you need to prune the overhanging branches and go and grovel to your neighbours if a storm snaps off branches into their gardens (happened to me after the Great Storm of 1987 - in south Germany - it wasn't just a UK thing); a car parked under a tree gets covered in sap, seeds, leaves and bird poo (depending on time of year).

So there must be a trade off. Trees, yes, but Not In My Back Yard - which boils down to the question posed in the title.

For example: the back gardens on my street and the one behind it are stupid long (by London standards). The neighbours behind us had two large trees in their back garden,they looked great swaying in the breeze but were far enough away not to cause any inconvenience to Yours Truly (they didn't block any sunlight to our house or shed leaves in our garden). The neighbours extended their house a couple of years ago and they chopped down the larger one, reducing the quality of the view from our back garden (I still miss the larger one).

To my mind, that's the best place for trees - in somebody else's garden, at least twenty yards from your house, or at least twenty yards up or down the road from where you park your car.

But what if everybody thought like that? We'd have no trees on urban streets and gardens at all.


Tuesday 13 November 2018

That Brexit text in full

"Trust me, we’ve been thinking about market power and competition all wrong"

... says Ryan Bourne in City AM.

Well, no we haven't, but he makes a good point about one specific topic - that there is a difference between national and local market power/concentration:

Back in the 1950s, many UK villages and towns were served by a single grocer, butcher, and baker. These independent local stores would, in effect, be local monopolies, but had tiny share of the market for the whole country.

Today, major supermarket chains have gone from strength to strength, exploiting economies of scale and creating cost-effective distribution systems. Tesco, Sainsbury’s and others serve hundreds and thousands of locations, while engaging in cut-throat competition with each other.

As a result, at a national level the supermarket industry looks highly concentrated. The biggest four firms had 72.3 per cent of the market in 2016. But at a local level, many areas have seen huge increases in competition. They are now served by at least two supermarkets, as well as other stores, instead of the local monopolies of the past.

Or to put it another way, let's assume each town/area is served by two of the big supermarket chains. They are in competition and the consumer benefits. If the government were to force the big supermarket chains to close half their outlets, this would clearly reduce their national market share, but their remaining outlets would face less competition in all the towns/areas which are now only served by one large supermarket, and the consumer loses out.

Monday 12 November 2018

Daily Mail on top form

Detectives find body of man in his 40s in the grounds of £1.5million home after using metal detectors to search garden

"Lies, damned lies and rent statistics"

Fine article by Ian Mulheirn, who is one the heroic few pointing out that the "lack of housing supply" explanation for high prices is a bit of a myth. Sure, selling prices have rocketed, but that's largely due to easy credit availability/low interest rates. The true measure of housing costs is of course rents. They have shot up in London/south east over the last twenty years, but that's due to higher wage differentials and not lack of supply. Overall, they'd been pretty flat.

The housing supply numbers commonly used and, until recently, the housing need numbers bandied about, have long been wrong or misleading. Given the importance of rent — the ‘price’ that tells us whether demand for housing services is outstripping the supply — using the right measure of that is particularly vital...

Unfortunately [the ONS Index of Private Housing Rental Prices] only goes back to 2005. However, combining it with the prototype index for the UK prior to 2005— albeit based on a much smaller sample —suggests that real like-for-like rents have been pretty benign since 1996, and comfortably below average household income growth.

Friday 9 November 2018

"A Star Is Born"

From Wiki and Wiki

Jackson Maine, a protostellar cloud privately battling gravitational collapse and an alcohol and drug addiction, plays a concert in California to try and lose some excess energy through radiation. His main support is gas pressure Bobby, whose kinetic energy balances out the potential energy of Jackson's internal gravitational force.

After the show, the dust within Jackson becomes heated to temperatures of 60–100 K when he witnesses a performance by Ally, a waitress and singer-songwriter whose particles radiate at wavelengths in the far infrared where Jackson is transparent.

They spend the night speaking to each other, where Ally discloses to him that the dust is mediating his further collapse. Jackson invites Ally to his next phase of contraction. During the collapse she sings on stage with him. Jackson invites Ally to go on tour with him, and his density increases towards the center.

In Arizona, his middle region becomes optically opaque first. Ally and Jackson visit the ranch 
where his father is buried and where Jackson’s density reaches about 10−13 g /cm3, only to discover that a core region, called the First Hydrostatic Core, has formed where Jackson's collapse is essentially halted.

Angered at this betrayal, Jackson continues to increase in temperature and punches Bobby, who subsequently reveals that Jackson’s core temperature has reached about 2000 K, but the latter was too inebriated to notice.

Thursday 8 November 2018

"Increased frequency of travel may act to decrease the chance of a global pandemic"


The high frequency of modern travel has led to concerns about a devastating pandemic since a lethal pathogen strain could spread worldwide quickly.

Many historical pandemics have arisen following pathogen evolution to a more virulent form. However, some pathogen strains invoke immune responses that provide partial cross-immunity against infection with related strains.

Here, we consider a mathematical model of successive outbreaks of two strains: a low virulence strain outbreak followed by a high virulence strain outbreak. Under these circumstances, we investigate the impacts of varying travel rates and cross-immunity on the probability that a major epidemic of the high virulence strain occurs, and the size of that outbreak.

Frequent travel between subpopulations can lead to widespread immunity to the high virulence strain, driven by exposure to the low virulence strain. As a result, major epidemics of the high virulence strain are less likely, and can potentially be smaller, with more connected subpopulations. 

Cross-immunity may be a factor contributing to the absence of a global pandemic as severe as the 1918 influenza pandemic in the century since.

Seems plausible to me. Either we have just been incredibly lucky for the past century, or there is a self-correcting mechanism that reduces the risk of pandemics.

Wednesday 7 November 2018

"Women abandon calls for equal treatment with men"

From The Guardian:

The state pension age for women will rise to 65 on Tuesday to match men for the first time since 1940, reaching a milestone that has prompted warnings from campaigners that the pace of equalisation has left some female retirees realising that life isn't a bed of roses for men either.

The equalisation of the state pension age at 65 is the first step towards a rise to 66 for both sexes in two years (October 2020), and a planned further increase to 67 starting from 2026. Another rise to 68 from 2039 was recommended by the official Cridland review this year, which will mean all workers currently in their late 30s and early 40s are treated equally.*

The accelerated timetable for equalising then raising the state pension age will now mean men and women are treated equally, according to the campaign group Wfspe (Women for state pension equality), with about 3.8 million women born in the 1950s expected to wait as long as men before they can live off the taxpayer guilt-free.

From here:

1940 - men age 65, women age 60
In 1940 pension age for women was cut to 60 to try to ensure for most couples that the married rate would be paid as soon as the husband reached 65.

1995 - women's state pension age to be equalised
Following pressure from Europe**, the Conservative Government was forced to announce plans to equalise state pension age for men and women. The timetable was the most relaxed possible and would raise pension age for women to 65 slowly from April 2010 to April 2020.

Yup, the people whining now have had over twenty years' fair warning.

* On a technical note, and what 'campaigners' like the Wfspe don't mention, the UK state pension is now moving towards a flat rate Citizen's Pension in all but name (hooray for that). The new system equalises the state pension between men and women, because of instead of having a low basic state pension based on years with NI contributions (tends to favour men slightly) plus the second state pension based on lifetime earnings (which favours higher earners = men), it is based purely on years with NI contributions or years with 'mother's credit'.

To eliminate the mothers' pay (or state pensions) gap (which is what the so-called gender pay/pensions gap actually is), women who have had children are given one year's credit for every year that they were not working but claiming Child Benefit, i.e. pretty much for every year of their adult lives, automatically.

So I (higher earner for most of my working life) will end up with less state pension than I would have done under the old rules, and plenty of lower earners esp. women will end up with more. Am I moaning? No, because that is A Good Thing.

** I take it they mean "The European Union", in which case one of the good things they did for us. But I bet the Remoaners never mentioned that.

Monday 5 November 2018

I'm taking part in a debate on Citizens income at Southampton University this evening

The event will take place at 6.30 in Building 35 Room 1005, University Road, Southampton, SO17 1BJ.

"Banks are not intermediaries of loanable funds - facts, theory and evidence"

Some subversive employees at The Bank of England have put out another fine report.

To sum up, "banks create money out of thin air". They do not sit their patiently collecting deposits and lending them out. They lend first, the borrower spends the money and whoever receives it deposits it back in the banking system (what else can they possibly do? If they spend it, then somebody else deposits it etc).

This will no doubt cheer up DBC Reed no end!

"Make drivers pay for fuel in advance, says police chief"

A most interesting article at the BBC:

Petrol firms had made it too easy to drive off without paying because they wanted to entice motorists into their shops, said Simon Cole of the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC).

About 25,000 people every year "bilk" the system by avoiding payment.

That's a staggeringly small number, there are over thirty million vehicles on the road, all of who fill up (say) thirty-three times a year = about 1 billion purchases a year. If 25,000 go unpaid, that's 0.0025% of all purchases = effectively zero. I can see why that's hardly a police priority.

Most petrol stations have number recognition AFAIAA. They can and should pass on to the police the details of drivers who drove off without paying, I wouldn't expect the police to step in for a single splash and dash (petrol stations can start a civil action), but people who do that are likely to be the sort of people who commit other motoring offences, so when they finally get nicked, the police can add it to the list of offences they are charged with.

Mr Cole, who is chief constable for Leicestershire, said 12% of crimes faced by his force were retail-related.

"The petroleum industry could design out bilking in 30 seconds by making people pay up front, which is what they do in other countries," he said, "They don't, because the walk in their shops is part of their business offer."

Some pumps make you insert your debit card before you fill up, saving you the hassle of going into the shop.

If petrol station owners want the best of both worlds, they could set things up so that you have to go into the shop to insert your debit card and select your pump before you can fill up.

Sunday 4 November 2018

Life Copies Satire

Back in 1965, Tom Lehrer released his song Folk Song Army, which contained these lines:

If you feel dissatisfaction,
Strum your frustrations away.
Some people may prefer action,
But give me a folk song any old day

Today, the BBC has an article on Carole King who has just re-released an old song. From the article:

The song features a new final verse, which King told the Guardian is "a call to action" ahead of the mid-term elections in the US.

Incidentally, in the same album, Tom Lehrer summed up US foreign policy then and now in five lines:

For might makes right
And till they've seen the light
They've got to be protected
All their rights respected
'till somebody we like can be elected!

Saturday 3 November 2018

Square root of 2, golden ratio, square root of 3, e and pi expressed as fractions

I tried looking these up online and nobody had a list, so I set up a spreadsheet.

Here are the most accurate fractions using three digit numbers:

Square root of 2 = 816/577
Golden ratio = 987/610
Square root of 3 = 989/571
e = 878/323
pi = 355/113

All part of the service.

Friday 2 November 2018

Fun with numbers

I've just stumbled across this month old article on the BBC:

Where does rent hit young people the hardest in Britain?

People in their 20s who want to rent a place for themselves face having to pay out an "unaffordable" amount in two-thirds of Britain, BBC research shows.

They face financial strain as average rents for a one-bedroom home eat up more than 30% of their typical salary in 65% of British postcode areas...

Least affordable areas outside London

Epping Forest - postcode areas IG9 (rent £1,230; 71% of income), RM4 (rent £1,126; 65% of income), and IG7 (rent £1,087; 62% of income)

I live in one of those postcodes, they're in south west Essex inside the M25 and while the rent estimates look about right to me (good enough for a low level Land Value Tax assessment, for example), the percentage figures look way too high.

If you look at outer London postcodes just across the Essex/Greater London boundary, the % spent on rent drops significantly, even though the rents are just as high.

As you might have guessed by now, this is because they used average rents down to postcode district levels, but assumed that wages are the same across whole regions. Essex is part of the East Anglia region, which has an average wage of £1,755 per month, as against an average wage of £2,275 for people living in Greater London.

1. It would be much more meaningful if they used average wages at postcode district level.

2. The percentage is actually meaningless in itself, it is a derived figure. The relevant figure is wages net of housing costs. If they bothered to do that, they'd find that this is fairly constant everywhere in Great Britain (Ricardo's Law of Rent).

Re Former Tory's comment on police pensions

From the comments to yesterday's post:

Former Tory: Depends where the money's going. Police people are vastly expensive individuals when you take in the cost of their generous pension scheme, which for some officers has allowed retirement on full defined benefits at 48 (entry 18 + 30 years service).

The current schemes are slightly less generous but funding retirement for someone in their fifties with index linking, widow's benefits, etc etc is colossally expensive, requiring a pension fund significantly into seven figures. Or, indemnifying by the taxpayer.

From here:

Typical retirement income:

A 30 year old police officer on a salary of £30,000 will receive a pension of around £28,000 if he retires at age 60. If he takes the maximum tax free cash at retirement - £120,000 - this will reduce his annual pension to £18,000.

OK, let's ignore inflation increases and discounting and assume thirty years working plus twenty years in retirement. Total lifetime earnings/income = £1,460,000. Divide that by thirty active years = £49,000 a year. That is the real annual salary. As a financial adviser, FT really should be able to do this calculation.

If you think coppers are overpaid at £49,000 a year, then become a copper. That's clearly overpaid if you are just sitting in a cosy office investigating 'hate crimes' on Twitter, and probably 'about right' if you are doing a proper policing job on the streets with all the personal risks and unsociable working hours.

And... we're back to normal.

From the BBC:

Police have launched a criminal inquiry into allegations of anti-Semitic hate crimes within the Labour Party.

Met Police chief Cressida Dick told the BBC her officers were assessing online material because it appears "there may have been a crime committed". It comes after LBC Radio obtained what it said was an internal Labour document detailing 45 cases, involving messages posted by members on social media.

Ms Dick says the Met had a duty to assess the material and not dismiss it. She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that her officers were seeking advice from the Crown Prosecution Service.

Why not focus a bit more on knife attacks, acid attacks, terrorist plots, moped muggers and all the other real crimes that really affect people?

Thursday 1 November 2018

Women talking sense

Item 1, from the BBC:

People who believe the myths spread by anti-vaccine campaigners "are absolutely wrong", England's top doctor has said. Prof Dame Sally Davies said the MMR vaccine was safe and had been given to millions of children worldwide but uptake was currently "not good enough"...

"A number of people, stars, believe these myths - they are wrong," she said, "Over these 30 years, we have vaccinated millions of children. It is a safe vaccination - we know that - and we've saved millions of lives across the world. People who spread these myths, when children die they will not be there to pick up the pieces or the blame."

Uptake of the MMR vaccine had reached a good level in previous years but has now dropped back to 87%.

"That means a lot of protection but it doesn't give us herd immunity," Dame Sally said. "So when people from abroad have been coming in, travelling infected, it is spreading into our local communities."

I'll mark her down for the platitude 'local communities', apart from that, agreed.

Item 2, also from the BBC:

Chief Constable Sara Thornton said forces were too stretched to deal with "deserving" issues, such as logging gender-based hate incidents... She called for a "refocus on core policing".

Ms Thornton told police chiefs and police and crime commissioners: "We are asked to provide more and more bespoke services that are all desirable - but the simple fact is there are too many desirable and deserving issues."

She added: "Neither investigating gender-based hate crime or investigating allegations against those who have died are necessarily bad things - I just argue that they cannot be priorities for a service that is over-stretched."

... Since 2010 police chiefs say funding in England and Wales has decreased, in real terms, by nearly a fifth, and there are 20,000 fewer officers.

Spot on. It's not hard to understand, is it?

It's third time unlucky though:

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said forces could not do "more with less". Police should not have to "pick and choose" between crimes, and if misogyny was made a hate crime the government must provide the funding to tackle it, she added.
UPDATE. Jonathan Bagley in the comments:

I know that there are many ways of recording crime and new crimes are being invented, but according to the crime survey, crime has fallen from a peak of 19 million offences in 1995 to 6 million offences in 2016. Doesn't that alone suggest we need fewer police? I've heard no mention of this.

I live in a small town in the North of England. In the early 90s there were more break-ins, more car crime and huge amount more drunken vandalism and criminal damage. Crime now, apart from some drug dealing, seems virtually non-existent and this is not a wealthy middle-class place.

Agreed, crime has been on a downward trend in developed countries for centuries. Steven Pinker has made a career out of reporting this. This has been particularly noticeable over the last few decades, when those born before they stopped putting lead in petrol had passed prime crime-committing age (allegedly, but it's the best explanation we have).


a) However much - or little - crime there is, there is always too much, from the point of view of victims.

b) The economic optimum level of crime/policing is where £1 extra spent on police reduces the total cost of crime by £1, spend any more and it's money wasted. But it's difficult to measure or value distress, worry, trauma etc (the bulk of the true cost of crime), so best go on the safe side.

c) We have got softer as we have become more civilised. A few centuries ago, if somebody was murdered, it was just bad luck and few people cared too much, widow or widower remarried and moved on. Nowadays, it's a heck of a blow to a large number of relatives, friends and colleagues. So the "cost" of crime might be going up even if the absolute number of crimes is going down.

d) The Tories have been reducing police budgets and numbers too far, too fast, and/or encouraging them to focus on non-crimes as listed by Ms Thornton. There does appear to have been an increase in crime rates over the past few years - especially in London which has had a particularly right-on Mayor - bucking the long term trend.