Thursday 31 January 2019

So, how's that worked out, ever.

Started reading this.

Got to this "The problem is that it is hard to understand and predict a credit bust (or a boom, for that matter) without the right tools – in our case: the right models. Fell about laughing and gave up there and then.

Not learned much from this then have you lads?

Or this, come to that.

More Brexit LOLZ

Via TBH, from The Independent:

Britain would keep paying into the EU budget for years after a no-deal Brexit under contingency plans drawn up by the European Commission. In a move likely to enrage Brexiteers and cause yet another political row in Westminster, on Wednesday Brussels unveiled proposals for the UK to keep up its payments for the 2019 EU budget and beyond.

Ho hum, in exchange for what, exactly? They've had three years to plan for this.

From The Belfast Telegraph:

The Irish economy could be around 4% smaller in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Irish Finance Minister has said. Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure & Reform Paschal Donohoe said that although the Irish government are hopeful of a deal, plans must be in place for a “disorderly” Brexit.

From the BBC:

An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study found that Dutch exports to the UK could drop by 17% in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

While the UK's customs authority HMRC says it has "well-developed plans" for a functioning system from day one, fruit and vegetables are the Dutch exports most vulnerable to disruption.

Also from the BBC:

The head of France's main farmers' union has warned that a no-deal Brexit could have a severe impact on French agricultural exports. Christiane Lambert of the FNSEA union said French wine and spirits producers would be hit hardest, as their sector had a €1.3bn (£1.1bn; $1.5bn) annual surplus in trade with the UK.


In a press statement published on 17 January, the Spanish federation of agri food co-ops (AGACA) said it regretted the outcome of the vote on the deal, which, it argued, had led to more uncertainty...

Should the UK leave the EU without a trade deal, both sides will have to apply WTO tariffs from 29 March. Under WTO rules, tariffs for agri food products average at 20%. However, they go as high as 100% for meat, dairy and sugar products, between 40% and 90% for grains and 30% or more for fruit and vegetables.

(That last bit is bollocks. If a Spanish business imports food from the UK, it will have to levy EU-mandated import tariffs, not "WTO Tariffs" which aren't compulsory or even guidelines, but recommended maximum limits. The UK can impose any old tariffs it likes up to those limits, or none at all).

But the overall tenor is clear - the EU itself, from the point of view of the top dogs in Brussels, doesn't care about economics, they care about "ever closer political union" and so the UK must be seen to be punished most severely for leaving - for example by being a choice between a completely unacceptable May's Deal and the vague threats of "disorderly Brexit". And then being expected to continue paying in.

Actual producers in EU Member States care very much about economics, i.e. minimal disruptions to trade, I doubt whether they give a hoot whether the UK leaves the EU or not as long as they can keep selling us food and cars and so on, which we are perfectly happy to buy from them. In whose interests is it to disrupt this? Why don't those affected put a bit of pressure on the top dogs in Brussels to stop being such complete bastards?

Wednesday 30 January 2019

Glorious Remainer circular logic

This all reminds me a bit of the quote from 1984*: "It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

From The Guardian, 4/1/2019: No-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for UK farmers, warns NFU

Remainers follow up with the claim that in the even of No Deal Brexit, the supermarket shelves will be empty.

It's never made clear why farmers in EU Member States would suddenly stop wanting to sell us food, or whether this is a tacit admission that EU Member States, foremost France want to try and starve us to death, but hey. Fact is, one third of the food we eat is imported from EU Member States.

It's never made clear why UK farmers wouldn't be over the moon if they faced no competition from farmers in EU Member States.

But hey, let's run with it...

I posted about the empty shelves article, and the free traders among us agreed that not imposing tariffs on food imports (from EU Member States or elsewhere) would be a good idea.

Remainer George Carty then leaves the following comment under my empty shelves post:

Wouldn't unilateral free trade just mean that ruthless East Asian mercantilists wipe out what's left of our industry, while cheap American imports wipe out most of our agriculture?

This glosses over the point that under WTO rules, just because we don't impose tariffs on food imports doesn't mean we have to lift tariffs on manufactured goods (even though that would be a good idea) but again, give them enough rope...

This neatly closes the circular logic:

* UK farmers suffer because they can't export to EU Member States.
* UK consumers/retailers suffer because they can't import from EU Member States, shelves will be empty.
* American farmers will fill our shelves again, presumably with "chlorinated chicken" (whatever that is).

Is it not possible that this largely cancels out - UK farmers will just sell more domestically and export less. If the French government imposes a blockade on us (not sure how that will go down with les gilets jaunes), other countries will take up the slack. I don't see how you can paint the Americans as the baddies in all this - they are the ones NOT imposing a trade blockade.

* The year the film was released, not the book by George Orwell.

Tuesday 29 January 2019

"How to View the World like an Economist"

Something in an article that was in City AM a year ago has been bugging me ever since.

Most of it is good stuff...

When a politician blithely commits to “making childcare higher quality”, you wonder how much any new regulation of the sector will push up prices, and hence make formal care less affordable...

When Jeremy Corbyn states that the existence of profits in certain industries means lower prices could be delivered under nationalisation, you consider whether public ownership is more likely to become captured by producer interests or suffer from worse profitability.

When governments continually tell us that HS2 will be “good for the economy” because the economic benefits exceed the costs, you consider whether other investments, such as road schemes in areas with bottlenecks, would generate even higher returns.

When someone calls for banning plastic bags for environmental reasons, you think about what the effects of paper bags are for the scale of landfill sites, or the health impact of repeat use of linen bags given hygiene risks.

Agreed to all that. But his first real life example is a very bad one:

Remember when the coalition government’s policy of “free” school meals for five to seven year-olds was announced in 2013?

Campaign groups rallied to praise the £600m commitment, claiming it would enhance educational attainment, based upon results from narrow pilot schemes. It was only economists who seemed to question whether this spending really obtained the best bang for the buck to increase attainment, or whether the money could be better used in other departments — or even, heaven forfend, be left with taxpayers.

Of course those lunches aren't "free", that's a nonsense. But the alternative is not 'leaving the money with taxpayers', it's making the self-same taxpayers make their kids a packed lunch or give them some lunch money for the school canteen.

In the grander scheme of things, funding basic* school lunches for all kids out of progressive taxes (income tax or LVT) ticks all my boxes:

1. It's like a Citizen's Income, non-means tested and mildly redistributive downwards. Vastly better than means-tested "free school meals" for a minority with all the stigma, cheating and administrative hassle.

2. Saves parents the hassle of sorting out a packed lunch or remembering to give their kids some lunch money, which they might or might not spend as intended (or have taken off them by school bullies).

3. It must work out much cheaper per meal if the school bulk-buys and everybody gets the same.

4. ... so it's not necessarily worse value for a better-off parent. They pay £5 extra tax and their kid gets a school dinner costing £2.50., but in the absence of school-lunches-for-all, they might end up paying £5 anyway (or spending a bit less than that but wasting ten or twenty minutes a day sorting it out). They've lost nothing and low-income parent is up £2.50.

5. It is good for solidarity between pupils, they all get the same. School lunches a bit crap? Every kid can moan about it equally, same as moaning about having to wear a school uniform. Best kind of quality control is, teachers sit in the same canteen and eat the same meals as the kids (they did that at my school).

6. It protects kids with low-income or lazy/forgetful parents from being humiliated by the lucky kids with posh lunch boxes/lots of lunch money.

7. At the margin, it helps educational attainment of kids with low-income or lazy/forgetful parents. It's difficult to concentrate when you are hungry, as the advert says. And has similar health benefits.

* The word "basic" is important here. Funding fancy school trips abroad for all would clearly be a total waste of money.

Monday 28 January 2019

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From City AM, in response to this article:

It seems that the EU has a paranoid concern that unless it keeps Northern Ireland under its control as a kind of buffer zone, it will have to erect something like a Maginot Line of defences along its side of the Irish land border to keep out undesirable products such as US-style 'chlorinated chicken'.

Why should that be? Is there any good reason for the EU to assume that once we have become a third country, we will automatically become a hostile power, determined to use that weak point in the EU's external frontier to flod the EU Single Market with non-compliant goods?

At present, the UK has domestic laws which implement Single Market rules, and it is that UK domestic legal arrangement which is effective in keeping non-compliant goods out of the 0.1 per cent of UK GDP which is carried across the land border into the Irish Republic and the rest of the EU.

So why should the EU not be satisfied if the UK now pledges to pass and strictly enforce laws expressly designed to prohibit the carriage across the land border of any goods which the EU deemed unacceptable?

Dr D R Cooper

Nobody move or everybody starves to death!

From the BBC:

A no-deal Brexit threatens the UK's food security and will lead to higher prices and empty shelves, retailers are preparing to warn MPs...

If the UK were to revert to WTO rules, the retailers warn that would "greatly increase import costs that would in turn put upward pressure on food prices"...

The letter spells out the UK's food relationship with Europe, with nearly one third of the food in the UK coming from the EU.


I can't track down the actual wording of the letter, which was no doubt a bit more nuanced than the BBC claim.

1. At worst, one-third of shelves will be empty. let's not forget that Norway and Switzerland seem to manage somehow, it can't be insurmountable.

2. What retailers should have said (and quite possibly, did say) is "Dear Government, for the time being, whatever happens with Brexit, can you please exempt food imports from any sort of quotas and duties and ensure that Customs wave through anything that was clearly grown in an EU Member State?".

This in turn boils down to "Dear Government, please make sure that nothing changes post-Brexit".

"Do nothing" should always be first on the list of options to be considered, and in the circumstances, would clearly be the best for all concerned.

Killer Argument Against Anything And Everything Whatsoever

George Eaton, on Twitter: To understand the problems with the Norway model, ask Norwegians – insightful piece by @hettieveronica on why it isn't a panacea for Brexit Britain.

Me: What a pathetic argument: "it isn't a panacea". You can use this put down in any situation and all it shows is that you're a bit of a condescending twat. Nothing ever is "a panacæa", it's a question of choosing least bad option.

George Carty: Surely the main problem is the Irish border (again) -- IIRC we can't be in EFTA and also (as required by the GFA) in a customs union with the EU.

Me: No we can't, but that wasn't my point. I could equally say "Second referendum is not a panacea", or "Cancelling withdrawal and just staying in EU is not a panacea", or "No Deal Brexit is not a panacea" and those statements are all equally true and equally unhelpful.

Do you think the Yanks were like this in July 1945, to wit:
"Dropping the Bomb on Hiroshima is not a panacea" vs
"Invading the Japanese home islands is not a panacea" vs
"Calling the whole thing off and leaving the Japanese occupation of vast swathes of South East Asia is not a panacea"??

Sunday 27 January 2019

Let's not use those figures.....

The Bank of England has come up witha scary figure as the "cost" of Brexit, £500M a week.

Of course it turns out that this is the difference between the size of the economy now and where the BoE thinks the economy would be if we hadn't voted to leave the EU. Since no-one, not even the BoE, knows what might have been to any degree of accuracy, the "where we would be" figure could be anything they like to produce. There's no build up to this figure, just a wish list of what it could have been (and, judging by recent history, wouldn't have been) spent on. It would have been more convincing if they'd said how many Trident missiles or jets for the new aircraft carriers we could have bought for the £60Bn.

It's also a bit of a puzzle where all this extra economic activity would be coming from, given that we are now at pretty well full employment.

Saturday 26 January 2019

Dark Energy Vs Dark Matter

There was a great tongue in cheek comment under a video by PBS Space Time:

"Dark energy = dark matter x speed of darkness squared"

I think we can leave it at that, the 'search for dark matter' is a massive great scam, just like the search for the Loch Ness Monster.

Friday 25 January 2019

"That would be grossly unfair on good landlords, who are the vast majority in this country"

From Hansard, debate on Tenant Fees Bill, 23 January 2019:

Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East:

The issue for us was that four weeks [maximum deposit] would lead to a position whereby the tenant had an incentive to say, “Okay, I won’t pay the last month’s rent—just take it out of the deposit,” and then if the landlord could reasonably wish to claim money from the deposit because of damage or other reasons, they would have to pursue court action to recover it.

That would be grossly unfair on good landlords, who are the vast majority in this country.

Other members of the Committee promoted six weeks, so we ended up with the view that five weeks struck a balance between giving tenants an incentive to pay their last month’s rent, in the knowledge that they would get back their deposit had they been good tenants, and landlords being forced to go through a proper claim process to recover moneys as a result of damage by a tenant.

He's wrong in principle and wrong in logic. If a tenant has wrecked the place and plans to move out soon, then whether he's paid three, four, five or six weeks' deposit, he won't bother paying the rent any more, and he either leaves of his own accord or waits until he is evicted.

I thought that most tenants didn't bother paying the last month's rent* anyway, which makes perfect sense. They need the money for the deposit on the next place. Landlords and letting agents often wait weeks before returning a deposit to those tenants gullible enough to pay the last month's rent. If the tenants pay it, it is often very difficult for them to scrape the next deposit together, so they can't move out at all. Catch 22.

* I used to be a BTL landlord, most of them didn't bother paying the last month's rent, so I kept their four-week deposit instead, never bothered me and everybody's happy.

Thursday 24 January 2019

A key element of Home-Owner-Ism is a complete lack of self awareness...

Headline in Daily Mail/Money:

How Britain's £239bn buy-to-let bubble burst: Our devastating report reveals landlords ruined by tax penalties - and their pension plans hit

Evil greedy government ruining people's lives!

The first paragraph puts exactly the opposite spin on it, could be straight from the Morning Star:

During the Noughties, landlords ploughed into property* in the hope they could sit back, collect rent and watch house prices soar.

* More accurately, "people took highly leveraged bets on favourable tax treatment and massive government subsidies".

Wednesday 23 January 2019

"UK rents fall for first time in a decade"

Via HPC Survivors FB group, from The Guardian:

Rents across Britain fell in 2018 for the first time in a decade, offering relief for tenants after years of inflation-busting rises. Figures from the Deposit Protection Scheme – a government-backed group that supervises tenancy deposits – showed the average rent fell by £9 (1.17%) from £774 in 2017 to £765.

The typical UK tenant spent 31% of their income on rent in 2018, a fall of 0.5% from the year before, the DPS said. The biggest percentage fall was in Yorkshire and the Humber, where the average rent dropped by £21 (3.63%) to £546. London recorded the biggest fall in cash terms, with the typical property rented at £1,294 a month, down £30 from a year ago...

Dan Wilson Craw, the director of the campaign group Generation Rent, said: “Falling rents are great news and, despite constant warnings of increases from the property industry, these figures demonstrate that landlords can’t simply demand more whenever they want to."

Exactly, well said Dan.

Here's the fun bit:

Landlords said demand from EU nationals had slowed, but insisted rents would have to rise in 2019 to claw back money lost through buy-to-let tax changes (1) and the letting fees ban (2), which comes into force in June.

John Stewart of the Residential Landlords Association said: “Rics has warned that with demand outstripping the supply of rental properties, rents could increase in 2019 by an average of 2% (3). Certainly we are seeing shrinking investment in the sector because of the extra taxes being levied on landlords."

What planet is he on?

1) There are two buy-to-let tax changes:

- tax relief for interest is being restricted, making the effective, after-tax, interest rate paid on BTL mortgages up to one-third higher. Rents didn't fall post 2008 when interest rates plummeted, why would they increase now? It might even act like LVT and encourage landlords to get homes rented out ASAP instead of long void periods, pushing down rents.

- landlords have to pay an extra 3% SDLT when they buy another home. This doesn't affect the homes they already own, so statistically has little impact. When deciding how much to pay, landlords find out the potential rent, multiply it up and deduct the SDLT. The extra SDLT pushes down prices and does not push up rents.

2) Let's assume that if letting agents can't exploit people desperate for somewhere to rent, they will bump up the commissions they charge landlords. Maybe so, but...

- there are plenty of landlords who deal with tenants directly, who will be unaffected. Some will decide that paying a letting agent even more of the rent is not worth it and will also deal with tenants directly.

- even if rents go up a tick to cover higher letting agent fees (unlikely), tenants will break even (save on letting fees, pay slightly higher rents), so no biggie.

3) What was the landlord lobby predicting a year ago?

RICS’ UK Residential Market Survey for July reports a continued drop in the number of new properties coming on to the market – the eighth consecutive quarter in which property numbers have dwindled.

It suggests that the dearth of properties on the market is a sign of the growing number of smaller-scale landlords exiting the rental market due to tougher tax rules. With tenant demand remaining strong, this had led to rising rents for tenants, with rents predicted to go up by just under 2% over the next 12 months and by up to 15% by 2023.

So they were predicting average rise 3% a year for five years. The first year was actually a fall of 1%, why don't they stick to their guns and 'predict' that rents will rise by 4% a year for the next four years, to get back to their original plus 15% claim.

Usual Labour bullshit vs usual Tory bullshit

From The Guardian:

Sadiq Khan will make a campaign for wide-ranging rent control the key plank of his 2020 re-election bid, asking the government to give the London mayoralty the power to combat soaring rents in the capital.

That is the most staggeringly meaningless promise ever, and one on which he cannot actually deliver. Even if he wins and asks the government to give him the statutory power to regulate rents, they will simply refuse.

This reminds me of his meaningless fares-freeze pledge, He simply had no authority to do so. Rrom The Guardian:

Tony Travers, local government expert and director of the LSE’s Greater London Group, said the announcement by Khan came down to an issue of trust and how the average person would interpret his pledge.

“The words he used at the time made it very hard to understand the commitment only applied effectively to pay-as-you-go and cash fares on TfL-only services,” he said. “It’s inevitably going to be interpreted as not quite what was [advertised] on the tin.”

Even if Khan had such powers, he's in the pocket of the land mafia, so wouldn't actually use them.

Moving on...

“London is in the middle of a desperate housing crisis that has been generations in the making,” Khan said. “I am doing everything in my power to tackle it – including building record numbers of new social homes – but I have long been frustrated by my lack of powers to help private renters.”

That is a straight lie. New construction is even lower under Sadiq than under Johnson, and in such pitiful amounts that it can't possibly have any impact on anything.

The Tories could have scored a few open goals, but decide to make themselves look stupid by playing the Missing Homes Conundrum instead:

The housing secretary, James Brokenshire, has argued that the controls would lead to poorer housing standards with landlords unable to afford to maintain properties and could also have a dramatic effect on housing supply, with landlords choosing to sell up rather than have their rental income reduced.

Jeez. Landlord sells, tenant buys, supply of rental housing and demand for rental housing goes down in step. Twenty years ago, the number of private rented homes was half what it is today; were rents higher or lower?

Tuesday 22 January 2019

A mini solution to nuclear mess

Fine article by Anthony Hilton in the Evening Standard:

... there is another option, though not one which environmentalists favour, and that is small modular reactors.

Rolls-Royce has been making and maintaining the power plants which drive the nuclear-powered submarines carrying Britain’s nuclear deterrent since at least the Sixties. Today it is the largest employer of nuclear scientists and engineers in the country, with a range of expertise matched by only a handful of countries round the world.

It hit on the bright idea of using this expertise to develop similar-sized mini nuclear power plants which could be made in a factory, transported on a lorry and used to generate enough electricity to supply a city the size of Leeds. It saw a huge opportunity to secure world leadership in an emerging technology which could be worth more than £100 billion in exports from 2030 onwards.

It argued that these units provide a practical alternative to vast plants such as Hinkley which, because they are so big and complex, are almost always one-offs with costs to match. SMRs in contrast would be one design with standardised components reaping the benefits of factory-based volume production so that the economies of standardisation would trump the economies of scale.

The country has committed itself to becoming a low-carbon economy. The company argues its SMRs would be a cheaper way than building big new nuclear plants to supply the secure, reliable low-carbon electricity baseload the country will need for this to happen. It would also be timely, which is important given how little spare capacity there is in the UK generating industry.

But as the technology needed government funding this would have required a radical change in how Whitehall operates, which is simply impossible. It required Government to make a commitment to an industrial policy which supports UK intellectual property, advanced manufacturing and long-term high-value jobs in the UK.

Here's the tricky bit:

It required Government to make available resources so the licensing and safety-assessment programme could run smoothly and remove the risk of the whole thing being endlessly delayed. It required further long-term thinking in the form of a promise to buy at least seven of the plants so that Rolls-Royce could capture the economies of scale in manufacturing which are essential to bringing the costs down.

It required Government to be willing to provide matched funding in the development phase of the project. And finally it required Government support to assist the company in fully developing its export markets.

Needless to say the Government has declined to do this and Rolls-Royce as a result is no longer speculatively prepared to pour in its own funds and has mothballed the project. So the chances are that we will not have small nuclear reactors either, other than in our submarines.

Turns out, it wasn't an exaggeration

From the Wiki page on rent-seeking:

The classic example of rent-seeking, according to Robert Shiller, is that of a feudal lord who installs a chain across a river that flows through his land and then hires a collector to charge passing boats a fee (or rent of the section of the river for a few minutes) to lower the chain.

There is nothing productive about the chain or the collector. The lord has made no improvements to the river and is not adding value in any way, directly or indirectly, except for himself. All he is doing is finding a way to make money from something that used to be free.

I always assumed this was more of an analogy rather than describing what actually happened. (Note: he's not just "not adding value", he's destroying value.)

I recently read an article about the river Rhine drying up:

Kaub — known for Pfalzgrafenstein Castle, an imposing former toll station located on a rock in the middle of the Rhine — locals have noted the river’s ever-lower levels and are concerned about what the coming years will bring.

The name "Pfalzgrafenstein" is glorious, so I looked it up, and hey-ho...

The castle functioned as a toll-collecting station that was not to be ignored... Due to a dangerous cataract on the river's left, about a kilometer upstream, every vessel would have to use the fairway nearer to the right bank, thus floating downstream between the mighty fortress on the vessel's left and the town and castle on its right.

A chain across the river drawn between those two fortifications forced ships to submit, and uncooperative traders could be kept in the dungeon until a ransom was delivered.

a) making the feudal lord no better than a highwayman, and
b) reinforcing the point that all land value is ransom value.

Monday 21 January 2019

Nobody move or the French farmers get hurt!

From the BBC:

The head of France's main farmers' union has warned that a no-deal Brexit could have a severe impact on French agricultural exports. 

Christiane Lambert of the FNSEA union said French wine and spirits producers would be hit hardest, as their sector had a €1.3bn (£1.1bn; $1.5bn) annual surplus in trade with the UK. Dairy goods and fruit are also major French exports. A UK no-deal exit from the EU would bring new customs checks and rules.

Ms Lambert told broadcaster France Info that "the British are very fond of Camembert and Brie... Brie exported dairy products would come back to Europe and push prices down. Theapple sector would also be badly hit - France is the biggest supplier of apples to the UK - and then there are [French] vegetables and cereals."

She warned that the UK would revert to "third country" status with a no-deal Brexit, "and it could restrict imports - that's our fear".

So how is France preparing for a no-deal Brexit?

On Thursday France announced a contingency plan for a no-deal scenario, including nearly 600 extra customs inspectors to staff ports and airports. Calais - the main hub for trade with the UK - has started expanding its facilities to cope with possible delays and traffic queues.

That's called getting your retaliation in first!

Here's an idea: the EU and the UK enter into an agreement saying that there will be
a) mutual recognition of standards (seeing as UK regulations on Day One will be identical to EU standards and will only diverge slowly over time), and
b) no imposition of quotas or tariffs on trade between the EU and the UK.

Everyone's a winner! Over to you, France/EU!

"Micro-homes could solve London's housing crisis"

Via PricedOut FB group, from the BBC:

Living in micro-homes could "expand choice" for young professionals and help tackle London's housing crisis, a report has suggested. A neoliberal think tank is calling for the Greater London Authority (GLA) to scrap its rules on minimum floor space.

The Adam Smith Institute said homes in the capital with less than 37 sq m of floor space could be an "affordable opportunity" for young people. But the GLA said "cramming people in" was not the answer to the problem.

If by "housing crisis" they mean high rents and prices, they could hardly be wronger.

By and large, demand in the "housing market" is not for bricks and mortar in themselves, it is for access to public services, i.e. all services or amenities opportunities accessible by the public from any location. It makes no difference whether those things are provided by the government (schools, hospitals) or private businesses (jobs, leisure opportunities).

We also know that a) the total rent or price payable is a function of average wages in an area, so is pretty fixed, and b) the value of urban land depends on how many units you can build on it, so we know who the biggest EU nets will be.

The total payable to live anywhere is the value of bricks and mortar (less than half in most parts of the UK) plus value of public services. You can shave down the value of bricks and mortar a bit, but the value of public services would stay the same, or even go up a bit because of agglomeration benefits. If more people live somewhere, the private businesses will offer a greater variety of leisure and spending opportunities and a greater variety of jobs.

Compare - flats in Hong Kong or most Japanese cities are absolutely tiny, but they are still outrageously expensive. Homes in Germany are a lot larger than in the UK, but they are no more expensive.

Sunday 20 January 2019

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

We've just seen this.

It is a glorious load of confused and multi-layered gibberish, very enjoyable!

Does patent protection encourage or discourage innovation?

From the BBC:

Deep in a water treatment plant in Ramstein, near Kaiserslautern in south-west Germany, one woman believes she's found the answer [to fatbergs]. Dr Andrea Junker-Buchheit works for a start-up called Lipobak.

"We treat fatbergs with a special micro-organism solution. We grow bacteria which have been developed specifically to eat fat. They digest all the fat, all the grease, all the oil."
Work in this area started under a US patent nearly 30 years ago, but has come back to the fore since it expired.

Saturday 19 January 2019

Nobody move or your car insurance gets hurt!

From the BBC:

Car insurance costs are climbing for the first time since 2017, partly because of Brexit uncertainty, according to the AA.

Over the last three months, the cost of a fully comprehensive policy climbed 2.7% to £609.93 on average...

MoneySupermarket's... editor-in-chief Tom Flack said: "It is often more expensive to buy insurance in December as they are more cars needing it so insurers don't have to compete as hard for business.

"That means it's harder to tell if the rise in the final quarter of 2018 signals a long-term rise or is just a blip."

Friday 18 January 2019

Can anybody explain the outcome of these car crashes?

The Prince Philip thing baffles me, how do you knock over a giant Land Rover by T-boning it with a Ford Ka?

Even more baffling is this one, from Yahoo:

Monks lost control of his Vauxhall Vectra, and crashed into Andrew Toms Car Sales, a car dealership, destroying 22 cars parked outside.

The photos show a row of badly damaged cars... with a row of apparently intact metal posts in front them. How did he manage to hit the cars without hitting the posts?

Here's one photo, click through to Yahoo for more:

Here we go again...

From The Telegraph:

A second referendum will take well over a year to organise, according to official guidance drawn up by civil servants in the Cabinet Office.

The guidance - leaked to Telegraph - was handed to MPs by David Lidington, Theresa May's effective deputy, at a meeting today in the Cabinet Office...

Which has been the plan all along. They are just playing for time and messing things up as badly as possible, quite deliberately, until there's a big enough margin to re-run it.

Rather infuriatingly - from their point of view - the opinion polls are not showing a clear enough lead for Remain. They went into the first referendum a few points ahead, which evaporated on the day, so they daren't rerun the referendum until Remain is at least 10 points ahead to give them a margin of error.

Or they might risk it and have a second referendum with the binary choice, Remain or May's (Deliberately Shit) Deal, in which case Remain would probably romp home (I don't know why Survation's 11/1/19 poll showed them level pegging, that looks like a blip).

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (451)

Sobers, arch-Home-Owner-Ist and a reliable source of flaky KLNs on KLN#448

"... 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.

The proponents of LVT should be open and honest about what they want - all private landowners to become tenants of the State, liable to eviction if they don't pay the rent."

Ignoring the facts that a) he assumes democracy will be suspended and reversed, against all historical trends, and b) land and building owners are expected to pay for their own utilities, repairs and insurance, so it seems perfectly reasonable to expect them to pay for the public services they receive...

... tax and spend is about numbers and logic, so let's do a simplified example and compare and contrast.

In an average area, public spending costs £10,000 per home per year and generates a site premium of £10,000 per home per year. Let's look at two tenants and one non-taxpaying/non-working owner-occupier* in Sobers' perfect vision of society. The tenants are paying £10,000 site rent and the owner-occupier is paying none. The cost of public services for all three households is £30,000, so each tenant has to pay £15,000 in income tax on top of £10,000 rent each.

The two tenants are paying £50,000 in income tax and rent and are enjoying public services/location value of £20,000 so they are down by £30,000.

Where does the £30,000 go?

Their landlord is collecting £20,000 in rent, on which he pays very little tax, and the non-taxpaying owner-occupier is enjoying public services/location value of £10,000 which the tenants have paid for.

In Sobers' Utopia, the landlords "have the power to determine who occupies a piece land, which they can remove by the simple expediency of increasing the rent until it can no longer be paid"**. The Home-Owner-Ists are "open and honest about what they want [for all wealth creators and taxpayers] to become tenants, liable to eviction if they don't [hand over half their output and earnings in tax and] rent". Two strivers are expected to expected to support one big and one small sponger.

Even in Sobers' imagined non-democratic dystopia, the evil State would be charging 250% LVT before the wealth-creating tenants are noticeably worse off. The landlord is serving no useful purpose, so let's not shed a tear there.

If Sobers wants to argue that the two working tenants/recent FTBs should pay £5,000 income tax each to pay for the non-working owner-occupier's public services (on top of £10,000 LVT each), well fair enough, but that would still be a massive improvement on paying £15,000 income tax each (on top of £10,000 privately collected LVT).

* Quite where the non-taxpaying/non-working owner-occupier gets the money from to pay for food and utilities and so on is never clear in his examples. Let's ignore the majority significant minority of taxpaying, owner-occupier households who are being taxed stupid on their output and earnings but receiving a large chunk of that back in public services/location value.

** Quite why rational landlords - or a rational, democratically elected government - would do this is never made clear.

Saturday 12 January 2019

Headlights moan and squeaky windscreen wipers.

I don't know if it's just me, or because I usually drive low-slung cars where my eyes are directly in the beam of other cars'  headlight beams, but headlights seem to be a lot brighter nowadays.

The whole thing is counter-productive - up to a certain level, brighter headlights improve safety (see and be seen) but I am quite sure that many cars have passed that stage - they can see better but oncoming traffic is pretty much blinded, especially as so many idiots seem to leave their headlights on full beam all the time.

What's worse is, these bright bulbs don't last very long, I'd guess at least one car in twenty only has one functioning headlight (having done the counting game with my son on the way home). How on earth people don't notice is a mystery to me. Idiots. And of course, the remaining headlight is so bright that you sometimes can't see the car at all, and it's easy to mistake them for a motorbike.
On a vaguely related topic, I tried the Halfords budget wipers (about £18) and they wiped OK but they didn't click into the arms properly.

The windscreen onomy MX5MX5  pretty much opaque after 150,000 miles of minor scratches, so I had a new one fitted (pretty good value, £200 inc. VAT if I recall correctly). I treated myself to a pair of Bosch wipers (about £21, so the Halfords were a false economy) because I was worried that the budget wipers would pop out completely and the arms would scratch the lovely new windscreen to buggery.

They wipe great, but they squeak like mad over the glass, which is really irritating. Is there any way of fixing this? Rub them with graphite powder or something?

Friday 11 January 2019

The thin end of the wedge

From the BBC:

Some 140,000 homeowners are trapped on high interest-rate home loans with unregulated or inactive firms, and are unable to switch to a cheaper deal. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has now said it is considering a change to its affordability checks.

This could allow these people to switch to deals that are easier to pay. At present, they are stuck on high default rates, owing to an FCA requirement - introduced in 2014 - for mortgage holders to meet strict affordability criteria when they apply for a new fixed deal.

OK, so Annie and Bert, took out a six-times income, 100% LTV mortgage under the old reckless lending rules but banks can only lend a 'sensible' multiple like four-times-income. They'll make an exception for Annie and Bert.

What about Claire and David next door, who took out a four-times-income and have done equity release to 'tap into house price growth' and now owe six-times-income?

What about Ellie and Fred across the road who took out personal loans to pay a deposit and a four-times-income mortgage who also owe six-times-income?

If that's OK for Ellie and Fred, what about Georgina and Harry, first time buyers who want to borrow six-time-income but can't? Can they reverse engineer Ellie and Fred's position by taking out two-times-income personal loans and using that as a deposit for a four-times-income-mortgage?

Where's a loophole, there's a way.

Thursday 10 January 2019

All Countries are Developing Countries - Part 2 - the Libertarian View

(In haste as I have to do some work...)

N.B. All states start from homesteading and then warlording etc. It’s how they get past the war-lording that matters.

1.       Make sure you can defend your external borders aka Defence of the realm  (Ukraine messed up badly there a few years ago, they were so busy bickering over who should be in charge that the Russians just marched in and occupied the eastern half – (the truth about that is more nuanced.  A lot of that instability was down to US/EU interference and Russian reaction).

2. Eliminate corruption and have stable financial and legal systems, meaning private/contract law as well as public order aka Rule of Law (defence against internal enemies and protection of minorities (automatic under the Rule of Law), fire brigade (No. Not fire brigade – that’s a form of insurance – which I agree may be better organised by local authorities – despite their woeful inefficiencies - and funded from LVT). Separation of religion and state (OK, that's most of the Middle East buggered). (Not exactly.  The Rule of Law in the UK stems from Judeo Christian philosophy.  What you might mean is the tolerance of those who wish to practice other Faiths.  As to stable money values, it is government central banks that have been at the very root of the destruction of that. Money is a market invention and until it became generally nationalised and then fiat worked very well.  Just look at the private money in the Great Britain between about 1750 and 1820.)

3. Try and instil a sense of democracy, which only works if there is some sort of single national identity (See EU democratic failure) - democracy doesn't work if a country is divided on tribal lines (you only have to look as far as Northern Ireland to see that, let alone the third world). Which is why the Japanese took to democracy like a duck to water after 1945. (True. But in ‘developing nations’ democracy develops as the middle class get richer and then the lower classes get richer and all demand a say in how the government operates.)

4. Get the infrastructure (roads, railways, airports, telephones, electricity and water supply) up and running. (Not exactly.  Infrastructure development follows economic growth – it generally relieves bottlenecks – see the Causey Arch.  In the UK – one of the most successful ‘developing nations’ - all of the things you list were first developed by private capital.  This ‘build infrastructure and they will come fallacy’ is the one that has been practiced by the likes of the UN to help ‘developing nations’, well develop, and has been so successful, not.  As without stable institutions that develop through time – secure property rights, Rule of Law, individual liberty etc. – the infrastructure spend is invariably wasted).

5. Universal education up to a certain age, making sure that girls get equal treatment. (Yes, of course this is a ‘Good Idea’. However evidence from ‘developing nations’ is that centrally funded education run by government is less effective than private education.  Often that is because the State educators seek to indoctrinate. As far as I can tell, private school education for children in England blossomed as worker productivity increased over the industrial revolution. That is there was the wealth to support education as it was no longer necessary for family survival for children to work.)

6. Public health - immunisation programmes, clean water and functioning sewage/refuse collection, pregnancy and natal care, free condoms. Cap prices that doctors and drugs companies can charge patients (it's largely rent).  (Public health starts with clean water in and foul water out.  The first water supplies in in the UK were private companies.  Foul water out – famously Bazelgette (my hero) London sewerage system was a state program – London local authorities.  But elsewhere private business developed ways of handling sewerage, Pepys talks about ‘shit shovellers’ who came round in carts and took away the poo from each house.  In truth this is more of a city problem than a national problem. For example today, now, I am not on mains sewers. I have my own mini sewerage treatment works in my rural garden.  Turning to health care, pretty well all of that was available, in what was by 1945 the UK, from private institutions. Even immunisation was provided by private doctors. As to capping prices, really?  Pre NHS famously doctors were always moaning about low pay. And how did Bevin get the doctors to play along with nationalisation?  By ‘stuffing their mouths with gold’).

7. Make country open for foreign investment and trade but DO NOT let multinational corporations come in and rape the place. Tariffs and protectionism where absolutely necessary but they are to be phased out ASAP. (Yes, and No.  MNC’s can only ‘rape the place’ if they are given special privileges.  The best at this is the EU, a crony corporatist construct par excellance.  Also, the preceding conditions of the Rule of Law strong property rights, individual liberty etc. mitigate against MNC’s raping anything.  Especially if money is not nationalised and fiat and paper based as the ‘specie flow mechanism’ automatically stops over-consumption. Tariffs and protectionism are never necessary.)

8. Decent housing for the poorest - meaning slum clearances and building state-owned affordable housing with electricity and running water etc. (Yes, and no. ‘We’ all know what stops Rachmanism -. LVT. Funnily enough the slum clearances in London had some considerable negative effects by breaking up communities.  And the appalling vandalism by Prescott and his cronies in clearing ‘sub-standard housing’ has not been successful. Overall better to apply a sort of reverse Pigouvianism to landlords to drive standards up by fostering competition on quality by removing the unearned land value gains.  Plus, I do agree that LA housing has a valuable role to play in that competition noting that LVT neutralises the land price issue.  As to leccie and H2O, yes, that goes without saying).

9. Don't let income inequality get out of hand. A stable society won't thrive if a small business and political 'elite' are multi millionaires and the masses are struggling by on a dollar a day. Earned income is always the best kind of income, but having universal welfare/a basic income to patch up the survivors has always worked far better than expected. (Yes. But. Competitive capitalism automatically engenders more equality. OTH crony corporatism as we have now (with banksters say) does the opposite.  Today the Big Problems for the average bloke are rents and taxes – the same thing. And just look at the state of our current political elite and Brexit. How corrupt are they and how relatively rich?)

10. As far as possible, fund government out of taxes on land values, natural resources and other monopolies. Whenever and wherever it's been tried it has doubled the rate of progress. (Of course)

Wednesday 9 January 2019

All countries are developing countries - the core functions of the state

I have been blogging - and thinking about stuff - for so long, that I can contrast my current thinking with my own post of nearly eleven years ago. Back in the day, I took the narrow/small government view on which few areas truly are core functions of a state. Now I'm not so sure.

First, think about the policies you would recommend to a newly formed/newly independent poor/developing country.

Well, in no particular order, here's a possible and non-exhaustive top ten...

1. Make sure you can defend your external borders (Ukraine messed up badly there a few years ago, they were so busy bickering over who should be in charge that the Russians just marched in and occupied the eastern half).

2. Eliminate corruption and have stable financial and legal systems, meaning private/contract law as well as public order (defence against internal enemies and protection of minorities, fire brigade). Separation of religion and state (OK, that's most of the Middle East buggered).

3. Try and instil a sense of democracy, which only works if there is some sort of single national identity - democracy doesn't work if a country is divided on tribal lines. You only have to look as far as Northern Ireland to see that, let alone the third world, which is why the Japanese took to democracy like a duck to water after 1945.

4. Get the infrastructure (roads, railways, airports, telephones, electricity and water supply) up and running.

5. Universal education up to a certain age, making sure that girls get equal treatment.

6. Public health - immunisation programmes, clean water and functioning sewage/refuse collection, pregnancy and natal care, free condoms. Cap prices that doctors and drugs companies can charge patients (it's largely rent).

7. Make country open for foreign investment and trade but DO NOT let multinational corporations come in and rape the place. Tariffs and protectionism where absolutely necessary but they are to be phased out ASAP.

8. Decent housing for the poorest - meaning slum clearances and building state-owned affordable housing with electricity and running water etc.

9. Don't let income inequality get out of hand. A stable society won't thrive if a small business and political 'elite' are multi millionaires and the masses are struggling by on a dollar a day. Earned income is always the best kind of income, but having universal welfare/a basic income to patch up the survivors has always worked far better than expected.

10. As far as possible, fund government out of taxes on land values, natural resources and other monopolies. Whenever and wherever it's been tried it has doubled the rate of progress.
Now, having nodded along to all of that, where is the dividing line between developing and developed countries?

There isn't one, it's just that some are a few centuries ahead of others. If we were to come back in another millennium, most African countries will be miles ahead of where European countries are today (hopefully), and equally hopefully, European countries will be far ahead of where they are now.

All of which means, a country doesn't just need to do steps 1 to 10 for a few decades until it is up and running and then decide to 'leave everything to the markets'. It is a constant process that will go on forever. Take your eye off the ball for a few years and you can lose decades of progress.

For sure, the government/state-controlled bodies don't necessarily need to do all the day-to-day stuff, a lot of it can be done by private businesses under state oversight/regulation, or by private providers competing for people to spend their health, education or housing vouchers with them, that's details.

Tuesday 8 January 2019

Female logic

From The Daily Mail:

The millionaire co-founder of who discovered the three boys he raised were not his own has offered a £5,000 reward to find their real father's identity and will drop hints in an upcoming book, it was revealed today...

After initial denials, his now ex-wife Kate admitted an on-off affair with a colleague during their 20-year marriage, but refused to name him and said they always used contraception.

We can summarise her logic thusly: "Even though you are certified infertile, they must be yours - I always used contraception when I was sleeping around."

Closer to home, my ex-wife once said: "He must be yours - he looks a lot like his brother."

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From The Metro:

First day back at work and I'm already fed up with people telling me how much better they are feeling during Dry January.

Firstly, I couldn't care less, and secondly, I am doing 'Febrewery' next month, when I will drink alcohol every day just to annoy you.

Ishmael, Watford.

Monday 7 January 2019

My first eBay auction!

I needed a replacement wheel for the MX5 (some arsehole drove into it), a single new OEM replacement is £180 plus postage, they can whistle for that.

I found a matching set on eBay for £179.99, seem to be in reasonably good nick (and I only need the best one anyway, the rest are for spare/for stacking in the shed to irritate Her Indoors).

I put in a cheeky bid of £80 (they normally go for £80 - £130), the seller countered with £110 and I accepted.

What a rush! I could get addicted to this.

Sunday 6 January 2019

"LED lights making dent in UK energy demand"

From the BBC:

The new analysis of government figures comes from the environmental analysis website Carbon Brief. Its author says EU product standards on light bulbs, fridges, vacuum cleaners and other appliances have played a substantial part in reducing energy demand.

Provisional calculations show that electricity generation in the UK peaked around 2005. But generation per person is now back down to the level of 1984 (around 5 megawatt hours per capita).

It’s widely known that the great switch from coal power to renewables has helped the UK meet ambitions to cut carbon emissions. The report says the use of renewables reduced fossil fuel energy by the equivalent of 95 terawatt hours (TWh) between 2005 and now. And last year renewables supplied a record 33% share of UK electricity generation.

But in the meantime, humble energy efficiency has contributed to cutting energy demand by 103 TWh. In other words, in the carbon-cutting contest, efficiency has won – so far. And what’s more, efficiency is uncontroversial, unlike wind and solar.

All good stuff, as far as I can see, even if you put the climate change wibble to one side.

Whether the UK government would have imposed the same product standards as the EU is unknown, but there is no reason to assume it couldn't have done so; whether consumers and manufacturers would have responded the same way in the absence of such standards is also unknown, but hey. Higher electricity prices (with or without taxes on top) will tend to have this effect all by themselves.
On a vaguely related topic, a few years ago, I bought some cheap roller blinds from IKEA for the windows and back door in our kitchen, so that I could reduce the glare of the winter sun shining directly on the telly and blinding me generally when it reflects off the sink and work surfaces.

I left them down in the evening and was surprised to see that they have really good insulating properties as well. They're just thin bits of white cloth with small gaps around them, but they do make the room noticeably warmer, even when I leave the back door open a couple of inches for ventilating cigarette smoke.

So a doubleplusgood investment of about £10 per window plus a couple of hours faff.