Monday 31 October 2022

Question? (From a 'not a lawyer')

Is 'English Common law a product of the free market?

If so, Statute Law might be thought of as 'nationalised law?

The difference between, what is lawful (Common Law) and what is legal (Statute Law).

And whatabout the new kid on the block - Regulatory Law?

That is, does English Common Law preserve freedom, liberty and the Rule of Law? And Statute Law and Regulatory Law restrict freedom and liberty, and compromise the Rule of Law where they conflict with Common Law?

The $64,000 question being, can we do without Statute and Regulatory Law?  Relying solely on English Common Law to protect people and their property?

Asking for a friend.

Thursday 27 October 2022

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (494)

I haven't done one of these for ages, mainly because I've done them all and Sobers isn't trying to invent new ones. However, I tend to ramble on a bit with my rebuttals, and would like to simplify them as much as possible.

Here's a classic KLN:

"LVT would discourage improvements, like the Window Tax did. Buildings would fall into disrepair." Sometimes expressed as "Developers would all go out of business."

Short answer: only if the tax payable on each plot were directly related to the current condition of any buildings and improvements on them. As long as the owner's actions have no impact on their tax bill, they will just get on with making the best of things (or not, according to attitude and available cash). ENDOF.

I have always said that valuations will/should be carried out as follows:
1. Grouping, banding and averaging the values of similar buildings/plots within each smaller valuation area,
2. Assuming that the average £ values for such buildings/plots in the lowest value areas represents the £ zero location value baseline,
3. Subtracting the baseline value from the average values for similar buildings/plots in each other smaller area across the whole country,
4. The excess in values for similar buildings/plots over this baseline in all other smaller areas is due to their location alone, which is what LVT should be taxing.
5. The amount payable for all similar buildings/plots in each smaller area will be exactly the same, regardless of the condition of the building itself.
6. As a final tweak, compare the valuations for different types of building in the same smaller area. For example, semi-detached houses should be less than detached houses and more than terraced houses, and maybe apply some sort of fixed ratio between overall types, for which we can use the normal Council Tax bands, so larger detached houses pay 18/9 and bedsits pay 4.5/9 of whatever is payable for a bog-standard 3-bed semi with one off-street parking space, which would be 9/9.

This has the merit of simplicity/cheapness if nothing else. Whether those valuations are based on total selling price or rental values, and whether they are adjusted down to ignore the likely value of the buildings and improvements are secondary issues on which I am heartily indifferent, I don't think it really matters.

Tactically, it is better to go for a low official valuation (and apply a higher tax rate) to get the target amount. This reduces the number of appeals against the valuation, and people tend to accept the tax rate as a given. Economically, as long as average selling prices are higher than rebuild costs, which can be taken from typical insurance quotes, then the tax is less than 100% of location value and no harm done.

While we're on the topic, there is a long list of features of the current tax system which actually do discourage improvements, with which I won't bore you. These reduce the after-tax benefit of making them by about half.

The follow up KLN is then this:

"But the LVT will take money out of people's pockets, leaving them less to spend on improvements."

All taxes do that, that is the whole point of taxation. Whether you've paid £1,000 income tax, NIC, VAT or LVT leaves you the same net cash. At least with LVT, you know that you get twice the bang for your buck if you do pay for improvements. And a large part of the tax money spent by govermnent goes back into maintaining location values. With LVT, that would be a primary aim of govermnent - they are like a landlord business trying to maximise their rental income (on behalf of their 'owners', being every single voter in the country, who get dividends in cash or in kind) by keeping things as nice as possible.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Climate science: adaptation not necessarily a good thing and evolution is much faster than we thought

From The Guardian:

Narwhals have been delaying their seasonal migration because of the impact of the climate crisis, suggesting an ability to adapt to the changing Arctic but increasing the risk that they may become trapped in ice, according to new research.

That's not really adaptation, is it? That relates to more fundamental things.

We like being in the garden in the summer when the weather's nice; we go inside again when it cools off. We don't look at a clock and go inside at a set time each day. It's the same with the narwhals, when the Arctic gets too cold for them in autumn/winter, they move south. Or maybe, as DCB suggests in the comments, the fish move south and the narwhals follow them. The narwhals don't have a calendar that tells them which date to head south, their body thermometer/lack of prey tells them when. That's not adaptation, that is what they are pre-programmed to do.

Having established that they are plenty intelligent enough to cope with such changes, there has to be some bad news ("increased risk that they may become trapped" etc).

“The rate of change that we’re seeing now in the Arctic is a huge concern for a lot of animals because it could exceed how quickly the animals can adapt through evolution,” said Shuert [Canadian researcher].

Evolutionary changes happen on much slower time scales than a few decades and is completely irrelevant here. They have already evolved to cope with very cold temperatures and are pre-programmed to migrate north or south to sort of hit the optimum each year, whenever that is.

I would assume that they are descended from warm water marine animals and gradually evolved to be able to spread to new, colder areas (where there were fewer predators per available fish stocks) over time by developing thicker blubber etc. How long did this evolution take? Longer than the last few proper 100,000-year Ice Age cycles, of which we fragile and delicate humans have also survived several, that's for sure.

Monday 24 October 2022

Climate Science breakthrough - water flows uphill!

From Sky News:

Just Stop Oil vow to keep causing disruption - and have this message for people who are affected...

Morgan Trowland, a 39-year-old civil engineer, said the demonstration was helping to "reach the social tipping point we so urgently need" on climate change.

And when asked about those who had been disrupted, he added they should "have a thought and empathy" for the 33 million people displaced by floodwater in Pakistan caused by melting ice caps this year.

Wow. I assumed that the floods were due to monsoon rain being a bit heavier this year because of La Niña. This falls as relief rain in the Himalayas, cascades down the Indus and Ganges/Bramaputra basins and then swells these rivers and inundates low lying areas in Pakistan and north east India/Bangaldesh respectively.

(Was the amount of water involved unusual? Nope. Were more people affected than previously? Quite possibly yes, because of higher populations and piss poor urban/land use planning. Most of these so-called natural disasters are usually down to poor planning/land use. As a 'civil engineer' he ought to know this stuff.)

But nope, apparently it was a couple of extra millimetres of sea level from melted icecaps that flowed inland and slightly uphill wot dunnit!

Wednesday 19 October 2022

Headline news: Greece doesn't use much electricity in the night-time!

From Sky News:

Greece breaks a new record by running the country entirely on renewable energy for five hours

Well done, you think, reducing its reliance on fossil fuels etc... until you read the small print:

It reached a record high of 3,106MWh (megawatt hours) of electricity at 9am local time (7am UK time), according to IPTO, the country's independent power transmission operator.

Yup, during night-time/dawn period, when electricity consumption is only a fraction of daytime peak usage.

So this sort of statement is jumping the gun a bit:

Nikos Mantzaris, a partner at think tank the Green Tank said last Friday's performance was important because "it shows that a 100% renewable electricity system is within reach in Greece, a concept that was considered impossible by most opinion and decision makers in Greece before".

I'd consider this a 'gotcha' worthy of Ali G.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

In my next life.....

 ... I am coming back as something decorative and useless.  People will simply write me cheques for how I look.

In this life I am certainly not decorative but annoyingly I am not quite useless.  I am just competent enough to set up, run and grow a business.  It's bloody hard work.

But what's the bloody point when the obviously useless get paid to fail and then get re-appointed?  Yes, I am thinking of you Mr Jeremy Hunt (in passing I think of 'Hunt' in his context as a spelling error).

And because I am not entirely useless I worry about this crap. If I was really useless (or really clever I suppose) I wouldn't.


Mind you this J Hunt got it nearly right -

Thursday 13 October 2022

Pension funds - irrational behaviour

OK, you are a pension fund. You have promised recently retired Mr Saver a lifetime annuity of £2,000 a year and to match this, you have just bought some long-dated UK gilts for £100,000 nominal at 2.5% nominal interest, i.e. you have guaranteed cash income of £2,500 until they mature, which hopefully covers Mr Saver for life. You trouser £500 as your mark-up and pay him the rest. You don't really worry what the residual value of those gilts will be in two or three decades' time - the market value will move back towards nominal value as they approach maturity.

(Or maybe you invested £80,000 nominal at 2.5% interest and pay him the whole £2,000 coming in, and trouser the residual value in two or three decades as your mark-up, same sort of thing.)

Because the fiscally reckless Tories* are in charge, the value of your gilts plummets to 70p in the £1 (giving a notional interest rate of 4% or whatever). So what? The £2,500 interest income (or £2,000 interest income) is fixed, Mr Saver's annuity is covered and there is nothing to worry about. When Mr Saver dies, you sell or keep the gilts, or maybe they mature before he dies and you pay his last few years' annuity out of the proceeds.

So why are pension funds selling off gilts like topsy? Did they invest current savers' money into gilts? That's a terrible idea, as they are not even going to keep pace with inflation, they should be investing in shares.

In the spirit of putting my money where my mouth is, I opened a Stocks and Shares ISA this morning and have chipped in £10,000 for some units in the Santander Sterling Gilt Fund at 211p per unit (or at least I hope I have done, it can take a while for this to go through). Let's see what happens...

* The popular notion that the Tories are fiscally prudent and Labour are fiscally reckless is pure Indian Bicycle Marketing, actually the reverse is true (historically and to the present day). Which is one of the reasons why I have concluded that what this country needs is a Labour national government and Tory local councils, who seem to ignore most of the meddling crap from the national government (they are reluctant to employ Tobacco Control Officers or impose 20 mph speed limits on country lanes) and just run actual necessary public services.

Monday 10 October 2022

Modern Monetary Theory - Kwasi but twue

The MMT view of things is perfectly simple and covers the taxation/funding side as well as the spending side.

1. When the government spends money, it is printing or creating money. It does not need to 'borrow' money to spend, either there will be more coins and notes in circulation or more Treasury Bonds (or their digital equivalents). These are just two types of the same thing. Cash is liquid and non-interest bearing, bonds are less liquid and interest bearing. But both are just numbers on bits of metal, paper or in an electronic register somewhere, issued and backed by the self-same government.

2. When the government collects taxes, it is unprinting or destroying money. The purpose of this is to create demand for the currency (primary aim) and hence avoid inflation and keep interest rates down (outcomes). It is broadly agreed that that low inflation and interest rates are A Good Thing.

Some MMT supporters look at the first part, the spending/printing side and say, "Oh well, that means that the government doesn't need to borrow money or collect taxes to be able to spend", which is to completely ignore the second part. These people are moving the debate backwards and discrediting MMT, which is not a policy recommendation, it is a simple description of how things work.

The recent Truss/Kwarteng foray into cutting taxes was a bad idea politically (it would have increased inequality) but the financial markets don't care about that, they care about the second part. Unfunded tax cuts reduce demand for a currency and hence lead to the currency weakening relative to other currencies; hence imported price inflation; as well as higher domestic inflation (more money sloshing about chasing the same amount of goods and services); and higher interest rates (to compensate for future expected inflation and general uncertainty that the government doesn't have a clue what it's doing).

Simply reversing the proposed tax cuts has reduced the damage in part, but not completely. If a car runs you over, you can't ameliorate your injuries by having the car reverse back over you again! And with Truss and Kwarteng at the controls, you can expect to be the victim of lots of hit and runs in future.

Saturday 8 October 2022

Economic Myths: there's nothing wrong with complexity

The expression "small is beautiful" is well known from a book of that tile written by economist E.F.Schumacher. A friend has just sent me a link to this blog post which shows how the converse is also true, that Large, in the sense of complex, is also Ugly, for the simple reason that we all intuitively know, that the more complex something is the more difficult it is to put right when it goes wrong.

Sadly, it is unlikely that the manifest failures of the system of contracts model over the last decades are going to be destructive of this particular myth any time soon, although the news of the insourcing of the B-21 at the end of the post offers a glimmer of hope.

Friday 7 October 2022

Science Deniers and the "isothermal atmosphere" (Now it's getting silly #2)

The Alarmists don't usually have the guts to say it out loud, but there is a sub-school of psuedo-scientists among them who seem to believe that in the absence of Greenhouse Gases, the atmosphere would be the same temperature all the way up. That's the problem with flawed theories, you have to keep adding new theories to explain the previous contradictions until it gets laughable.

This is complete insanity; we know that there must be a lapse rate, either from direct experience or reliable evidence from others:

1. Space is empty and "cold". There is nothing there to store thermal energy, so it is either close to absolute zero, or simply has no measurable temperature at all. So, the top layer of the atmosphere that merges into space (there is no hard dividing line) is also very cold.

2. Sunshine (or geo-thermal energy etc) warms the surface of a planet. This warms the air above it by simple conduction and convection. Radiation and back radiation are a side show, it does not matter if the atmosphere is 'non-greenhouse gases' like H, He or N2/O2 mix.

3. The atmosphere gets thinner (both pressure and density fall, but not at the same rate) as you go up. So it's thickest at sea level and thinnest where it merges into space.

4. On the basis of this, it would be reasonable - and correct - to assume that the temperature also falls as you go up, as mountaineers and aviators will testify. If a hypothetical atmosphere were isothermal, what temperature would it be? As cold as space or as warm as the surface? The pseudo-scientists never commit one way or another.

5. Actual scientists, who do proper observations and measurements without prejudice as to explanations, tell us that the thicker the atmosphere, the warmer a planet is at the centre. It gets warmer as you go down, even if not much (and effectively no) sunlight ever gets to the centre. Gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn) get precious little sunlight, have atmospheres that are tens of thousands of kilometres thick and as far as we know, their cores are tens of thousands of degrees hot. That's how stars form, a cloud of (initially cold) hydrogen has enough gravity to compress the gas in the centre to a very high temperature and pressure, sufficient to trigger nuclear fusion (which also gives off thermal energy, but that is a separate phenomenon).

[6. Sure, some of gas giants' core heat is created by a distant relative of nuclear fusion (I don't claim to understand it, but hey), but we notice it even on Venus, whose hard surface gets very little sunshine, but its atmosphere is a hundred times as thick as Earth's and its surface is hundreds of degrees hotter. I am quite sure, on the basis of all this, that atmospheric thickness is as important in determining hard surface temperature as is incoming sunlight, even though that is a bit counter-intuitive. How else would stars form? There's no sunlight to kick-start them, so where does the internal temperature come from..?]

7. Any other assumptions are madness. This lapse rate or temperature gradient is stable; it exists whatever the constituent gases are. It exists largely because of the trade-off between thermal energy (at the surface) and potential or gravitational energy higher up (energy of whatever type likes to spread out evenly - similar to entropy). And the ratio between temperature, pressure and density is such that it complies with the Gas Laws all the way up. An atmosphere will not and cannot ever become isothermal.

What brings on this rant/recap of things I have explained many times before?

I followed a link from the recent article I covered about hurricanes. The interviewee makes some good points, but being an Alarmist, they let slip that their underlying assumption is that without GHG's, the atmosphere would be isothermal. They must know that this is bollocks and do not actually commit to saying that air would be absolute zero, although this is implied:

... we would not have hurricanes were it not for the greenhouse effect, by the way.

Here’s how it works. The sunlight heats the ocean. And if there were no atmosphere, the ocean would get rid of its heat simply by emitting radiation — it’s called “infrared radiation,” radiation you can’t see — back into space. And it would be a simple balance. That’s, for example, the balance that exists on the surface of the moon and the soil that’s facing the sunlight. And the moon has a certain temperature which you can easily calculate, so that’s it’s emitting just as much radiation as it’s getting from the sun.

But the earth has this nice blanket of gasses around it. And some of those gasses are very important greenhouse gasses, water vapor being the most important, and also carbon dioxide, methane. And those gasses absorb some of the heat coming back up from the planet, and then re-radiate it back down to the surface.

Are we to believe that 'pure' air, with no water vapour or CO2, would not be warmed up by a warm surface? That there is no such thing as conduction and convection?

Surely this would be easy to test with a controlled experiment. First run the experiment with 'normal' air (with a bit of water vapour and CO2) exposed to a warm surface, and then re-run it with 'pure' air - I am pretty sure that they would settle at the same temperature, how would the one with 'normal' air settle at a higher temperature? They cheat by shining bright lights on the containers - the theory says that GHG's 'trap' the IR coming up from the oceans/land, not sunlight coming in, so these experiments prove nothing.

And air (whether pure or normal) absorbs, stores or 'traps' thermal energy, it's an insulator - that's how warm clothing and double-glazing work. There is far more thermal energy in the atmosphere that there is in the top layer of the soil/rocks or ocean surface (those bits that warm by day and cool by night).

And as it happens, the 'effective surface' of the Earth or Venus acts just like the Moon. It emits just as much radiation to space as it receives from the Sun. When you calculate 'effective temperature', you are working on the basis of 'what the planet looks like from space', so only the 'effective surface' that you see from space is relevant.

Which in the case of Venus the effective surface is just clouds, and in the case of Earth it is two-thirds clouds and one-third exposed oceans or land. The actual temperature of these clouds is - not uncoincidentally* - the same as the planet's effective temperature. What happens between clouds and the surface between them is a separate, closed system and has nothing to do with what happens between the planet and space, which is all the effective temperature calculations can tell you.

* Nothing is ever as simple as that - upper surface of clouds on Earth happen to be at effective temperature because of two smaller independent adjustments, one up, one down.

Tuesday 4 October 2022

Now it's getting silly...

Nuclear War Could Reverse Global Warming says the Huffington Post quoting the National Geographic.

Hey, instead of waiting decades for climate change to make the world uninhabitable (which isn't going to happen anyway), let's do it in days with a nuclear war.

Monday 3 October 2022

"To understand the scale of the climate emergency, look at hurricanes"

... says everybody's favourite go-to source of Climate Change Porn.

Let's follow their advice and look at long term records.

And... we establish that there is no discernible pattern or long term trend, it's entirely random, and this year 2022 (so far) has seen relatively few major hurricanes.

Admittedly there is a lot of cherry picking with this - the Alarmists sneak in definitions like 'costliest' (of course $ damages are going up, the Yanks have built a lot more valuable stuff near the coastline over the past century); or include weaker sub-hurricanes (which show up more in the records because people didn't used to bother counting them, or they formed and dissipated far out at sea); or select shorter time periods over which there appears to be a trend (2004 was a bad year, but preceded and followed by several years with no landfalling hurricanes) and so on.

So believe who you want, I always prefer raw data where the parameters are clear and consistent. The raw data just shows random patterns since 1851, and if we're using hurricanes as a yard stick, there is no climate crisis.