Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Burning Our Money - More FakeCharity Fun!

From today's FT:

Environmental groups last night launched what could be a landmark lawsuit against the Treasury to force it to ensure that taxpayers' money invested in the Royal Bank of Scotland supports only projects that satisfy minimum green and human rights standards.

The move is the latest sign of how the government's stakes in some of Britain's biggest commercial banks could affect the companies' operations. Three groups of environmentalists - the World Development Movement (1), Platform (2) and People & Planet (3) - are behind the case, which has been lodged at the High Court.


*Ahem*

Did they say "Environmental groups"?

(1) I covered the World Development Movement last September.

(2) Platform "receives funding from foundations and trusts, state bodies and individuals, from across the sectors of our work: the arts, environment, social justice and education.

[Their] current funders include: Arts Council England - London; Artists Project Earth; Ashden Trust; Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust; CS Mott Foundation; Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust; Lipman Miliband Foundation; Network for Social Change*
Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation; Roddick Foundation; Sigrid Rausing Trust; Tedworth Trust; Wallace Global Fund.


* The Network for Social Change also dole out money to the World Development Movement, see (1) above.

(3) People & Planet appears to be funded via the People & Planet Trust. Note 3 to their 2008 accounts shows that they received £36,586 in grants from Bridge House Trust; City Parochial Trust; Network for Social Change*; Ferguson Trust; Commitment for Life.

* Yup. Them again.

*/ahem*

Well there's your answer, or at least part of it...

MacHeath left a comment here as follows:

Which brings me neatly to another point - do we know how much is being paid out in compensation for these [NHS] mistakes, to say nothing of the expensive long-term care needed when cancer has gone untreated for years?

From the BBC today:

The rising cost of litigation means the NHS has had to put aside a record £787m this year to cover the cost of claims.

Let's round that up to £1 billion to cover all the internal reports and enquiries and so on, which makes about one per cent of the NHS annual budget. Obviously, I don't know what the comparable figure for private hospitals is, or how much it would cost to insure against the risks.

More anagram tomfoolery

Headline from the BBC:
 

More fun with fake statistics ...

From today's BBC:

Alcohol may have caused the death of twice as many Scots as previously thought, an NHS study has found. Researchers used a new method of calculating alcohol-related deaths which is said to more accurately reflect the damage done by drinking. They estimated that 2,882 deaths - one in every 20 - could be attributed to alcohol in 2003...

Pathetic performance, frankly!

Back in April, they had already claimed that the number of 'alcohol-induced deaths' was "up to five times the official figure". T'would be joyous indeed if the BBC ran a headline saying something along the lines of "Previous wild over-estimate of alcohol-related* deaths now revised down by sixty per cent".

* I accept that there are distinctions to be drawn between alcohol-induced and alcohol-related, but let's not split hairs.

Correction Of The Week

From today's FT:

The re-election of Meles Zenawi as prime minister of Ethiopia in 2005 was marred by vote-rigging allegations, not the election of 2000 as wrongly stated in an article on June 23.

More EU DoubleThink

From the BBC:

Germany's Constitutional Court has ruled that the EU's Lisbon Treaty is compatible with German law - but has suspended ratification of it...

And why, pray tell?

... The court said extra national legislation was needed to ensure that the German parliament participated fully in adopting EU laws.

Surely, if they have to amend German domestic law first, then the Lisbon Treaty is not compatible with existing German domestic law?

Sudoku joke (6)

Monday, 29 June 2009

BBC Glastonbury Numbers

*** Please note I am not Mark Wadsworth ***

Staff required to film, edit and produce 1970s festival movie Woodstock: 80*
Staff required by the BBC to film, edit and produce Glastonbury 2009: 405.

* Which was shot on film with the sound on tape and manually edited, unlike today where it's all done with computers.

Sudoku joke (5)

Awards For All!

According to their website, "Awards for All is a Lottery grants scheme funding small, local community-based projects in the UK. Each country is running its own programme, so find out how our grant can help your project by clicking on your country."

If that is the case, why are they giving money this fakecharity, which operates nationally and is otherwise mainly funded by the Department of Health?

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?

From The Metro:

Nine out of 10 people fear NHS services will be cut as a result of the recession while some would be willing to pay more taxes, according to a poll. The survey of 1,071 people from across the UK found 89% also fear waiting times for treatment will increase. A total of 85% think there will be more charges for NHS treatments while 80% believe the health service should prioritise funding for the most important services.

The survey was released by the British Medical Association (BMA) on the eve of its annual conference in Liverpool. More than three-quarters (77%) of the public said cuts should be made in other government departments to protect NHS funding in the recession. Four out of 10 (40%) would also be willing to pay more taxes to protect the growth of NHS funding in the future...


Madness indeed. Even if we accept that the NHS should be the main provider (different topic), there is no need for a cut in its budget to translate into worse services - if you sacked all NHS staff who work in admin and paper-shuffling, you could cut the NHS budget by a quarter and no patient would notice a thing.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

It was funnier the first time

The fox (assuming the miscreant to be a fox) dug yet another hole in the garden, sometime between last Wednesday evening and this morning. The hole was over a foot deep, a foot wide and the pile of earth that had been thrown backwards (which would be just off the bottom right hand corner of the picture) was about six inches deep and two foot across. Quite remarkable really:

Traffic lights (10)

When I drop the kids of at school in the morning at 8.20 am, there is a usually a long queue of traffic going downhill (about half a mile long and moving very slowly i.e. slower than I can walk), although there is very little congestion at the top (about five or ten cars, max.).

You might assume that this is because all the commuters are heading downhill (despite that being the direction away from, rather than towards, central London) in the morning, in which case, you would expect to see a long queue uphill on their return journey in the afternoon rush-hour and traffic moving freely downhill.

Far from it. For the first time in ages I happened to be driving up the hill at 5.45 pm yesterday, and there was still a very long queue going downhill, so that rules out that explanation.

Might it be because there is only a mini-roundabout at the top of the hill (and the next set of traffic lights is a good half-mile away) but there is a set of traffic lights at the bottom?

Just askin', is all.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Friday night gear changes

My already low opinion of Michael Jackson (no, not this one) was not enhanced by the timing of his passing, which pushed the delightful Farrah Fawcett (it has always puzzled me why this particular fakecharity named itself in her honour, but hey) out of the headlines.

As further evidence for the prosecution, I present the following Truck Driver's Gear Changes:

Rock with you

Man in the mirror

Heal the world

Conspiracy Theory Of The Week

The BBC ran a nice fluffy article yesterday titled Stoned wallabies make crop circles. The comments beneath it are delightfully funny, but it's this that caught my eye:

Australia supplies about 50% of the world's legally-grown opium used to make morphine and other painkillers.

Hmmm. We also know that one of the reasons/excuses given for NATO troops hanging around in Afghanisatan, years after achieving the perfectly legitimate aim of overthrowing the Taliban, was to reduce the amount of poppy cultivation (which has backfired most spectacularly, of course).

Now, is it possible, just possible, that the reason why Australia is willing to deploy a disproportionate number of troops is to preserve its own quasi-monopoly? Wouldn't it be cheaper and better all round for drug companies to source their opiates from Afghanistan?

Just askin', is all.

Cherie Blair's Fifteen Minutes Of Fame

Scroll down to "Image results" here.

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From the FT:
 
Sir, If it is true that the "Buy American" provisions will increase wealth and safeguard jobs within the US economy (Tug-of-war over Buy American, June 24), then what is the sense in stopping there?
 
Surely a "Buy Californian", "Buy Minnesotan" and "Buy Oklahoman" series of laws would, by the same logic, maximise wealth and jobs within each state – and adding these sums would create an even more prosperous US in total.
 
"Buy from Sioux Falls", "Buy Twin City Goods" and "Buy from Petaluma" acts should then follow on the road to world economic leadership through trading mainly within each family.
 
HĂ„kan Jonsson, European Affairs Consultant, Stockholm, Sweden.

Sudoku joke (4)

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Vote Blue, Go Green

It seems that Walker's idea of swapping round the colours between packets of salt'n'vinegar and cheese'n'onion crisps still hasn't gained acceptance; only 49% got the right answer in last week's Fun Online Poll (I cheerfully admit that I popped down to the kitchen to check - and yes, Walker's cheese'n'onion crisps really are sold in blue packets). Thanks to everybody who took part, as ever - it's not just me then.

The story about the US bombing a civilian village, allegedly, has inspired this week's Fun Online Poll. I've tried not to give 'leading' answers this time. Vote here, or use the widget in the sidebar.

The Basic Unit Of Evil

From the BBC:

Pre-packed salads are often not the healthier option, with some supermarket items higher in calories and fat than a Big Mac and fries, a report warns...

I have no particular interest in proscribing what people eat or any specialised knowledge on healthy diets - but what stinks here is the fundamental assumption that a Big Mac with chips* is the quintessence of an unhealthy meal.

Why? It's a bread-bun, some meat, a bit of salad maybe, some potatoes fried in vegetable oil, washed down with a drink that's 99% pure water, end of.

* I don't use the f-word if at all possible.

Edmund Conway rocks!

Writing in The Torygraph (of all places):

The problem is that, however chimerical the recovery, we have not yet absorbed the more fundamental message. Housing bubbles are bad news – yes, even when prices rise rather than fall. In bad times, there are families that suffer the pain and indignity of losing their homes, and households that see their finances crippled, perhaps permanently, by the whims of the market.

But an overheated property market is also a ferociously disruptive force in most families' lives: it prompts them to buy homes that are bigger than they really need, and buy them sooner than they probably should, and leaves them vulnerable to a fall in prices. Also, bubbles distribute wealth (or at least perceived wealth) at random. Someone buying their first home in 2002 would have seen its value leap by more than 40 per cent over the next two years; anyone doing so in 2007 would have seen the price drop by around 25 per cent in the same period...

The solution is twofold: first, to ensure that banks never allow their customers to take on debt that could cripple them. This is where the Bank of England comes in. In the past, it has had a single target – to control inflation...

Second, the Government must reshape the tax system so that it does not favour home ownership. This may mean experimenting with a land tax, whereby families pay annual taxes based on the value of their home and land; it may mean imposing capital gains tax on first homes. Both steps would help prevent another bubble, although they would have unpredictable side effects.


Capital gains tax would make things worse, of course, as it would discourage people from trading down, hence make it more expensive to trade up, i.e. leading to misallocation of resources (the entirely predictable, and undesirable, side effects). As to land value tax, that's the whole point - LVT supporters have been thinking through the consequences for over two centuries (starting with Adam Smith, AFAIAA), and they are entirely intended, to wit, dampening bubbles and busts; ensuring efficient allocation of resources; and aligning interest of sellers, buyers and 'the state'.

Now, somebody say something like 'what about low-income people being priced out of their own homes?', which we did to death last week.

More car scrappage tomfoolery

From the BBC:

Ford is to raise its UK prices by an average of 4%, blaming the move on the weakness of the pound against the euro. It is the third time this year that Ford has raised prices. They rose by 4.7% in February and by 3.75% in April. The list price of Ka, Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo models will rise by between £600 and £650 while an S-Max will cost £700 more and a Galaxy will go up by £800.

Ford conceded that raising prices, in a recession with a scrappage scheme in place, "may seem counter-intuitive".


Counterintuitive? Well, duh, as I pointed out here when the scheme was first announced,

... with a huge overcapacity in car manufacturing and a lack of credit, it is a buyer's market - any new car buyer can easily haggle a discount of fifteen or twenty per cent off list price, so even if there were a notional £2,000 subsidy, it begs the question, what is the base price from which the £2,000 is to be deducted?

All your comments were most helpful, but top marks must go to Adrian Wrigley, who commented thusly:

"The Government is trying to offer £1000 to split between the car buyer and car seller. What effect will this have on the price in the market? Presumably the price will fall between £0 and £1000 depending on elasticities, frictional costs etc... I suggest the market price will fall by less than £300... Just a hunch."

That was a bloody good hunch, is all I can say.

Ford will first reduce the 'haggle' discount by £1,000, to soak up the taxpayer-funded voucher. These discounts are informal, so there is no way that anybody can ever prove one way or another that they did it. This leaves the £1,000 manufacturer's contribution to play for - if the list price goes up by £600 - £800, and buyers end up saving between £200 and £400 (compared to what they'd pay if there were no scheme).

Plus the buyer has to hand in a second hand car, that may be worth less than the £2,000 (the face value of the scrappage scheme voucher + discount), but in most cases worth more than the £300 average saving.

Ah well.

Gratuitous swearing-related post

See The Sun.

Sudoku joke (3)

"Jailing family cuts crime to 20-yr low"

From The Metro:

The jailing of a notorious criminal family has apparently cut crime rates to a 20-year low.

Members of the Johnson gypsies were an 'organised and ruthless' gang, which committed 100 offences – including a series of stately home burglaries thought to have netted £80million.

Crime fell from more than 52,000 offences in 2006/7 to 44,000 last year, after their arrest, said Gloucester police.

Five men were convicted of conspiracy to commit burglary and jailed for a total of 50 years at Reading crown court.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Hole

Her Indoors* discovered this hole in her vegetable patch, which wasn't there a week ago. The 12" ruler is there to give an idea of the scale. Any thoughts?


* Obviously, Her Indoors was Outdoors at the time she noticed it.

More FakeCharity Fun

The Metro did a brief summary of this press release, but as ever, there's a lot more fun to be had with the BBC's version:

Hull is the British city with the highest rate of youth unemployment, a study has said, with 9.85% of under-25s claiming jobless benefits in May. Sunderland had the second worst rate of 9.45% with Barnsley third at 9.13%, the Centre for Cities research group(1) said...

The Centre for Cities predicted that the number of long-term unemployed young people would rise from 130,000 in May 2009 to 350,000 by December 2011. The figures for the number of long-term unemployed people are based on the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) figures(2), instead of the number of people claiming benefits...

It said that the government's Future Jobs Fund, which aims to create 150,000 jobs for young people by 2011, would not be enough... "So it will need to be targeted very carefully on those young people in cities that have seen a recent rise in unemployment due to the recession."(3)

The Future Jobs Fund is £1bn that local authorities, companies and other organisations can bid for to fund the creation of jobs for young people who have been out of work for a year or more. At least 50,000 of the jobs created are supposed to be in unemployment hotspots. The deadline for the first round of bids for the fund is 30 June.(4)


(1) And who are 'The Centre For Cities'? Ah ... an offshoot of everybody's fakecharity, the Institute for Public Policy Research.

They're not funded directly by the taxpayer, but by Sainsbury's, who seem to be exercising a lot of influence over government policy for relatively little cash cost, see e.g. point 2 here, and their involvement with other fakecharities such as We Need To Talk, scroll down to the footer of their website.

Remember also that "Sainsbury's came top overall for the second time in a row, gaining praise for its progress on labelling and nutrition, and scoring highly on customer information." in a survey carried out by yet another fakecharity, The National Consumer Council.

(2) "The figures for the number of long-term unemployed people are based on the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) figures". IIRC, the ILO are a pretty reliable lot, but what this means it that the CFC's research consisted of sticking a ruler on an existing chart and extrapolating a bit.

(3) The BBC being the BBC, their template is to start off an article by referring to some 'research' carried out by a 'charity', just to soften up the audience for a plu for some government scheme or other, in this case 'the Future Jobs Fund'. Note carefully the use of the word 'targetted'.

(4) As to the last paragraph, am I just being overly suspicious, or is Sainsbury's angling for some subsidies for 'creating' new jobs? Does Sainsbury's have a lot of supermarkets in the towns and cities highlighted in the report? As we well know, supermarkets are incredibly flexible employers and can create jobs at will, for example by splitting up a job into two part time ones, or taking on 'trainees' (funded by the FJF, no doubt) instead of replacing leavers in the normal course of business.

If we apply the patented DBC Reed Test, the report doesn't mention Northampton, so is probably completely made up.

Outbreak of commonsense in Taiwan

 
Taiwan began a process of legalising prostitution making it the latest place, to decriminalise the world's oldest profession.
In six months, authorities will stop punishing Taiwan sex workers after prostitutes successfully campaigned to be given the same protection as their clients(1), a government spokesman said...
 
Taiwan outlawed prostitution 11 years ago, but older sections of the capital Taipei still teem with underground sex workers in bars and night clubs on the upper floors of high-rise buildings. The Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters, a Taipei-based advocacy group, estimates that 600,000 people are involved in sex-related jobs...
 
Taiwan is the latest place to legalise prostitution. New Zealand allowed brothels to operate freely in 2003, when parliament narrowly voted to overturn 100-year-old sex laws. A court in Bangladesh decriminalised the trade in 2000, but for women only.
 
(1) Cue inevitable joke.
 
 

"I have nothing"

Whitney Houston's I will always love you is often touted as one of the best/worst examples of the truck-driver's gear-change genre.

I think it's a tad unfair to single out that one without mentioning "I have nothing" (also from the soundtrack of 'The Bodyguard'). For the more tone-deaf among you, she sings the phrase "Don't make me close one more door" in the normal key starting at 1 min 20 seconds; by the time she gets round to it again at 3 mins 40 seconds, the song has gotten so tedious and dull that somebody somewhere thought that inserting a 'dramatic' pause half-way through the phrase; bunging in a semi-tone gear change; reverting to the normal tempo; and finishing off the song a semi-tone higher would liven things up a bit. If you listen carefully, this particular crime happens just before she sings the word 'close' at 3 mins 44 seconds.

If this doesn't set your teeth on edge*, then nothing will:



* If you're watching this during your lunchbreak, then my apologies.

FakeCharity Fun

From the BBC:

A £1m government scheme to help failed asylum seekers and their children return home resulted in just one family leaving Britain, the BBC has learned. The pilot scheme in Kent, run by the charity Migrant Helpline(1), was aimed at reducing the number of children locked up in detention centres each year. The Children's Society(2) said it was a "real scandal" an opportunity to do more for the families had been missed.

(1) From Migrant Helpline's 2008 accounts (page 5):

During the year, £3.6m was received from the Home Office in order to manage the Asylum Support Programme. In addition, all direct costs incurred on behalf of the client were reimbursed in full, including costs of accommodation and transport. In total, this sum was in excess of £6.5m.

£243,001 was received from the Social Policy Unit of the Home Office to manage a reception service for refugees arriving under the UK's Gateway Protection Programme. Additional Restricted Funds were also received as mentioned in Note 3 to the accounts.

Donations and sundry income amounted to £7,561.

£91,130 was received from interest earned on deposits. This is unrestricted income. The major call on Unrestricted Funds has been to support the EU Migration Project.


(2) From The Children's Society's 2008 accounts (page 19):

'Income from charitable activities' (local and central government) increased by £0.2Million to £9.3Million as government commissioning arrangements began to settle down.

Sudoku joke (2)

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

And this is just the 'A's...

There was a fine set of articles in today's FT showing a breakdown of taxpayer-funded jobs. The lead article is here and fun interactive charts here.

A nice pie chart shows, for example, that there are 1,419,000 working in education. Given that a fair pupil-to-teacher ratio is about 20:1, and there are approx. ten million school age children (OK, 7% go private, but let's stick to round numbers), that makes around half a million teachers, plus let's say half again for admin and caretakers and so on, or 750,000. What on earth do the other 669,000 do all day long? (and don't tell me 'HE and FE' because they'd net off with teachers in private sector).

Anyways, the best sub-article is titled "And this is just the 'A's...", where they have cheerfully cut and pasted the following list from the DCA's index of public bodies subject to Freedom Of Information requests:

The Adjudication Panel for Wales.
The Adjudicator for the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise.
The Administration of Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee.
The Adult Learning Inspectorate.
The Advisory Board on Restricted Patients.
The Advisory Board on the Registration of Homoeopathic Products.
The Advisory Committee for Disabled People in Employment and Training.
The Advisory Committee for the Public Lending Right.
The Advisory Committee on Advertising.
The Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs.
The Advisory Committee on Borderline Substances.
The Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment.
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.
The Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors.
The Advisory Committee on Consumer Products and the Environment.
The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens.
The Advisory Committee on Distinction Awards. [This organisation is now known as the Advisory committee on Clinical Excellence Awards]
An Advisory Committee on General Commissioners of Income Tax.
The Advisory Committee on the Government Art Collection.
The Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances.
The Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites.
An Advisory Committee on Justices of the Peace in England and Wales.
The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food.
The Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes.
The Advisory Committee on Organic Standards.
The Advisory Committee on Overseas Economic and Social Research.
The Advisory Committee on Packaging.
The Advisory Committee on Pesticides.
The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment.
The Advisory Committee on Statute Law.
The Advisory Committee on Telecommunications for the Disabled and Elderly.
The Advisory Council on Historical Manuscripts.
The Advisory Council on Libraries.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
The Advisory Council on National Records and Archives.
The Advisory Council on Public Records.
The Advisory Group on Hepatitis.
The Advisory Group on Medical Countermeasures.
The Advisory Panel on Beacon Councils.
The Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information
The Advisory Panel on Standards for the Planning Inspectorate.
The Aerospace Committee.
An Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committee.
An Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales.
An Agricultural Wages Committee.
The Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission.
The Air Quality Expert Group.
The Airborne Particles Expert Group.
The Alcohol Education and Research Council.
The All-Wales Medicines Strategy Group.
The Animal Procedures Committee.
The Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.
The Architects Registration Board.
The Armed Forces Pay Review Body.
The Arts and Humanities Research Council.
The Arts Council of England.
The Arts Council of Wales.
The Audit Commission for Local Authorities and the National Health Service in England and Wales.
The Auditor General for Wales.
The Authorised Conveyancing Practitioners Board

Er ... have they thought about changing their opening hours to suit the paying customer?

From The Metro:

A council has threatened to stop a waste collection service after residents created a 20-tonne rubbish mountain in the street.

The debris was piled up overnight on the Wonford estate in Exeter, Devon, and caused chaos by blocking the road... The authority's head of cleansing services, Mike Trim, said the residents' actions were dangerous and the bulky waste collection service would have to be stopped if they continued... "We have asked people not to put their goods out early and on this occasion there was about 20 tonnes put out the night before..." The council said items for collection should only be taken to the collection point when council staff are there - between 10am and 4pm.

My flabber is well and truly ghasted

From yesterday's Daily Hatemail:

More than a thousand pubs and village shops could close during the coming year due to the ongoing shortage of affordable homes in rural areas, it was warned today...

The mass closures are being blamed on declining demand for services in villages where local families have been priced out of the market by an influx of wealthy commuters and second homeowners. The gentrification of the countryside and the shortage of affordable homes has also made it increasingly difficult for pubs and shops to find workers who can afford to live locally on modest wages.


Wow! I always thought the DH was the last bastion of the NIMBY's and the Hallowed Green Belt Brigade. They don't even bother blaming this on immigrants (who, to be fair, clog up the waiting lists for council housing but hardly any of them move to the countryside, so the impact on house prices as such is negligible).

F***wittery Of The Week

From The Metro:

The BNP could face a legal injunction over a potential breach of race discrimination law relating to its membership policies, it was announced today.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said it had demanded that the party took action to address its constitution and membership criteria, employment practices and provision of services to the public and constituents. The BNP was asked to provide written undertakings by July 20 that it will make the required changes or it could face a legal injunction.


If I were the BNP (which I'm not, obviously) I'd just cave in right now and save myself all the legal hassle - it's not like they're going to be swamped with applications from non-whites is it?

Outbreak of commonsense in South Australia

The story about the Kingsnorth protestors being served with an injunction to make them leave the ship they hi-jacked, reminds me of my Bright Idea that instead of pressing criminal charges, the owners of Kingsnorth ought to sue them for civil damages.

That way you don't have to worry about a jury falling for some sob-story or other (and you scoring a massive own-goal), and however nominal the damages, they will be a heck of a lot more than the protestors can afford, in the long run.

It appears that enterprising sheep exporters in South Australia did exactly that (or try this link) when an 'activist' contaminated the sheep feedlot.

Whether $70,000 fully compensates the exporters and whether it includes punitive damages, I do not know. Whether the 'activist' will ever pay up, I do not know either. But I guess that the possibility of this sort of outcome will weigh much more heavily on protestors' minds than the risk that they end up in prison for a week or two and hence become martyrs to [whatever] cause.

More negative equity fun

From today's FT:

One in 10 borrowers with an excellent credit record are trapped in negative equity, owing more on their mortgage than the value of their homes, says a report that forecasts a peak-to-trough fall in house prices of up to 35 per cent.Tuesday's report by Fitch Ratings, which is based on loan information from 2.7m borrowers, found the highest concentration of negative equity was in Northampton, where 17 per cent of borrowers were under water...

Lenders with the highest levels of borrowers in negative equity included Northern Rock, which was nationalised in 2008, Bradford & Bingley, also rescued by the government, Birmingham Midshires, which is part of HBOS, and Alliance & Leicester, owned by Santander, the Spanish banking group.

In its report, Fitch said negative equity could rise to 23 per cent of all borrowers and to a third of all loans by value if its forecast of a peak-to-trough decline in house prices of 30-35 per cent was correct.

The study derived house values from the Nationwide House Price Index, which is down roughly 20 per cent so far. The high numbers of borrowers in negative equity reflected the impact of falling house prices and "criteria creep" among lenders that had offered loans at ever higher percentages of house purchase prices during the boom...

Sudoku joke

Monday, 22 June 2009

It's not just me then ...

Point one, on the subject of anything-must-be-better-than-FPTP, when MPs are selecting a new Speaker, they seem to go for STV/multiple round voting rather than FPTP. Funny that.

Point two, on the subject of gear changes, there are others who care, for example Abba Girl, and Titanic Captain (from Economic Voice) who has submitted this blindingly awful gear change (a full tone up at 2 mins 8 seconds) in a blindingly awful song:

Oops! He shouldn't have said that...

From The Metro:

A teacher who made a seven-year-old child stand in the corner of a classroom has been struck off the register for two years.

The pupil in Russell Doddington's class suffered from brittle bone disease. A professional competence hearing was told that Mr Doddington's teaching practice at Undy Primary School, in Caldicot, south Wales, was already being monitored when he inflicted the punishment.

A statement from the school's headteacher, Mark Gunn, said that when Doddington was asked about his behaviour, he stated: "Anyone would think this was the worst thing since the Holocaust."

Killer arguments against LVT, not (9)

From the comments here, we get the usual innumerate ramblings:

"Who then takes the benefit when the property is sold." Oh well that's OK then, never mind that people have household budgets, just tell them to sell the house if they find themselves short because of a cost forced upon them.

I do wonder sometimes whether people genuinely can't understand, or just don't want to understand.

Under the current system, somebody who buys a home pays large amounts in VAT, NI, income tax (A) and also a large mortgage (B). LVT would reduce the amount of the mortgage £ for £, so under a Georgist system, they would pay no income tax; and a combined LVT/mortgage bill equal to (B) and receive a Citizen's Dividend (C).By definition, B - C = A + B.

So for the life of the mortgage, the home-buyer would be better off. Of course, most mortgage borrowers pay off their mortgage after (say) twenty years - under current rules, they then still have to pay Council Tax and Income Tax. Under a Georgist system, after the mortgage had been paid off LVT minus Citizen's Dividend would be approximately the same as current Council Tax, maybe twice as much, but certainly a lot less than income tax + Council Tax, so they're still ahead of the game.

So yes, people who have bought a house in an area that becomes more desirable see a slight increase in their LVT bill, but only to the tune of a few hundred pounds, maybe even a couple of thousand in extreme cases. If they are still paying their mortgage, they can just reduce the mortgage repayments to compensate for the increased LVT, thus spreading the overall larger payments on a now more valuable property. And if they've paid off the mortgage, they either take the higher LVT bill on the chin (because it's worth a few hundred quid extra to stay living there) or they trade down. As mentioned before, pensioners would have a roll up option anyway.

Of course, if house prices rise generally (because economy is doing well or because interest rates have fallen), then everybody's LVT bill goes up, but so does the Citizen's Dividend, and it all nets off nicely.

What's not to like?

Another day, another reckless throw of the dice (27)

From The Metro:

The Government is doubling the funding available to give people who face losing their home free legal advice in court. Housing Minister John Healey said the Government was increasing the extra money for the service from £750,000 to £1.5 million. The service offers free on-the-spot legal help to people in England who are in court facing having their home repossessed or being evicted from rented accommodation...

However, the CML has recently indicated that it is considering revising down its forecast for repossessions for this year from its near-record level of 75,000.

Assuming that £1.5 million is an annual budget, that works out as £20 of 'free legal advice' per case, which is enough to pay for about ten minutes of solicitor's time. And if the scheme actually 'worked', does this not set the 'moral hazard' alarm bell ringing?

We have clearly sleepwalked into a post-modern tax/economic system, whereby savers are not only subsidising (reckless) borrowers (via artificially depressed interest rates), but then Timmy Taxpayer is being asked to foot the bill to help the self-same borrowers wriggle out of the responsibility of even paying the subsidised interest.

I accept that rising house prices are a symptom of a growing economy, but over the years, this logic has been turned on its head, and the generally accepted view is now that rising house prices are what drives the economy. Which is, presumably, why money is now being sucked out of the real economy in order to try and reflate the bubble...

Also chucklesome is this:

The Government has introduced a range of initiatives to help people avoid losing their homes, including the Homeowner Mortgage Support scheme, under which people can defer up to 70% of interest on their mortgage for up to two years.

It has also increased support for mortgage interest and introduced the Pre-Action Protocol under which courts can only grant repossession orders as a last resort. But recent figures showed that only two families have so far benefited from its mortgage rescue scheme.

NB, the original article appears to have disappeared.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

One chord thrash. With a gear change.

Will Young's 'Switch it on' is a rather jolly one chord thrash - with a full tone gear change at 2 mins 43 seconds. Which sort of defeats the object:

At last - Tory fakecharities!

From yesterday's Times:

Conservative MPs have paid £2.3 million from Commons allowances to a research company that opponents claim gives party political advice...

MPs are strictly forbidden from using Commons allowances to claim anything that relates to party political activity or might provide a benefit to a party political organisation. However, The Times has seen briefing papers produced by the PRU that outline Tory policies and the party’s opposition to government policies.

The Times has also discovered that Conservative MPs have spent tens of thousands of pounds of their allowances on other organisations with close Tory links. The Shadow Cabinet alone has claimed payments of more than £85,000 to Parliamentary Liaison Services, whose director, Mark Fullbrook, is a Tory councillor married to a prospective candidate for the party.

It also emerged that MP Services, which receives thousands of pounds in Commons allowances from Conservative MPs to write annual reports, is based at Conservative Party headquarters...

Iain Corby, its director, said that the PRU was not a political organisation and its services existed only to enable MPs to carry out their parliamentary duties. The organisation saved money as the PRU pooled the jobs of researchers, responding to constituents’ letters and providing research for debates in the Commons, he added. But John Mann, the Labour MP, said it was “directly and totally party political” and “should be recognised as such”. He claimed that he tried to join the PRU but received a letter of rejection because of his political allegiance.

A Conservative Party spokesman said that the PRU was a shared service that did not form party political views.

Fun Online Poll Results

When asked Which was the first country in the Euro-currency-zone? seventy-three per cent chose the option All the above countries joined on the same day, which is factually correct but does not answer the question.

As far as I understand it, all countries joined on 1 January 1999 at a 00:01. As Finland is in an earlier timezone than the other ten countries, it must have joined first. It's a bit like the stupid pub-quiz question, "Which month is longer - October or December?"

This week's Fun Online Poll asks "What colour are packets of cheese'n'onion crisps?" Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Killer arguments against LVT, not. (8)

I really ought to stop, but that thread is just the gift that keeps on giving:

Ian B: "Still, we are left with an unsolved problem in Georgism. If I do not own my land, the state I am a corpuscle of and empower cannot own it either. It thus has no more right to profit from it than I do."

Syntax notwithstanding, what's his point?

Neither I nor anybody else is a 'corpuscle of the state', but it must be beyond dispute that we are all 'corpuscles of society in general': most of us contribute towards our collective overall wealth (our families, employers and customers need us) and none of us could survive without the inputs of so many others (we need our families, employees and providers).

[Taking this to extremes, if you took a few of these faux-libertarians and dumped them on a deserted island, they would quickly notice that their earnings capacity, overall happiness and life expectancy would plummet like a stone. By the same token, if you took all the taxpayer-funded leeches to a deserted island, much the same would happen; and if you took all the land-owners away, ditto.]

And the basic Georgist or Geo-Libertarian idea recognises this - there would be no taxes on personal or corporate incomes - the only 'tax' would be on the surplus value that all sixty million of us resident on these shores create/have created/might create that currently accrues primarily to land-owners (estimated receipts about twenty per cent of GDP), and the receipts used to defray the 'core functions' of the state (about five to ten per cent of GDP) and the rest dished out as a Citizen's Dividend (about £60 per week per adult, half that for kids, twice that for pensioners).

[And that would be it - no State-run health or education, no Nanny State, nothing.]

So by definition, a median household would find that its LVT bill netted off neatly with its Citizen's Dividend; above and beyond that, it keeps and spends every penny of what it earns - if somebody decides he's had enough and moves abroad, he no longer has to pay LVT but no longer receives the CD. Which is fair enough - from that moment on, that person neither contributes to nor benefits from the efforts of people who live here.

Killer arguments against LVT, not. (7)

One final excellent denial of reality from that thread

Jonathan Pearce: "I deny that the existence of property rights requires the existence of a state with a monopoly of law enforcement or application of violence. Property rights can pre-date a state, rather than the other way round."

My response: "That's simply not true on a historical level or a logical level. The Vikings imposed their 'state' and Anglo-Saxon land ownership was wiped out, then the Normans imposed their 'state' and Viking land ownership was wiped out. Had the Germans won WW2, ditto. Or look at East Germany under the USSR.

Without land registration and the force of the state to e.g. evict squatters and non-paying tenants, protect you from burglars & trespassers, restrict your neighbour from extending his property and thus devaluing yours etc, land rights are more or less worthless - see for example Zimbabwe where law and order has broken down.

Or closer to home, why is UK farmland worth 1% as much as urban land? It's because a farm is worth what it's worth because of what it can be used to produce. [And] it requires relatively little police presence, it requires very little in the way of things that make urban land valuable (it doesn't need street lighting, refuse collection, transport infrastructure, fire service etc).

[So with farmland there is a very good match between the amount of tax that should be paid on it, i.e. nothing as far as I am concerned, and the amount that third parties spend on it - see how it falls into place once you think about it!]

Robinson Crusoe may have declared his own republic on his island and declared himself owner of the whole island. But that right is only worth something provided he has the force to back it up. If he has enough weapons (legal or actual) to back it up and get people to pay him rent or to pay money for freeholds, then by definition, he is The State.

As to physical moveable property, however malevolent The State or your enemies, you can always hide them or take them with you to another country - a kilo of gold (well hidden/protected) has much the same value whether in Zimbabwe, North Korea or the UK.

I'm not sure how anybody can contend what you contend.

Killer arguments against LVT, not. (6)

I've now read through the whole thread, and Richard Allan (who has the patience of a saint) has actually responded perfectly sensibly and reasonably to most of the other wilfully misleading statements about Georgism, but I'll finish off today's series with this:

Laird: "The fundamental premise of LVT enthusiasts is that the private ownership of land is improper and/or immoral, that it all somehow belongs to Society writ large. That is a viewpoint with which I do not agree, but it is an article of faith. This is a theological discussion, which is always a waste of time; no one is ever convinced."

Again, not true, not true in the slightest (certainly not in my case). It is neither proper nor immoral, it is rational and desirable that people own land. I do not do theological discussions - it's usually people arguing against LVT who indulge in theology and beliefs devoid of economic logic, facts, figures etc, whereas I stick to what is measurable and logical.

FACT - land values are driven by location.

FACT - the owner of any particular plot of land does not (in any significant way) contribute towards or pay for all the things that create that location value, and he certainly does not own them. So my argument is, as it is fair to make a tenant pay to his landlord for the value of all things that make up the 'location' (which does not belong to the tenant and which the tenant has not created), surely it is also fair for the landlord to pay for the value of those things? It is society in general that has created them, so the government can collect all that 'rent' and use it to pay for core functions, replace other taxes, repay national debt and/or dish out as a Citizen's Dividend.

FACT - governments need to raise taxes. Taxes on incomes and production are Very Bad Taxes, they have deadweight costs, they make us collectively poorer, however efficiently the proceeds are spent or redistributed (which they aren't, different topic). Land Value Tax has little or no deadweight costs.

FACT - We have a tax that is fairly close to Land Value Tax in this country, namely Business Rates - the only difference being, that Business Rates includes the rental value of the building, not just the location/land element. And then the commercial landlord pays income tax on corporation tax as well. With LVT and no income/corporation tax, a lot of these landlords would be better off! And Business Rates, by large 'work' just fine, it collects revenues without putting anybody out of business (a business that can't even make enough money to cover the Business Rates will fail and be replaced by a more profitable business - that's called 'creative destruction').

FACT - people with high incomes have, on the whole, the biggest cars, send their kids to the best schools and go on the nicest holidays - that's the whole point of being rich. By and large, people with high incomes also live in the biggest and nicest houses. At the very margin, there may be some low income people* who would have to trade down (if the increase in LVT they pay exceeds the cuts in all the other taxes that they no longer have to pay), but so what?

a) All LVT would do is speed up the process by which people with high incomes live in the biggest and nicest houses and also pay the highest amount of tax, but on an entirely voluntary basis - if high income people are happy to live in a small semi-detached and save the tax, then good luck to them.

b) For every low income person who would have to trade down, there would be ten low income people who are renting, who would benefit enormously from the shift away from income tax, and ten other low income people who own a small house who would break even or end up better off.

* We've done the Poor Widow Bogey before, bored now.

Killer arguments against LVT, not. (5)

Again, from here:

Ian B then plays the Poor Widow Bogey: "I return to the example I have used here before- an elderly widow living in the house she bought decades before with her husband, on a meagre pension income. She owns the house outright, for the mortgage is long paid off. But she cannot afford your LVT, which has been pushed up beyond her control because, since they bought the house a railway link, shopping malls and many new leisure facilities, which she does not use, have been built by others nearby which the LVT assessor concludes have raised the price of her land.

The market value of her land is beyond her control. You would tax her for the actions of others on land surrounding it, and, when she cannot pay the tax, force her to leave. All tax regimes are unfair, but some are more unfair than others. I remain unable to accept that the above scenario is the fairest. If we must tax something, let it at least be a proportion of something gained- far better than a continual state charge for something already owned."


As I have said a thousand times, if she wants to stay there, fine, she can roll up the tax to be repaid on death (which is another reason why it is vitally important that Inheritance Tax is scrapped as well). If we replaced as many taxes as possible with LVT, then people would have more disposable income during their working lives, so mathematically, they could easily build up a fund to pay the LVT in retirement in the same way as people build up a fund to pay for food or electricity or anything else in retirement.

But I shall hand over to...

Richard Allan: "I can't believe you would bring up the Old Widow Bogey argument in this context.

Churchill described that argument as having been repeated to "exhaustion" over 100 years ago!

But when we seek to rectify this system, to break down this unnatural and vicious circle, to interrupt this sequence of unsatisfactory reactions, what happens? We are not confronted with any great argument on behalf of the owner. Something else is put forward, and it is always put forward in these cases to shield the actual landowner or the actual capitalist from the logic of the argument or from the force of a Parliamentary movement.

Sometimes it is the widow. But that personality has been used to exhaustion. It would be sweating in the cruellest sense of the word, overtime of the grossest description, to bring the widow out again so soon. She must have a rest for a bit; so instead of the widow we have the market-gardener...
As Mark has explained plenty of times elsewhere, the jurisdictions that have LVT exempt widows for precisely this reason.

Ian B, struggling badly: "If your tax needs exemptions to cover specific classes of citizens, it's broken, simple as that. Any tax should self-adjust. The poor widow is just a placeholder for the citizen- any citizen- whose income does not suffice to pay the rentier state."

This is what we call 'one-sided economics'. The Georgists and the Single-Taxers are right- the state should scrap all taxes on income and production, collect as much as it can in LVT (however much or little that is), pay for the core functions of the state (about 5% of GDP) and dish out the rest as a Citizen's Dividend. Whatever the maths of this, by definition, those living in below-average houses would receive more in Citizen's Dividend than they pay in LVT, so they'd be quite happy with all this. So Ian B just looks at the tax but not what it will be spent on.

And the tax doesn't "need" exemptions - it's the Poor Old Lady who wants to stay in a big house who's demanding the exemption, so we offer her a kind of state-sponsored equity release scheme.

Killer arguments against LVT, not. (4)

Again, from here:

Ian B starts really lashing out: "The biggest philosophical problem I have with the Georgist tax, or any tax on owned property, is that it's a tax on, well, something you already have but which may not be earning any money (1). Adam Smith remarked that the home produces nothing, and income is required to sustain it (2). The LVT presumes that every landowner is a rentier, but that isn't true of the private individual who owns a plot of land and simply lives on it. And I would have thought that to most libertarians, the idea of one's property as one's own is a very core idea...(3)

You may as well charge every woman a prostitution tax, regardless of whether she does so or not, since every woman's body has an assessable market value on that basis.(4)


(1) I'm a tenant, I pay rent to live in a nice house, of course that house isn't earning me any money (in cash terms), I'm paying for what it's worth. If you buy a house to live in and pay interest to the bank, the house isn't earning you any money either. So what? A business will pay to occupy premises from which it can trade profitably, so the location is earning it extra money, as it happens, but all that extra money is siphoned off as rent.

(2) Adam Smith also explained why a tax on 'the ground rent of houses' (i.e. Land Value Tax) was the least-bad tax. Funny how Ian B doesn't mention that.

(3) OK, so you live on your little plot of land, bothering nobody. But you still benefit from the fact that we have police and fire brigade and so on, is it unfair to make you pay for it? If you don't like paying into the general pool for having mains water, electricity etc, for being close to shops, place of work, nice views etc, then by all means, buy yourself a couple of hundred of square yards of agricultural land in the middle of nowhere, pitch a caravan, dig yourself a latrine and grow your own vegetables. The LVT on that plot would be in the order of £5 or £10 per year, i.e. not even worth assessing and collecting.

(4) Nope. Morals aside, if a government did that, women would just all move abroad. Landowners are also free to move abroad, of course, but they can't take their land with them.

Killer arguments against LVT, not. (3)

Again, from here:

Pa Annoyed then came up with this: "I'm pretty sure we did the LVT to death here once before. The problems, if I remember rightly, were that totally unimproved land is technically valueless, that the supply of improved land is not fixed, that there is a third dimension (and ownership can vary with altitude), and that while it only distorts the market in the same sort of way as taxes on other things, that if you have it as your only tax this distortion becomes extreme. It would end up like the window tax."

Nope. 'Unimproved land' (i.e. a bare patch of earth) is not valueless, neither 'technically' nor in real life - it all depends on its location. If you own a few hundred square yards of agricultural land, the best you can do is sell or rent it to a neighbouring farmer for a few quid. If you own a few hundred square yards in an urban area with actual, or even potential, planning permission, you can sell it to a property developer for tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Yes, you can build upwards. That's the whole point - the owner of an office block is not using more surface area than the neighbouring second hand car lot next door. It is up to the local council to set the parameters of who can build how much, it may be that the local roads are jammed and there's full employment and no need for another office block, or the council might be keen for the owner of the car lot to build another office block, either way, the tax on both sites would be the same.

Further LVT does not "distort the market in the same sort of way as taxes on other things". Taxes on turnover depress output and increase prices; taxes on employment depresses employment; taxes on profits encourage people to shift profits abroad (by fair means or foul). Seeing as there is a fixed supply of land, a tax thereon does not depress the amount thereof; as purchasers or tenants of land have fixed budgets, a tax thereon cannot make the total cost of buying or renting more expensive; and finally, you can't take land offshore.

And the window tax didn't work because people responded by bricking up windows - the window ceased to exist. I fail to see how you can make a plot of land cease to exist.

Killer arguments against LVT, not. (2)

Again, from here:

I commented: "We also know that ntl/telewest went bankrupt a couple of times and went through debt-for-equity swaps to get where they are know (part of Virgin); I sorely doubt whether their current income justifies the original investment in digging up pavements and laying cables.

So to whom should that extra land value [on the reasonable assumption that properties in a broadband area are worth more] accrue - land-owners, the cable company who paid for it, or society in general? I fail to see why the default answer should always be 'the land-owners'. Is it not possibly fairer to capture the gain to reimburse the cable company for part of their losses/expenditure? And if you don't like subsidies, how about capturing that windfall uplift and using it to cut income tax or repay the national debt?"


To which Llamas responded: "Why should the landowner get to claim the increase in the value of the land? How about, 'Because it's HIS GORRAM LAND'?"

OK, let's assume that where some development happens, some properties fall in value (because of noise from a new road, railway line or airport etc), is it fair for the state or railway company or airport operator to compensate surrounding land-owners? I would say yes, it is, and I'm sure most would agree. So why is there no symmetry here - if a development increases land values (new railway station, more jobs at the airport) then why shouldn't surrounding land-owners pay something for it?

Or is land-ownership a one-way bet? You get compensated for falls in value but you don't have to pay for uplifts in value?

Killer arguments against LVT, not. (1)

From here

Ian B: "one of the problems with an LVT is valuation. The problem is, the LVT itself affects the value. The first round of valuations can be based on market prices; once the LVT is in place there is no market price and assessors must try to guess what the land would have been worth if there were no LVT, which will over time simply deviate from whatever it would have been. It's impossible to guess at a price in the marketplace, since prices are only set at the instant of an individual trade."

To which Paul Lockett replied:"That might be true if LVT were set at 100% of the rental value, but for anything less than that, there will be a residual selling price which can be assessed. In effect, this is the situation we have anyway, because prices are already suppressed by Council Tax and Business Rates."

Which I echoed in my response: "Of course taxes on property affect values (e.g. council tax, business rates, stamp duty land tax, TV licence fee, inheritance tax, capital gains tax, s106 agreements etc) as do subsidies for land values (Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, CAP subsidies) which is why they ought to all be chucked in the bin and replaced with a fiscally neutral LVT, in the interests of simplification, if nothing else."

Thinking on, is LVT much different from an interest-only, non-repayable loan from the goverment to 'buy' the location element of a property (you'd still borrow money from a normal bank or building society to pay for the bricks and mortar), which is cancelled in full when you sell the property again? Seeing as the government, i.e. HM Land Registry, are the only people who can guarantee title to any particular location, would it be a crime to say that you can only borrow money from the self-same government to buy land?

Only instead of having a fixed amount of loan with a variable interest rate, the rate is fixed buy law, and the amount of the loan is variable (it will go up or down it property values go up or down, in the long run it will go up with rising incomes). Interest rates and credit terms can change, favourably or adversely, but this does not deter people from buying property, does it?

Friday, 19 June 2009

Still funny after all these months ...

I'd forgotten all about our merry adventures over at EarthHour until Dick P linked to it. Having tracked back, for old times' sake, I am pleased to advise that not only is my comment still there, to wit:

Apparently some people flush their empty [toilet] rolls down the toilet and dolphins in the sewage works choke on them.

but so is the reply by "Kevin":

Do people really flush rolls? Is that possible?

Heck knows how he managed to type that with a straight face.

Victimhood Poker - this week's winning entry

From The Metro:

South Africa has the highest number of reported rapes in the world. Most experts say this is ... the legacy of apartheid, which often forced men to live in single-sex hostels away from their families.

I shit ye not.

Basij'd

Maybe it's just me, but shouldn't every single tabloid headline editor who failed to make the obvious play on words with 'Basij' and 'besieged' when covering the story about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard firing at the crowd of protestors surrounding their headquarters hang his or her head in shame?

More black ink tomfoolery (2)

From Catch 22:

All the officer patients in the ward were forced to censor letters written by all the enlisted-men patients, who were kept in residence in wards of their own. It was a monotonous job, and Yossarian was disappointed to learn that the lives of enlisted men were only slightly more interesting than the lives of officers. After the first day he had no curiosity at all. To break the monotony he invented games. Death to all modifiers, he declared one day, and out of every letter that passed through his hands went every adverb and every adjective. The next day he made war on articles.

He reached a much higher plane of creativity the following day when he blacked out everything in the letters but a, an and the. That erected more dynamic intralinear tensions, he felt, and in just about every case left a message far more universal. Soon he was proscribing parts of salutations and signatures and leaving the text untouched. One time he blacked out all but the salutation "Dear Mary" from a letter, and at the bottom he wrote, "I yearn for you tragically. A. T. Tappman, Chaplain, U.S. Army." A. T. Tappman was the group chaplain's name.


Submitted by MacHeath in the comments to the previous post.

More black ink tomfoolery

My theory is, life doesn't copy art any more; it now copies satire.

The whole furore over the redacted MPs' expense claims reminds me of a spoof article I read on  The Onion four-and-a-half years ago.

"Retail rents to drop by a fifth"

Says the headline on the front of the FT's Companies & Markets section.

This may seem surprising, seeing as retail sales might have only dropped by 5% or so overall (OK, they're down 100% at Zavvi, MFI and Woolworths, but they're up at the supermarkets), but this is because rents are just a balancing figure.

In round numbers, for £100 sales, the retailer needs to keep a net profit after rent and taxes (rents and taxes being more or less the same thing in practice) of £5, or else there's no point bothering. A typical retailer has turnover of £100 and spends £70 on staff and stock, so rents and taxes absorb £25, leaving the retailer with his net profit margin. If turnover falls by £5 and costs stay the same, the amount that can be absorbed in rents and taxes goes down from £25 to £20, i.e. down by a fifth, which is what the experts predict in the FT article.

Ooh! Big Numbers! Scary!

The Metro runs a mercifully brief article as follows:

Carbon dioxide is at its highest level in the atmosphere for more than 2million years, scientists have revealed.

The peak CO2 levels over the last 2.1million years averaged 280 parts per million but today it is 38 per cent higher at 385 parts per million, US research has shown. A 'spike' in the levels coincided with the start of the industrial age. It means scientists will have to search back further in time to find conditions comparable with those driving modern-day climate change.


I dutifully Googled global temperature 2 million years ago and the second result, a geology website, features this chart, plotting "Global Temperature and Atmospheric CO2 over Geologic Time" (click to enlarge):

Make of that what you will, remembering that the black line is not the definite C02 level, it's just the mid-point of a range of estimates.

Your guess is hopefully better than mine

My forecasting record so far on how the Irish will vote in a treaty to approve or reject The Lisbon Treaty is precisely zero out of one, as a year-and-a-bit ago I assumed, along with Paddypower and everybody else that they'd vote 'Yes'.

So a big thanks to everybody who took a view in last week's Fun Online Poll - a healthy majority (me included, but this is just gut instinct) think that the result will be another 'no'. I just hope that your combined forecasting abilities are better than mine were last time.

Staying with the Euro-theme, this week's Fun Online Poll is "Which was the first country to join the Euro-zone?". Cast your vote here, or use the widget in the sidebar.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

My expense claim, as published.

Suncream? Check. Extra fridge for lager? Check. Charcoal for barbie? Check.

... is my response to the article in The Metro titled "Britain 'must be ready' for 6C hotter summers"

Oh dear ... "The forecasts showed that by the 2080s - 'within the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren' - the UK could face a rise in average summer temperatures of between 2C and 6C in the south east, with a central estimate of 4C."

OK. Cancel that.

Oh look ... another Ramones gearchange

This one's much cleverer. They smuggle in the gear change towards the end of the middle eight at 1 minute 12 seconds - so the second half of the song is a full tone higher than the first:

Adam Smith & subsidies for broadband

Anti-Citizen One quoted from Adam Smith recently:

As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce. The wood of the forest, the grass of the field, and all the natural fruits of the earth, which, when land was in common, cost the labourer only the trouble of gathering them, come, even to him, to have an additional price fixed upon them. He must then pay for the licence to gather them; and must give up to the landlord a portion of what his labour either collects or produces. This portion, or, what comes to the same thing, the price of this portion, constitutes the rent of land

... and asked Was Adam Smith a Georgist? (as I replied in the comments, on the facts, no, he wasn't). Paul Lockett, also in the comments, reproduces Adam Smith's famous quote explaining why Land Value Tax is the least-bad and fairest tax.

But let's move on to today. The government, in its cack-handed fashion has decided it should subsidise the expansion of the broadband network by slapping a £6 annual tax on every landline, which is rather bizarre.

We know that the revenues-per-household that a broadband provider can charge are fairly fixed, but the cost per household of digging up the pavements and setting up all the boxes are inversely proportional to the population density of the area being cabled. So for a broadband provider, the calculation is simple - they just cable the most densely populated areas and ignore the rural areas, which is exactly what has happened so far.

In the more densely populated areas, the provider makes super-profits, because it can charge £20 a month per user for an amortised cost of £10; in outer urban areas, the provider makes no super-profit because the amortised cost is equal to the revenues; and there's no point in digging up roads in areas where there is the odd farmhouse or hamlet miles apart.

And who owns the pavements? It's the local council on behalf of society in general. So the local council in a densely populated area is perfectly within its rights to charge the provider £9 per household for the privilege of digging up pavements - the provider still makes a profit, and households still get broadband - everybody's happy. Whether you see this as the local council charging 'rent' for the use of pavements or collecting 'tax' on the value of its pavements is moot - rents and taxes are much the same thing, really.

A council in an outer urban area can't charge anything of course, but hey, at least those areas get broadband.

Before we move on to very-outer urban areas, we have to consider the consumer surplus - we know that people, on the whole, will pay slightly more to live in a home that has broadband than in one that doesn't. This consumer surplus accrues to the landlord or the home-owner (especially when he comes to sell) - to paraphrase the opening quote, instead of Adam Smith's labourer paying the landowner a licence to gather fruit, the tenant is paying the landlord a licence to be able to access broadband.

So there can't be much harm in increasing the Council Tax (the nearest thing we have to Land Value Tax*) slightly in areas with broadband. The broadband access increases the land value and LVT depresses it in equal and opposite measure (and as we know, such a tax is borne by the landlord/vendor and cannot be passed on to the tenant/purchaser).

Finally, we get to very-outer urban and not-so-sparsely populated rural areas. For the broadband provider, there is no profit to be made in digging up the pavements and laying the cables; but on the other hand, the local council (who controls the pavements and sets Council Tax) knows that it would be able to charge an extra £x per month in Council Tax per home if they had broadband access.

So surely, the ideal source of tax to subsidise the expansion of the broadband network would of course be the extra Council Tax that the local council in the very-outer urban areas etc. could collect? That way there are no windfall gains and losses and there is the closest possible match between those who pay and those who benefit - unlike a random tax on telephone landlines, size 11 shoes or fish'n'chip suppers or anything else.

Or have I missed something?

* Actually, Business Rates are even more like LVT - as broadband access increases rental values, this will flow through into slightly higher valuations next time around, but this is a very slow process.

A gear-change? In a Ramones song?*

Yup, totally gratuitous, they slide everything up a full tone at 1 minute 9 seconds in and just keep going:



* As in "A tiger? In Africa?", to which see the Zulu War scene from The Meaning Of Life at 4 minutes in.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Posting via email

I tried this earlier today (you set it up in Blogger via Customise/Settings/Email & Mobile/Posting options) using html tags in the body of the post and it came out a right mess.


So I shall try again, using the formatting option in gmail for bold, italics and underline, together with a hyperlink to a mildly interesting article.

What I haven't worked out yet is whether it is possible to add 'labels' to a post submitted by email.


Bring out your prejudices!

Tim W has a nice article up at Comment Is Free today, highlighting a few facts'n'figures on the "gender pay gap", aka "the mothers' pay gap", and how the welfare system largely compensates for this.

Most of the comments are the usual drivel, of course.

Wannabe puppet dictator of the week

*Ahem*

From a BBC article headed Fusion falters under soaring costs:

Covering an area of more than 400,000 square metres, workers have built a one-kilometre-long earthen platform on which the experimental reactor will sit. "This is going to be the world's biggest science experiment," says Neil Calder, Iter's head of communications.

Er ... wouldn't that be the Large Hadron Collider?

Reader's letter of the day

From today's FT:

Sir, Oh, please, please, please – let Tony Barber's 'blog (June 16) about Gordon Brown becoming president of the European Union come true! He would destroy this institution as thoroughly and surely as he has destroyed the UK in the years of his dismal reign first as chancellor and then as prime minister.

Maybe somebody should propose Vaclav Klaus for vice-president to get this most necessary job done faster.

Frank Williams, Prague, Czech Republic.

Well, duh ... how long did it take them to work that one out?

As I said back in September 2007:

Even if Northern Rock have to write down their loan book by a quarter, there'd still be plenty enough to cover savers' deposits. It just means that bondholders (more sophisticated investors, hedge funds, other banks and so on) take more of the loss on the chin. So HM Treasury [should] put NR into liquidation, lend it £20 bn, allow the savers move their deposits elsewhere, and then pay itself the £20 bn back with interest and let the bondholders squabble over what's left. Shareholders would get nothing, presumably. This would be more-or-less risk-free from the point of view of the government, the taxpayer and the savers.

It looks as though HM Government have finally cottoned on. From yesterday's Times:

The Government is proposing the bank be split to create a new company that takes on the deposits and branches and provides new lending*. Separately, Northern Rock's existing book of mortgages would be put into an asset company to be run off over time... The bondholders are set to be put into the asset company by the Government in a move that has caused consternation among them because they fear that they will be stuck with all the bank's toxic loans.

It's a pity they didn't give me a ring in late 2007, I could have saved the taxpayer tens or hundred of billions of pounds.

Ah well.
----------------------
* As it happens, I've been honing the finer details of my original plan over time - the government's final answer is more or less identical to what I posted at Capitalists @ Work last week:

The MW plan:
1. Sell off branches, employees and savings business ASAP (like they did with B&B) preferably as a job lot, but broken up if necessary.
2. Encourage existing NR borrowers to refinance elsewhere by hiking interest rates.
3. What's left over is fairly 'toxic' stuff, but hey, at least they're paying the higher interest rates.
4. Have rabid policy on repossessions, get it over with before house prices fall any further. Properties to be auctioned could be offered in priority to bondholders, SPVs and shareholders so they know they aren't being conned. If these people want to rent back to original owner, then all the better, less hassle all round.
5. Repay taxpayer loan in priority.
6. Whatever money comes in after that gets dribbled out over the years to bondholders and SPVs, who will get most or all of their money back (well, at least half or two-thirds), maybe even shareholders get a few pence.

I actually laughed when I saw this on the telly

I'm hardly his biggest fan, but IMHO he summarises the whole topic in thirty seconds and rounds it off with a punchline worthy of Prince Philip:

It had to happen sooner or later

From the BBC:

Adults should be banned from smoking in cars when children are passengers, the new head of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has said.

In a BBC News website Scrubbing Up column, Professor Terence Stephenson, said children deserved protection. "You can't inflict this on your colleagues any more. Why should we treat our children's health as a lower priority?" he said.

A Department of Health spokesman said it would review smoking laws next year.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

NIMBY of the week

Most of the comments following an article in yesterday's Times headed "Train firms want to reopen lines axed by Richard Beeching 40 years ago" are very positive, but then there's this:

If you read the article carefully you notice that the train companies propose that all of this would be paid for by new housing and park and rides along these routes. Local people should consider the consequences BEFORE they start cheering for this. david james, graz, austria.

What a selfish piece of shit, frankly.

What sort of illness is it that makes people value their homes above their fellow men or even themselves? Why should 'everybody else' be excluded from the benefit of any sort of new third-party investment?

Remember: your home is not, and never will be, your main asset - the main asset of any couple is the seventy or eighty years of work that they put in over their lifetime, not the home you end up with that might be worth three times one year's average joint income.

Jesus wept.

You can see why he might not have had a fair hearing ...

... with a surname like that.

The dog's name also turned out to be wildly inappropriate, and I do wonder whether it was that colour before the fire...

Things must have been terrible ten years ago!

The Tories are now being pilloried for wanting to reduce government spending in some departments by ten per cent, shock, horror, yawn...

To put this in perspective, back in 1999-00, spending was 36% of GDP and in the current year it will be 48%. So even if it were cut by a quarter, would this really be so terrible?

Chart adapted from current Public Sector Finances Databank.

The true cost of public sector pensions

From the BBC:

At the end of an article which contains the usual whining that "the likely scale of job cuts required would 'inevitably have an impact on levels of public service provision' is this:

Meanwhile the CBI has said that businesses are being deterred from bidding for public service contracts by the need to match what it says are "costly" pensions when staff transfer to private firms. The business group said firms had to pay between 25% and 50% of salary to fund the pensions of ex-public sector staff.

Taking the mid-cost as 37% and assuming that the average (rather than median) salary for eight million taxpayer-funded jobs as £30,000 a year, suggests that the true cost of public sector pension promises is as much as £90 billion per annum, nearly as much as the entire cost of the (bloated) NHS and considerably more than the entire welfare state (excluding old age pensions).

Just sayin', is all.

Monday, 15 June 2009

1984(18): Chocolate rations

I'm often reminded of the following paragraphs when the government uses statistics to try and prove, well, anything at all, really:

"... The Times of the nineteenth of December had published the official forecasts of the output of various classes of consumption goods in the fourth quarter of 1983, which was also the sixth quarter of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. Today's issue contained a statement of the actual output, from which it appeared that the forecasts were in every instance grossly wrong. Winston's job was to rectify the original figures by making them agree with the later ones.

"As for the third message, it referred to a very simple error which could be set right in a couple of minutes. As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a 'categorical pledge' were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April...

"But actually, he thought as he re-adjusted the Ministry of Plenty's figures, it was not even forgery. It was merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another. Most of the material that you were dealing with had no connexion with anything in the real world, not even the kind of connexion that is contained in a direct lie. Statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version. A great deal of the time you were expected to make them up out of your head.

"For example, the Ministry of Plenty's forecast had estimated the output of boots for the quarter at one-hundred-and-forty-five million pairs. The actual output was given as sixty-two millions. Winston, however, in rewriting the forecast, marked the figure down to fifty-seven millions, so as to allow for the usual claim that the quota had been overfulfilled. In any case, sixty-two millions was no nearer the truth than fifty-seven millions, or than one-hundred-and-forty-five millions. Very likely no boots had been produced at all.

"Likelier still, nobody knew how many had been produced, much less cared. All one knew was that every quarter astronomical numbers of boots were produced on paper, while perhaps half the population of Oceania went barefoot. And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain."


From 1984 by George Orwell, available online here. I wish I'd known about that site earlier, I've typed in all the previous excerpts straight from the paperback.