Saturday, 30 November 2013

Lostprophets Albums Removed by HMV

From The Guardian:

HMV have announced that they will no longer sell releases by Lostprophets. The high-street retailer has vowed to remove the band's past music from all 140 of their stores after realising that nu metal seemed like a good idea at the time, but is really terrible.

Speaking to NME, a spokesperson for HMV confirmed that their staff have been instructed to remove all Lostprophets albums, singles and EPs from their shelves. Although the Welsh group's music is still available via the HMV website, where stock doesn't matter, the company apparently plans to end online sales.

HMV's decision reflects how crap it is. It is unusual for a major retailer to entirely remove an artist's catalogue, even after a major critical re-evaluation: HMV continue to sell records by Alien Ant Farm, Papa Roach and Limp Bizkit. At the time of writing, other major retailers, including Amazon and the iTunes Music Store, continue to sell Lostprophets albums.

Lostprophets released five albums, most of which ended up in CEX, eBay or a recycling plant in Abergevenny.

Gravity 3D

I'm not going to say much about this film, as I'm not much of a skilled reviewer, but I'm going to echo the words of Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian*

Director and co-writer Cuarón brilliantly manages to create both awe at his glorious space vistas, and knuckle-gobbling tension at what's happening in the foreground. It's like a bank heist in Reims cathedral – in space. You could find yourself asthmatically gasping with rapture and excitement at the same time. After it was over, I was 10 minutes into my tube ride home before I remembered to exhale.

As I drove home, I found myself taking deep breaths and muttering "wow" in the car. I think because it's shot so naturally, without lots of fast cuts, but instead has the same sort of editing of a space documentary, so, you get more involved in it as something real.

It's rare that a film blows me away, that visually sets a new standard, and Gravity should be seen in the same list as Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Terminator 2 and Avatar. It is visually mind-blowing, and like Avatar, uses 3D properly. In fact, I'd say that it's the best 3D movie I've seen.

Find the biggest screen you can and go see it. Movie of the year.**

* The Guardian/Observer is normally Wrong About Everything, but its film reviewers are pretty good.
** I still have Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Computer Chess and The World's End to see, but if they tip this, I'll be surprised.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (310)

Prompted by Jerry J, I did a bit more digging and have updated the relevant article over at KAALVTN.

"Retailers will push up prices"

a) Again, no need to speculate on the impact of land value taxes on prices. There is plenty of evidence - you just need to use common sense - that rents and taxes on rents have absolutely no impact at all on retail prices.

b) We all know perfectly well that most stuff you buy in shops costs pretty much the same wherever you are in the country. Prices are the same in a Primark in a retail park at the edge of a low-income town as they are in Primark on Oxford Street, London. Research backs this up, wherever you shop in the UK, prices for similar goods are within a range of +/- one percent.

c) Q: But we also know that rent and rates for shops in the best locations are much, much higher than for shops in less favourable locations? So why is this so if retail prices are the same in all shops?
A: It's do do with volume. If a retailer has a net mark up of £1 on something and can sell 1,000 a week from Location A, but can only sell 100 a week from Location B, then by and large, the rent for a shop at Location A will be nearly £1,000 a week and the rent for the shop at Location B will be less than £100.

Observed facts, simple logic. Prices are fixed and volumes drive rents. Taxes on rents do not increase the total rent which a tenant will pay. If the tax on the shop at Location A is £800, then the rent net of taxes will fall to less than £200.

d) We can also drag actual hard facts and figures into this. The British Property Federation's Property Data Report 2013, two-thirds of UK businesses trade from rented premises. So two-thirds of UK businesses are already paying in full for the value of land they occupy! It is just that they are paying a small part to the government and most of it to private tax/rent collectors. Further, retailers occupy about one-third of all commercial premises by value.

e) Business Rates are about 40% of rents net of Business Rates and raise £28 bn a year, so the net rents payable to landlords are about £70 billion, and the total rental value is about £98 billion, if we knock one-fifth off that for safety and assume that the site premium element of commercial rents is half the total rental value (for residential it's about two-thirds), the LVT payable on commercial premises would be £40 billion.

f) Further, it is definitely the case that taxes like VAT, PAYE push up prices and reduce wages. So if high retail prices are your concern, then shifting from taxing output to taxing land rents is a good idea, is it not?

UK retail sales were £311 billion, some of that is VAT-exempt, but the total VAT payable by retailers is about £45 bn, to which we can add £5 bn Employer's NIC (retail wages are quite low) and £10 bn Business Rates (one-third of £28 bn) = £60 billion.

So if we shifted from VAT/Business Rates to LVT-only, the LVT bill on retail premises would be £13 bn (one-third of £40 bn, from (e)), the total tax on retailers/owners of retail premises would fall by three-quarters; the tax bill for the one-third of retailers which are owner-occupiers would also fall by three-quarters. Quite how much of the LVT would end up being "passed on" to tenants in higher rents (to soak up their much higher margins) need not concern us here.

It is quite simply the case that there would be some combination of more output, fewer empty shops, more businesses, more employment, lower prices, higher profits. All of those are Good Things.

g) The matter is a bit more subtle with goods and services consumed at or near point of use, like pubs, restaurants, cinemas, where prices are higher in high rent areas. But again, any tax on the rents would not increase prices, it would merely reduce the rent which the landlord collects net of tax.

Ha ha ha! Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of blokes!

From The Telegraph:

Shares in Britain's housebuilders fell sharply on Thursday after the Bank of England unexpectedly scaled back a scheme to boost mortgage lending.

The central bank said it would refocus the Funding for Lending scheme on loans to small firms in the face of rising house price inflation.

The news had an immediate impact on shares in the housebuilding sector, with Barratt Developments, Britain's biggest housebuilder by volume, tumbling 9.6pc, Taylor Wimpey dropping 7.8pc and Persimmon falling 6.3pc.

The whole housebuilding sector was dragged down by the surprise announcement with Berkeley Group, Crest Nicholson, Redrow, Countrywide, Galliford Try, and Bellway all losing ground.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Great British Understatement

From The Guardian, no less:

... in a letter to Treasury select committee chairman Andrew Tyrie, published on Thursday, Carney makes clear that while the Bank's financial policy committee (FPC) could advise the government at any time if Help to Buy is putting financial stability at risk, the final decision about if it should continue will lie with the Treasury.

"The FPC has no power to require the Treasury to vary the terms of, or close, the Help to Buy scheme," Carney writes in reply to a letter from Tyrie earlier this month asking him to clarify the Bank's role. "The FPC only has the authority to make recommendations in connection with such matters … the FPC is not constrained by the government's timetable for any such advice; it could make recommendations at any time."

That message appeared to contradict statements by senior coalition figures, including Conservative chairman Grant Shapps, who told BBC Radio in September: "We put the Bank of England solidly in charge of this scheme. We've said to them: 'You look at this every year, and if you're not happy with this Help to Buy Scheme, then you'll be [able] to cancel it."

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said of the policy last month: "Of course we need to moderate it, even turn it off if we think it is not appropriate and is providing inappropriate stimulation to the housing market. That is precisely why we have transferred the right to do that to the Bank of England so they can keep an eye on it – not politicians, not George Osborne, not the Treasury."

The Cost of Bureaucracy

There was an interesting comment by DBC Reed about bureaucracy and competition in an earlier post, that has triggered a memory of post that I intended to write:-

I know I have rehearsed King Gillette's argument that competition increases bureaucracy before and you have acknowledged the validity of some of it,but there are newer contributors on here who appear to be enemies of the Post War British state founded on a mixed economy so some continued resistance is in order.

I'm not disagreeing with DBC Reed here, but I've long wondered how much the cost of bureaucracy affected things like competition.

Let's imagine you're working as a GP in the 1930s. You've got a patient with an ingrowing toenail. How efficient would it be to have competing hospitals providing ingrowing toenail surgery? That GP would have to send each hospital a letter, written by hand, posted, wait for a response of a few days. Someone at that hospital would have to check the appointment book, see when they could fit someone in for an ingrowing toenail operation, write back and once the GP got all the quotes a few days later, he would then write to the particular hospital and book them in. The GP then has to send a letter to the patient.

That's not only slow, it also has lots of cost in people's time writing things to and fro.

Here's how you can do it today: A GP taps a request into a comparison system. It sends a message across the internet to the servers of each hospital, that check an online appointment book, find available slots, and report back a price and availability time in about 5 seconds. The GP then selects it, at which point the system books the slot at the hospital and sends an email to the patient.

The model for today costs a lot to set up, but once set up, the transaction costs are minuscule.

What I'm wondering is whether in the past, we suited more of a state-run model, with large, centralised organisations, because while competition would have lowered prices, the cost of the bureaucracy to run it would have been so huge as to wipe out the gains, but having dramatically lowered the cost of bureaucracy, we now suit more of a fragmented model.

More banking lies and propaganda

Three-quarters of today's editorial in City AM is good stuff, he points out that the UK government (and many others) is simultaneously trying to encourage and discourage reckless lending/banking.

But he spoils it with this:

The result, as Sir Andrew Large explains brilliantly in his report on RBS published on Monday, lending to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), which tends to generate a return on capital of between 3-7 per cent, comes with a cost of capital that is often around 11-13 per cent.

Banks do not have a "cost of capital" of 11-13%, that is the targetted or expected return on share capital, as narrowly defined. These idiots cannot tell the difference between a "cost" and a "profit share" and they are not comparing like-with-like.

For example:

A bank has made loans of £100, on which it charges 5% interest and has 1% running costs, so the income available to pay to depositors and shareholders is £4.

This bank is funded by £90 deposits, on which it pays 3% interest = £2.70, and £10 share capital/shareholders' funds.

£5 interest income less £1 running costs less £2.70 paid to depositors = £1.30 net profit for the bank/its shareholders.

£1.30 divided by £10 shareholders' funds = 13%.

So the bank is perfectly happy making loans at 5% and making 13% profits for its shareholders. That 13% is not a "cost" it is a "return".

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Truly Affordable Housing

Recently I heard about some friends of a friend who were struggling to sell their house. It seemed like the sort of place that would be snapped up at once: good condition, tastefully decorated three bedroom cottage on a quiet country lane facing south with its back to woodland, close to the sea, with paddocks, in fact the Faux Bucolic Rural Idyll made bricks and mortar. The snag was the lease, or more precisely, the freeholder: The National Trust. Any good solicitor will tell you not to touch a NT lease with a bargepole - their powers are pretty absolute and pretty arbitrary and the National Trust Act exempts them from modern leasehold reform legislation.

That got me thinking: Local Authorities want to make affordable housing available, but its not possible to sell affordable land. Selling it at undervalue simply gives the purchaser an windfall gain when they sell. However, the LA or other organisation could remain the freeholder and sell a 999 year lease, and that lease can reduce the value of the land to an affordable level, by stipulating who the property can and cannot be sold on to. Now the value of building land is governed by what people are prepared to pay and what they are prepared to pay is governed by what they can afford, so if the house can only be sold to people that can't afford much, then it will never be priced beyond those people's reach. So the inhabitants get a house they can afford, without having to rent.

Of course, they don't get to take part on the Great British Housing Ponzi Scheme, but you can't have everything.

NHS employment figures in perspective

We are well aware, see e.g. here, that the NHS employs about 1.4 million people, including "146,075 doctors, 369,868 qualified nursing staff and 37,314 managers".

It has a budget of "£105.254bn in 2012/13".

Just for fun, we can multiply up the doctors by £100,000 a year each (£15 billion), the nurses and managers by £40,000 a year each (£16 billion) and the other 850,000 by £20,000 a year each (£17 billion) and tot that up to £48 billion, half the NHS budget.

We are also well aware, from personal experience as patients, that you get treated a lot better/quicker in European countries. This is partly because of the best-of-both worlds taxpayer-funded (with small personal additional charges), patient-driven, competing-providers model.

But it's the money as well.

UPDATE: Kj in the comments links to this and this showing that the UK spends 9.3% of GDP and Germany (I'll take Germany because I used to live there) spends 11.1%. The taxpayer/government-funded portion is UK 7.7% of GDP and Germany 8.4%.

So what do they get extra for their money? There are some stat's on the numbers employed in healthcare in Germany here.

See if you can guess the total before you follow the link!

If your German's a bit rusty, click and highlight below to reveal the official total:

Four (4) million! Jeez!!

NB, I've adjusted that figure down to exclude people working in health-related sectors, i.e. pharmaceuticals and dispensing chemists, who would not show up in NHS figures either. If we scale that down for Germany's larger population, this gives us three (3) million, which means that Germans spend 20% more than we do but get 100% more out of it.

Ian Hill's Theory About Women

Beginning, in some women, in their twenties, oestrogen damage becomes so dramatic that the patient starts to worry about her hair. She looks in the mirror and decides that her hair looks a mess.

Such an observation would prompt the normal male to comb it. But the female victim of an oestrogen attack decides that because her hair looks a mess, then her life must be a mess too...

Go read the rest here.

Pot, kettle, boot, other foot etc.

Via Alan at HPC, who asks: "Would the DM adopt the same tone for illegal Bulgarians living in Cheltenham?"

From The Daily Mail:

'We're trapped in a ghost town': The 100,000 British expats whose Spanish homes could be bulldozed any day

* Thousands told their homes were built illegally after they bought them
* 'Barmy' planning rules and topsy-turvy laws leave residents in limbo
* Concrete jungles left behind as construction stops mid-development...

Yes, what the Spanish authorities are doing is completely mad, but it is no worse than what the self-same DM readers are trying to impose on the next generation in the UK.

Do these people not realise that from the Spaniards' point of view they are "immigrants putting pressure on local services, concreting over swathes of the Spanish countryside, etc"?

So they've lost money? Tough. That is absolutely no different to forcing first time buyers in the UK vastly overpay for the privilege of having somewhere to live.

Fun with numbers

From yesterday's Metro:

So, women have only had 7.7 sexual partners on average but men 11.7?

Surely in a population split roughly 50/50 for men and women, the average should be the same. Somebody's telling porkies, ladies.(1)

Junk, London.

From today's Metro:

Junk, have you not considered that men are overestimating their sexual conquests rather than ladies telling fibs?(2)

Roxanne, London


Junk, I agree, women are just as promiscuous as men. I had friends at university with double digits of sexual partners.

However, I'm 32 and have only had two sexual partners.(3) The laws of average don't apply to the whole nation.(4)

Jo, Leicester.

1) I think that the mathematical average (mean) must be the same for both, but it is quite possible that the median values are 7.7 and 11.7.

2) Apparently women count it differently. If they have/had a partner (boyf or husband) with whom they have/had sex, that ticks both boxes "sexual" and "partner" so that counts. But a one-night stand is not a "partnership" so it doesn't count. Men miss this subtle distinction and count everybody.

3) Also, men boast and women are more modest/judgmental. As illustrated by this letter.

4) But the women is clearly an idiot anyway.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

"Downing Street defiant over generous EU benefit plans"

From the BBC:

The government has promised to push ahead with plans to simplify access to benefits for EU immigrants, after a European commissioner praised the UK for openly advertising itself as a "soft touch".

Downing Street said powers to deport homeless migrants and cut rights to unemployment and housing benefits would not come in "for several years while we thrash out the details" and that for the time being, immigrants would be entitled to top-whack welfare payments after a mere three months.

Work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians will be lifted in January.

Earlier, Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor advised Romanians and Bulgarians to "remain optimistic". And Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said freedom of movement was "non-negotiable" for citizens of EU states and that other Member States with less generous rules would be expected to follow the British example.

The Heartless NHS

From the BBC

The NHS must stop turning a "blind eye" to smoking and ban it in all hospital grounds in England, according to new guidance.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence said it wanted to see smoking shelters scrapped so patients, visitors and staff could not light up. Staff should also stop helping patients out of their beds to go for a smoke.

And patients who smoke must be identified and offered help to quit, the guidance added. It said nurses, doctors and other staff could give brief advice and then refer smokers on to NHS stopping smoking services.

This is what I despise about the big state, and one of many reasons why I am utterly in favour of privatising the NHS.

When I have a problem with my car, my mechanic fixes it. It might also be that he advises me about things I could do to prolong the life of it, and I appreciate that advice. If my mechanic tried to stop me wearing through brakes, he'd soon find himself no longer my mechanic. It's none of his business.

The NHS is there to fix people's health. Part of its job is also to advise people on what's good for their health. When it steps into trying to stop people doing things, it's not doing its job.

Right now, it can do this, because hospitals have a monopoly. Some elderly guy who's had a hip operation whose one small pleasure in life is his roll-ups can be stopped by an uncaring bully. You're not going to get those people to quit anyway. Most people who quit do so at a younger age. Old people figure something's going to kill them soon anyway.

So, let's imagine a competitive model. The old NHS hospital tells an old man he can't smoke when having his hip done. So, he tells his mate about it. When his mate needs his hip done, he says "no, not going there, I'd like to be able to go out for a smoke". The private hospital that considers what the patient wants, rather that their own opinions get the job. And we put a bunch of fascists out of work, or force them to modify their behaviour.

If I had the spare time, I'd create a service where I drove up to the hospital grounds, drove people off them where they could have a smoke and drive them back on again, just to piss off these bastards.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (309)

From The Evening Standard:

Ms Jowell, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, said: “I’ve thought a lot about the mansion tax dilemma and I represent a constituency where it would be an issue for some people.

“Not because they have a fabulous income and lots of disposable capital, but because they are people who bought homes maybe 20 or 30 years ago for a fraction of what they are worth now. They are people maybe becoming elderly who are asset-rich and income-poor.

“It’s fine to say we’ll impose a mansion tax, but for these people they would have to move out of their family homes. Let’s be wary of the perverse effects of that. What might be better is two or three more council tax bands … looking at the top end like that.”

Good one Tessa, I've never heard that problem highlighted before.

Now let me think for a few milliseconds… how about we, er, just give such people the option to roll up the tax, and defer payment until they die or sell their home? That general principle applies equally to having more council tax bands at the top end, it's all the same thing. If that means getting rid of Inheritance Tax and SDLT, then so much the better.

One thing the Homeys can never answer is: how did old people manage in the good old days when we had Domestic Rates, how do they manage in the many countries where the tax is proportional to the value of the home (USA, Switzerland, Australia etc)?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Manufacturing the enemy

Every day, it seems, the "news" media produce another hate figure for their readers and listeners.

Sometimes it's immigrants, sometimes it's multinationals like Amazon and sometimes it's energy companies, but there nearly always turns out to be a reason behind it and it usually has to do with the Government.

Lately I've been wondering why the Tories have been having a go at the energy companies in particular, but then I read that the government is planning a big price hike of its own to comply with the carbon emissions target for 2020, and the penny dropped.

The only good thing about being cynical about politicians is that you are so often proved right.

"Nigella Lawson was so off her head on cocaine that she allowed her assistants to spend £300,000 on crap"

From The Daily Mail:

Charles Saatchi accused his former wife Nigella Lawson of being 'so off your heads on drugs' that she allowed their personal assistants to spend whatever they liked, a court heard.

Italian sisters Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo are accused of using company credit cards to spend £300,000 on over-hyped 'works of art' including
an unmade bed and papier-maché sculptures of household objects...

"You couldn't give this
crap away," fumed the multi-millionaire former advertising executive. "And they've filled our whole attic with this bullshit."

I'd love to have scripted that episode of her cookery show:

Nigella, huskily to camera: "If you've just come back from holiday in Amsterdam or Morrocco with a 'little something extra' in your luggage and you've invited friends round to celebrate, remember that they'll get peckish very quickly...

[Cutaway shot: Nigella holding a small brown-ish lump stuck on the end of a safety pin, just above a candle flame]

"It can be awkward deciding who pops out to the petrol station for crisps or chocolate cookies just when everybody's getting mellow, so why not rustle up your own beforehand?"

Being knocked down by a van* was not the cause of his injuries.

From The Daily Mail:

Miraculous moment 16-year-old cyclist wakes from four-month coma and hugs his father after being hurt in collision because he didn't wear a helmet

* It was a van, I checked.

UPDATE: They've changed the headline, thus ruining my punchline.

More perils of social media

As well as social media distracting you from sex, it's well known that Facebook is used by employers to check job applicants. This is usually reported as a threat. "Be careful what you post", the pundits say.

However, this could be a two-edged sword. It would not be too difficult for a cunning young person to subtly enhance their employability by implying skills, activities and travel that they don't have, don't do or haven't done. It's not their CV, after all, and they haven't asked their potential employer to look at their Facebook page, so there's no obligation to tell the truth.

Just an idea...

People say the funniest things!

... in response to surveys. The BBC is on schizophrenic top form today.

First the bad news:

"Shocking" sexual violence is being carried out by children against other children as young as 11, according to an official report...

Ms Berelowitz suggested that the music and pornographic industries have a great deal to answer for in creating such attitudes, with young girls being treated as commodities within gangs, passed around as sexual toys or used to ensnare rival gang members...

The inquiry found that 2,409 youngsters were known to be victims of child sexual exploitation by gangs and groups, while a further 16,500 were at risk.

It warned that the problem was prevalent in every area of England, and was not restricted just to low-income, inner-city neighbourhoods but "in every type of neighbourhood, rural, urban, deprived, not deprived".

And then the bad news:

Money worries and the distractions of social media mean people are having sex less frequently, researchers say.

A once-a-decade poll of 15,000 Britons found those aged 16-44 were having sex fewer than five times a month.

The figure compared with more than six times a month on the last two occasions when the official National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles was carried out, in 1990-91 and 1999-2001...

But the poll - the full details of which have been reported in the Lancet - also revealed the extent to which people are forced to have sex against their will. One in 10 women and one in 70 men said they had experienced it.

Fun Online Polls: Age of consent & JFK assassination cover-up

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

If it were up to you, what would the age of consent be?

None of the government's business - 24 votes
14 or younger - 4 votes
15 - 5 votes
16 - as at present - 40 votes
17 - 3 votes
18 or older - 11 votes
Depends on the age of the older partner and the age difference - 34 votes
Other, please specify - 2 votes

I perhaps didn't make it clear enough that you could choose more than one option, i.e. you could choose an age but then caveat it with "Depends on the age of the older partner and the age difference". Only about 8 people chose this a well (including me).

So there we have it. Broadly speaking people are happy with 16 and the fact that the law turns a blind eye when both partners are under-age. I suppose it's impossible for a government to get everything wrong.
The whole JFK assassination thing and what happened afterwards, how it was explained always struck a lot of people, including me, as a little bit fishy. There was something not quite right about it.

Personally, I would dismiss all the rumours about the Russians/Communists organising it (they wouldn't dare; the backlash if they'd been found out would be unthinkable); about the military-industrial bloc doing it (JFK was firmly in their pockets and a massive warmonger); the FBO/CIA (ditto);the Mafia (ditto); the Teamsters, Freemasons etcetera etcetera.

But they showed a TV programme on Channel 5 this week which seemed perfectly plausible to me, they reckoned that a trigger happy secret service agent in the following vehicle shot him by mistake while swinging his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle into position. So there certainly wasn't a conspiracy in advance, just a massive cover-up afterwards by the secret service, because admitting that one of their men had shot the President by mistake would have been career suicide for his superiors and made the USA a worldwide laughing stock.

This is not a conspiracy theory, it is just a theory, and of course there are plenty of articles saying it is piffle, which it might well be, but usually on the basis of a lot less evidence than was presented in the programme itself.

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

"Who shot the shot which blew JFK's brains out?"

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Charity Shops and Footfall

From the BBC

Charity shops boost local business, combat unemployment and even help tackle social isolation, according to a report by the think tank Demos.

The report says despite negative perceptions there is "no evidence" the shops cause "High Street decline".

Councils should "do more to support charity shops", the report adds.

The rising number of charity shops has led to calls to limit their numbers, but the report says the benefits they bring are "often unrecognised".

I've had a read of the Demos report, which, being Demos is full of terms like "social value" that should clue you in to the sort of people writing it. It includes quotes from charity shops and landlords about the benefits of charity shops, including the benefits to other shops, but they couldn't seem to find a non-charity shop owner who thought they were a good idea. It's real aim is to defend the dodging of business rates, despite the fact that charities already get tax and VAT relief.

Going back to Mark Wadworth's post about shopping centres and how the owners control the mix of shops, it's worth nothing that places like The Oracle, Cribbs Causeway and Central Milton Keynes don't have charity shops. They don't think that having an Oxfam shop in their centre is going to bring people in, or more accurately, that the people they bring in aren't going to be the people that the other shops in their centre want.

But that is a certain sort of shop, generally more middle- to upmarket ones.

The footfall that a charity shop is going to increase is the footfall of people on lower incomes. It's going to help shops like Poundland or CEX. And for that, I'm somewhat tickled because the sort of people who are most vocal about saving the High Street aren't just against boarded up High Streets, they want a gentrified High St full of small tasteful independent shops, and not the likes of Poundland or CEX.

"The cow that CAN jump over the moon..."

From The Daily Mail:

Cows have a reputation for standing placidly in fields.*

Not these beasts in Finland - who sprang and leaped over an obstacle course as if they were horses.

Farmers who gathered at an agricultural show picked their favourite animals for a bizarre 'bovine agility' contest, which pitched the 1,500-pound beasts against each other in a dusty arena.

The huge animals were pictured leaping over hurdles with one even clearing herself several feet from the ground.

They are actually training them to jump over fences?

This is madness, I tell you, madness.

* Oh no, they bloody well don't.

Amazon Workers face 'hard work'

From the BBC
A BBC investigation into a UK-based Amazon warehouse has found conditions that a stress expert said could cause "mental and physical illness".

Prof Michael Marmot was shown secret filming of night shifts involving up to 11 miles of walking - where an undercover worker was expected to collect orders every 33 seconds.

A mate of mine works on the train and he once clocked his distance at 5 miles a day and he loves it as he's now thin and no longer goes to the gym.
Undercover reporter Adam Littler, 23, got an agency job at Amazon's Swansea warehouse. He took a hidden camera inside for BBC Panorama to record what happened on his shifts.

He was employed as a "picker", collecting orders from 800,000 sq ft of storage.

A handset told him what to collect and put on his trolley. It allotted him a set number of seconds to find each product and counted down. If he made a mistake the scanner beeped.

"We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner in, we're holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves", he said.

"We don't think for ourselves, maybe they don't trust us to think for ourselves as human beings, I don't know."

No, you don't, do you? Probably some middle-class kid with a degree in media studies who's never worked anywhere but the BBC. The fact is, Amazon got this successful by optimising processes. They don't ask you to think because they've got a stock picking process that can outperform you. By the time you'd work out where an item is, it's the same time as the computer telling you and you getting it.

Prof Marmot, one of Britain's leading experts on stress at work, said the working conditions at the warehouse are "all the bad stuff at once".

He said: "The characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness."

"There are always going to be menial jobs, but we can make them better or worse. And it seems to me the demands of efficiency at the cost of individual's health and wellbeing - it's got to be balanced."

It's a bit more complex than that, but as a public health professor, the sort that normally appears in the Graun and the Independent moaning about "poverty", I would expect nothing less.

Many years ago I worked for a major mail order company. They pretty much went into decline because of Amazon. And that company had a number of automated lines. Someone orders a copy of a big seller like The Guinness Book of Records or a One Direction annual, a robot picks it. Someone orders an obscure bit of French poetry, a human does. It's not worth having a robot for the French poetry.

Of course, if you start handing out diversity workshops, or giving people the levels of workshyness of the public sector, you're going to see those people replaced with robots.

Amazon said that official safety inspections had not raised any concerns and that an independent expert appointed by the company advised that the picking job is "similar to jobs in many other industries and does not increase the risk of mental and physical illness".

So, despite this prof being a "stress expert", the HSE don't seem to agree with him. And Amazon are doing nothing against the law.

The scanner tracked Mr Littler's picking rate and sent his performance to managers. If it was too low, he was told he could face disciplinary action.

Shocking. Of course, if you run the BBC and spectacularly screw up you can resign and get a nice payout for a few months work.

When Mr Littler worked night shifts his pay rose from the daily rate of £6.50 per hour to £8.25 per hour.

After experiencing a ten-and-a-half-hour night shift, he said: "I managed to walk or hobble nearly 11 miles, just short of 11 miles last night. I'm absolutely shattered. My feet are the thing that are bothering me the most to be honest.

Pretty sure other people do jobs that have to walk further, like tour guides. 

Amazon said new recruits are warned some positions are physically demanding and that some workers seek these positions as they enjoy the active nature of the work. The company said productivity targets are set objectively, based on previous performance levels achieved by the workforce.

Exactly. Some people want to go to the Antarctic to study penguins. A mate of mine hated his brief time being an office manager for a cable company because he missed the human interaction of going out and sorting out people's cable problem. Some people like working in kitchens, despite it being flipping hot, stressful and having odd hours.

Experts have told Panorama these ten-and-a-half-hour night shifts could breach the working time regulations because of the long hours and the strenuous nature of the work.

Barrister Giles Bedloe said: "If the work involves heavy physical and, or, mental strain then that night worker should not work more than eight hours in any 24-hour period.

But Amazon said its night shift is lawful. They said they sought expert advice to ensure the shifts "comply with all relevant legal requirements".

Probably because walking at 1mph on average doesn't count as "heavy physical" work.

Really, that's the level of Panorama now? Companies employ people to do some physical work that some people might not like? And I'm forced to pay for this shit under threat of violence so that I can watch Columbo?

Tories on top form

Labour detonated the "cost of living" bomb by proposing a price freeze for gas and electricity if they won the next election, which backfired most spectacularly.

The Tories said that was anti free market nonsense and wouldn't work, there would be power cuts, the economy would grind to a halt and from there on, society would descend via Communism into anarchy etc.

But just to show their sharing, caring side, the Tories have spent the last two months proposing price caps for, or "help with the cost of", the following:

Energy and water bills, the cost of housing, the fees paid for everyday financial services, the expense of rail and road travel

Rail commuters' season tickets and a curb on bank fees

Petrol and diesel prices

Water bills

Mobile phone bills

Pay-day loan interest rates

And of course there are also the Homey voters' favourites: a freeze on Council Tax, the Help To Buy scheme and artificially depressed interest rates.

Sumoking's Libertarian Corner - Camoron's Pornmageddon!

Despite the heavy handed and counter productive attempts of the Tory High Command to wipe any trace of embarrassingly sane and substance touting old speeches featuring things like, a vague notion that Gov is a bit big and maybe we could do with not hectoring people (so long as they are the right sort of people, elbow patches, flag saluting, no University loan, white wine drinking, type people), from the interwebs, traces remain.
Traces such as this little gem persevered for posterity by the "receive press release, print without anything more than the vaguest whiff of comment" Telegraph.
"Today in Britain - not in some foreign dictatorship, not in a bygone age you can wake up in the morning, in your own bed, in your own home to hear a knock on the door from an official with one of over a thousand powers that now allow the state to enter your home."
"You don't have to be a terrorist or a criminal fugitive. The authorities have the right to come into your home to inspect potted plants for pests or to check the regulation of hedgerows. We are in danger of living in a control state."
Result, thought 2009 Sumoking, no more bullying jobsworths bought by vested interests making people miserable. Oh joy, people will soon be free and happy and act like grown ups and we'll all get on with making the world slightly better. Creativity and commerce shall flourish! Hell, at this rate we'll have landfills on Mars by 2015 and bugger this sorting cartons nonsense!
Alas, and perhaps unsurprisingly, not so much. Fast forward to dour present day Sumoking, skip over some worrying rhetoric, side step the worrying Snowden condemnations and we find, in the very same, receive, print, think not, Telegraph this bansturbation fuckwittery;
[Mr Cameron]said that the Government wanted to give parents an “opportunity to take a more positive role” in controlling what their children can look up online.
A more positive role? Sounds borderline encouraging, granted it sounds a bit "we know best" but almost on the right track. Steve Jobs was 56 when he died. Bill gates is 58. Tim Berners Lee is 58. For a 30-40 year old parent (or Politian) to bleat about being unable to search "Google" for "internetpornfilter solution" and then to search Google for "how to install internetpornfilter solution" is laughable. Okay, maybe our gents above are "early adopters" but the internet has been around for 20 years and I gather computers were being used back before I was even born. This nonsensical "I'm old and don't understand computers and teenagers are all super hackers" is utter bollocks.
Unfortunately, this is complete double speak. "take a more positive role" actually turns out to mean "do absolutely fcuk all".
Embarrassed husbands who want to opt-out of porn controls in their homes will have to “have a discussion” with their wives once tough new filters are applied by internet service providers, David Cameron has said
Setting aside the idea that only husbands watch porn or the idea that wives might not already be fully aware that leaving your hubby alone for 5 whole minutes means that old crusty, the faithful hockey sock of yore, will be dug out from behind the wardrobe, it is difficult to see how forcing ISPs to block things at source enables parents to take any role at all, never mind a positive one in controlling what their children look up online.
But then, okay, I suppose there will be a few Daily Mail reading people who think, 1. what about the poor little breast feeding children! what if they see some breasts! On a screen! and/or 2. yeah but you can always declare you like breasts to the benevolent government and watch what you like, at least they are being up front about it! at least they gave you a choice this time!
In that case, you may wish to consider what big smiley Dave hasn't been saying about his benevolent kiddy saving web filter. Fortunately Wired is not the Telegraph, they don't just print a press release after a quick rehash. Wired actually spoke to the ISPs to see what was being demanded and they found this;
As well as pornography, users may automatically be opted in to blocks on "violent material", "extremist related content", "anorexia and eating disorder websites" and "suicide related websites", "alcohol" and "smoking". But the list doesn't stop there. It even extends to blocking "web forums" and "esoteric material", whatever that is. "Web blocking circumvention tools" is also included, of course.
Esoteric Material? You are going to have to put your name on a government list in order to access what some unknown, unscrutinised body designates as "esoteric material"? Frankly I'm surprised the term "seditious" doesn't make an appearance.

As if this wasn't good enough it looks like it'll be Huawei, basically an arm of the Chinese government, that'll be operating the filter. if this sort of nonsense was going on in China or North Korea we would be pitying the poor buggers.

In closing and before the Jackboot Jackie and Haridan Harman brigade comes stampeding towards me, intent on vengeance for my seeking to selfishly feed my hardcore furry pornography habit, at the expense of others, a word on rape. 

What happens when more people view more pornography? Does the incidence of rape hoot up? Well the rise of the Internet offered a gigantic natural experiment.  Because Internet usage caught on at different times in different states in the US, it offered 50 natural experiments. 

The bottom line on these experiments is, "More Net access, less rape." A 10 percent increase in Net access yields about a 7.3 percent decrease in reported rapes. States that adopted the Internet quickly saw the biggest declines. And, according to Clemson professor Todd Kendall, the effects remain even after you control for all of the obvious confounding variables, such as alcohol consumption, police presence, poverty and unemployment rates, population density, and so forth.

(A full analysis of this research is here, at Slate.)

So, the bludgeon of government will;
  1. Annoy people (well me certainly)
  2. Reduce the responsibilities of parents further
  3. Not reduce any serious crime
  4. Censor huge tracks of the internet
  5. According to the logic of bringing in the filter, not stop teenage super hackers from seeing naked breasts anyway.
This government is utterly, utterly vile to the core and I fervently hope David Cameron stands on an upturned plug with no shoes on.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The supply and demand curve for "money" (1)

The traditional view is that "money" is a commodity like anything else, with independent lines for supply and demand:

As a general way of illustrating the effects of changes in supply or demand, or taxes thereon, on the price and quantity of goods and services, which have to be produced before they are consumed, the graphic representation is most useful. But as far as "money" is concerned, it is complete hokum, unless you accept that it is an abstraction of an abstraction.

Facts are:

1. Any economy is and always will be a barter economy.

2. "Money" is a useful unit of measurement, in the same way as tonness and kilograms are useful units of measurement for agriculture. You could say a farmer produces X tonnes of potatoes, or he produces £Y's worth of potatoes, and the shopper buys X kilograms or potatoes or £Y's worth of potatoes. But tonnes and kilograms are not things in themselves, they are merely units of measurement, and "money" is just a useful measure of relative value. You can't easily convert a new car to its potato equivalent, but you can easily say what a new car costs and what a pound of potatoes goes and divide one by the other.

3. To the extent that "money" actually exists, it is merely an expression of who owes whom how much "money" (i.e. future goods and services to the value of…). All banks do is a glorified bookkeeping exercise saying who owes whom how much and running the debt-collection service on behalf of the people owed money (i.e. who have produced more than they have consumed in any time period). This last bit is also a simplification - if a land goes up in value and a landowner sells, he has not, in practice, produced anything or deferred consumption, he has in fact produced nothing and brought forward his ability to consume, but there you go.

4. You can't have "savings" or a positive bank balance without somebody else having taken out a loan or mortgage first. It is actually the borrower who creates credit or prints money.

So it is more useful to look at the demand curve, which is a distinct curve and not a straight line:

But this is also hokum - if "money" were actually produced had a cost of production in itself, then there would be no such thing as debt/credit bubbles, it would choke itself off at a certain stage. For example, I'm sure most people would love to drive round in a brand new Bentley, but we don't, for obvious reasons. So the total number of Bentleys produced is a fairly low and stable figure.

We can actually ignore the supply curve entirely for the time being because it is derived from the demand curve and focus on the demand curve. Why is is curved and how can we plot this?

It is curved because there is no demand for "money" in itself, there is demand for what you can buy with it, i.e. consume.

The interest rate you are prepared to pay is higher, the more that the following apply:
- small amount of money/expenditure required,
- how urgently you need to consume that thing NOW as opposed to later,
- for how many years you will benefit from spending money today.

- pay-day loans have an interest rate of 50-plus% (if you can't pay the £100 gas bill, you get cut off for weeks; if you don't buy £50 of food this week, you will starve)
- credit cards have an interest rate of 25%. If you are in the shop and overcome with an urge to buy new clothes or an electronic gadget for a couple of hundred pounds NOW, you are happy to pay fifty quid interest over the next year.
- if you need a van or a car for work, costing thousands of pounds but which will last you a few years, you are happy to take out a personal loan or an HP loan at 15%, because the £1,000 a year it will cost you in interest is less than the extra income you can earn for the next few years.
- if you are renting an average house with a build cost of £80,000 and paying £10,000 a year rent, you are happy to take out an £80,000 mortgage at 8%, pay £6,400 a year in rent and gamble on the repair and maintenance costs being less than £3,400 a year.
- if interest rates are lower than this, or if rents are higher than this, the money borrowed will be spent on land (which includes land speculation and credit bubbles, see last chart).

We also now that from the lender's point of view, those loans for which he can charge a higher interest rate have higher collection costs and higher write-offs for irrecoverable amounts, and that these tend to reduce the overall profit/return down to about 5%, for example:

- pay-day loans. Interest rate 50% minus collection costs 15%, minus write-offs 30% = net profit 5%.
- credit card loans. Interest rate 25%, minus collection costs 10%, minus write-offs 10% = net profit 5%.
- personal/HP loans. Interest rate 15%, minus collection costs 5% minus write-offs 5% = net profit 5%.
- house purchase loans. Interest rate 10%, minus collection costs 3% minus write offs 2% = net profit 5%.

With land purchase/speculation and credit bubbles, these rules no longer hold and the real return to the lender is negative.

So what does the demand curve look like from the point of view of the lender, once we deduct collection costs and write-offs?

It's fairly flat, of course:

And that dashed red line becomes, to all intents and purposes the "supply" curve as well. A saver (or a somebody who supplies goods on credit, however indirectly) is indifferent whether the customer's debts are collected by a pay-day lender, a credit card company, a personal loan/HP company or a mortgage bank:

Employees of such a company might be blissfully aware that this is how their wages are paid, but that is exactly how it works. The car worker gets £x thousand paid into his bank account each month. The car salesman sells the car on HP, and the bank (the HP provider) credits the car manufacturer and assume liability for collecting the debt.

So the car worker/manufacturer produce a car and somebody buys the car. All the bank does is debit "HP loans" and credit "car manufacturer"; there is then another entry "debit car manufacturer" and "credit car worker" at the end of the month when the wages fall due.

This is a nice simple real-world model which we can hopefully understand. And it works, in real life, there is an overall benefit to mankind and the economy from running things like this. The existence of "money" and the banking system oil the wheels and enable specialisation, spreading monthly income against daily or irregular expenditure etc.

Where the model becomes a bit fragile and breaks down is once rents are high, interest rates are low, there is an expectation that land prices will rise faster than interest rates and when bankers are paid according to the value of loans they make/deposits they take (regardless of whether the bank itself will make a profit on the deal).

I'll return to that phenomenon next week, suffice to say, over half of all lending by volume relates purely to land purchase and speculation:

"To build up London solidly from Brighton to Northampton (which you appear to hanker after)"

This old non-argument against whatever-the-person-saying-it-wants-it-to-be-an-argument-against was thrown at me recently.

I have never suggested this, of course, and anybody with a grasp of numbers would know that no sane person would seriously suggest this.


Distance from Northampton to Brighton approx. 125 miles.

A circular city with a radius of 125 miles has a surface area of 13,000 sq miles, if we adopted the Scandinavian "green fingers" model and put aside one-third of that for open spaces and built up the rest to the same population density as Greater London, there'd be space for 120 million people.

That's twice the current UK population, not all of whom would want to live there anyway*, so there would simply be no demand. Whoever tried this would soon go bankrupt.

* In economic and environmental terms, and with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better for us to build and live in huge cities of tens of millions of people instead of being so sparsely scattered over large areas, but it didn't work out that way for historical reasons.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

"Lamp-post thieves crash into Prada hand bags as they flee"

From The Evening Standard:

Thieves who stole thousands of pounds worth of lamp-post had to abandon part of their haul when they crashed into the Prada shop window as they tried to flee.

The gang of four men uprooted a lamp-post - which can sell for upwards of £2,000 - in the robbery at around 1.25am. However as the raiders made their escape, one of the mopeds crashed into the windows of the Italian designer brand’s flagship store on Old Bond Street in the early hours of this morning.

The men escaped however. When police arrived at the scene they recovered the sodium bulb and several yards of copper cable. A Met Police spokeswoman said there had been no arrests and officers are investigating.

It comes after a spate of lamp-post thefts by gangs on motorbikes or mopeds.

In September armed police swooped on a gang early as they tried to uproot street lighting at the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford. Flying Squad and armed officers ambushed the raiders as they dug up the pavement with axes and hammers. Four men were arrested at the scene while a fifth was arrested later at his home in Islington.

In June smash and grab thieves were chased through London at high speed by police cars and a helicopter after taking a traffic light from in front of the Apple Store in Regent Street. Five suspects on three scooters were seen breaking a 40cm hole through the asphalt with a power drill. But they fled empty-handed as police arrived. Two men, aged 18 and 21, were arrested on suspicion of attempted burglary and dangerous driving.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (308)

A comment at

Land Value Tax was tried by Labour in the 1960s and was a catastrophic failure. Landowners simply refused to sell: why should they?

And we already have a near-equivalent: S106 roof tax running at £20K per house, and builders obliged to give away 40% of their sites as social housing. The result? Barely viable sites and a reluctance to build.

Why bother when planning policies starve builders of sites and taxation policies make most of them financially unviable?

Antony Atkins, Added: Friday, 22 November 2013 09:17 AM

This is a fairly standard smart-arse Homey tactic, and can be politely referred to as "Telling a Big Fat Lie". The planning gains supplement, in all its names and guises is not Land Value Tax, it is the opposite of Land Value Tax and has predictable effects.

And he's obviously not read any homebuilders' financial statements in which they boast of their massive landbanks (about nine years' worth of supply) and state quite clearly that these are long term investments expected to produce super-returns whether they are built on or not etc.

"BCC calls for freeze on 'iniquitous’ rent increases"

From The Telegraph:

George Osborne should freeze commercial rents and overhaul the "iniquitous" and "broken" system of index-linked automatic rent increases, one of Britain's leading business groups has demanded this weekend.

The British Chambers of Commerce has urged the Chancellor to use his Autumn Statement to "abolish" upward-only rent reviews in a move that it says would boost the economy by enabling more business investment, helping sales and exports.

In its Autumn Statement submission to the Treasury, the BCC said that commercial rents are "an iniquitous privately collected tax that aggravate already uncertain business cash flow and impose hefty new costs".

It has argued that businesses are suffering under the burden of having to "absorb relentless increases in their rents" – levies that are relentlessly increased "no matter the stage of the economic cycle, company performance or ability to pay"…

John Longworth, the director general of the BCC, said: "There is no question that commercial rents hit companies of all sizes long before they a make profit, and acts as a drag on business growth and investment.

"Most of our members pay more in rent than in corporation tax and business rates put together, for very little in return. Firms across the UK have been crying out for relief from this stealth tax for years but, so far, their pleas have been ignored."

"Cows crash through weaver's ceiling smashing tables and chairs after climbing onto the roof of her converted barn"

Another excellent headline, spotted by James Higham and View From The Solent in The Daily Mail:

* Cattle had climbed onto Sue Marshall's sloped roof to reach grass

Well, that's what happens if you get involved in this pretentious growing-grass-on-roofs nonsense, it's not natural and nature has a way of thinking up its own punishments.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Location Values Explained. The 1.15 Rule

It can be frustrating arguing with f**k wit economists about LVT. 

One group of right-wing zealots will say that location values don't naturally exist. They are merely the symptom of a regulation crazy Government. The free-market will sort it all out and they will fall to zero. 

Another group of right-wing nasties will concede they do. But they say these values are only created by individual landowners. To them, the claim they are socially created is dangerous Commie nonsense. If location value is individually created, "taxing" it will produce the same negative outcomes as taxing capital.

Reason, common sense, and observation cannot persuade them they are wrong. Perhaps mathematics can? 

"Nurse in intensive care after being trampled by a herd of cows while taking part in hi-tech sat-nav treasure hunt"

Spotted by James Higham in The Daily Mail.

It's a fantastic headline, but what actually triggered the attack was the same old low-tech animal companion:

Sarah Leonard was walking in a field with her dog in North Scarle, Lincolnshire, when the group of animals charged, leaving her with life-threatening injuries.

NOW That's what I call a fail!

In Tuesday's Metro there was an article about Number 1 albums, the infographic tells us that the 300th Number 1 album was "NOW That's what I call music! 3", released in 1984.

The album cover pictured is unfortunately "NOW That's what I call music! 84", which was of course released in 2013:

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Songs which sound the same: "We used to know" and "Hotel California"

Submitted by Prog:

Ok, you asked for it… 'We used to know' (Jethro Tull 1969):

Which many argue inspired 'Hotel California' (Eagles 1976):

"The Black Swan Theory"

From Wiki and Wiki:

"The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes a film that comes as a surprise, has a major effect and is excruciatingly bad, often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.

The theory was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, after he walked out of a cinema halfway through a screening in 2010, to explain:

1. The disproportionate role of self-indulgent film makers trying to pander to a pretentious audience by delivering a high-profile, hard-to-predict film such as "The Black Swan" which is beyond the realm of normal expectations in literature, screenwriting, acting and film making.

2. The non-computability of the probability of the consequential downright awful viewer experience using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of the small probability of a film with Natalie Portman in it being absolute rubbish).

3. The psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to the fact that a film is shit, provided all the reviewers and critics lack the courage of their own convictions and crumble in the face of peer pressure.

Unlike the earlier philosophical black swan problem, the black swan theory refers only to films whose unwatchability is of large magnitude and consequence and which have a dominant role in the arts pages.

Such films, considered extreme outliers, collectively play vastly larger roles in popular memory than decent watchable Hollywood output.

More technically, in the scientific monograph "Lectures on Probability and Risk in Hollywood: Crap Films (Volume 1)" Taleb mathematically defines the black swan problem as "stemming from the use of degenerate metaprobability"."

"Eurostar bars obese Frenchman"

From the BBC:

A clinically obese Frenchman, prevented from flying home from the US by British Airways, has been refused travel on a Eurostar train from London to Paris.

Kevin Chenais, 22, who weighs 230kg (36 stone), was flown back to London this week by Virgin Atlantic after 18 months of treatment in Minnesota. But Eurostar said it could not take him back to France because of safety rules.

Ferry company P&O has now stepped in, offering to tow him across the English Channel.

Mordor Crowned UK City of Fun


Mordor will be the next UK City of Fun - in 2017 - Culture Secretary Maria Miller announced today.

Mordor faced stiff competition from the other three shortlisted places, The Phantom Zone from Superman, Azkaban Prison from the Harry Potter Series and the post-apocalyptic wasteland from The Road, but was declared the winner on the advice of the independent expert advisory panel chaired by Phil Redmond.

The UK City of Fun first started in 2010 with the ice planet Hoth chosen as UK City of Fun for 2013, and is a hotly contested accolade that sees the winning city benefit from real economic benefits such as an increase in investment and a rise in visitor numbers.

"Half of graduates are working in jobs which do not need a degree"

Says the Daily Mail's headline, and the first bullet point it this:

* 38% of over-21s are now graduates, up from 17% just two decades ago

Hardly surprising is it?

Assuming that there is a clear definition of "graduate job" and society hasn't changed that much since, twenty years ago 17% of people were graduates and there were enough graduate jobs for all of them.

We have doubled the number of graduates overall without increasing the number of graduate jobs, so clearly half of graduates will end up working in non-graduate jobs. It does not really matter whether they do "hard" degrees (medicine, engineering) required to be able to do the sort of jobs which will always require a degree or "Mickey Mouse" degrees, the number of jobs in (medicine, engineering) does not change much.

The figures aren't quite as stark as this - rather unsurprisingly, the longer ago you graduated, the less likely you are to still be in a non-graduate job - but that's the general trend.

Another Confused Economist

Over at Policy Exchange, head of Housing and Planning policy Alex Morton unleashed his new paper “Taxing Issues? Reducing housing demand or increasing housing supply?” onto a credulous public.

The very fact this is not an either/or issue, gets the alarm bells ringing this may not be the most informed analysis.

Alex, like a lot of free-market evangelists, is deeply confused about what gives land its value. Like fellow economist Kristian Niemietz,  he seems to be saying that if we had no planning restrictions, land values would be zero, or close to it (strangely though, this economic rule doesn't apply to Chelsea and Westminster).

"In a functioning land and development market, house prices will be close to the cost of construction, and land value will not vary by use. Except for a handful of cases (e.g. prime central London) land will roughly be the same value across different parts of the country and for different uses.

"A field of land for agricultural use outside London will have the same value as a site with industrial planning permission outside Newcastle. If the market is dysfunctional or is unable to function properly, large and volatile price  differences will emerge."

Phew! It appears Alex can think of no good reason why an acre of land (prime central London excepted) in one location might be more valuable than in another. Outer London, Outer Mongolia, can you spot the difference?

But hold on. A few pages further on, explaining the principles of LVT he writes:

"Land values arise from the advantageousness of location. If two identical semi detached houses are built in the same area, but one is next to a park while the other is not, the one by the park will have a higher selling and renting prices.

"The difference results from its higher land value, in turn caused by the proximity to a particular amenity, in this case the park."

Now imagine that difference was somewhere that paid higher wages, had more opportunities, offered a greater diversity of leisure and shopping facilities. If you are in business do you want access to huge rich market, or a poor small one?

Who wants to be at the margins? Some do, but most want to be where the action is. And they are prepared to pay for it. Difference in location value? How much can you afford to pay for it?


A bear and a rabbit are in the woods taking a shit. "Rabbit?" said bear.
"Yes?" said rabbit.
"Do you have a problem with shit sticking to your fur?"
"No" said rabbit.

So, the bear wiped his arse with the rabbit.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Songs which sound the same: "Primitive Love" and "Tusk"

All round nice lass, Suzi Quatro, who always gave more than she got, back in 1973:

Hyper-inflated, overpaid, self-indulgent and cynical Anglo-American crossover MOR rockers Fleetwood Mac*, six year later:
* I actually quite like Fleetwood Mac. The fact that everybody else hates them makes them more rather than less appealing.

"Police blitz on bikes to tackle spate of vehicle damage"

From The Evening Standard:

Hundreds of police are to flood central London in a "zero-tolerance" campaign against reckless cyclists in a bid to halt the "appalling" spate of inconvenience suffered by motorists.

Specialist traffic officers will be on duty on every major street, especially notorious junctions.

Over the past two weeks, dozens of car drivers have had paintwork scratched by inconsiderate cyclists who were not able to double guess which way drivers would turn at busy junctions.

Nine car and lorry drivers have lost several valuable hours helping police establish the circumstances which led to cyclists throwing themselves under the wheels of passing motor vehicles.

Starting on Monday, police will be looking for motorists using mobile phones and drivers stopping in the advance "bike boxes" at traffic lights and ensuring that their path is kept cyclist-free.

The decision was taken at a meeting between the Met and City Hall last night, hours after charity volunteer Richard Muzira became the sixth cyclist to die while obstructing a busy commuter.

Under pressure to act, the Mayor said he would also push for a ban on the "scourge" of cyclists wearing headphones.

City Hall had previously insisted they would not be rushed into action and real improvements for vehicle security would be delivered with a £35 million scheme for segregated car lanes to be built next year.

Sumoking's Libertarian Corner (It's totally gonna be a thing)

From the beautiful game Bioshock

Soooooooo, pretty.... and wet, granted, quite wet

Andrew Ryan: I am Andrew Ryan, and I'm here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?

'No!' says the man in Washington, 'It belongs to the poor.'

'No!' says the man in the Vatican, 'It belongs to God.'

'No!' says the man in Moscow, 'It belongs to everyone.'

I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose... Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, Where the great would not be constrained by the small! And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.

'No!' says the man in London 'It belongs to the Landowner (Banks)" ?

"Waitrose reports Buckingham cafe owner to OFT"

From the BBC:

A coffee shop owner has been reported to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) by Waitrose, claiming the shop's free groceries offer is damaging their business.

Garry Sutherland runs the Gelateria Gazzeria in Meadow Lane, Buckingham, 20 yards (18m) from a branch of the supermarket.

He said his coffee sales had quadrupled since he started giving free groceries to regular customers. Waitrose argue that the offer is "unfair trading".

Mr Sutherland said the promotion allowed him to compete against larger chains. His regular customers receive a free bag of organic vegetables, a choice of herbs and spices and 500g of fresh meat each time they buy a drink or a serving of ice cream.

Mr Sutherland, who charges £2.05 for a regular and £2.45 for a large white coffee, said he had gained £2,000 sales a week since he started the offer six weeks ago. Sales at the nearby Waitrose have fallen by half in the same time period.

A Waitrose spokesman added: "The loss of custom would be bad enough but he's getting all the MILFs as well."

Fun Online Polls: Who is the smuggest & Age of consent

The results to last week's Fun Online Poll, as suggested by Ralph Musgrave, were as follows:

Who’s the most pompous, boring and sanctimonious?

Leaders of the three main political parties - 27%
Feminists - 24%
“Anti-fascists” - 23%
Home-Owner-Ists - 10%
University students - 5%
The Anglican “High Church” - 3%
Other, please specify - 9%

With the benefit of hindsight, the original list had some glaring omissions and perhaps I should have allowed multiple answers. Other suggestions were:

Lola: "Me. At least according to Mrs L, and she should know…"
Anthony: "Drama Greens"
johnd2008: "All of the above"
MWaPW: "Greens…"
Robin Smith: [listed various Home-Owner-Ist and Faux Lib pressure groups]
Peeta: "Libertarians"
Maxn; "The Systemic Fiscal Reform Group? Meltfund?"
JQ: "Well at least HO-ists believe in something (however contradictory it may be). Cleggeroband believe in nothing at all."
Wigner's Friend: "All of the above + the animal rights fanatics/fruitcakes"
corncrake: "Fellow bloggers?"
Jesus Green: "Agree with BP 100% and would add enviromentalists. Especially the ban fossil fuel, more 'sustainable' energy, save the planet for my grandchildren type."
Furor Teutonicus: "ALL of them."
Bastard Panda: "Public health lobbyists"
And lo, to this week's Fun Online Poll.

This relates back to The Stigler's musings of earlier.

"If it were up to you, what would the age of consent be?"

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Olympics 1

From the BBC

A major parliamentary report into the London 2012 Olympics warns that the prospect of an "effective and robust" legacy from the Games is in jeopardy unless there is a change in government approach.

The House of Lords Select Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy says the Games were an "outstanding success", but urges the government to appoint a minister with overall responsibility for producing legacy benefits which, it warns, "are in danger of faltering".

The report finds "little evidence" of increased participation in sport, highlights the uneven distribution of economic benefits of the Games across the UK, and also criticises funding body UK Sport for its 'no compromise' policy on sports without short-term medal prospects.

"It is clear to everyone that the Olympic and Paralympic Games were an outstanding success," said the committee chairman, Lord Harris of Haringey.

"However, since the Games, the same political impetus and agreed deadlines no longer exist and many aspects of legacy are in danger of faltering, whilst some have fallen by the wayside.

"There is confusion on the timeframes and targets involved in delivery and a lack of clear ownership of legacy as a whole."

The whole sales pitch, the reason why we threw billions at the Olympics in the first place were that they were going to give us legacy, tourism, etc. Not because we were going to host a load of obscure sports that no-one will generally pay to see.

So, to describe them as an "outstanding success" is nonsense.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Songs which sound the same: "Egyptian Reggae" and "Canton"

Listen to the first five or ten seconds of each song!

Jonathan Richman, back in 1977 (the song was itself a sort-of cover version).

Hyper-serious Japan*, four years later. Did nobody tap them on the shoulder and point it out to them?
* I actually quite like Japan, the fact that everybody else hated them made them more rather than less appealing.

"Australia ban nine players for not drinking before Ireland game"

From the BBC:

Australia have suspended nine players for one match for not drinking in midweek before Saturday's win over Ireland.

Wallabies coach Ewan McKenzie acted after "a group of players made the decision to go to bed early instead of consuming inappropriate levels of alcohol".

He said Australia's "manly conduct" standards had been compromised.

A further six players were given a verbal warning for downing a few swift pints and being back at the hotel before midnight.

UPDATE: Newsthump did much the same article the next day

The soaring cost of alcohol to society

The last time I updated this was back in June 2013, when we were told that alcohol costs our country £25 billion each year, which was up from £16.2 billion back in 2011.

Good news, chaps, somebody didn't read the memo and the new made-up figure is now a more modest £21 billion a year!

(On closer inspection it turns out that this is an old figure which Factcheck debunked last year).

Even more bizarre was today's FT which baldly stated that Britain's binge drinking epidemic costs the taxpayer £21bn a year.

Well whoopie doo. I could have told them that. A couple of years ago we were told that the government gets £14.6 bn a year from duty and VAT on alcohol, we can add on another half for PAYE and corporation tax paid by brewers, pubs etc, there's your £21 billion right there. That's exactly what it costs taxpayers.

In other news: Going to work costs employees (and employers) £234 billion a year.