Thursday, 31 May 2012

"If only we could ban everything"

Citizens United Against Tyranny have (has?) hand picked the cream of the e-petition crop for us.

I'll have two small Cokes and two small popcorns please...

... actually, sod it, make it four of each, please:

Supersize fizzy drinks should be banned from cinemas, restaurants and sports grounds in London to curb obesity, health experts say. Anti-obesity campaigner Tam Fry today called on Mayor Boris Johnson to copy New York, which has imposed a 16oz limit on the sale of sugary drinks...

Mr Fry, from the National Obesity Forum,(1) said the move by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg was the way forward to tackle the capital’s obesity epidemic. In an interview with the Standard, he said: “London should take a leaf out of New York’s book. Everything Michael Bloomberg does is backed up with perfectly good science.(2) If England were to follow more what America was doing then we would be in a much better situation.”

Bucket-sized portions of popcorn are also to blame for fuelling the country’s obesity epidemic and should be banned, according to Mr Fry. He said: “People go to cinemas, buy popcorn and just shovel it in, then they go home and flop on the couch.”(3)

1) The section of their website headed Our Partners is most illuminating. The NOF is not a fakecharity in the traditional sense, it is a food-industry lobbying front.

2) O rly?

3) How the f- does he know what people do after they've left the cinema and why is it any of his f-ing business? Is this the sort of scientifically established finding upon which Bloomberg bases his decisions?

[Syrian] Conflict Intensifies As Blah Blah Blah, Etc. Etc.

From The Onion, 26 April 2007 [as updated]:

MIDDLE EAST — With the [Syrian civl] war in its [twelfth month] and conflict between Israel and the rest of the region continuing unabated for more than half a century, intelligence sources are warning that a new wave of violence in the Middle East may soon blah blah blah, etc. etc., you know the rest.

"Tensions in the region are extremely high," said US Ambassador to [Syria] Ryan Crocker, who added the same old same old while answering reporters' questions. "We're disappointed by the events of the last few months, but we're confident that we're about to [yakety yakety yak]."

The UN has issued a strongly worded whatever denouncing someone or something presumably having to do with the vicious explosive things that raged across this, or shattered the predawn calm of that, or ripped suddenly through the other, killing umpteen innocent civilians in a Jerusalem bus or Beirut discotheque or Fallujah mosque or whatever it was this time.

In the aftermath of a whole series of incidents, there have also been troubling reports of just fill in the blanks. Middle East experts say the still somehow worsening situation has inflamed age-old sectarian tensions between the Sunnis, Shiites, Semites, Kurds, Turks, Saudis, Persians, Wahhabis, radicals, extremists, Baathists, mullahs, clerics, et al, which is likely to lead to more gurgle-gurgle over the coming weeks and months.

Deloittes nearly join the dots

From Deloitte's Annual Review of Football Finance 2010-11:

Premier League clubs’ revenues increased by 12% to £2.3 billion, driven by further increases in broadcasting revenue (13%) and impressive growth in commercial revenues (18%)...

Total wages across the Premier League rose by £201m (14%), equivalent to over 80% of the £241m increase in revenue, to almost £1.6 billion. As a result, the league’s wages/revenue ratio reached an all time high of 70%, having been as low as 59% in 2004/05.

As I explained when they brought out their review for 2009-10, this stands to reason. Any increase in revenues above and beyond normal running costs will accrue to the least elastic factor of production, which in this case is "the best two hundred football players". It does not matter whether they are good, bad or mediocre, as long as they ever so slightly better than all the other football players they will be the best; and as long as clubs' total revenue keeps increasing, total wages will increase more or less £ for £ (or 80p in the £ in this particular year), thus soaking up an ever larger share of total revenues as time goes on.

But every year, Deloittes feign surprise at this, and announce with great foreboding that players' salaries have reached some sort of unsustainable upper limit which is endangering the viability of the Premier League. No they haven't and they never will - as long as clubs have a few hundred million left over for actual running costs, the clubs themselves (as distinct from the players) will keep soldiering on.

Hilarious Juxtaposition Of The Day

Spotted by BobE at The Guardian:

Nationwide nearly joins the dots

In their May 2012 house price report, they include a couple of interesting charts.

i) The chart at the bottom of page 1 shows that since 1952, the Retail Price Index has risen from 100 to about 2,500 but their house price index has risen from 100 to nearly 9,000:
It would be more meaningful to compare house prices with earnings (which themselves rise a couple of per cent a year faster than the RPI) but the general observation stands that as the economy advances, house prices grow super-proportionately, i.e. they increase as a share of the economy, i.e. compared to normal shop prices (which gradually fall relative to wages), houses are three-and-a-half times as expensive as sixty years ago.

For sure, some of this extra increase has to do with the credit bubble and supply restrictions, but only some of it.

ii) The chart at the bottom of page 2 shows housing affordability in the ten English regions:
We observe that there is a more or less straight line between the dots - in the North, rents are 20% of earnings and houses cost three times earnings; and in London, rents are nearly 40% of earnings and houses cost over six times earnings, with all the other regions in a straight line in between. The explanation for this, which appears to elude Nationwide, is exactly the same as in i).

You just have to remember that a) average earnings are very low in the North and very high in London (with the other regions in a straight line in between), which draws people towards regions with higher earnings; b) these earnings differentials cannot be competed away (in the short or medium term); and c) actual day to day living costs are much the same anywhere.

As a result, that surplus which higher earners in higher earning regions have available - after paying for living costs - is not competed away by new arrivals (there is only so much space, and in any event, higher population density would push up average earnings yet further) and is simply soaked up in higher rents and house prices.

So we could assume that the economy is the North is less advanced and in London it is more advanced; so comparing London with the North is like comparing 2012 with 1952. The observation that rents as a share of earnings increases when/where the economy is more advanced holds either on a temporal or spatial basis.

Is this cyber warfare or just funny coincidences?

Witterings from Witney's blog started showing lots of Error 503 Service Unavailable messages at around the same time that solicitors started sending him threatening letters.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Doc Watson: Now this is a clever video!

The Daily Mail reported the death of Doc Watson the Godfather of all flatpickers and linked to the video below. I cheerfully admit that I'd never heard of him before (cue cries of scorn/disbelief from the likes of Elektro Kevin) but watched the video anyway.

The first half just shows what he's doing with his left hand, and you think, that looks easy enough, I could do that with a bit of practice, but what on earth must he have been doing with his right hand to make it sound so good?

Then the camera pans to his right hand, he only appears to be using his thumb and one or two fingers, and you think, well, that looks a bit trickier, but I could manage that with a bit more practice: so what on earth is he now doing with his left hand to make it sound so good?

And so on, ad infinitum. It's like Shrödinger's Cat or something, whatever you observe isn't actually doing anything but something is still happening:

Don't worry about the big numbers! Just look at the little numbers!

Spotted by Bob E in The Guardian:

PleaseSeeSense2, 30 May 2012 1:24PM:

What the government are not telling people is that the NHS pension scheme has a surplus of about £2bn - so it is easily affordable. This is another government attack on the NHS as they want more people to pay to go private.

As Bob explains, the NHS scheme is "an unfunded public sector scheme", which is a round about way of saying "there really isn't a pension fund, so it can't possibly be in surplus". It doesn't have "invested assets" so the only way it could generate "a surplus" would be by adopting an accounting strategy that showed that "payments into the scheme in the year" exceeded "payments made out by it during the year" by £2 billion.

GPs make "personal contributions", but these are purely notional, it is money that is nominally added to their salaries and then deducted again and the NHS as employers make "employer contributions" into the scheme, which are also purely notional as there is no fund. The ultimate source of the real cash payments which will redeem these notional contributions (i.e. pensions in payment) is future NHS budgets, which are funded by central government/the taxpayer.

As it happens, the NHS Pension Scheme & Premature Retirement Scheme Annual Accounts 2010-11 do show a figure of £1.7 billion for the value of "Excess cash receipts surrendered to the Consolidated Fund collected", i.e. the balancing figure between various estimates of transfers and payments in and out (page 25).

Big number, huh?

Is it heck!

The most reliable number in the whole accounts is the estimate of the total cost of all future pensions to be paid out, which is £257.7 billion (Table E, page 14).

And that's not really the final cash cost either. That will be a much larger figure, but the expected future payments have been discounted (i.e. reduced) at an annual rate of 5.6% (Table D, page 13) which is wa-a-ay too high.

The NHS final salary pension liability is to all intents and purposes UK government debt redeemable a few decades into the future, so the appropriate discount rate is the yield on UK government bonds redeemable a few decades into the future, i.e. about 3%, which would add at least half again to the £257.7 billion figure.

Bob The Builder summarises.

Pinched from here.

Readers' Letters Of The Day

Both from The Metro:

Wendy Keelan suggests Britain might as well leave the Eurovision Song Context because we haven't done well lately. Why are we such poor losers? France hasn't one since 1977 and Spain hasn't won since 1969. Stalwarts such as Malta, Iceland and Portugal have never won.

Do people think England should quite the World Cup simply because we haven't won since 1966?

Hazel Ford, Kent.


If the NHS was [sic] privatised, then Tax Freedom Day would come much earlier. However, would we really be free if, instead of working to pay taxes, we were working to pay vast private medical bills?

I feel more free knowing that, whatever happens, there is a health service free of charge.

M Huntbach, London.

Stop the Ponzi* scheme! I want to get off!

From The Metro:

Thousands of people are falling behind on their rent as prices rocket and salaries stay the same.

More than 10,000 tenants contacted the Consumer Credit Counselling Service in the last 12 months – a rise of 27 per cent on the previous year. On average, tenants were £760 in arrears and regularly left with a disposable income of just £35 a month after paying all their bills.

Many were also being kept off the property ladder after rising rents ate into their take-home pay. People in London and the south east were worst affected, according to property website Rightmove. They shell out about 40 per cent of their take-home pay on rent, compared to about 35 per cent in Scotland and the North East**.

Over the past few years, there has been pretty much a first-time-buyers' strike, if you're not up for saddling yourself with a crippling mortgage, you can refuse to play by not buying.

So far so bad.

But everybody has to live somewhere, and if you're not paying vast amounts of mortgage interest, you're paying vast amounts of rent instead, so you're still propping up the Ponzi* scheme. There is no way out - it's like being charged for breathing instead of everybody getting precisely enough air they need to breathe every day for free. Land is the ultimate monopoly.

* Or are house prices a Pyramid Scheme? One or the other.

** Other research said that the gradient was much steeper than that, from 29% in North West or Yorkshire up to 42% in the South East (London off the scale as usual, at 71%).

Words Fail Me...

Just read this piece...

"Woman stalked by rogue kangaroo"

Spotted by Bob E in The Daily Mail, worth a read in full but here's the gist:

A hostile kangaroo launched a savage assault on a mother after spending two days stalking her - then attacked her husband as she recovered in hospital... It was the third time Mrs McWilliams had been confronted by the intimidating animal at her home near Port Macquarie, northern New South Wales, Australia.

While Mrs McWilliams recovered in hospital the animal faced up to Mr McWilliams, fortunately he was able to fend it off with a shovel. A day later, after the kangaroo attacked a third person, NPWS officials issued a permit to shoot the kangaroo.

It seems overly lenient to operate a "three strikes and you're out" policy with regard to violent animals, but I always wonder, how is the shooter supposed to recognise the animal concerned anyway?

The comments under the article are a hoot. For example,: "Why didn't she "tie her kangaroo down", sport?".

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

London locksmiths 'used as firefighters'

From the BBC:

Locksmiths in London are being called out nearly every hour to rescue people because of fires inside or outside a building or vehicle.

The Master Locksmith's Association (MLA) said in the last three years its members had been called out to nearly 22,000 incidents of this type - 20 each day. The association said it has been called out to fires in cemeteries, toilets and cupboards. It estimated this costs people more than £5m.

In the period 2009-11, locksmiths were called to:

2,287 incidents involving fires outside
1,613 incidents involving fires inside
1,409 incidents involving babies or children being on fire in cars or homes
276 adults and 176 children locked in burning toilets
12 people on fire in cemeteries
14 people on fire in cupboards
a woman stuck in a burning fridge and a man on fire in a freezer
a person smouldering in the luggage area of a coach
a person locked in a crematorium with a child
a person stuck in a smoking recycling bin

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From the FT:

Sir, Michael Skapinker ("Choose the English that helps you win", Business Life, May 24) refers to the use of double negatives.

I am reminded of the linguistics professor addressing his class who said: "A double negative will convey a positive; a negative and a positive in conjunction will convey a negative; but two positives in conjunction will never convey a negative". Whereupon a voice from the back of the room piped up: "Yeah, right."

Ian Prideaux, London.

Or as the Germans say: "Yeah, yeah" means "no".

"Firefighters use giant 'sledge' to slide 40 ton man from flat in eight-day rescue"

From The Daily Mail:

Seventy firefighters and paramedics battled for eight days to free a 40-ton man after he fell ill at home. Russell Parkin, 41, was dragged downstairs from his second-floor flat in a giant bowl-shaped 'sledge' by 50 men before being airlifted to hospital with a Chinook helicopter. Two neighbouring flats had to be demolished so he could be squeezed outside, screened by a hastily erected advertising hoarding for privacy.

Paramedics were called to Mr Parkin's home in New Eltham, South East London, at around 8pm in early May, but had to draft in the fire service for extra help. It wasn't until a few days later when neighbours said they were woken by the sound of a controlled demolition of parts of the building. A neighbour told The Sun how the former security worker had ballooned recently after living on a diet of Indians and Tesco delivery drivers.

Government U-turn on Cornish Pasty Tax

From the BBC:-

The government is to reverse the private tax on Cornish pasties, the BBC has learnt.

The U-turn from Chancellor George Osborne's Budget follows protests by bakers and consumers. The government has altered the definition of what is a "Cornish" pasty to allow the reversal of its EU protected food status. Labour said ministers were "incompetent".

After the amendment, Cornish pasties would now be allowed to be produced anywhere in the country again, so will not be liable for the privately collected tax to Cornish bakeries.

Currently, no-one can sell a pasty and call it a "Cornish pasty" unless it is made in Cornwall and produced to certain specifications.

Sheryll Murray, Conservative MP for South East Cornwall, said: "We are disappointed by this decision. Despite the fact that a pasty produced in Cornwall will taste no different, and can include ingredients from anywhere, we think it is only right that people should only be able to make them in Cornwall, attracting extra profits to producers in my constituency at the cost of consumers across the country".

Monday, 28 May 2012

Witterings From Witney has received A Threatening Letter...

... which he promptly posted on his shiny new blog.

I can't see anything particular offensive or defamatory about the original post. He did a bit of digging, starting with the Members' Register of Interest and ending with a couple of unanswered questions.

Hate Week

From 1984:

It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week. The flat was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, opposite the lift-shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran...

Winston's evenings were fuller than ever. Squads of volunteers, organized by Parsons, were preparing the street for Hate Week, stitching banners, painting posters, erecting flagstaffs on the roofs, and perilously slinging wires across the street for the reception of streamers. Parsons boasted that Victory Mansions alone would display four hundred metres of bunting.

From The Huffington Post:

Fun Online Polls: Second World War Bombers & Jubilee Celebrations

The results in last week's Robin Gibb Memorial Poll were as follows:

Which was the best Allied bomber in World War II?

Lancaster - 54%

B-29 Superfortress/Tupolev Tu-4 - 18%
Other, please specify - 12%
Wellington - 7%
B-17 Flying Fortress - 6%
B-24 Liberator - 2%
Blenheim - 0%

Most of the people who voted 'other' nominated the Mosquito, so I duly award that one joint second place. Apologies for missing it off the list.

And lo, thoughts turn to the extended Bank Holiday weekend. How will you be spending your time?

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Genius does irony

From The Daily Mail:

Shouryya Ray has been hailed a genius after working out the problems set by Sir Isaac Newton.

The schoolboy, from Dresden, Germany, solved two fundamental particle dynamics theories which physicists have previously been able to calculate only by using powerful computers. His solutions mean that scientists can now calculate the flight path of a thrown ball and then predict how it will hit and bounce off a wall.

Shouryya only came across the problems during a school trip to Dresden University where professors claimed they were uncrackable. "I just asked myself, 'Why not?'," explained Shouryya. "I think it was just schoolboy naivety. I didn't believe there couldn't be a solution"

Modest Shouryya began solving complicated equations as a six year old but says he's no genius. "There are other things at school I wish I was better at - football for one." he said.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

His campaign team is going to save money by splicing together anti-Romney videos prepared by failed GOP candidates.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (218)

While I broadly agree with the idea of simplifying taxes on earned income (as a preliminary to phasing them out altogether), the full 417 page 2020 Tax Commissionn Final Report kontains a veritable kornucopia of KLN krap (pages 323 onwards - as evidence they include a letter from The Times from 1959 bleating how unfair Schedule A taxation is), to which I might return if I run out of KLN's.

Luckily they've condensed their Biggest Fattest Lies down to a few sentences in their summary:

[Pg. 323] The fundamental challenge with wealth taxes is that taxes on assets which are easy to move or sell are avoided, either by shifting to different assets or moving the assets abroad (1). But taxes on assets which are hard to move or sell (2) are retrospective (3) and unfair.(4)

People are taxed on decisions they have already made (5) and it can be very hard for them to pay.(6) In Europe they have led to extensive capital flight(7) and deeply unfair results,(8) and are therefore being reversed.(9)

1) Agreed. So don't tax private wealth, be that current income or accumulated and unspent income (also known as 'capital').

2) He is of course referring to taxes on the rental value of land/location. Land/location is not "hard to move or sell", it is impossible to move and easy to sell (or rent out). So that's not two arguments against, it is in fact two Big Fat Lies and two arguments in favour of LVT:.

The location value arises precisely because locations are impossible to move, and once you have your dibs on land at any particular location nobody else can enjoy the benefits of that particular location unless they pay you accordingly. So it's not so much that the owner can't move his land; the point is that nobody else can move the current owner's land either, that's what gives land its [ever increasing] value and makes it an ideal subject for taxation on a moral level as well as on a purely practical level.

3) How is shifting from taxing incomes to taxing the rental value of land "retrospective"? It's not. You haven't earned your next year's salary yet and you haven't collected or enjoyed your future rental income either. If we shifted the tax burden from earned income to the rental value of land (and other monopolies) then people can adjust what job they do, how much they try to earn and where they want to live accordingly.

4) Meaningless word.

5) Big Fat Lie, see (3).

6) They couldn't resist chucking in the Poor Widow Bogey, could they?

7) Firstly, that's another Big Fat Lie and secondly that completely contradicts his point about land being "hard to move or sell". Either land will somehow be rolled up into a briefcase and taken abroad or it won't. And it won't, which is why owners of business premises stump up £25 billion in Business Rates every year, because they can still earn as much by owning buildings in the UK as they can elsewhere - the Business Rates merely depresses the price they have to pay for land, so every £1 extra they are paying in Business Rates saves them slightly more than £1 in bank interest in order to buy the land on which the buildings stand.

8) Repeating an unsubstantiated Big Fat Lie doth not make it true.

9) It is probably true that "wealth taxes" in the narrow sense (i.e. an annual tax at a small percentage of the total value of assets you own) are being phased out for the reasons mentioned in (1), and rightly so. It is probably also true that most European governments find it easier to increase stealth taxes on income than to increase in-your-face taxes on the rental value of land, but so what? Just because Home-Owner-Ism and all its variants are widespread does not mean we should slavishly follow them.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

"Euro crisis: UK plans for rise in immigrants"

From the BBC:

The Home Office is drawing up contingency plans to cope with a possible large increase in immigration from Greece if the euro collapses. Home Secretary Theresa May told the Daily Telegraph "work is ongoing"and "trends" were being examined to see whether immigration was rising from countries with stricken economies.

EU nationals are largely entitled to work anywhere in the single market. If the single currency breaks up, people looking for work abroad may see Britain as an attractive alternative as it is a non-eurozone country.

Asked whether emergency immigration controls were being considered, Mrs May explained that the government's main concerns were providing new arrivals with accommodation and National Insurance number cards and ensuring that there was a sufficient supply of leaflets in Greek and Spanish explaining their entitlements under the UK welfare system.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Impromptu classic car rally

Which we stumbled across by chance. It's on the last Friday of the month in the car park of Frankie & Benny's in Chingford. Basically, people turn up, park their cars, open the bonnets and then chat with whoever shows up. I liked the MG Midget (Good Grief those cars were tiny) and the red Camaro Z28 (an early 1970s model, see here, Good Grief, those cars were huge) best.

Just as we were about to go, an open top Triumph Stag in British racing green rolled up. He cruised round the car park until he had everybody's full attention, i.e. once, and then drove off again. What a bloody spoilsport. His engine didn't sound too healthy though, serves him right.

Picture pinched from here:

Robert Burns and Scottish Indepedence

By Dr Duncan Pickard (as received by email):

"Those who are trying to persuade us to vote for Scottish ‘Independence’ are keen to imply that Robert Burns would have supported their cause. It cannot have been simple coincidence that January 25th was chosen for the speech and press conference to declare the supposed benefits to the people of Scotland of a vote for 'Independence'. My reading of Burns has led me to conclude that he would not have been in favour of the 'Independence' we are asked to choose.

Burns' enthusiasm for freedom, liberty, independence and the end of tyranny was on behalf of individual people, not the county of Scotland. The tyrants whom Burns wanted to be rid of were the landowners, who were the rulers of Scotland -not the English. The poem "Scots! Vha hae wi' Wallace bled" had nothing to do with rousing the Scots of the late eighteenth century to fight for independence for their country. It was a call for his compatriots to fight for their freedom from the tyrannical oppression by Scottish landowners.

He tried to make the people aware of their Birthright in Land, and wanted the fundamental features of the English Constitution, laid down in 1688, to be established in Scotland. He by no means wished to revive old national feuds. Burns was a close friend of William Ogilvie, Professor of Humanity at the University of Aberdeen who wrote his Essay on the Right of Property in Land in 1781. Such were the powers of the landlord, that the essay had to be published anonymously. At that time, it was a criminal offence to be found with a copy of "The Rights of Man" by Thomas Paine.

In 1793 Thomas Muir was deported for supporting calls for the extension of the right to vote and Burns only narrowly escaped conviction. It is worth noting that, in 1793, Burns gave a copy of "De Lolme on the British Constitution" to the Subscription Library of Dumfries, with a plea "that they take it as a creed of British Liberty, until they found a better". Burns' poem "The Twa Dogs", which was inspired by his friendship with Ogilvie, avoided overt disclosure of his agreement with the sentiments expressed in the Essay and refers to Ogilvie as Caesar and himself as Luath, to protect both their identities. Ogilvie's Essay was suppressed for many years and few were aware of its existence until it was brought to public attention in 1891 by DC MacDonald.

Ogilvie's Essay is a well-reasoned discourse on the fundamental birthright which everyone has to a share in the earth's natural resources which were present before human beings appeared on its surface. He traced the "oppression, misery, injustice and poverty of the majority" to the unjust acquisition of the 'Right of Property in Land' by a minority of the population. The ability of those who owned the land "to produce Land Laws, preserved their power to claim the rent resulting from the labour of others". Ogilvie's introduction to his Essay states "With respect to property in land, that system which now prevails is derived from an age not deserving to be extolled for its legislative wisdom and is in need of reformation and improvement". A statement that is as true in 2012 as it was in l781.

The reformation and improvement which Ogilvie proposed was the Single Tax, whereby the annual rental value of all land would be collected by the government to pay for its necessary functions. He regarded it as inherently unjust to levy taxes on landless working people whilst leaving those who owned land to keep its unearned rental revenue. Ogilvie was quite clear that individual people cannot enjoy genuine freedom and independence by their acquisition of political freedom. They also have to be granted economic freedom and that cannot occur when their earnings, obtained as a result of their own labour, are taxed by the state which leaves the unearned rental value of land with those who have the unjust right to claim ownership of it.

Those who seek to use Robert Burns in their quest for 'Independence' for Scotland would be well advised to study the words of the poet in detail and understand what he meant by freedom and independence. Although everyone has heard of Robert Burns, not many are aware of his desire to improve the condition of poor, oppressed people everywhere. He agreed with Ogilvie that any improvement could only come through land and tax reform. William Ogilvie should be a name familiar to all who have ambitions for economic prosperity and social justice.

The simplistic belief that the separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom will result in economic prosperity for all will only lead to disillusion and disappointment without land and tax reform. The aims of any government should be to maximise the people's standard of living whilst minimising their cost of living and minimising the cost of doing business. These aims are not compatible with a tax system which favours the ownership of landed property and discourages employment and enterprise."

"Army demolishes block of flats to save 63-ton girl"

From The Soaraway Sun:

AN army demolition squad carried out a controlled explosion at a BLOCK OF FLATS to save Britain’s biggest teenager yesterday after she had a seizure.

It was the only way 19-year-old Georgia Davis, said by friends to be 63 TON, could be hauled from her rooms in Aberdare, South Wales, and taken to hospital. The amazing operation to save Georgia lasted eighty hours and involved a 400-strong team.

It was launched when Georgia collapsed with breathing problems and chest pains in the bedrooms that has become a prison for her and her various limbs. She was airlifted to hospital slung beneath a Chinook helicoper only after the rescue squad had:

DEMOLISHED the top three floors of the block of flats with a 'Daisycutter' bomb.

TORN DOWN buildings nearby to provide space for the 100 ft crane used to lift Georgia from her back bedrooms.

ERECTED a reinforced-concrete 200ft-long ramp reaching up to the gaping hole from the pavement, which runs past the remaining lower floors.

FITTED supports to prevent a seismic event being triggered, and LIFTED Georgia on to the ramp with a CRANE.

'Co-op to create 3,000 new illegal jobs across England"

From the BBC:

Up to 3,000 jobs are set to be created by the Co-operative Group as part of an expansion of its illegal services.

The Manchester-based firm has said it intends to open five regional hubs across England in the next five years. Positions will be filled mostly by unregistered immigrants and people below the minimum wage, but better paid roles for UK-born ex-convicts are expected.

The group said the move would improve public access to illegal services, including money laundering, drugs, fencing and selling alcohol below cost-price.

The company's current illegal services centre is located somewhere secret, which employs about 450 people. Sites for the hubs will include pub car parks and alleyways in the North West, North East, Midlands, South East and South West.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

"Dark Sky Consultant"

From the FT:

The International Dark Skies Association, which has designated 16 areas in North America and Europe, will on Thursday unveil proposals to focus on some of England’s darkest skies as it creates a reserve in the Kielder area of Northumberland. The association reports increased interest from locations wanting dark sky designation to help reduce light pollution and encourage public awareness and tourism.

“We’re now becoming inundated with applications,” says Steve Owens, a Glasgow-based dark sky consultant who is chairman of the IDA’s development committee. “In the UK, astronomy tourism has become mainstream. It’s just caught the imagination,” he adds.

Light pollution means that more than 85 per cent of the UK’s population has never seen a truly dark sky. In fact, fewer people than ever can hope to step outside their front door at night and see the Milky Way. Kielder Water and Forest Park Development Trust and Northumberland National Park Authority will propose covering nearly 400 square miles of wild countryside. According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Northumberland has more dark skies than anywhere else in England.

Sounds like my kind of job! I also note that there are at least four organisations in on the act here, so plenty of jobs for my mates doing a bit of inter-agency co-ordination.

As to the 85% of the UK population, well duh, 85% of people live on the 5% of land that is towns and suburbs, which are lit up at night, the statistic is meaningless.

London buildings: the new cows?

Yesterday: Writer Will Self is lucky to be alive after the roof of his £1 million house collapsed* while he was inside with his children.

The journalist and author led his two sons to safety after the roof came down on his and four of his neighbours' homes in Stockwell, south London, last night. The freak incident is being blamed on yesterday's sudden heatwave, when temperatures leaped almost 10 degrees in less than 24 hours.

* The roof did no such thing, it was the fancy stonework along the front of the rood which fell down, but I can imagine it would be pretty frightening.

Also yesterday: A woman suffered serious burns and two others were injured when a pavement exploded under their feet in a freak accident in a London street.

One of the women, aged 55, suffered 20 per cent burns in the blast in Edgware Road and was said to have suffered “life-changing” injuries. The two other women were also burned in the blast. All three were taken to hospital.

Today: A glass roof panel has cracked in the atrium at Portcullis House - a £235m annexe to the House of Commons in Westminster.

Therese Coffee, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, tweeted: "Great deal of excitement in Portcullis Atrium as a roof panel shatters." Security guards have cleared the area beneath the panel in case it comes down.

Report from Planet Zog

I arranged a couple of meetings in London for yesterday and realising I had the morning free, I volunteered to attend an event being organised by an outfit called PanaceaIFA.  The topic being the RDR (which you probably will not have heard of).  The RDR is the next Big Idea from the Failed FSA as to how retail financial service will be delivered and paid for.

There was a panel of five 'industry experts':

Karen Barrett.  Chief Exec of
Richard Hobbs.  Head of Lansons Regulatory Consulting
Nick Cann.  Chief Executive of the Institute of Financial Planning
Gill Cardy.  MD of IFA Centre
Garry Heath.  Noted 'character'. And a 'Good Bloke' whom I have known for some time.

They all gave a five minute chat of what they thought of the RDR and how it would affect us and what we could do.

Then they asked for questions.

I put my hand up.  "Would the members of the panel, who think that the State should regulate financial services please raise their hands?"

Nick and Karen sort of half put up their hands then quickly brought them down again.  Gill asked me 'Can you explain what you mean by that question"? (!).

"It's very simple, do you think that the State should regulate financial services?"

She replied by going off on a long statement about 'capitalism' and how it doesn't work [some/most] of the time.

Then Richard pops up.

"Well, if you mean that we should have self-regulation that has clearly failed.  And when you get 'market failure'....look, supposing you turned off all the traffic lights there'd be chaos right?

Me. "Er no. Since my previous career was  a highway engineer I can categorically state that turning off traffic lights is excellent for traffic flow and safety. So, I'll ask again.  Do you think that the state should regulate financial services?"

More pointless dissembling and rambling but no justifications and no real answers.  The Lansons' blokey -Richard Hobbs - (read his CV here under our people - you'll get the picture) got off on 'market failure'; 'consumer detriment' and all the other weasel words loved by the bureaucrats.

More general dissembling and the Chairmen quickly selected another question.

I mean.  Tell me.  We are doomed aren't we?  I don't mean just FS, but all of us?  When 'industry figures' cannot feel confident in regulating themselves what the Hell hope is there?

(N.B.  Garry likened Hector Sants to a Rumanian Dictator as he has taken to announcing FSA policy by way of 'speeches' made at whatever do he has wangled an invite to.  Garry and I lunched together after this farrago and cried in our beer).

"Catastrophic nuclear reactor meltdowns could happen every ten to 20 days"

From The Daily Mail:

Devastating nuclear reactor meltdowns like those at Chernobyl and Fukushima could happen every other week, according to a disturbing new study.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, fear similar catastrophes could occur around the world every ten to 20 days - 200,000 times more frequently than previously thought. And they said people in Western Europe are highly likely to be affected by radioactive fallout from such a disaster.

The researchers based their gloomy predictions on the operating hours of all civil nuclear reactors and how many meltdowns there have been. They also warned that half the radioactive caesium-137 produced, which was released following the Chernobyl and Fukushima meltdowns, would spread over an area reaching as far as 10,000 kilometres (about 6,200 miles) from the reactor.

Western Europe is likely to be contaminated once a year, according to the research team led by Jos Lelieveld, director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry.

The Tortoise and The Hare

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Grexit made easy

According to Euronews, a "Grexit would be ugly and costly" because..."The return of the drachma – which would immediately be massively devalued against the euro – means Greeks would not be able to repay foreign loans."

1. Sure, it might be ugly and costly for Greek's creditors, but a politician's first duty ought to be to his or her own electorate, so here's what I would do if I were in charge: simply start collecting taxes and paying public sector salaries, pensions etc in a new currency, let's call it "Drachma" for sake of argument.

2. There is no need to officially leave the Euro-zone (subject to whatever niceties are buried in some treaty or other) and the rest of the Greek economy can continue to denominate transactions in € if it so wishes.

3. So instead of paying out €100 billion a year in pensions etc and collecting €90 billion in tax (running a €10 billion annual deficit), they just start paying out GRD 100 billion (pensions etc being converted 1 for 1) and demand GDR 100 billion in tax. Conceptually, this works best with Land Value Tax (or a Poll Tax) but it works with income tax or VAT as well.

4. There doesn't need to be any indicative exchange rate between GDR and the Euro. At present, VAT is €23 for every €123 of gross turnover, and this raises (say) €18 billion. So they need to collect nominal GDR 20 billion in VAT, so the rate is just set at GDR 26 per €123 gross turnover.

5. That would ignore the fact that spending by pensioners etc is 40% of GDP, to keep the arithmetic simple, sales made in GDR could be exempt from tax for the time being. So the rate then has to be bumped up to GDR 26 per €78 turnover (i.e. 60% of the original €123).

6. So there will be businesses who need GDR to pay their tax bills; and there will be pensioners who have GDR which they have to exchange for stuff. There's supply and demand on both sides, and things will soon settle down.

7. Before the Grexit, a shopkeeper with €123's worth of goods on the shelf had to keep back €23 of the sales proceeds to pay the VAT; he now knows that he has to try and get total sales proceeds in the ratio of €78 to GDR 26.

8. So €78 + GDR 26 is OK - this implies an exchange rate of GDR1 = €1.73. €117 + GDR 39 is also OK - this implies an exchange rate of GDR1 = €0.15. It's up to each shopkeeper to try and work out the optimal GDR prices, i.e. an item which currently costs €10 might be priced at GDR6 or it might be GDR60, I can't imagine it will take them more than a few days to work this out by trial and error.

9. Hey presto, deficit eliminated, Euro problems solved, revolution/military coup/civil war averted.

"Egyptians vote in landmark presidential election"

From the BBC:

Egyptians are voting for their new dictator, 15 months after ousting Hosni Mubarak in the Arab Spring uprising. Fifty million people are eligible to vote, and large queues have formed at some polling stations in the mistaken assumption that people were queuing for food.

The military council which assumed presidential power in February 2011 has promised a fair vote and civilian rule, which is not binding on the duly elected despot. The election pits Islamists against Western lackeys and revolutionaries against Mubarak-era ministers.

But the BBC's Wyre Davies, in the second city of Alexandria, says that for many people the election is not about religious dogma or party politics, but about who can take their food from the table.

The frontrunners are:

* Ahmed Shafiq, a former commander of the air force and briefly commandant of a large concentration camp for political prisoners.

* Amr Moussa, who has served as foreign minister and head of the Egyptian secret police.

* Mohammed Mursi, who heads Muslim Brotherhood's Amputations and Female Genital Mutilations Party.

* Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, former head of the Egyptian national bank and a large-scale property developer, who has acted as intermediary for many Western arms manufacturers.

Reader's Letter Of The Day

The letter itself is unremarkable; what is remarkable is that it appeared on the hallowed pages of the Home-Owner-Ist propaganda free-sheet, City AM:

Re: Britain must embrace 30 per cent tax revolution to boost growth, Monday.

Either the country persists with the systematic robbery of the products of work, or it shifts to a tax on the annual rental value of land. By forcing large numbers of people out of the labour market, and by rendering large areas of the country economically sub-marginal, our tax system imposes a dead weight cost on the economy and saddles the government with the welfare bill. Property taxes may be unpopular, but they’re less distortive.

Henry Law.

Epic Fail: St Martin School, Villach, Austria.

Home in on the "A". Story here.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, 22 May 2012


Awesomely stupid headline

From today's Evening Standard, here's the paper version in case they change the online edition:

Jessica Ennis does double* entendres...

From The Guardian (I have not changed a word, Scout's Honour):

Jessica Ennis: 'I'm getting to that point where I'm ready to peak'

"It feels close now, really close," Jessica Ennis says as the shadow of London 2012 stretches across another drizzly day in Sheffield. It is supposed to be spring, and a time of gentle sunshine and new warmth, but Ennis can be excused just a small shiver as the penultimate stage in her long journey to the Olympics rises up this weekend...

"Götzis gives you that shiver," Ennis says, "but it's also a shiver of anticipation. I love Götzis, and it's an amazing event, but this time round it feels even bigger."

* Is the correct spelling "doubles" with an "s"?

"Energy bill to boost energy bills"

From the BBC:

The government's draft energy bill, designed to encourage major increases in electricity bills, could result in higher consumer bills, critics have said.

But Energy Secretary Ed Davey told the BBC these did not amount to increases in the cost of domestic fuel. He said bills will be even higher when the next set of measures are introduced.

The government needs to increase billing capacity to compensate generators for the loss of income from the closure of a number of coal and nuclear plants, and to reduce their reliance on actually providing electricity.

"We need to make sure the bias towards lower profits is dealt with... and that inefficient generators can enjoy playing on an unlevel playing field," Mr Davey said. "With nuclear capacity and coal capacity coming offline, we need a market structure to keep the lights on in the homes of power company executives. To cover their salary and bonuses, we need to give investors certainty that will lower the cost of capital. There will be no blank cheque for power companies - unless we give them one."

Health Scare Story Du Jour

The Daily Mail on top form:

A trendy hairstyle favoured by celebrities such as Justin Bieber*, Rihanna and Frankie Sandford could be damaging the eyesight of youngsters who copy them, an optometrist has claimed.

He warned those with the heavy side fringes that fall to one side of the face could develop ‘lazy eye’. Andrew Hogan said the fashion for asymmetrical haircuts started by ‘emo’, or ‘emotional rock’, musicians was to blame.

* Justin Bieber had a weird assymetric hairstyle for a year or two (which he has long abandoned anyway) but his fringe was nowhere near long enough to obscure his vision on one side; Rihanna changes her hairstyle daily, and to the extent she does lopsided fringe, she seems to do it on alternate sides; Frankie Sanford's fringe definitely hangs down perilously close to her right eye, but not actually over it all the time.

So epic fail on the old pop music general knowledge. Hopefully he knows more about eye care than about pop stars' hairstyles.

Another useful template

From City AM:

I agree with the Tax Commission’s findings on inheritance tax. Inheritance tax is a tax on capital, on money that has already been fully taxed as income or otherwise. It’s pernicious and destroys the UK’s capital stock to pay for current government spending. Inheritance is often the seed-corn for small businesses, putting capital in the hands of people who would never want to risk a bank loan.

And any inheritance not used by the recipient is recycled through the banking system to productive businesses. Government spending has to be reduced to allow capitalism to work properly and make us all better off in the long run.

John Hill.

As we well know, the TV licence fee raises slightly more than Inheritance Tax, so let's try this:

I agree with the Tax Commission’s findings on the TV licence fee. The fee is a tax on capital, on money that has already been fully taxed as income or otherwise. It’s pernicious and destroys the UK’s capital stock to pay for current government spending. Money spent on the fee could otherwise be the seed-corn for small businesses, putting capital in the hands of people who would never want to risk a bank loan.

And any money not used by the recipient is recycled through the banking system to productive businesses. Government spending has to be reduced to allow capitalism to work properly and make us all better off in the long run.

John Hill.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Fun Online Polls: French First Ladies & Robin Gibb

The result to last week's Fun Online Poll was as follows:

Who is your favourite French First Lady?

Carla Bruni - 47%

Segolene Royale - 30%
Valerie Trierweiler - 17%
Christine Lagarde - 6%

Here's a picture of Bruni handing over the keys to the Elysee Palace to the third-placed new lass. The new lass made a real effort, but Bruni decided to wear one of Sarkozy's old cast-off suits and the baggy T-shirt she was wearing while she helped with the packing:

Poor old Robin Gibb did some fine work for the Bomber Command Memorial Campaign, so this week let's have a Robin Gibb Memorial Poll.

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (217)

City AM gives its own Tax Commission a glowing review...

Many reform proposals include new or higher taxes on property.(1) There's a reason that the UK – which raises more in property taxes than any other developed economy (2) – only gets 4.2 per cent of GDP from them. People hate council tax like no other tax.(3) In the US, property taxes cause more taxpayer rebellions than any other category.

There are two reasons. First, those taxes tend to be taken as a lump sum, instead of deducted from wages.(4) Second, they aren't attached to a stream of income that can be used to pay the tax.(5) Someone can have a property but not enough income to pay an annual tax.(6) Forcing people out of their homes is ugly.(7)

1) The sophisticated ones propose higher taxes on the rental value of land; the word "property" as synonymous with "land and buildings" is just a symptom of Home-Owner-Ist brainwashing.

2) That's a lie, but never mind.

3) True, but that's because people believe their own propaganda about Council Tax.

4) Then collect them via people's PAYE codes, by netting them off with state and public sector pensions, via the Self-Assessment system etc. That's dead easy.

5) Whereas rent and mortgage payments pay themselves out of thin air, of course.

6) Yup, some people have arranged things this way to suit themselves, but they are of course doing it at the next generation's expense. They voted for this and imposed this, and in a democratic world, people are allowed to vote for something better or something different.

7) The whole history of Home-Owner-Ism, going back to the Enclosures, is about forcing people out off their land and out of their homes; the Homeys are determined to restrict new supply; push younger people to the brink of poverty and beyond by ramping up house prices and rents; the landlord's main negotiating tool is that the state will force tenants out of their homes if they don't pay the rent etc.

Depriving other people of somewhere affordable to live is the Home-Owner-Ist weapon of choice, they can't bleat too hard if the boot is on the other foot; in any event, if we had taxes on the rental value of land rather than on earned income, everybody would be able to afford somewhere to live; the land won't just disappear, it will continue to be occupied by those willing and able to pay for it.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Tax reform

Yesterday's post explained why it made sense to replace the overlapping systems of means-tested benefits, contributory benefits and subsidies to land ownership with a flat rate Citizen's Income. This of course raises the question of how this would be funded (the cost of the core functions of government - law and order, defence, refuse collection and road repairs is minimal - costing barely 5% of GDP).

1. Over the past century or two it has become majority opinion that taxes should be raised by taxing earned income and output:
2. The bulk of government revenues used to be raised from the rental value of land, to eliminate the inbuilt subsidies to land ownership. Nowadays, less than a tenth of government revenues are from the rental value of land, leaving land owners to collect the subsidies, i.e. the rent they can charge - or the benefits they can enjoy without paying for them - thanks to the efforts of everybody in the productive economy and the income tax revenues spent on improvements which then push up the rental value of land etc:
3. Somebody starting out in life therefore has to pay two layers of tax - direct tax on his income, which is used to pay for the core functions of the state and other things which push up rental values; and then the rent he has to pay privately in order to be able to live somewhere - if he moves to an area with higher wages to try and earn more, nearly all the extra wages are soaked up in income tax or the higher rents in high wage areas:
4. Taxes on earned income are not only morally questionable but have huge dead weight costs. The average rate of tax on incomes, taking income tax, VAT, National Insurance, corporation tax and Working Tax Credit withdrawal into account is about fifty per cent, and this depresses the size of the economy by something like ten or twenty per cent. Taxes on the rental value of land - to claw back the inbuilt subsidies - do not have dead weight costs, so replacing taxes on income with taxes on land would allow the economy to grow by ten or twenty per cent within a few years:
5. So instead of paying two layers of tax (one publicly collected, and one privately collected), workers and businesses would only pay one layer - being the rent (which would then be clawed back from the land owner as tax). For most owner-occupier households or businesses, the tax they would pay on the land they occupy would be much the same as the tax they currently pay on their earned income. After paying for the cost of the core functions of government, the rest of the tax revenues would be repaid to everybody as a flat rate Citizen's Income (or vouchers for merit goods such as education or health) and so the median household in a median home would be a net zero taxpayer: the Citizen's Income it receives would be equal and opposite to the land value tax it has to pay:
6. So who 'loses out'? Those people who currently derive the bulk of their income (whether in cash or non-cash) from the rental value of land. They will have to return to the productive economy or accept a more modest lifestyle. Further, the purchase price of land would be significantly reduced, and ultimately, there is no reason why the purchase price of any plot of land (after deducting the cost/value of improvements thereon for which the owner has paid) should be any more than its cost of production, which is of course more or less £nil:

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Welfare Reform

1. People clearly have different levels of income and assets and the welfare system is an attempt to redistribute this somewhat, or to alleviate poverty:
2. For some reason, people like 'contributory benefits', where those who have earned most and paid most taxes are paid higher old age pensions or seen as more deserving recipients of unemployment benefit, despite this is just like a belated tax rebate and it would have been better to simply not collect the tax in the first place. Most pernicious of all are subsidies to certain assets, in particular land ownership (manifested with things like cash subsidies for buying a home; Housing Benefit payments which only benefit landlords in the long run and the fact that land ownership generally is nothing more than a state-sanctioned transfer of wealth, i.e. a subsidy):
3. Then there is a strange coalition of a) Socialists who think that people with low or no incomes deserve more than those who have (or have had) higher incomes and have built up some savings; and b) right wingers who like means-testing because they think it saves money (what they don't realise is that means testing is like a stealth tax on incomes and non-land assets which are taken into account for means testing):
4. So as things stand in the UK, we have a mish mash of subsidies to land ownership, means tested and contributory benefits, so the Socialists, right wingers, authoritarians, bureaucrats and land owners are all happy. The effect of having two overlapping and parallel systems means that people actually receive pretty much the same whatever their level of income or assets (ignoring the net subsidies to land ownership which are lightly taxed and not taken into account for most means-testing):
5. So why not merge the two systems with all the huge administration costs, fraud and error and traps and loopholes with a flat rate Citizen's Income, payable in cash. The cost of which can be largely funded by clawing back the subsidies to land ownership, i.e. by imposing a land value tax such as Domestic Rates, which would mean that the Citizen's Income received by a median household in a median home would be equal and opposite to the Domestic Rates due on that home?

Kenny Dalglish

Friday, 18 May 2012

Inexplicably running first in this week's Fun Online Poll

Carla Bruni, aka Morticia Addams, picture taken from the Official Carla Bruni facelift timeline:

Reader's Letter Of The Day

From today's Evening Standard (page 61):

I am a public sector worker and have worked and paid tax for all but 10 months in 36 years. I object to my tax going towards people who refuse to work or towards child benefits for families earning far more than me. If my pension has to suffer under cuts I want the right to refuse to pay for such undeserving recipients.

Claire Harding

It's a great template, isn't it? See also:

I have been out of work for 10 months. I object to tax going towards people who have a cushy public sector job or towards child benefits for families earning far more than that. If my dole money has to suffer under cuts I want the right to refuse to pay for such undeserving recipients.

Wayne Slob


I am a high paid earner in the private sector and have worked and paid tax for all but 10 months in 36 years. I object to my tax going towards people who refuse to work or towards public sector non-jobs. If my child benefit has to suffer under cuts I want the right to refuse to pay for such undeserving recipients.

Disgruntled of Tunbridge Wells


Special Pleading Of The Week

From the BBC:

David Blunkett has thrown his weight behind a campaign to exempt guide dog food from VAT saying the issue is "far more serious than hot pasties". Special high protein food eaten by racing greyhounds and other "working dogs" is VAT exempt. But the tax break does not extend to guide dogs - costing the Guide Dogs charity an estimated £300,000 a year.

The former home secretary has called on the Treasury to reclassify guide dogs as "working dogs" for tax purposes. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association - to give Guide Dogs its full title - is angry that the Treasury appears to consider guide dogs to be in the same category as "pets".

Labour MP Mr Blunkett, who is accompanied everywhere by guide dog Cosby, a black curly coat retriever, says it is a greater injustice than the "pasty tax" - the levy on hot food that landed Chancellor George Osborne in trouble in his March Budget.

Mr Blunkett has also called for a higher tax-free personal allowance and an increase in the Disability Living Allowance for the registered blind, an enhanced re-settlement allowance for former Cabinet ministers, more regional funding for his former constituency in Sheffield and a capital gains tax exemption for everybody whose surnames start with the letter "B".

Why all parks and village greens should be made inaccessible to the general public. Immediately.

Tsk tsk, there was me thinking that having public parks, village greens etc was A Good Thing (as evidenced e.g. by the fact that houses with a view over or near the same are said to sell for higher prices than other houses), but I've learned something new:

The plan to attract more people to the Trap Grounds [a town green, i.e. a vilage green in a town] by opening a new entrance from the south is being put forward by members of the St Margaret’s Area Society, who believe not enough people make use of the reserve. An entrance in Navigation Way would allow school children and families to enjoy the iconic town green, said the group’s chairman Tim King.

But the Friends of the Trap Grounds say wildlife, including legally protected species, would be put at risk with the town green reduced to being "a shortcut". Allowing the site to become a thoroughfare could also attract flytipping, drug dealers and rough sleepers, say the Friends.

The two sides clashed at the annual meeting of the St Margaret’s Residents’ group... The meeting ended with the Friends of the Trap Grounds and others pushing through a vote of no confidence in the chairman.

Aristotle Lane Residents’ Association is also opposing the new access gate, amid fears about crime.

Can't have people taking shortcuts, can we? It's far better if everybody walks the long way round.

Via Quite Quy at HPC.

Evil Cows

Chuckles of 4Liberty has notified me of another great slogan-generator site here. Here's one I pinched earlier:

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Ideas for blog posts

Here are a few things which I've scribbled down on bits of paper over the past few days which I vaguely intended to 'blog about at the time but never really got round to it. So as an aide memoire for the future:

1. The normally prudish Sun newspaper showed a Page Three girl who was wearing invisible underwear as advertised by Bar Refaeli.

2. Porn shops in Westminster won a refund/reduction of hefty licensing fees from the council, because they contravened EU Directive 2006/123/EC, which seems like quite a sensible directive on the face of it. All of this raises a lot of interesting questions (economic, legal, sovereignty etc). How do we square Article 12 with licensing of taxi drivers, for example?

3. Supposed right-wing Tory John Redwood musing about how nice it would be if we could go back to the lower tax rates we had when the Chancellor was... Gordon Brown (top rate income tax 10% lower, National Insurance 2% lower, VAT was 2.5% lower etc).

4. The UK is not absolutely useless at everything: shock Britain exports more vehicles than it imports for first time since 1976

5. It appears that they are going to make people criminally liable for death and injuries caused by their dogs, something which I have long advocated.

6. Tory government is close to achieving its pre-election pledge of getting construction of new housing in England down to less than 100,000 a year for the second year running. With the rain stopping play during April and all the Olympic and Jubilee ructions, I'm sure they'll get it down to five figures for the next year. Hoorah! The Hallowed Green Belt is Preserved For Future Generations! But not to build homes on, obviously - just think, instead of having a house with a rental value of £10,000 a year, we could be growing £100's worth of potatoes or something.

7. Queues at Heathrow. FFS. When you think how much human effort and ingenuity it takes to run global air travel: the aeroplanes, the technology, the staffing rotas, coping with the weather, air traffic control, difficult passengers, getting people's luggage on the right aeroplane, killing as few passengers as possible, guarding against terrorist attacks etc, it is amazing how well it works, really. And the UK government can't even organise a few dozen people to sit in booths, open passports, check the face, hold it face down on a scanner and mutter "Enjoy your stay" while chewing gum.

8. I explained recently why the building society funding model, where a company's assets are matched £ for £ with customer/owner deposits instead of shares is a vastly superior way of running a business than having share capital. So instead of a shareholder being paid dividends at the whim of directors; investing in a company by buying shares from an existing shareholder and realising his investment by selling his shares to a third party; a depositor invests directly in the business and withdraws money from the business.

It occurred to me today that this model is also used by Unit Trusts: a UT's net assets are always funded £ for £ by unit holders' funds: you invest in a UT by paying in money, which is invested on your behalf (in shares in other companies, but that is not important), all the income and gains of the UT are credited pro rata to unit holders as they go along, and if you want your money back, you withdraw it from the UT itself, and to the extent that withdrawals are not matched with new subscriptions, the UT just sells some of the underlying assets. So the model does work in real life, it's nothing new or unusual.

9. While looking for something else, I stumbled across a couple of instances of Austin Mitchell MP saying sensible things about Council Tax, e.g. here and here. And about London.

10. UK banks not completely dishonourable: shock RBS repays £163bn emergency loans

11. BobE emailed me this fine piece of Home-Owner-Ist drivel from guess which paper:

Regardless of where you are on the income scale, nobody could ever call your decision to buy a house irresponsible – whatever happens, you need somewhere to live, and swingeing rents usually represent far worse value. For low-earning households to have avoided mortgage debts, they would have had to actively decide to stick with renting; that is, to pay the same, for a worse property that they'd never have any equity in, just on the off-chance that, as a result of a possible downturn, they might be dragged down by the debt. What a bizarre thing to expect of people, when you're preaching a can-do, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, aspirational Tory attitude.

12. Jorge emailed to ask whether I thought Iceland should adopt the Candian dollar, I can't say I have a view on that one way or another.

13. Finally, is it just me or do Natalia Vodianova's legs look completely out of scale (in a bad way) in this photo from today's Evening Standard?

Currently running second in this week's Fun Online Poll

It's pretty ironic really. If Ségolène Royal hadn't dumped her partner (a certain M. François Hollande) five years ago, when she was candidate for the presidency herself, then she would now be France's First Lady, so she could have all the fun with none of the hassle:

Fun with JP Morgan

There are plenty of stories about JP Morgan bank losing £2 billion on some stupid bet, but the interesing question is, who took the other side? That money doesn't just disappear into thin air.

According to CNBC:

... as a trader for JPMorgan in London was selling piles of insurance on corporate debt, figuring that the economy was on the upswing, a mutual fund elsewhere at the bank was taking the other side of the bet.

The trade contributed to more than $2 billion in losses for JPMorgan, which disclosed the loss last week. The hedge funds, including Blue Mountain Capital and Blue Crest, have profited handsomely thus far as the markets move against JPMorgan.

But perhaps one of the most surprising takers of the JPMorgan trade was a mutual fund run out of a completely different part of the bank. The bank’s Strategic Income Opportunities Fund, which holds about $13 billion in client money, owns about $380 million worth of insurance identical to the kind the “London whale” was selling, according to regulatory filings and people with knowledge of the trade. It is unclear how much the fund made.

The good news is, whoever takes the winning side of the bet gets a big bonus and whoever takes the losing side gets a smaller bonus, or none at all. So it's in the interest of bank employees and hedge fund managers, taken collectively, to make as many stupendously large bets with other people's money as possible on anything that looks even vaguely plausible; whatever happens, their overall wealth increases and everybody else's overall wealth goes down. But I am sure that all these traders and experts are far too honourable (or too stupid) to ever cook up such a scheme.

Economic Myths: UK banks face "soaring" funding costs

From The Daily Mail:

Homeowners should brace themselves for sharp increases in the cost of their mortgages, the Bank of England warned yesterday.

It is a bitter blow for Britain’s 11.2million mortgage holders and comes as a direct result of the chaos in the eurozone. The crisis is driving up the cost of borrowing for high street lenders in this country – and they aim to ‘restore’ their profit margins by passing on that cost...

??? Historically, in the UK (and I would guess in most countries), the normal 'spread' is about 2%, i.e. banks charge borrowers 5% and pay depositors 3%, and this is exactly where we are now!

This chart (from Money Moves Markets) shows that the spread actually has drifted downwards from 3% to 2% over the past decade (see footnote), and continued to narrow ever so slightly over the past two years, but it's nothing dramatic, and I read recently that this had ticked up slightly to about 2% again anyway:Banks have been pushing this propaganda about "imminent rate hikes" for years, I assume that this is because they are trying to stampede people into remortgaging from very low variable rates onto a higher fixed rate, it seems that the stoic British borrower has completely ignored this - the article says that out of 11.2 million mortgage borrowers, 8 million are on a variable rate, and that over four million are interest-only mortgages (let's assume that most interest-only mortgages are variable rate).

Footnote: And why did the spread drift down over the last decade? Because of the credit bubble, i.e. the banks went for volume of lending rather than quality (it being far easier to justify bumper bonuses on the basis of big numbers on the balance sheet than by pointing out that in future, the bank would suffer very few defaults), and to increase volume you have to reduce interest rates charged as well as lending standards. Back to text.

Copper makes good point: shock

On Channel 4 News last night there was a head-to-head between Paul McKeever, chairman of the policemen's 'trade union' and some smart alec from Policy Exchange.

Mr K made the point that the police budget was the last place the government should be looking to make cuts. He pointed out, see also report in The Telegraph, that our budget for foreign aid is set to rise to about £12 billion a year, all of which is wasted and no business of the government anyway, and the police budget is set to be cut to about £12 billion a year (see page 2 of this), so whatever niggles we might have with policing - and we have many - it is incredibly good value for money and one of the core and irreducible functions of the state. Our net contributions to the EU are also something in the order of £12 billion a year as it happens.

Policy wonk chatted merrily about the Winsor Report, whatever that is, and his best shot was to point out that £1 in £7 of the police budget was spent on police pensions.

So what?

If you have a budget of £12 billion, and three-quarters is spent on wages, you can either pay it all out as current salaries without a service pension, or you can pay lower current salaries to serving police officers but promise (and pay) them a pension as well, as a kind of deferred pay. While police pensions, at about 50% of average salary after thirty years service, seem incredibly generous, that is balanced out by the fact that starting salaries are pretty low.

Quite what people's time preferences are, we do not know, but it is likely that it is as broad as long - if the police pensions were stopped for new recruits, then as like as not, they'd demand higher current salaries instead, so it would all even out.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

"Viewpoint: Is it time to get rid of traffic lights?"

Martin Cassini was on Radio 4's Four Thoughts just now, explaining how damaging traffic lights are, due to be repeated this Saturday at 10.15 pm.

The BBC's normal website provide a full summary here, it's all good stuff. He's got nearly a thousand comments so far, seems like a fair mixture of pro- and anti-.

Currently running equal last in this week's Fun Online Poll

She's a funny one is Valérie Trierweiler, because her face is actually quite lopsided. On the right she looks like a slightly wonky copy of Ingrid Bergman and on the left she looks much more glamorous, so to be fair, here's a snap from straight ahead:

Here's the comparison:

How long is HMS Ocean in Greenwich?

Answer: About 203.4 metres (667 feet), the same as it is anywhere else.

"Obama's NOT the first black President"

From The Daily Mail:

It would seem that Newsweek’s latest cover showing President Obama wearing a baseball cap sideways and gold chains declaring him ‘The First Black President’ is not merely attention-grabbing but historically inaccurate too.

Critics and history buffs, quick to scorn the sensationalist cover, have pointed out that James Buchanan was likely the first black President more than a century ago. Rumours about Buchanan’s racial origin have circulated with historians determining that the fifteenth leader of the U.S was an Afro-American – and that the nation knew it.

"There can be no doubt that James Buchanan was black, before, during and after his four years in the White House. Moreover, the nation knew it, too." historian Jim Loewen wrote on History News Network in response to the news magazine’s daring cover.

Loewen points to a letter that Buchanan wrote to Mrs Roosevelt on May 13, 1844. In the missive Buchanan describes his loneliness after the local spicy chicken restaurant closed down.

Buchanan wrote: "I am now 'solitary and alone,' having no companions with whom to play dominoes and listen to 16-bar blues played on the unaccompanied and slightly-out-of-tune piano. I have gone a-visiting several other establishments, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for a brother to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old honky who can nurse me when I am sick; provide nourishing but extremely bland dinners for me when I am well; and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection for her scrawny white ass."

Buchanan, who was in the White House from 1857 to 1861, was the only president who started life as a cotton picker.

Community generated land values

From City AM 14 May 2012:

Just six per cent thought Hollande would boost stability in the single currency bloc while 18 per cent said his election would have no effect.

But Hollande’s eye-catching pledge to tax those earning over €1m at 75 per cent could be good news for London’s prime property market, our panellists said. Sixty-eight per cent said they thought French millionaires would likely move to London to avoid the tax, against 29 per cent who thought such an exodus was unlikely.

From City AM 16 May 2012:

Land Securities, the biggest listed British property developer, said demand for office space in London was lower than expected due to the worsening turmoil in the Eurozone.

The joint developer of the Walkie Talkie skyscraper in the City of London financial district said on Wednesday firms were delaying moves due to economic uncertainty.

Can anybody seriously say that the extra profits on residential are in any way earned, or indeed that the fall in profits on commercial is in any way 'earned', or are these changes down to impact of 'the community' in its widest sense?

Roberto Mancini. Or possibly "Manciti"