A review of Russell Brand

Guido has a good bit:

“Oddly, the person I feel sorriest for isn’t Brand himself – although he certainly comes across as a rather pitiable figure, projecting his own brokenness on to the world around him – but Johann Hari. Drummed out of Fleet Street for plagiarism, the former Independent columnist has washed up as “my mate Johann, who’s been doing research for this book”. For a genuinely talented polemicist, it would have been a humbling experience to have to treat this sub-undergraduate dross as the scintillating wisdom of a philosopher-king.”

But I think these two are better:

Brand does grandly proclaim that its new democratic-empowered managers could carry on making cars, but only as long as they didn’t export any. After all, the Germans and that make their own, don’t they? You feel like grabbing him by the shiny lapels and shouting: “Adam Smith! David Ricardo!”, and hoping he doesn’t get them confused with the West Ham midfield.

And this:

In the end, this book is a huge wasted opportunity. The breaking point for me – apart from the two passages suggesting 9/11 was an inside job – came when, after hundreds of pages of egocentric meandering, Brand lists his conclusions so far: “We have shown that…” he grandly and repeatedly intones. But you haven’t shown, Russell. You’ve told. And you’ve done a really, really bad job of it.

In short, it’s shite.

Idiocy, just sheer bloody idiocy

I was asked today by a journalist why there might be problems with a zero rate corporation tax – which is an idea many on the right are now promoting. I replied that zero corporation tax creates many problems.

The first is that companies would then make no contribution at all to society despite the enormous privileges they enjoy, including limited liability, which literally means they can dump their losses on the rest of us.

Sigh. Tax Research LLP makes no corporate tax contributions to society at all. Yet I am sure that there are those out there who insist that Tax Research LLP contributes to society. The NHS pays no corporate tax of any kind: yet I’m absolutely certain that the value of the NHS does not depend upon that fact. Further, while I may not think that the NHS is quite the right way of doing this, I would argue that the provision of health care services to 65 million people is something of value.

The value that Google provides is that we get to Google, the value of Amazon is that we get cheap books, the value of Starbucks is bad coffee. It is the production of an organisation that is the contribution to society that an organisation provides. What they pay in tax is fuck all to do with it.

Man’s mad.

But homosexuality isn’t a sin

If you’re going to discuss, complain about, the Catholic theology concerning sex and homosexuality then it would seem sensible that you actually know what the Catholic theology concerning sex and homosexuality is:

The west already has. Rome’s teaching on homosexuality is in big trouble in Britain, Australia and North America. According to the excellent Pew Research Center, most Catholics in the US don’t even see homosexuality as a sin. Barely half thought it was in 2003 and a decade later that’s dropped to a third.

The Catholic church doesn’t think that homosexuality is a sin either.

What the church does say (whether you or anyone else believes it, whether I do or not, is entirely beside the point, but this is what the church does say) is at root that any form of sex which is not open to the possibility of conception is sinful. There’s other bits too, marriage, man and woman all that, but at root that really is it: must be open to the possibility of conception.

Homosexuality, the preference for, desire for, innate compulsion to, whatever you want to call it, same sex sexual activity is no more (or less) sinful than than the preference for, desire for, innate compulsion to, heterosexual sex.

Monica’s blowjob on Bill Clinton was no more, and no less, sinful than whatever Jimmy Somerville might get up to on Hampstead Heath.

It’s the act, not the prediliction, that is the sin.

That we all might think this is the most glorious cock and bull (my personal view) is entirely beside the point. The Catholic church simply isn’t going around stating that homosexuality is a sin. And if you’re going to start discussing the Catholic view on homosexuality it would probably be a fairly good idea to work that out before doing so.

They had an investigation to figure this out?

Seriously?

Investigation reveals US university let athletes take fake classes
More than 3,000 students at University of North Carolina took fake classes as part of a program that allowed many to remain eligible to play sports

What?

Aren’t universities supposed to be where all the bright people are?

There’s amoeba at the bottom of the Marianna’s Trench that know about this, wolverines convene on the taiga to gossip about it. But then there’s no one so stupid as a bureaucrat insistent on not noting what they don’t wish to see, is there?

And absolutely no one at all should be thinking that this is happening at only one US university. It’s not even epidemic, it’s pandemic in the system. A 30 second conversation with most of those* playing college sport is all you need to divine that.

* Perhaps a touch harsh: but true of the major sports at the major sport playing places, if not of all sports at all colleges.

Oh seriously, do fuck off folks

So the EU demands more money:

David Cameron is fighting to stop Britain being forced to pay an extra £1.7billion to the European Union due to the success of the British economy.

The Prime Minister was ambushed with a demand from the European Commission for the extra cash because Britain’s economy has performed better than other economies in Europe since 1995.

Well, if contributions are based on GDP then perhaps this should have been expected. But why now?

The payment, described by officials as a “surcharge” follows a change to the way the EU calculates gross national income to include previous hidden service industries, including such prostitution and illegal drugs.

So, what we all thought was just a technical accounting error was in fact a mask for a money grab. Quelle surprise.

However, it’s also a gross error. For the government doesn’t actually have to hand that extra GDP being created in those illegal sectors. Sure, it’s economic activity, and given that it’s consensual adult activity it’s, in one sense, entirely legitimate to count it as economic activity (in the sense that we probably wouldn’t want to include the economic activity connected to, say, child porn or slavery, as part of GDP). However, what government has to hand is not economic activity per se, but that section of economic activity that it can appropriate through the tax system. So when we’re calculating what government should be paying we obviously cannot include those grey and black market activities: the definition of grey being of course that they’re not paying the tax due and thus the government isn’t appropriating a share of the activity.

It’s the wrong GDP measure to be using to calculate contributions.

So, just fuck off mateys. And the horse you rode in on.

This isn’t the first time they’ve moved a city because of a mine

Cities don’t often decide to pack their bags, get up and move down the road. But that’s exactly what Kiruna, an Arctic town in northern Sweden, is having to do – to avoid being swallowed up into the earth.

“It’s a dystopian choice,” says Krister Lindstedt of White architects, the Stockholm-based firm charged with the biblical task of moving this city of 23,000 people away from a gigantic iron ore mine that is fast gobbling up the ground beneath its streets. “Either the mine must stop digging, creating mass unemployment, or the city has to move – or else face certain destruction. It’s an existential predicament.”

The Czechs did it to Most, a place 20 clicks or so from where I’m sitting now. There it was coal instead of iron ore.

A closer look at the plan shows the new town bears little relation to the original Kiruna at all. The current town is a sprawling suburban network of winding streets, home to detached houses with gardens. White’s plan incorporates a much higher-density arrangement of multistorey apartment blocks around shared courtyards, lining straight axial boulevards, down which the icy winds will surge.

It is an opportunity, say the architects, for Kiruna to “reinvent itself” into a model of sustainable development, attracting young people who wouldn’t have stayed in the town before, with new cultural facilities and “visionary” things such as a cable car bobbing above the high street. But it is a vision that many of the existing residents seem unlikely to be able to afford.

But that’s exactly the same. The Czechs took down a perfectly decent Bohemian town and rebuilt it as stack a prole worker flats (panelaky here, Brezneviki in Russian, fucking Ronan Point style tower blocks in English). Why in fuck all architects want us to live in such monstrosities I’ll never know. They themselves never do, do they, preferring that Georgian Rectory for their little darlings to enjoy.

Err, yes

Facebook paid no UK corporation tax for the second year in a row in 2013, while employees received shares in the company worth tens of millions of pounds.

On which shares those peeps paid income tax one presumes? At 45%?

Now who was it who was pissed off about the Co Op bank board?

I’m sure I can remember someone or other telling us all that it was outrageous that the regulators should insist, even try to insist, that people sitting on the board of a bank should know something about banking. And that the Co Op needed to sort itself out by getting one or two people who did.

I really am sure I recall someone telling us that. That it was an outrage that they were being urged to have neoliberal banksters around the place.

The near collapse of the Co-operative bank blew the chance to create a full blown challenger bank to shake up the high street, according to a parliamentary report which calls for further inquiries into the roles of the bank’s auditors and regulators in the scandal.

Former bosses should take the biggest share of responsibility, the report said, highlighting that the structure of the board led by former chairman Paul Flowers was “an accident waiting to happen”.

The report by the Treasury select committee into the aborted attempt by Co-op bank to buy 631 branches from Lloyds Banking Group concludes that Flowers’ appointment should never have been permitted by the then City regulator, the Financial Services Authority.

It also rejected allegations of political meddling in the sale of the Lloyds branches – code named Verde – allegations made by Lord Levene who told the committee that interference ruined the chances of a rival offer he was fronting for bid vehicle NBNK.

Co-op pulled out of its bid in April 2013 just weeks before being downgraded by Moody’s and revealing it had a £1.5bn capital shortfall. The debacle has ended with the owner Co-operative Group left with only 20% of the bank.

Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP who chairs the select committee, said: “It is not uncommon for deals to collapse. But in this case it was caused by the near collapse of Co-op Bank itself. Each of the backstops – Co-op Bank, KPMG as its auditor and the FSA as its regulator – failed to uncover the bank’s capital shortfall until it was too late. Each had a hand in this sorry tale. But by far the biggest responsibility lies with the Co-op Bank leadership.”

Now who was it who told us all that?

I refute Piketty thusly

Nelson Bunker Hunt, who has died aged 88, was a multi-billionaire Texan oilman who, with his brother Herbert, attempted to corner the world silver market. They went spectacularly bankrupt, threatening to bring down the American financial system in the process, and were forced into a humiliating “fire sale” of their prized collections of coins, art and racehorses.

The Hunts’ fortune had been built up by their father, Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, a farmer’s son from Illinois who became a professional poker player known as Arkansas Slim. Famous for his claim that “Money doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s only the way you keep the score”, HL Hunt went on to become a “wildcat” oilman (independent producer), forming a partnership with a man called “Dad” Joiner, who had discovered a massive oil field in east Texas (and later insisted that Hunt had cheated him). He built his company, Hunt Oil, into the largest independent producer of oil and natural gas in America and, by the time of his death in 1974, was one of America’s three richest men, alongside Howard Hughes and Paul Getty.

The empire Hunt had created was spread among the 12 living children he had fathered by three different wives, who had lived, dotted about the country, in blissful ignorance of one another’s existence. But the bulk of the family businesses were run by Bunker, Herbert and Lamar, sons of his first marriage to Lyda Bunker.

Great wealth does not inevitably accumulate over the generations. Sorry, but it just don’t.

Fun (possibly apocryphal) story about a meeting during the bankruptcy proceedings. His daughter turned up wearing shoes that had glass heels with live goldfish in them.

A very strong book recommendation

What with the 100th anniversary of World War I and Remembrance Day coming up, a suggestion for a truly excellent book.

Mud, Blood and Poppycock.

Written by a career Gurkha Rifles officer turned historian it’s quite unlike most of what you might have read on WWI. The British Army didn’t have a high casualty rate: losses were actually slightly lower than in other mass conscript European land wars. It’s just that Britain had never had a mass conscript army in any of those wars. The Normandy casualty rate was rather higher in 1944 actually.

The Somme wasn’t a error, it was vital given what was happening at Verdun. Third Ypres/Passchendale was also not an error, equally vital given the French Army mutinies. And absolutely contrary to what just about everyone says about the generals they very rarely made the same mistake twice and by 1918 had actually worked out how to do that combined arms thing of infantry, artillery, tanks and air power. That very thing that the Nazis used so effectively in round two.

It’s also only five quid at the moment which is a bargain for a book this good. Strongly recommended.

I don’t, by the way, insist that he gets everything absolutely right. But I, for one, found his explanations of troop rotation fascinating: most especially his comparison between what the British Army did and what everyone else did. I first read it years ago and gave it another go while traveling over the weekend. It’s stood up very well.

There’s a solution to this problem

Now the owners have submitted a planning application to install 200 solar panels on the island.

The application says that panels will be installed on a former tennis court and surrounded by a hedge that shields them from sight. But residents who live a few hundred yards away on the mainland contend that when they look out to sea they will be dazzled by reflected sun.
….
In papers submitted to South Hams district council, Deborah Clark and Tony Orchard, the owners, say their electricity costs have spiralled by 40 per cent in recent years. The 25-room Art Deco hotel, which opened in 1929, relies on an electricity supply from the mainland as well as expensive oil and bottled gas.
…..
Mr Porter, who sold the island in 2001, said: “We are horrified that this application has been lodged. We spent 16 years doing everything we could to restore it to its former beauty. Now this green island sleeping in the sun is going to be scarred by this horrible shiny thing. It will visible from miles away. It is going to glint in the sun and spoil the whole thing.”

Four objections have been received to date by the council, including one from Hubert Ashton of Folly Hill, which overlooks the island. He said: “This would be a monstrous carbuncle on an old friend. It would be ruinous for the beauty of the island.”

All of this is fine. We get it. You value the island as it is, the current owners wish to reduce their electricity bills. The solution therefore is for you gentlemen, Mssrs. Porter and Ashton, to put your hands in your own pockets and pay the extra costs of keeping the island the way that you value it.

Otherwise you can fuck off.

Catholic social teaching against neoliberalism

So, a reader here pointed me to this pamphlet. And I was going to read it all and comment in detail upon it. And then I got to this:

Modern economics is a complicated package, and there are numerous differing schools of
thought. One school maintains that nothing much went amiss at the level of mainstream
economic theory: it just needed to be better applied. Other voices claim that economics
as a science is broken and discredited, and that it needs fundamental reform. One such
voice is that of Will Hutton, economic and political commentator, who has declared that

the dominant intellectual ideology of the last 20 years, free market
fundamentalism, and the way it was applied in the financial markets, the efficient
market hypothesis, was the biggest intellectual mistake this generation has ever
witnessed, arguably the world has ever witnessed.2

Anyone who is going to quote Will Hutton, other than in derision, isn’t likely to have the right end of the stick. So I’m afraid that I only got half way down page one.

Lehman’s downfall was also part of a previous chain reaction, a key element of which
was the issuing of property mortgages on a massive scale to people who could ill afford
them – so-called “sub-prime” mortgages. They were more risky, but financiers attempted
to reduce the risk by spreading it more widely. Ultimately, however, that merely increased
the pool of people who would lose money when the mortgages proved unsustainable.

Err, no. The problem was that the banks themselves were holding portions of those CDOs, and the banks were holding them on leverage, as is always going to be true in a system of fractional reserve banking. So the problem wasn’t with sub-prime, nor mortgages, nor syndication, but with who was actually holding those notes. If it had been insurance and pension funds holding them there would have been no crash at all.

Sorry, this paper isn’t diagnosing the problem correctly therefore it’s obviously not going to get to the right conclusions.

I am almost tempted to prepare a paper for this conference

Call for papers for a Research Workshop

SHOULD NATION STATES ‘COMPETE’?

City University, London, 25th / 26th June 2015

The 2015 research workshop co-organised by the Association for Accountancy & Business Affairs, City University, and the Tax Justice Network, will explore the notion of national ‘competitiveness’. This opens up possibilities for papers on a wide variety of themes, including tax wars (tax ‘competition’), the dynamics of ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ politics, regulatory degradation, regulatory arbitrage, policy responses to ‘competitiveness’ pressures, and the impact of ‘competitiveness’ policies on home countries and third party countries.

Other related themes are likely to emerge as the workshop programme develops.

Offers of papers are especially welcome and early submission of an abstract of no longer than 300 words is encouraged. All submissions will be considered by the organising committee.

This workshop will bring together researchers, academics, journalists, policy staff of civil society organisations, consultants and professionals, elected politicians and/or their researchers, and government or international organisation officials.

The purpose of the workshop is to facilitate research through open-minded debate and discussion, and to generate ideas and proposals to inform and shape the political initiatives and campaigns already under way.

There will be a small charge for attendance at the Workshop. Participants are usually expected to finance their own travel although applications from students and others with limited means for bursary support will be considered.

More information about this workshop is available from: John Christensen, Tax Justice Network, john@taxjustice.net

competitiveness, race-to-the-bottom, regulatory arbitrage, Research Workshop, tax wars

My paper would, of course, state that tax competition is a wonderful thing. For it a) lowers the tax burden and b) moves us away from the harmful taxation of capital and corporations, to a lesser extent labour, and toward the taxation of the least mobile factors of production, land and resource rents.

Slightly concerned about the idea that I’d have to pay to present it: but it would perhaps be worth it for the joy of annoying them all so.

Thing is, I cannot see their definition of open minded debate and discussion including someone who so obviously has an, err, different answer to their main question. After all, I’ve already been disinvited to one such conference because some of the delegates, those looking for open discussion, objected too vehemently to what they thought I might say.

Pity that.

Ritchie pitches to Margaret Hodge for another job

You should read this with the sound of Yosser at the back of your mind:

And in that spirit, and having looked at the fiasco that is this year’s Tax Gap report from HMRC, isn’t it obvious that we really do need an Office for Tax Responsibility in the UK?

The first thing I would say is that if we were to have such an Office it would have to be independent of the Treasury. An endowment fund sufficient to let it operate for ten years would allow for this.

A Board, made up of senior civil servants, but not connected to the Treasury, and a single representative from each party in the Commons with more than 30 seats might ensure sound governance.

The Office should report to the PAC. That is where the accountability should lie, I think, well away from the Treasury.

The primary task would be to monitor the tax gap. Ex-HMRC staff could be engaged on this, but no revolving door would be allowed.

Others might also be engaged. These could include private sector specialists and academics. But again, a revolving door straight back into large companies may not be allowed.

And the budget must allow for research to be commissioned on this issue from a variety of sources: one viewpoint would clearly not be enough.

G’arn Mags, Gissae Job!

Well, at least we know where Howard Reed’s coming from then

The third plank of policy should be aimed at rebalancing the economy in the medium term …(…)… and a decisive shift away from the industrial feudalism of the plc and private equity dominated neoliberal economy towards a social economy which foregrounds worker-managers, cooperatives, social enterprises and crowdfunding.

That’s from the barking mad quadrant of the available economic policy space then.

This is going to be interesting

Greens overtake Lib Dems in the polls: Surge in support takes party into fourth place with eight per cent

Party’s support put at a record 8 per cent in Ashcroft National Poll
It means Nick Clegg’s party has slipped into fifth place on 7 per cent

8% isn’t really enough to make a great difference if it’s widely spread support. Ukip’s similar sorta level of support at the last GE might have cost Cameron 15 or 20 seats some say. And the LibDems will definitely have more seats that the Greens after the next GE, even if they have a lower national vote.

But if we get even vaguely close to having four way seats or a four way election then predicting the final result is going to be almost impossible. And fascinating……