Tecchie Question

So, we\’ve got a problem with an XP laptop.

Using it last night the cat walked across the keyboard. Since then, the mouse (yes, I know, but don\’t laugh) will not move. It is stuck. We\’ve rebooted, taken the battery out and rebooted, nothing seems to get the mouse working again. It just sits there in the middle of the screen.

It\’s an Acer, if that makes any difference.

Is there perhaps a key combination that he hit which turns off the mousepad?

Economists Know More Than You Think

I was telling my colleague Danny Finkelstein about my new theory that the free market doesn\’t work properly when the real customers are those who commission a product rather than those who use it. It is, for example, businesses, not the householder, that choose the courier service that makes you stay in all day in case it calls; it is insurance companies, not patients, that are are private medicine\’s real customers. “Ah,” said Danny, “this conundrum is well known to economists. They call it the Principal-Agent Problem. There are whole chapters in textbooks about it.”

I felt as proud as Molière\’s Bourgeois Gentleman, enchanted to discover from an expert that quite spontaneously he had been speaking something called “prose” all his life.

Not all that unusual. You see someone struggling to a conclusion, working from first principles, and they then come up with the answer. And it\’s already there in the textbooks, they just didn\’t know that it was.

One example I like currently is all those greens, telling us that markets don\’t take account of externalities, that we have to make the cost equal the "real cost". Indeed, and economists did indeed note this a long time ago. Vast amounts of modern economic research is in trying to work out "how" to do this: it\’s already accepted that "whether" to do this is either useful or necessary (dependent upon circumstances).

Idiots

Drivers face steep price rises for luxury cars under measures to force manufacturers to meet strict CO2 targets. Those who go green by buying a car with low emissions will be rewarded with savings on fuel over the lifetime of the vehicle, according to plans unveiled yesterday.

With several commissioners dissenting, the European Commission set a four-year phase-in period from 2012 for fines on manufacturers whose fleets exceed an average of 120 g/km of the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming.

Far simpler to add to the petrol tax than this sort of stupidity. As far as I can see (and do correct me if I\’m wrong) they\’ve also made same mistake the US did with the CAFE standards. This applies to passenger cars but not to trucks (whether light or not). And it\’s that distinction within CAFE which lead to the introduction of SUVs in the first place.

Morons.

Your Tax Money At Work

A quite splendid use of the money extorted from you at gunpoint, don\’t you think?

The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, is to buy a new Gulfstream presidential jet for £24m after convincing MPs that his £16m plane bought seven years ago is out of date.

The UK is of course pumping £700 million into Uganda over the next decade to reduce poverty. No, of course, none of that will pay for this plane, none at all: except of course that money is fungible.

And Musuveni is actually one of the better of the African leaders for this sort of thing.

The Youthful Vibrancy of the Lib Dems

In particular, and despite being 59 himself, Mr Eno has been instructed to advise the Liberal Democrats on how to appeal to young people.

My favourite story (which I might have mis-remembered but that\’s how these things go) about Eno was the reason for leaving Roxy Music. He said that with both him and Brian Ferry in the band one had to go: there\’s only room for one non-musician in a band.

Still, nice to see that one political party is up there, with it, appealing to the hep cats and the musical combos topping the hit parade.

Sure, We Know That…

Or at least we should all know that:

The report – which scrutinised the labels of 54 ready meals from Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury\’s and Tesco – says that while the difference between premium lines and standard lines are noticeable, the difference between budget and standard ranges are less obvious, with the ingredients often appearing remarkably similar. Often the only difference is extravagant wording on the packaging.

Tesco, for instance, says that its standard bolognese is "produced in the UK using beef from a welfare-assured source". In fact, its value bolognese contains exactly the same meat, but refrains from boasting about it on the packaging.

Segmentation I think it\’s called. Or is it price discrimination? You as a producer know that there are some people who are happy to pay a higher price for your products than others are. What you want to do is keep the low priced business (which is after all profitable) but find a way to shake those extra pennies out of those willing to pay more. So you charge more for silly things and see what happens. It might be the above, telling people about some feature. It might be Starbucks offering, for a fee, to shake and stir the sugar into your iced tea. It might be, in the metals trade, labelling your alloy "aerospace grade" and "commercial grade", even though they\’re the same. But of course the aerospace grade is higher priced because you "guarantee" that it meets certain chemical standards, while commercial grade simply meets them (true story btw).

Now you can look at this two ways: one is that suppliers are trying to rip off customers. The other is to look a little more deeply. It\’s a standard assumption that in a perfectly competetive market there should be no profits over the cost of capital: any that did exist would be competed away. This sort of segmentation is the response to being (or thinking that you as a supplier are) in such a competetive market. Yes, perhaps it is true that this is "ripping off the consumer" but what it tells you is that the suppliers think they\’re in a competetive market.

It\’s a slightly cock eyed manner of looking at it, I agree, but interesting as well: the very fact that people are doing these things to avoid being in a perfectly competetive market shows their underlying assumption, that they are in one.

Hmmm, What\’s that word?

Gold  digger is it?

A woman who has been awarded an estimated £18 million in three divorces is at the centre of a test case for pre-nuptial agreements after seeking share of her fourth husband\’s £45 million fortune.

Well, no, not so far, but the list of previous husbands:

Mrs Crossley, who was previously married to Robert Sangster, the late Vernons pools heir and racing magnate, is trying to block Mr Crossley from using the agreement in the courts.The former model, whose first two husbands were the Kwik Save heir Kevin Nicholson and the Lilley and Skinner shoe chain heir Peter Lilley,

Rather Mrs. Merton, isn\’t it? So Mrs. Crossley, what was it that first attracted you to the multi-millionaires Sangster, Nicholson, Lilley and Crossley? And this current marriage seems to have lasted a long time too:

The couple drew up a pre-nup shortly before their marriage in January 2006, following a whirlwind romance.

However, after Mrs Crossley filed for divorce in August,

18 months, eh?

Anyway, the whole thing is going to become a test case: pre nuptial agreements don\’t really work in England because of the nature of the marriage contract: it over rides previous contracts. Things like wills for example. ("I thee with my worldly wealth endow" is a bit of a clue.)

When this has been discussed before it\’s been pointed out that Scottish law is very different: what you had before marriage remains yours, doesn\’t it? Perhaps that\’ll be the way English goes as well.

Nick Clegg\’s Lying Already

Well, already is a little off, for as a politician he\’s been doing it for years. But as leader he is already, as Alfie points out:

But wait, Mair had an ace up his sleeve. His last question to Clegg concerned the BBC ban on the words \’faggot\’ and \’slut\’ in the seasonal song \’Fairytale in New York\’ by the Pogues/Kirsty MacColl. "So Nick, what are your thoughts – is the BBC right to bleep out these two words?"

Bearing in mind that the Christmas ballad is a classic, has been voted the best Christmas song of all time, has been in the charts every single year since it was first released 20 years ago, is used on the telly every year to advertise virtually every Christmas CD compilation and is played remorselessly on all of the nation\’s radio stations for up to 6 weeks before Christmas, Mair felt confident he would get a cogent, wisey-word answer from the new LibDem oracle…..

He has to doesn\’t he? I mean, is there anyone in the YouKay aged 20 or over, who hasn\’t heard the song at least a thousand times?…..

Errmm, Explain This To Me Again?

Richard Murphy tells us this about Northern Rock and the new guarantees on its debt:

And now, to get to the nub of the issue, the new press release says that all the remaining covered, securitised and wholesale bond holders are all guaranteed to get their money back in the event that either Northern Rock or Granite cannot sell replacement debt to repay obligations in the open market. Nut Northern Rock will not of course be able to sell any debt in the market now. The ultimate moral hazard has now been created: there is no incentive for anyone to lend to Northern Rock or Granite anymore, especially when in a desperately tight credit market there will be any number of better opportunities. That means that there is only an incentive to ditch Northern Rock debt.

I\’ll admit that finance does indeed make my brain hurt but…but…doesn\’t a 100% cast iron guarantee by HMG to stand behind Northern Rock debt, of whatever form, actually make holding such debt more attractive? With the odd quibble about how long it will take them to honour such guarantees, doesn\’t it essentially convert, say, bonds issued by Granite, into Gilts? And ones carrying the same (almost) guarantee as a Gilt, but with a higher interest rate?

Now if I\’m right about that, where in a desperately tight credit market are you going to get a better deal than that? So people will buy Northern Rock debt, not ditch it, surely?

Either I\’ve missed something here (in which case please inform me) or, well, what is Richard Murphy talking about?

As a  bonus point, any financial market types want to tell us whether N Rock debt rose or fell today?

Christmas Party Advice

If you are going to stray at the office Christmas party do try and make sure that she you are straying from is not Thai.

Or that if she is, you\’re in Thailand where they can (sometimes) deal with such things.

Oh Dear Polly

No dear:

It is part of the social contract that citizens defend their borders, and taxation is spent on those with a legal right to be here, those whom voters choose to share their country with.

It is part of the social contract that we pay our taxes so that the State defends the borders so that the country is shared with those the voters wish to.

Think of it the way you\’ve put it here for a moment: "citizens defend the borders"? You mean that the BNP should go around checking on whether non-pinkish people have the correct papers? No, clearly not.

Tory Tax Plans

Mr Osborne said: "Corporation tax is too high and capital gains tax is now a mess. We are going to produce proposals next year on a fairly major reform of business taxation."

Abolishing it would be too much to hope for I suppose? Given that corporations don\’t actually pay it?