Two old blokes losing their memories

So, apparently this is something so good that I’ve recommended it a number of times. And neither I nor Mark in HK can recall what the heck it was.

Quick question

You have mentioned before one of your key recommendations for economics students being a collection of essays from a non economist in one of the big US newspapers and linked to a webpage. Could you remind me of it please? Son of a friend going off to uni to study business economics and thought it might help.


Can’t remember the exact details, but you quote it reasonably often and once provided a link as it’s not in print. It’s kind of a collection of articles by someone who wrote regularly on markets and economics….thought it was in a US journal of some sort. Damn, I even printed it out once…

Neither of us can remember what the buggery this was. The hive mind is likely to do better than two sets of ageing synapses. Anyone think what this is?

Henry Hazlitt it is an was, thanks for the prompt to Dongguan John.

At which point, a fun little point about this social media and internet stuff. Bloke in Hong Kong is asking a bloke in Portugal to recall something. Answer comes from bloke working near Macao.. All participants are actually English. This takes 10 minutes.

Different world in some senses, isn’t it?

Drivel, just drivel

It’ll take more than shopping to save our debt-addled economy
Chris Bickerton
Britain’s growth model is unsustainable, and has created scandalous levels of inequality – we should rely more on production, not consumption


If the model’s broken, what’s the alternative? The UK needs to rebalance its growth, relying less on consumption and more on production.

Everything that is produced is consumed. All consumption is produced.

What is this man talking about?

Chris Bickerton teaches politics at Cambridge University.

Ahh, he’s talking about his own ignorance, isn’t he?

Fun bit

So, watching an old “Endeavour” (ie, “Young Morse Meets Oxford”) over the weekend and a little bit.

“Sgt Vimes of Cable St” taught Inspetor Thursday something or other about how to be a vicious copper but a just one.

Rather a nice Sir Pterry reference I thought….

How can Imran Khan have 524 servants?

Khan plans to have only two servants instead of 524 reserved for a sitting premier.

A little history. Grandpops went off to Pakistan (then West Pakistan) to build their Air Force engineering college after independence. Ended up with 33 servants.

So, cook, housemaid, gardener. The gardener needs a boy, the cook a scullery maid, the housemaid an assistant. So there needs to be a laundress, soon we get to the point that we need a cook for the servants. Who needs an assistant, meaning a laundress for the servants, who then needs an assistant and……that’s how two people need 33 servants.

They’re being really quite open about it, aren’t they?

This is a political prosecution:

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former lawyer and right-hand-man, reportedly faces a federal investigation into possible bank and tax fraud relating to more than $20m in loans.

The New York Times reported that federal investigators in Manhattan were reaching the end of their inquiries and were “considering filing charges by the end of August”. According to the newspaper, their focus was falling on multi-million dollar loans Cohen received from two New York banks as well as on income his family gained from the city’s yellow taxi business.

Federal investigators were also homing in on Cohen’s role in arranging hush money for two women who alleged affairs with Trump before the 2016 presidential election. The pay-offs might have constituted a breach of campaign finance law, the New York Times reported.

The darkening cloud of federal prosecutorial interest amid possible imminent charges are likely to substantially crank up pressure on Cohen to co-operate with the on-going investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller. That probe is reaching a critical stage as Mueller seeks to determine whether collusion took place between the Trump campaign and Russia to sway the outcome of the 2016 election.

Whether and when to prosecute seems to be based on whether he’ll turn on Trump.

Sure, this isn’t political at all, is it?

Great big hairy dangly bits

GCSE reforms will help boys catch up with girls because they prefer “big bang” exams, annual analysis has suggested.

A report by Professor Alan Smithers of the University of Buckingham suggested that the move away from coursework and towards exams will benefit male students.


You’ve changed the measurement system, not how well boys and or girls are doing.

Agreed with the effect of the change, sure. That concentration on coursework in the first place was because boys did better at the big bang exam, girls better at the coursework. So, to overcome that issue of the girls getting worse grades the system was changed. Now we’re changing it back.

OK. But it’s still just a change in the measurement system, not a change in how anyone is doing.

Lazy stupidity

When Jamie Oliver launched his new “punchy” jerk rice in supermarkets, he hoped consumers would fall head over heels for a dish “made with love” and bursting with “attitude”.

But last night his “knockout” creation became the subject of an extraordinary backlash, as Dawn Butler, the shadow equalities minister, accused the celebrity chef of cultural “appropriation”.

Confronting Oliver on Twitter, Ms Butler questioned whether he understood what ‘Jerk’ was and suggested that he receive a “masterclass” from Levi Roots, the British-Jamaican reggae musician and cook.

Sure, jerk rice is a bit odd, jerk is usually a meat marinade or style of cooking. But seriously folks, get over it.

Someone using an asian grain, a pre-Colombian exchange pepper and a European introduced (to the East Coast and Caribbean at least) bird to make jerk chicken is accusing someone else of cultural appropriation?

So now it’s history he doesn’t understand

The reasons for this can be debated. I engaged in such argument in my book The Courageous State. In that book I argued that we live in a world where those with power do now, when they identify a problem, run as far as they might from it and say the market will find a solution. The market won’t do that. It is designed not to do so. Those suffering shit-life syndrome have, by default, little impact on the market. That’s one of the reasons why they are suffering the syndrome in the first place.

It’s the simple ignorance which is so annoying. The truly great fortunes have been made by the people who took something extant and then made it cheap, so the poor could afford it.

A million pennies a day is better than 100,000 tuppenys. As the history of every new newspaper has shown, the opening in the market is always at the bottom, to make it cheaper and gain the larger audience.

Ford didn’t make his money by moving up market, the Model T was the first working man’s car.


We don’t just suffer shit life syndrome. We’re also suffering shit politician syndrome. And both are crippling.

Or as more than one fascist has put it, give me power and you’ll be farting through silk.

Willy Hutton’s latest claim

US doctors coined a phrase for this condition: “shit-life syndrome”. Poor working-age Americans of all races are locked in a cycle of poverty and neglect, amid wider affluence. They are ill educated and ill trained. The jobs available are drudge work paying the minimum wage, with minimal or no job security.

That’s for the US.

In 2017, 80.4 million workers age 16 and older in the United States were paid at hourly rates, representing 58.3 percent of all wage and salary workers. Among those paid by the hour, 542,000 workers earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. About 1.3 million had wages below the federal minimum. Together, these 1.8 million workers with wages at or below the federal minimum made up 2.3 percent of all hourly paid workers.

Or around 1% of all workers.

The minimum wage is, at best, a minimal issue in the US economy.

There is little social housing, scant income support and contingent access to healthcare.

Section 8 vouchers exist, that’s housing benefit in all but name. Most of the large cities have rent control – not a good idea but they have it – which is like affordable housing. It’s true, they’ve stopped having directly government built and owned housing because they realised they were vertical slums even more shit than no housing at all. You’ve perhaps heard of “the projects?”

Income support exists, it’s largely in goods and services in kind rather than cash. And health care? Has Willy never even considered the size of the Medicaid bill?

Finding meaning in life is close to impossible; the struggle to survive commands all intellectual and emotional resources. Yet turn on the TV or visit a middle-class shopping mall and a very different and unattainable world presents itself. Knowing that you are valueless, you resort to drugs, antidepressants and booze. You eat junk food and watch your ill-treated body balloon. It is not just poverty, but growing relative poverty in an era of rising inequality, with all its psychological side-effects, that is the killer.

That’s why Willy’s a fat boozer as he considers the billionaires that infest London.

What our citizens are experiencing is criminal, even if it has nothing to do with the EU, the great lie so brilliantly told by Brexiters and the malevolent political genius that is Nigel Farage. Instead of blaming Brussels and impoverishing ourselves with Brexit, Britain should be launching a multipronged assault on shit-life syndrome and the conditions that cause so many to die prematurely. Acknowledging the crisis, together with measures to address it, will be crucial to winning any second people’s vote on Brexit.

We need (as Andrew Adonis and I argue in Saving Britain) an industrial policy not just for the City, but for the country, a repurposing of enterprise, a re-enfranchisement of workforces and a remaking of our threadbare social contract, in particular the dysfunctional care system. Too many of England’s towns, even some in the south-east, are becoming crucibles of shit-life syndrome. They have become inward-looking, urban islands in which despair and despondency are too prevalent; their high streets in decline while hi-tech, knowledge-intensive jobs pass them by. Train and bus fares are so high that travelling within them has become prohibitively expensive. Stripped of power by the most centralised system in Europe, they are disempowered and sullen about the present and apprehensive of the future. All this can and must change.

Above all, it is an agenda for an effective parliamentary opposition – combining a campaign to stay in the EU with a campaign to change Britain. The life expectancy numbers tell a dramatic story. It is time to act on their message.

Oooh, that’s pretty good. We must decentralise power as we centralise it in Brussels?

Compare and contrast

Such issues are again making headlines following last week’s remarks by the astronaut Tim Peake, who said he thought the universe could be the result of divine creation. “I’m not religious [but] it doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t seriously consider that the universe could have been created from intelligent design,” he said.

That the universe could have been? Not that I think well ever find out but it’s possible. That “Let there be light” and the setting of the basic equations and off we go.

These views are mild but will nevertheless be seized on by those determined to see the handiwork of God everywhere they look, from the shapes of bananas to the colour of the sky, a habit that is more common in the US than the UK. And for that we Britons should be grateful, for intelligent design is not just wrong; the idea is misguided and intellectually rotten, a point best illustrated in the study of our own bodies – and in particular our eyes.

Creationists say natural selection cannot explain the wonders and complexity of the eye. It must have been designed by a divine entity, they claim. How else can you explain how it co-ordinates the behaviour of each of its 125m photoreceptor cells to provide us with vision that has colour and depth? It is too complex to have evolved through random, physiological changes, they say.

Yes, yes, we know about eyes. But that’s not what Peake said, is it? He didn’t say “intelligent design” which is the code for God made the details of humans according to Genesis.

Robin McKie is the Observer’s science editor

Even just a journalist about science should know that you on’t disprove one claim by disproving another….

A very minor whinge

One of the house guests is gluten intolerant. No, really and properly.

OK. I thought about corn tortillas. Why not?

Only to find that all the ones in the shops are wheat tortillas. Where does one get corn ones from?

Childhood diabetes is about fatty lardbuckets or immigration?

Growing numbers of children and young people are developing type 2 diabetes, a disease usually seen in those aged over 40, in the latest sign of worsening childhood obesity.

The number of people aged up to 25 with the condition in England and Wales increased from 507 in 2013-14 to 715 in 2016-17 – a 41% rise.

The sharp rise has prompted concern among doctors and led to renewed calls for tougher government action to tackle the .

OK, anything is valid, worthwhile, as it’s for the kiddies!

The figures show that people from some ethnic minorities are much more likely than others to develop type 2 diabetes. Almost half of the 715 young people were black or Asian.

Banning immigration, repatriation, would seem to reduce the incidence of Type 2 diabetes in children in England.

Hmm, what’s that? You mean you didn’t actually mean do anything at all to reduce this? Ahhh, so, now we do get to the point that only some things are worthwhile, so which are they?

The terms of the Drake Equation seem to be changing

The chances of finding alien organisms have been boosted by the discovery of hundreds of “water worlds” capable of supporting life.

New analysis by Harvard University estimates that one in three “exoplanets” outside our solar system that are larger than Earth are likely to contain an abundance of water.

The scientists say the planets that are two to four times bigger than Earth that have the best chance of supporting life.

Not that this changes the basic problem with alien – or indeed time travelling – life. If such exists, then where in buggery are they?

Umm, err?

Accountancy is riddled with intangible assets. And arbitrary valuations. I’m not seeking to get too technical here. What I am referring to are four basic categories of assets. Being more specific does not help the argument.

The first such asset is goodwill. This is the excess value paid when acquiring a business over the sum that can be attributed to tangible, physical assets that can be valued in their own right.

The second group of assets are legally constructed property rights. These are things like patents and copyrights that only have value by presuming there is a future income stream.

The third are those supposedly marketable assets that apparently generate an income but for which there is no current market and to which a value is attributed on a ‘mark to market’ basis using models that might be as accurate as a forecast that it will snow in the UK today.

And finally are assets created intra-group. These are investments, loans and liabilities created in an intense web of transactions that are in themselves likely to be largely commercially meaningless but which leave a trail of interdependencies that render the accounts that include them largely incomprehensible in themselves, but which are nonetheless declared to be true and fair.

You can argue there are more or fewer such groupings. You can discuss which is more or less esoteric. I have problems with them whichever way you address the issue. The problems are, essentially, twofold.

The first is that these assets may simply not exist. Indeed, in isolation, they do not. So, goodwill is not independent of the underlying entity; intra-group debt is only of worth if the whole group might be, but not even then necessarily, and copyright only has worth as long as the property it relates to is still seen, heard or read. So the fact that someone once paid for these things is proof of nothing more than potential misjudgement at some time in the past. Too often that is now proving to be true. Not always, I stress. But too often. Which suggests that unquestioning acceptance of valuations based on pure history or models is failing accountancy.

And second? The problem is in the income statement. We recognise income from these assets in many cases (intra-group debt often excepted). But when we do we do not apparently think it appropriate to recognise that in most cases we bought that income. In other words, goodwill simply represents a purchased income stream. And an acquired copyright had a cost to buying the future income. And I think it should be mandatory that the cost in question be written off against the income. In fact, it should be written off even when there is no or little income. But accountancy is far too lax on this now, albeit it once was not.

Accounts are riddled, in my opinion, with assets that do not exist because they are at best nothing more than purchased income streams whose cost should have been written off against that revenue.

Err, don’t we depreciate intangible assets?

And why not?

Seems rather more useful anyway:

More A levels in PE than French as pupils drop European languages

PE is now more popular than French at A level, a sign of the sharp decline in European languages being studied.

Only 8,713 candidates took French, this year’s results show, down 8 per cent in a year. In 1996 French was one of the most popular A levels, taken by 22,718 students. A total of 11,307 took PE this year.

After all, we’ve always found it more useful to thrash a Frenchman than speak to him. Enjoyable too.

I don’t think Polly understands trains

Trains do signify the fitness of a government. If an incoming Labour government concentrates hard on making trains run on time at fair fares, that would be a potent signal of all-round efficiency worth investing in heavily. But what perplexes me is the passivity of train-travelling commuters, among the most well-heeled, empowered of citizens. Yet apart from a minor kicking down of a gate in St Albans during the worst of the timetabling disaster, they fail to rebel. Along Southern’s lines, passing through nothing but top Tory MPs’ constituencies, passengers tolerate years of strikes and disruption, with more to come. Why aren’t they taking direct action, voting out their MPs and super-gluing ticket barriers? Ah, I forgot. The private companies get paid regardless of ticket income: only the state loses if people refuse to pay, another brilliant bit of contracting in these failed franchises.

Err, no. The Southtern line the operator gets paid because it’s not a franchise, it’s a contract to operate. On franchises no ticket revenue means no revenue.

Well, yes, obviously

Areeba Hamid, of Greenpeace’s clean air campaign, said: “Limiting the use of wood-burning stoves will help reduce harmful particulate pollution but it is only one part of solving the air pollution crisis.

“Transport, in particular diesel vehicles, is responsible for the majority of air pollution on our streets and unless they are tackled as a priority, we cannot expect dramatic improvements in the UK’s air quality.”

She called for the introduction of clean air zones across the country and the phasing out of the internal combustion engine by 2030.

Instead of minor changes to wood stoves, a minority occupation, we should ban the major form of transport in the country. Much less disruptive, obviously.