Merck and Vioxx

A little more on that Vioxx settlement announced yesterday.

Merck, the US pharmaceutical giant, is to continue battling with hundreds of British claimants over its failed arthritis painkiller, Vioxx, in spite of agreeing yesterday to a settlement with US residents.

Merck agreed a $4.85bn (£2.42 bn) settlement, one of the biggest in history, with US claimants who blamed the drug for heart attacks and other side-effects.

But the company said this would not apply to British lawsuits or others round the world suing for compensation.

Hmm….now why would that be? I think that at least part of it is the difference in the way that legal fees are paid. Here, if you sue someone and lose, then you have to pay their legal bills. Over there, the colonial cousins have a rule that each side (except in exceptional circumstances) pays its own legal bills.

So, Merck lost the first big case and has then won a series of others (not all of them, but a majority). But even though they\’ve won them, even though they\’ve not had to pay damages, I\’ve seen it said that their legal bills were running at $600 million a year. Making a $4.85 billion settlement thus makes some sort of sense for them. It\’s not an admission of guilt so much as a simple trade off. A decade\’s worth of legal bills? Or pay them to go away?

The reason why people here aren\’t being treated equally is that if you sue Merck and lose, you owe them money. So the same pressure to settle isn\’t there.

Now, which system you prefer would tend to depend upon your views about consumers, companies and the lawyers in between them. Should we adopt the US system, meaning that it will be easier for those wronged to sue? Or should the US adopt loser pays? Meaning that fewer will have an opportunity to shake down the innocent, but deep pocketed, corporations?

Your call really, depends on the prejudices you bring to the start of the argument I guess.

What a Surprise!

Fortnightly bin collections have been blamed for an epidemic of fly-tipping which cost taxpayers an estimated £73 million to clean up last year.

And, of course, fortnightly collections were imposed to save money.

Well done chaps! Joined up government at its best.

No, I\’m Not Surprised

A barrister suggested yesterday that Scotland Yard might have leaked news about a breakthrough in the Stephen Lawrence murder case to deflect criticism from the report into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

But should I be surprised about not being surprised? I know we joke about cynicism being the only appropriate response to the utterings of any politician but is it actually the correct one? Really?

That when they are accused of acting like complete scumbags our reaction is "Sure"?


Not the FT As Well!

Alerted in the comments earlier to this from the FT:

As climate change intensifies, floods such as this could become more severe, requiring new defences such as an additional Thames barrier. Although sea levels have risen only slightly through climate change, the Thames barrier is now raised about six times a year, having been designed to be raised twice a year.

Guys, please? A little favour? When discussing this subject could you please note that the SE of England is dropping 2.3 mm a year as a result ofthe end of the last ice age?

Thank you, your cooperation is appreciated.

You What?

Richard Murphy\’s latest idea:

I argue for a citizenship based tax – which only the US has.

So if you decide that you don\’t like the way the country is going and decide to leave (not, perhas enjoying the tyrrany of the majority) you still have to pay tax to fund the way that you don\’t like the country going. Truly, you are a slave to the State.

It gets even more interesting though. The US system also taxes you if you decide that you\’d like to give up citizenship.

Section 205 creates a new “exit tax” on all persons who give up, renounce, and/or relinquish their US citizenship or greencard.  For greencard holders, expatriation can and does happen involuntarily.  It also applies to US citizenship (though no one can force you to give up US citizenship).  You are deemed to have sold all your worldly goods on the date of expatriation.  The first $600,000 is exempt, and the rest is taxed and due within 90 days of expatriation.  There is no step-up in basis for arrival to the US, so for greencard holders this tax is also on gain incurred prior to moving to the US.  US retirement plans are deemed distributed and taxed immediately.  Taxpayers’ interests in foreign trusts are taxable, even if there is no legal access to the funds.

No, I think we\’ll not have that tax system, shall we?

This Blog\’s Reading Level

You\’ll have seen the fun little tool that\’s floating around, estimating the reading level required to be able to deal with a specific blog? I\’d thought of running it here but fortunately don\’t have to as Fabian has done it for me.


Now of course I cannot speak for Chris, Tyler and Alex but about this blog\’s  level of language….

Speaking clearly to the masses perhaps?

Ms Bance

Sadly, terribly, terribly confused. So confused in fact that she took the post down, although of course it still exists in RSS streams.

There aren’t many prejudices I’ll admit to, but I will admit to a strong dislike, at times escalating to hatred, of private landlords and letting agents. Not the ordinary family who lets out a room, mind you – though I am dismayed when people who I thought had reasonably benign politics reveal themselves to be landlords. Particularly in high-cost housing areas like Oxford and London the buying up of homes as investments and the inevitable charging of extortionate rents are massive drivers of housing poverty and inequality; how anyone with any conscience can do it and be complicit in the biggest driver of inquality between rich and poor and between young and old in the UK today, I don’t know.

So, I detest landlords. Having moved several times in the last ten years, I’ve met quite a few, and as a councillor I’ve come into contact with a few more. I have recently had cause to look at flats in Oxford again (sigh). Most of the ones I have seen (and I’ve seen twenty or so) have one or more of the following features:

a. No cooker – “you’ll manage with a couple of rings and microwave, won’t you?”
b. No grouting between tiles (how do they stay on the wall?!)
c. A living room that’s actually a corridor
d. Damp looming balefully from the corner of the bedroom
e. Mouldy carpet
f. Enough stale cigarette smoke to develop immediate-onset asthma
g. Three different types of woodchip on one wall, peeling gently

Having walked around another badly-converted depressing draughty half-house, you get back to the hallway and the landlord or agent says cheerfully “So, that’ll be £650 / £675 / £700 / £750 / £800 per month, then, not including bills of course”. I’ve met lots of agents, too, with their refrain “that’ll be £150 non-returnable to stop us showing the place to anyone else, and £50 for keys, and £60 to prepare a tenancy agreement, and £60 to check you out when you leave, oh and we need a cheeky £2000 deposit…”

It really makes you think what little power us poor sods needing to rent somewhere to live have, when agents and landlords know that they can mess us about with such sheer impunity.

What she\’s really complaining about of course is a shortage of private landlords. That\’s why the prices are so high, the agents so extortionate and the goods supplied so shoddy.

Antonia Bance is employed full-time by Oxfam as their Policy and Communications Manager for its UK Poverty Programme, known as UKPP.

Looks like we\’ll be geting some useful policy ideas out of Oxfam then, eh?


How does this work again?

And if anybody still thinks that health care operates in a free market, try going to a doctor and buying health care. You know, just like you go to McDonald\’s. You get your treatment (hamburger and fries) and you pay your bill. Only, you can\’t just pay your bill, you also have to pay a New York State surcharge. Why are you paying this surcharge? Because … you are ACTUALLY PAYING FOR YOUR HEALTHCARE. You must be some sort of rich person! If you were truly deserving, you would be on medicare like any sane poor person is, so NYS charges you extra for paying in cash.


Well, Yes…

Where would it all end if people who had risked their lives for freedom were actually allowed to have any.

Those bastard war veterans, arrogantly assuming that the liberty they risked their lives fighting for includes the right to participate in $5 cribbage games.


The Life of Brian

We are a very weird lot, very weird indeed:

British martial humour remains an odd but enduring weapon of war. In 1982, after HMS Sheffield was struck by an Exocet missile, her crew sang Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from Monty Python\’s Life of Brian as the vessel sank.

Absolutely, totally, bonkers in fact.

A Good Day To Bury Bad News

The miserable fuckers:

On Tuesday, when attention was on the Queen’s Speech, the Government lodged its appeal anyway.

What appeal was that then? The Chagos Islanders\’ case of course.

The legal battle began in earnest in 1998 and, in 2000, they won their first victory when the Divisional Court ruled that the deportations were unlawful and “official zeal in implementing those removal policies went beyond any proper limits”. The Government did not appeal and Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary at the time, agreed that the islanders should be allowed to return to any of the islands except Diego Garcia.

Then came September 11, 2001. The military base of Diego Garcia – with its B52 bombers, surveillance aircraft and support facilities – became a vital launchpad for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is also where top al-Qaeda suspects are allegedly held and interrogated.

In 2004 the Government abruptly issued two Orders in Council, allowing it to bypass Parliament to negate the court ruling. In 2006 the High Court ruled that the Government’s move was unlawful and “repugnant” and, in May this year, the Court of Appeal agreed. It accused the Government of abusing its power: “The freedom to return to one’s homeland, however poor and barren the conditions of life, is one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings.”

The Lords granted the Government leave to appeal last week, provided that it paid all costs regardless of the outcome. Supporters of the Chagossians begged the Government not to prolong the agony of the islanders. In a letter to The Times a cross-party group of MPs and peers referred to Gordon Brown’s recent speech on liberty and declared: “For the FCO to proceed with a further appeal would waste more public funds, delay justice for the Chagossians and expose the Prime Minister’s words as hollow. Can we please have a return to good sense, justice and British liberties?”

Have you ever come across a better case for post-partum abortion?

Politicians, hang them all.

Polly Today

Mmm. Just feel the width!

Is that it, eh? Let\’s just remind ourselves what the "It" was. The climate change bill makes Britain the first country in the world to introduce a legally binding target for greenhouse gas emissions, enforcing 60% cuts by 2050. No, it probably isn\’t enough, but right now that\’s still a massive promise.

Yes, quite, it\’s a massive promise. But there is no idea about how to actually get from here to there. And legally binding? Upon whom? How is this going to be enforced? Does the Treasury fine Defra if the target is not met? What?

It is, as you say, sound and fury signifying nothing.

Housing is another good promise, even if it still won\’t be enough: 3m homes in 12 years, when only 43,000 were built in 2006, means building six times more a year.

Eh? 43,000 in 2006? Err,

According to the DCLG, there were 46845 housing starts in Q2 2006 in England,

You might want to brush up on your Googling skills there m\’dear. You seem to have the quarterly figure for only one of the four countries in the Kingdom. Yes, 180,000 or so starts, 160,000 or so completions for England alone.

This is the columnist of the year, famed for her research?

As for raising the school-leaving age, some may recall Labour\’s ferocious internal rows, when raising it to 16 – under the acronym Rosla – was delayed as too expensive (Tories opposed oiks getting anything more then, too). Now it jumps up to 18 with a full programme of diplomas and apprenticeships that will improve a lot of children\’s life chances, with less truancy, fewer Neets (not in education, employment or training) and less failure.

Captives of the State for another two years: just in case the inoctrination hasn\’t taken I suppose.

Party funding, the poison in politics, will be reformed with caps on spending and donations.

Yup, State funding. Only those who pass the State tests will get it though, won\’t they?

Yes, it\’s a shocking shame that exploited agency workers still get no protection:

I beg your pardon? What do you mean "no protection". They are protected wih the full majesty of the law, just as every other person in the country is.

So would a "fair" living wage, to make up for the depression of wages that migration has caused.

Err, Polly, that is seriously misguided. We\’ve go lots of economic migrants at the moment. They come to hte UK because they can earn more than they can at home. So you\’re suggesting that the way to deal with this is to make sure that they get paid even more when they come here?

Cameron is starting to win the argument that the state wastes money and never delivers.

Quite, truth will out eventually.

Fairly standard column there, don\’t you think? Labour Party cheeleading, let\’s move left, silly logic and at least one glaring error of fact.

This has been your Polly Toynbee column for today.


Oh Dear, Oh Dear.

Someone\’s been letting the lefties into the trade debate again.

Sadly, both for American workers and the quality of the trade debate, the textbook has other chapters. One of them explains the Stolper-Samuelson Theorem (SST), which points out that when the US exports insurance services and aircraft while importing apparel and electronics, we are implicitly selling capital – physical and human – for labour. This exchange bids up capital\’s price (profits and high-end salaries) and bids down wages for the broad working and middle-class, leading to rising inequality and downward wage pressure for many Americans.

Note that this is not just a story about laid-off factory workers, who obviously suffer the toughest losses. Rather, all workers in the US economy who resemble import-displaced workers in terms of education, skills, and credentials are affected. Landscapers won\’t lose their jobs to imports, but their wages are lowered through competition with those import-displaced factory workers.


In the early 1990s a flurry of studies, driven by the Nafta debate over US trade with Mexico, examined the links between trade, wages, and inequality. Updating a standard method from that earlier debate with 2006 data shows that trade has increased wages for those with a 4-year university degree by around three per cent and lowered wages for all other workers by about four per cent.

Consider a household of two median wages earners working a combined 3,600 hours per year (the average for married couples). A four per cent wage cut for this household would cost the couple $1,800 in annual pay. And this loss is net of any gains from trade: it fully accounts for the lower priced imports and new opportunities in export industries.

Ah, and there we see the twist in the tale. It is not true to say that this median wage earning household has seen its income fall by $1,800. It is true to say that (assuming you believe the analysis, which we will for the moment) their income is $1,800 lower than it would have been without the globalisation. But it hasn\’t actually fallen, it simply hasn\’t risen as much as it might have done.

So the average American worker is not in fact geting poorer. They\’re just not getting rich as fast as they might do.

To work out whether this is a good thing or not we then need to look at who is getting rich more quickly as a result of the globalisation. That would be those hundreds of millions of South and East Asians who have, in the past generation, risen up out of $1 a day poverty into a safe and secure lifestyle.

Now traditionally lefties would look at this result and pronounce it good. The rich (and by any global standard the median US household is stinkingly rich) are getting richer more slowly than the poor, who are leaving their absolute poverty behind them.

Somewhat sad to see someone like Jared Bernstein abandoning such a moral calculus and start to think only about those already rich, the Americans.

Well, Quite.

Not much that can be argued about here:

This was Gordon Brown\’s big idea in his Queen\’s Speech. Focus groups for both parties put the work/life balance as one of their top three concerns. In his speech to the Labour Party conference, the Prime Minister told women they could have nine months\’ paid maternity leave; now he plans to extend flexible working to all parents of children under 16 and to tell companies that they must allow mothers to stay at home while their children are doing exams and during holidays.

But this is going to harm rather than help women. What company would want to employ someone who not only wanted a year off after the birth of each child, but demanded to work 9.30am to 2.30pm, took off June to revise times tables, insisted on four months a year at home for the school holidays and disappeared every time one of their children coughed? The only company I know that does this is the Treasury and that is because the taxpayer is picking up the bill.

The gender pay gap is, as we have all noted ad nauseam, actually a parent pay gap. Making parents more expensive to employ will simply make the gap larger.