The battle to sell stricken mortgage bank Northern Rock hit huge new difficulties this weekend when it emerged that favoured bidder Sir Richard Branson doesn\’t have a banking licence.

This has been talked about for what, 6 weeks, and only now is anyone saying that he doesn\’t have a banking licence?

More to the point, would he actually get one? Depends perhaps on how much weight the FSA puts on the various reports about him in Private Eye over the years. I\’m trying to remember, haven\’t they accused him of asset shuffling at times?

I Beg Your Pardon?

Women must stop admiring men who drive sports cars if they want to join the fight against global warming, the Government\’s chief scientist has urged.

The solution to climate change is that woomen should stop admiring alpha males?

You\’ve got a few hundred thousand yearsof evolution working against you there you know Sir David.

Worth a Giggle


These are South Africa\’s dispossessed, representatives of the millions of poor blacks who feel they have been left behind by President Thabo Mbeki\’s free-market economic policies.

What free market economic policies? A minimum wage that is vastly above productivity levels, meaning that 40% of the population is unemployed? The continuation of apartheid, in that race determines who is allowed to own assets? If only there were in fact a few more free market policies in South Africa.

Yes, it\’s Bribery

And money well spent from what I can see:

The unwanted foreigners, who had no legal right to remain, were given free flights, handed £1,000 in cash at the airport, then paid a further £3,000 to start enterprises in their homelands.

More than 23,000 migrants have taken advantage of the scheme. Their UK-funded businesses range from market stalls to hotels and clothes factories, in countries as far-flung as South Africa, China and Colombia.

Ministers say that paying failed asylum seekers to leave is cheaper than forcibly deporting them, saving money for taxpayers. However, the Tories last night condemned the payouts as "bribes".

It costs less (£4k to £11k) to set people up in a market stall or some such in their destination than it does to forcibly remove them from here. So on a pragmatic basis it makes sense. And, of course, we\’ve also created 23,000 (whether they\’re all still going is another matter) small businesses across the world.

The Rationing Service

Nice to see NICE being called what it actually is:

A life-saving treatment will be denied to tens of thousands of victims of Britain\’s most common male cancer after a U-turn by the NHS rationing body.

Prostate cancer treatment, by comparison with any of the female cancers (ovarian, breast etc) is already vastly underfunded.

The groundbreaking ultrasound therapy has been shown to kill nine out of 10 prostate tumours, and five years after treatment, 80 per cent of patients show no sign of the cancer recurring.

Compared with surgery or conventional radiotherapy treatment, it is not invasive and is far less likely to lead to devastating side effects such as impotence or incontinence.

But it costs £13,000 per treatment, not £4k or £5k.

You get what you\’re given in a Stalinist system, not what you might want nor what might actually be good for you.

Economics Bleg

Anyone with access to JSTOR want to send me a copy of this paper?

The Economic Theory of a Common-Property Resource: The Fishery;2-L

Update: OK, got a copy, thanks Noel!


Being Vile About the Sutton Trust Report

So we had the Sutton Trust report.

Parental background continues to exert a very significant influence on the academic
progress of children:
o Those from the poorest fifth of households but in the brightest group at age three
drop from the 88th percentile on cognitive tests at age three to the 65th percentile
at age five. Those from the richest households who are least able at age three
move up from the 15th percentile to the 45th percentile by age five.
o If this trend were to continue, the children from affluent backgrounds who are
doing poorly at age three would be likely to overtake the poorer but initially bright
children in test scores by age seven.
o Inequalities in degree acquisition meanwhile persist across different income
groups. While 44 per cent of young people from the richest 20 per cent of
households acquired a degree in 2002, only 10 per cent from the poorest 20 per
cent of households did so.

But we\’ve also got this:

The problem with this famous Eyferth study, which formed the backbone of Flynn\’s Race, IQ, and Jensen, is that it was a study of children. So? After Flynn wrote this book, behavioral geneticists gradually made the amazing discovery that the heritability of IQ (and many other traits) sharply rises as children grow up, while family effects on IQ fade out.

Now I have no idea whether that last is in fact true, but if it is it provides us with a way of interpreting the Sutton Trust\’s results. A way that will be most un politically correct. Children of the poor do badly in the educational system because they are dim. That dimness being a genetic problem, one which becomes apparent as they age.

It is, in fact, the exact opposite of the Trust\’s thrust. It isn\’t that a bad environment hampers the children of the poor, it\’s that we only find out about their dimness as they grow older.

No, I don\’t think I like that conclusion either but what if it is actually true?

What if, say, the educational mobility of the 50s through 70s was a one off event? That there were those with the brains but not the opportunity to rise, that once the opportunity arose they did in fact rise but that there\’s no more such to come?

All depends rather on the heritability of IQ I guess and that\’s something that creates a firestorm whenever it\’s mentioned.

As I say, I\’m not sure I like that conclusion but I\’m absolutely certain that it will enrage all of the right people.

Solving Homelessness

Well, yes, I see the point.

In St Louis, Missouri, they went one step farther. Abandoning the usual approach to rough sleepers, where permanent housing is seen as the goal of rehabilitation, the city authorities decided to make housing the first step on the journey back to normality, not the last. They simply rented some apartments, approached their hardest cases, gave them the keys to their own free homes, and showed them how to get there. No strings, no process, no hassle. It worked. The toughest of vagrants started coming inside.

Of course it isn\’t quite that simple. With the litany of problems, physical and mental, that assail the majority of rough sleepers, huge amounts of support are needed to maintain a life inside. But how much better and cheaper to support and manage their needs indoors than out. And boy, do we have the skills to do that.

Over the past ten years, local authorities, charities and church groups have become masters at keeping people indoors once they get there, but it\’s getting the last few through the door that is the problem.

The logjam could be broken and the warring factions reunited by doing exactly what the Americans are doing: giving away homes free to chronic rough sleepers, and then working to keep them indoors.

Are you spluttering “Just give them a flat?! The same flat I have to work all week to pay for? Are you mad?!”?

If the moral argument that we have a duty to the unfortunate doesn\’t sway you, then the economics might. In Britain, though, the maths is hard to do. Government direct spending on rough sleepers is hidden within general housing grants and we have absolutely no idea what burden this small, troubled group places upon the NHS. Throw in local authority spending, and the budgets of the many homeless charities, and my rough estimate puts the number at anything up to £30,000 a year for each rough sleeper: enough to rent a one-bed flat in Chelsea and pay the minimum full-time wage, and have change left over.

Given that we are indeed talking about a hard core of a few hundred, perhaps a thousand or two, across the country, simply renting a flat for them and handing over the keys could well be a cheaper option than the current system. But what happens then? What happens when people find out that all you\’ve got to do to get a free flat is to go and sleep rough for a bit? (The definition of "a bit" being absolutely crucial.)

For people do respond to incentives. I\’m not sure that I\’d do it in the winter but I  can imagine myself in younger years, perhaps over the summer break from uni or something, sleeping rough for a few weeks in order to get a free flat. And if I can imagine myself doing that, me from a background of some privilege, how many other people would take that, arguably, entirely rational decision?

Blithering Idiots

The proud motto of northern Europe’s crack rapid-reaction force is ad omnia paratus. Prepared for everything, everywhere. But the heraldic lion above the Latin tag now sends a less plucky message – he has just been digitally emasculated and, though technically still a lion rampant, he does not seem to be ready for anything, anywhere.

The change was implemented after a group of women Swedish soldiers protested that they could not identify with such an ostentatiously male lion on their army crest. A complaint of sex discrimination was then lodged with the European Court of Justice.

“We were forced to cut the lion’s willy off with the aid of a computer,” Christian Braunstein, from the Tradition Commission of the Swedish Army, said.

Now the Nordic Battlegroup, a force of 2,400 soldiers, is looking deeply embarrassed. For sceptics who already consider the Nordic Battlegroup to be something of an oxymoron – it is led by the Swedes, who were last in battle in 1809 – the operation on the lion is not an auspicious omen.

“A castrated lion – the perfect symbol for European defence policy,” an American military blogger sneered.

They seem not to have noted that said lion still has a mane.

Silly, Silly Idea

What are these people thinking of?

A plan to end the BBC’s sole claim on the £3.2 billion licence fee and parcel it out to other broadcasters is being considered by David Cameron, The Times has learnt.

I\’m told that this is the sytem here in Portugal. You don\’t buy a licence, there\’s a tax on your electricity bill. That tax is then apportionedto hte various broadcasters based upon a mixture of audience size and lobbying ability.

Jeremy Hunt, the Shadow Culture Secretary, said that in future the BBC might not be the sole recipient of the licence fee. “That’s one option because we want to make sure we aren’t exclusively dependent on the BBC for high-quality television. We want choice for consumers, and the BBC is not the only silo of good-quality television.”

Good lord, and this man is in the Tory party? "High-quality" something can only be provided by handouts from the taxation system? That would be why Eaton Square is such a slum as compared to Tower Hamlets then?

There\’s actually a very strong argument that rather than subsidizing the BBC (or any other broadcasters) we should be taxing them. They use a scarce resource, spectrum, and they don\’t pay for it (the ITV channels do, in a minor way). They should be forced to pay for it, in the same way that the 3G telecoms companies were.

Something of a problem though given that we don\’t in fact have an economically literate political party in the UK.

Those Computer Discs

This fairly boggles the mind:

Junior civil servants dealing with the records of 25 million child benefit claimants were not given the official instructions on how to share the data with the rest of Whitehall, the Guardian has learned.

A manual which laid down strict rules on how Revenue & Customs should safeguard the information was not widely distributed because it was thought to contain too much sensitive information to be handed out to 90,000 civil servants. Instead, only a few senior civil servants had access.

The data itself is widely available: the information on how you should treat the data is secret?

What can you do with that sort of logic except giggle?

The Booze Crisis

I like this:

The connection, such as it is, between the Friday night alcopopper, the man with a lunchtime thirst, and the knuckling-down-for-the-long-haul alcoholic is to do with the hard-to-define relationship between habit and dependency.

This is a relationship that, it seems to me, is only minimally – if at all – the product of licensing laws, or the price of alcohol, or television advertisements. At one end of it is culture and, at the other, it is about chemistry.

Policing these lies a little outside the remit of the state, and a long way outside its competence.


He of the idea that allowing the citizenry into the ivory towers of the journalistic profession (look, it\’s a trade, alright?) is a very bad idea indeed.

Supporters of "citizen journalism" argue it provides independent, accurate, reliable information that the traditional media don\’t provide. While it has its place, the reality is it really isn\’t journalism at all, and it opens up information flow to the strong probability of fraud and abuse. The news industry should find some way to monitor and regulate this new trend.

Mmmmmm, and what does this ex-journo now associate professor think should happen?

Journalism schools such as mine at the University of Georgia should create mini-courses to certify citizen journalists in proper ethics and procedures, much as volunteer teachers, paramedics and sheriff\’s auxiliaries are trained and certified.

Why, there should be more work and income for ex-journos now working as associate professors. Remarkable that, isn\’t it?

And what might be the sort of thing that would be taught in such courses?

There are commonly accepted ethical principals — two source confirmation of controversial information or the balanced reporting of both sides of a story, for example, but adhering to the principals is voluntary.

Clearly not the use of language: you mean principles you self-serving, rent-seeking Stalinist fuckwit. Adhering to the principals is fixing your lips firmly upon the editor\’s fundament which might indeed be a useful career move but it\’s not normally regarded as part of ethical principles.


Clive Crook on Oil

Once nearly everyone is convinced that the rise in prices has some real economic foundation after all, and not before, the whole thing goes pop. The pattern repeats over and over. A parallel suggests itself. When even the people who were worried about $40 oil have stopped worrying about $100 oil, it may be time to panic.

OK, accept the logic there. But the implication of it might be a little different. Instead of it meaning that $100 oil will in fact be a problem, doesn\’t it mean that, given that everyone does now say that there are real economic foundations to the high price of oil, that said price is about to collapse?

We are, after all, rumoured to be about to enter a global recession…..

Sauce for Goose and Gander

The great chocolate teacake tax case. The latest round rests upon this:

But because this clause was applied differently to traders owing the Treasury money than to people owed money – contrary to EU rules on equal treatment – it could not be invoked in the case of M&S.

Now that, I submit, is an interesting little law. If we fuck up in payments to the taxman then we can be punished: it would appear that if the taxman now fucks up, they should be punished.

Maria McCaffery

Sigh, spotted this insane idea again in a piece about wind farms.

And 20 years of wind projects would give Britain a tremendous opportunity for more jobs, manufacturing and investment.

This is a cost, not a benefit, of such schemes.

We lose all of the other things that such manufacturing capacity, such investment and such labour could have been making for us if we weren\’t making windmills.

It is possible that it is still a good idea to be making windmills of course, possible that it\’s a bad idea, but when we try to make up our minds about it we need to put the costs on the right side of the balance. Jobs and investments are costs, not benefits.

Polly on Civil Liberties

The poor dear. She gets very confused here, very confused.

But the Porter view turns the state into public enemy number one. That is the traditional rightwing view, but many on the left are buying into this creed of individualism against the collective. The left can\’t resist also being victims: oh, to be arrested for a cause! Labour has played into their hands with cavalier curtailments of civil liberties for illusory political gains. But the left should beware the old rightwing wolf dressed in civil liberties sheep\’s clothing that pursues individual freedoms for the powerful at the expense of collective freedoms for all.

This is the same mindset that sees taxes as an infringement of liberty and an Englishmen\’s property as his inalienable untaxed castle to hand down, untaxed, to his children. It is the mindset in which the right to choose "personalised" services trumps everyone else\’s fair chance for best schools and hospitals. Liberty and equality will always rub along together awkwardly. But social democrats should guard against the individualistic my-rights culture of our times that simply ignores the rights of those whose needs are most urgent, in favour of often relatively frivolous paranoia about an overmighty state.

The positive rights which she argues for, well, OK, let\’s argue for or against such positive rights. But there is no conflict here between having or not those positive rights and the having or not of the negative rights. They\’re entirely different questions. My right to silence on questioning, to a jury trial, to the presumption of innocence, what have these to do with the treatment of asylum seekers, or the method of delivery of state services? Nothing, nothhng at all, and to claim that either concentration upon one reduces the efforts on the other, or that advance on one balances degradation on the other is nonsense.

But the phrase that really chokes going down is "frivolous paranoia about an overmighty state."

The one thing the 20 th century really ought to have taught us is that paranoia about an overmighty state simply isn\’t frivolous. It should be the default position for us all.