The world faces one of those unfathomable mysteries. Any number of charities, campaign fronts and political groupuscules adamantly insist that corporations and the rich are dodging their rightfully due taxes. They propose measures which would lead to that cash being recovered and then comes the mystery. The money that is collected never amounts to a hill of beans compared to the original claims. How and why could that be?

One answer is that all are in this together, the politicians and even the tax collecting bureaucrats are in cahoots with the plutocrats. No, some really do make this argument. A rather more sensible revelation would be that the original claims are so vastly overblown as to be nonsense – that is why no one is ever able to collect the sort of sums alleged to be being hidden away.

The particular trigger for this musing is that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (the U.K.’s version of the Inland Revenue Service) has only been able to collect, following various law and reporting changes, one third of what campaigners insisted would be forthcoming subsequent to those changes. There have been mutterings of a lack of will, insufficient taxmen and resources for them to work with and so on. Again, good sense insists that we look to a different reason. HMRC itself has always said that the tax gap – the difference between what is due and what is paid – is about one third what the campaigners themselves say it is. The gap is one third, collections are one third, really, it is not all that complex an explanation.


There’s no reason at all to ban some consumer choice other than the knowledge that if it were available some would pick it. Given that this is obviously so, we liberals should be telling the progressives to go boil their heads. Really, why are you trying to ban something that people so obviously desire?


Whale oil provided the lighting to read the breakthrough novel of 1870, the story of Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. That was also the year of the foundation of Standard Oil. The result of that foundation is that we didn’t hunt the whales to extinction, but instead turned to kerosene to light the latter part of the 19th century, moving to electricity only in the 20th.

It really isn’t hyperbole to insist that John D. Rockefeller saved the whales by his making mineral oil products so much cheaper than the cetacean-derived equivalent. And that’s really all you need to know to understand Earth Day and what to do about it.

If you’re not a capitalist free-marketeer for Earth Day, then you’re not being serious about the environment, are you? And that would make Gaia sad and Mother Earth cry.


But instead of solutions we know will work, MPs have offered up a reversal of our basic constitutional settlement: that what is ours is ours until and unless we’re compensated for its removal. Telling a bad landlord that he must come up to code is fine. Not allowing her to rent a house out that doesn’t meet code is also fine. Stealing the house ain’t.

We certainly have housing woes; rents are high. One answer is to have government do less by liberating the planning system. The other, apparently, is to reverse the outcome of the English Civil War so that the state once again has monarchical rights over property. How strange that it’s the House of Commons coming down on the wrong side of this.

More elsewhere

Worstall sums up the situation by saying “in mining, there are just two things: dirt and ore. Your back garden contains dirt, because it would cost more to extract the rare earths from it then you would make selling them on. The moment it costs less to extract those rare earths, that dirt becomes ore. But what have the Japanese have found? At the moment, it’s still dirt.”


It’s not a great surprise to find that I differ, as do most economists, with Trump on the benefits of trade and what constitutes winning at it. But to find that the president differs with reality is another thing, and a rather more worrying thing at that.


Unfortunately this gets worse, for the impact of greater regulation and the imposition of higher-than-market-wages on that regulated and formal sector can — indeed will — make it more difficult for people to leave the informal economy and enter the formal one. In this sense, it’s actually better that regulation of terms, conditions, and wages be weak, not strong.

No, not because it’s morally objectionable that people get a fair day’s pay nor that work is safe, but because too strict a set of standards means the vast majority of them are excluded from even the most basic and minimal protections.

Sadly, this is something that near no one in the rich countries understands, including most to all of those who sign petitions and drive the NGOs in their insistences. Which is why they keep insisting upon such damagingly expensive policies for those in the formal employment sector.

Again, this isn’t to say that people don’t deserve good wages and good working conditions. Instead, it’s just to insist that such things come with a cost. And in a poor — which Bangladesh still is, sorry — and improving — which Bangladesh most certainly is and for that, huzzah! — country, the people who suffer are those locked out in the informal sector.

Elsewhere again

We’ve just managed to make the British economy a little more medieval, which really isn’t an improvement. A reasonable and useful reading of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations is to see it as a railing against the guilds and their control of the medieval economy, followed by an insistence that we must instead have a market economy, one with free entry into lines of work and production. Certainly, this discombobulates the producers who find the protections of their economic rents withering away under the force of competition, but then that’s the point.

It’s more than a little odd that in this neoliberal age we seem to be starting to rebuild those protections. But that’s what we’re doing as estate agents become the latest protected occupation. Mini-driving spivs who show you the front room of a “des res” will have to have a professional qualification. This will mean that showing people around front rooms will become a protected occupation, and only those with the appropriate piece of paper will be able to do it.

More elsewhere

One of the great truisms about our world is that the truly stupid ideas arise from people not understanding how the world works. Such is true of this latest idea that Facebook, and by extension companies like Google and so on, should be paying us for our data.

The contention is that this data is valuable and that’s where the mistake is: it ain’t. Certainly the information extracted from that data is valuable. But as anyone with even an ounce of knowledge of the real world should know, data and information are not the same thing.


But then that’s how new tools are always used. The very definition of establishment is those who control the current structures of society. Any monopoly will, as economists insist, eventually be overturned by technological change. It’s not paranoia to insist that the vast majority of the US media was anti-Trump. Heck, most of the Republican Party was.

I used to be a press officer for Ukip and the very idea of leaving the EU was some fringe interest shared only by my fellow “fruitcakes and loonies”. It certainly wasn’t something to be allowed into the polite conversation of the mainstream media, as my working day repeatedly reminded me.

Those with the more conventional views are right to be worried about social media in this political sense, for that’s exactly where the next irruptions against convention are going to come from – precisely because of the manner in which the unconventional faces the gatekeepers.

Got a Myles book for the recent birthday

Which enabled me to do this piece:

Today’s economics lesson comes from Myles na gCopaleen

One of the great comic writers or journalists of the past century might not be thought of as quite the place to find an economics lesson, nevertheless it is so:

{This is the first time a newspaper article was started in brackets. Innovation, you see. The homeric task of creation. Bringing into being a thing hitherto not here, much more exhausting than building pyramids in Egypt.

A letter in The Guardian

Danny Dorling rhetorically asks (Letters, 3 April) whether the Oxford Diocesan School Trust is paying part-timers less per hour than full timers, and if that is the explanation for their large gender pay gap. The answer is obviously yes, something we should expect the professor of human geography at Oxford to know. The gender pay gap being reported currently is the total, unadjusted, one; of all men and women in work and it’s around 18%. The pay gap, unadjusted for any other factor, among full-timers only is 9.6% by the same ONS figures.

That part-timers get lower pay per hour is thus the explanation for some half of that gender pay gap currently being reported, isn’t it? Across the entire economy, it will be higher in those fields and organisations which employ more than the average proportion of part-timers. This is such a well known fact that even those in their ivory towers should grasp it.
Tim Worstall
Senior fellow, Adam Smith Institute

Surprised they published it but the letters page does seem to be still a bit more Manchester than the rest of the paper


There’s a broader point at play here. Think through what is really being said. The poor should be taxed mightily upon the little pleasures they can afford – as George Orwell pointed out, those pleasures being little but most comforting – in order that they might die in manners that those who write The Lancet approve of. Not the way to run the world to my mind.


The background to this tale is The Packhorse in South Stoke, an area, indeed a pub, I know well. It’s an entirely lovely building in a picture postcard village. It’s also an enormous pub in a village of under 500 people. Back in the day it could be, and was, well supported by such a population, being the proper centre of the community and all that (from memory it sold chocolate from behind the bar, for example, because there was no local sweet shop. That as well as scrumpy so vicious that foreigners – those from more than a mile away – would be limited to halves). These days we just don’t drink that way.

The cost of drinking out is now very much higher than doing so at home, we can’t smoke (yes, sorry, the seasoned topers that are the financial lifeblood of a pub did and do tend to smoke) and this particular pub is just that little bit too far away for a wander to it. It requires either a determined walking expedition or a car ride – and we all do that much less now, and rightly, because of concerns over drink driving.


If you don’t know the underlying economics of an issue or subject then it’s going to be easy enough to be confused by what happens surrounding that economic issue or subject. And so it is with the Taka against the US dollar exchange rate.

The rate has been declining over time — good, it should be. That isn’t quite how most think of it but that’s just because most haven’t grasped those little subtleties of what is going on.