Letters in The Times

I make something of a prediction. One that is obviously true, also one that everyone is going to ignore:

EMPLOYERS AND THE ETHNIC PAY GAP
Sir, Further to your report “Employers must reveal ethnic pay gap of staff” (Oct 12), Sir John Parker’s independent review into the ethnic diversity of UK boards found that just 1 per cent of the directors of our top companies are black Britons. The leadership of our professions and government looks little better. Not only are we ignoring the potential of many of our people, the face that we show the world is lamentably redolent of a bygone era for which many of our hoped-for post-Brexit markets in Asia, Africa and the Americas feel no nostalgia.

The government’s proposal for ethnic pay reporting stands a good chance of illuminating this waste of talent and of nudging organisations, both private and public, in the right direction. But it is vital that such reporting is mandatory, otherwise the prime minister’s words will amount to nothing more than a pointless wish list. Worse, it would be a travesty if companies that voluntarily published their data were to find themselves pilloried while other, less scrupulous organisations skulked in the shadows.

Transparency works, but only if everyone is required to be equally open.
Trevor Phillips
Chairman, Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2006–12

Sir, Theresa May’s idea that all employers should publish their ethnic pay gap is going to be expensive and misleading. Expensive because such statistics cost to collect and collate, misleading because the age structure of the population differs by formally defined race. From the 2011 census, the whole population median age was 39, that of the white population 41, Asian, black and other, 30, 30 and 29 respectively, and mixed 18. Pay rises with age, as promotions to better-paid positions are earned through experience.

Populations with higher median ages have higher median wages therefore. No one will pay attention to this simple truth when the figures are announced — thus misleading us all. Given the age structure of the varied populations, ethnic minorities should have lower median pay than whites. This won’t be the reaction to the finding of an ethnic pay gap, though, will it?
Tim Worstall
Senior fellow, Adam Smith Institute

And a decade really is quite a long time in a career and pay structure, isn’t it?

Elsewhere

So it is with fascism, which is rather more than spiffy uniforms and being beastly to everyone not of the Volk. There’s a specific set of economic policies which go along with it, followed by all who themselves claimed to be fascist. From Mussolini through Salazar and Franco to, yes, Hitler and on to such people as Stroessner in Paraguay. Uniforms and beastliness, certainly, but also an insistence that it is the national that matters, the point that an economy should, as far as is possible, be entirely self-supporting. What can be made at home should be so, and trade across borders should be kept to a minimum.

Further, government shouldn’t take over private sector business (that’s state socialism) but should most certainly direct, in detail — define what wages should be, profit margins, who makes what and even how.

An important point that people seem to be missing

So it will be with larger applications. The very point is that they note and act upon patterns – ones that we can’t see, that we don’t know why are happening. Just as with markets – we might not know why the price of apples has risen, but we’re all getting the information that they have and are acting according to that incentive. The desire to audit all algorithms is missing the very point of having them at all.

AI has to be based on real-world information flowing in. For any result to be useful, the system must operate on the same rules as the real world, imperfections and all, and the very point of our doing all of this is to do what we ourselves cannot.

Any attempts to insist on full audits, moral compliance and preferred data aren’t just going to fail – they’re missing the entire point of the exercise.

Maduro’s latest mistake

They’ve seized a printing plant. Something we might even – if we thought like fools that is – think might be useful in a country with a 1,000,000 percent inflation rate. But then there’s the mistake, isn’t it?

Someone really needs to tell Nicolas Maduro that a paper bag printing plant is different from a bank note printing plant. On such misunderstandings is the ruination of a nation built.

Not very politically correct these days

There is also one more point about South Africa, one that’s terribly impolite to mention these days, and someone can even be accused of racism for even thinking about it. The Bantu (that’s a technical term applying to the culture) didn’t actually reach the area south and west of the Fish River in South Africa before the Dutch and English (i.e., the whites) arrived. The area simply didn’t work for the Bantu agricultural basket of technologies. It needed wheat and other European crops before it could be farmed. The inhabitants before that were the Khoi San and the like, just the same people who were displaced by the Bantu Expansion out of West Africa in the previous millennium.

To put it crudely and politically incorrectly, within recorded history everyone there other than the Bushmen is a recent colonialist, white and black together. Quite why we should destroy an economy to benefit one group of such incomers over another isn’t well explained by anybody.

Quite obviously nuts

Yes, yes, of course this is paranoia. The British left could never be that organised, could they? And yet, and yet, there does seem to be an awful lot of thrashing around in search of a justification for The Elect to be bringing up all the children in the country from the very earliest age that it’s possible to influence their beliefs.

Who knows, perhaps the nursery songs to teach them interesting words will feature Pavel Morozov? Pavlika, Pavlika, ya ya could go along nicely to that Kate Bush tune, no?

Elsewhere

On Swiss bank accounts:

Another way to put this is that in an economy not really going anywhere, those who do make something from it have a very strong temptation to extract their gains. But when we’ve got an economy transforming and growing as fast as any has ever done the desire runs the other way.

Not to take money out but to invest and reinvest in that great opportunity. That is, the greatest disincentive to offshoring money out of Bangladesh is the economic growth rate inside Bangladesh.

As ever in matters economic we’ve more than one thing going on. We can state with absolute certainty that all of them are. Our difficulty is in knowing quite how much of each. My preference, prejudice if your prefer, would be to say that it’s the money to be made at home lowering the amount being sent offshore as the greater influence. Feel free to disagree with that as you wish. I do though insist that this is part of it.

Elsewhere

If you or I find ourselves a bit short of money this month then we might skip a utility bill to make it up next month, perhaps dine out a little less, move to a cheaper brand of whatever. The absolutely poor will, if they have less or no money as a result of some calamity, not eat this month. They need that ability to smooth income over time, so as to smooth consumption, even more than we do.

And such smoothing requires being able to save in the relative good times — say at harvest when there is plenty of daily paid work to be had — to cover the hungry weeks.

We can argue about whether the saving ability is more important than the borrowing. But our experience of the use to which people put M-Pesa and the various banking functions within it tells us that saving is considered more important by the poor themselves.

Not for pensions, not for the long term, but just to be able to move money, thus consumption, around in time a few weeks or months and to do so safely. In a manner where putting banknotes underneath the sleeping mat doesn’t manage because thieves and husbands thinking about a drink.

Thus that’s the other thing that we want to add into out anti-beggary campaign. We need the right scale, the right cost, and methods of being able to save. It might just be a few hundred taka that are put aside to cover the food bill if the work dries up, something which a banking system with head offices in Dhaka — glass atriums and air conditioning and all — is never going to efficiently provide.

But that’s what we see the poor want, they knowing best what they need. So, presumably, we should make sure they get it. A system which allows the poor to save is even more important than one which allows them to borrow to invest.

Anyone actually know these people?

Numtots that is? Would be interesting to hear their reaction:

Jacob’s defining fight being against that extensive and intensive urban planning of Robert Moses. Sure, he was in favour of cars and expressways, she wasn’t. But it wasn’t because she was against cars and expressways, it was because she was against extensive and intensive urban planning. Liveable cities are organic constructions, they’re emergent from the repeated interactions of people over time. That is, they’re not planned.

Numtots – using the wrong justification for an impossible policy disagreeing with what we know about human nature. Well, yes, suppose that’s why the teenagers are there, not the adults.

Yet more elsewhere

Congratulations Mr. Brokenshire, you’ve just killed every buy-to-let mortgage. of which there were 1.8 million even back in 2015. It’s a standard clause in every single one of those mortgages that they be rented out on a six or 12-month shorthold assured tenancy. The reason being that in the event of default the bank or building society understandably wants to be able to sell the place without having to deal with an immovable sitting tenant.

My thanks to a commenter here for that point about BTL mortgages. I could look up which one but the better half insists I do shopping right now.

I’ve also made this point before

We have a problem with our electronic waste (e-waste) and the best description of that problem is that we’ve let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

The current zeitgeist insists that we should have a circular economy and that everything should be recycled, but this is the error. Some things most certainly should be recycled, others reused, but there should also be leakage in the system – virgin materials that are used once, then dumped. It is only by moving to such a system that we’ll be able to solve our current problems.

Elsewhere

It’s a point I’ve made often enough:

One of the regular complaints about the effect of Walmart on small town America has been that it kills jobs when its stores turn up. Mom-and-pop retailers close down, and Walmart itself requires fewer workers than the smaller joints it replaces. This is entirely true, and it’s also entirely fine, even desirable and admirable. The aim, point, and process of economic advance is to kill jobs— to get the task done with the use of less human labor.

India is just starting to see protests against that first stage of the same process, which is unfolding as Walmart swallows Flipkart, a locally grown cross between Amazon and e-Bay. The people protesting are the millions of independent traders who currently make up India’s retail landscape. They’re entirely justified in protesting as a larger and more efficient online behemoth will indeed put many of them out of business and kill off their jobs and employment.

You’ll not believe this

The clim that periods cost the average British woman £500 a year. The calculation is as follows:

Next, respondents were asked to think of the average amount of money they spend each month on different areas relating to their period, with the totals emerging as follows:

· Pads/tampons/panty-liners/menstrual cups – £13

· New underwear (due to spillages) -£8

· Pain relief – £4.50

· Chocolate/sweets/crisps – £8.50

· Other (magazines/toiletries/DVDs etc.) – £7

Taking these monthly estimates into account, researchers were able to work out that the average period costs £492 annually.

Sigh.

Elsewhere

Again, America is not perfect and it’s undoubtedly true that some women have been harmed, harassed, and hassled by some men. It is not true that this rises to anything like the level of oppression suffered by other women elsewhere. To assert so is not just a delusion, it is ridiculous.

Consider this: Current debates over female reproductive rights in the U.S. seem to be concentrating upon whether employers must righteously pay for contraception, whether justice requires taxpayer funding of abortion infrastructure (even if not the act itself). Significant parts of the world are still pondering whether forced female genital mutilation is both just and, or only, righteous. To percieve those as equal violations of women’s rights is an obscenity.

Elsewhere and possibly even interestingly

The basic background of the Private Finance Initiative is that if some bugger has their own money at risk then we’ve got at least some bugger interested in making sure that the project happens to time, to spec and on or even under budget. All that about the debt not being on the national debt is little more than a convenience. The real point is that with any project – the larger the project the more this is so – we want someone with skin in the game. The function of those private companies and builders and all that is to provide this. Some outside capital, that capital being at risk. The first buffer against the inevitable screw ups. There’s someone going to lose money if those walls don’t go up. Roughly straight, too.

This is also the argument against anything being entirely debt funded. There’s no one there with their own cash at risk. And of course it’s the argument against anything entirely taxpayer – say, the Humber Bridge – funded. No one does end up meat shopping in the cat food aisle if the whole thing is a Mongolian Clusterhuddle. Experience, hard won and centuries long experience, tells us that this does not always work – Channel Tunnel, *cough* *cough* – but it is the only thing we’ve got that we know of which stops it not working every time.

Elsewhere elsewhere

The point of having a market economy is that prices are not centrally set

The chief of the tax administration is trying to set prices for banks. This is not a clever way of running a banking system.

Both the collection of taxes, and a functioning and profitable banking system are necessary for the economy to thrive, but we shouldn’t be mixing and matching the two sets of expertise. For what does the taxman know about the correct pricing structure or banking?

Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan made the insistence at a news conference with the MCCI. His point being that corporate taxation breaks have recently been introduced. Those banks which charge excessive interest on loans to business won’t get them. So he says at least, or perhaps urges.

Elsewhere

For the early years of Amazon’s existence it was just fine with the idea – and the law – that it didn’t have to collect sales taxes. Not that it worked quite like that, but the general outcome was roughly that. As Amazon grew larger its view shifted, to where it does collect sales taxes for each state that imposes one. It’s also supported the idea that everyone else should do so as well – odd that, isn’t it?

You’ll recognise this argument from elsewhere

For, as I said earlier, a house costs in Seattle just what a house costs anywhere. It’s not even the price of land which drives it up in that locality. It’s the permission to put a house on a piece of land which does. Allow more housing on that set amount of land, and the price of each piece of housing will fall. This isn’t rocket science, just basic economics: Increase supply, and prices fall. And again, it’s permits to build which are in short supply, so issue more permits and the price will fall.

My preferred solution is to simply abolish zoning altogether. You own a piece of land? Build as you wish upon it. That would solve one of our modern world problems by having less government. Indeed, simply stop government from doing something (rationing house-building), and the price of housing will fall.

Even if that’s a bit radical for you, it is still true the Seattle City Council is causing the problem. Thus it’s one the Seattle City Council can solve entirely. Allow people to build more dense housing in Seattle, and the price of housing in Seattle will fall. That’s what they say is their goal, anyway, so why don’t they do it then?

Saying it all again

There may well be a limited number of ways to keep saying the same thing but I’ve not quite found that limit yet:

So, free trade in the G-7 is a great idea. And the benefits of trade go to the importers. So, therefore, it’s possible to gain all the benefits of that free trade even if we’re the only people in the G-7 doing it. If the U.S. is the only country that abolishes tariffs and barriers, then the U.S. is the place (more accurately, Americans are the people) benefiting from that free trade. Which means that it doesn’t matter what everyone else does. Unilateral free trade is something we can do without anyone else’s agreement and it also makes us richer. So, obviously, we should do it.

This has in fact already been tried. Friedrich Engels (Karl Marx’s buddy) noted that the Industrial Revolution hadn’t benefited the British working classes much. So much that the way in which wages didn’t rise very much for the first hundred years of that industrialization is called the “Engels Pause.” All the money went to the capitalists — the 1 percent, the landlords, the rich bastards. Then in 1846, Britain declared unilateral free trade. No tariffs, no barriers, on anything. Real wages started their rise, the working class — you, me, and Joe Sixpack today — were the people who made out like bandits from it. It’s also you, me, and Joe Sixpack that the economy ought to be run for.