No, It Wasn\’t Me

I hear a rumour that after the ASI do on Wednesday that someone or other had their breakfast bought by Plod.

I also hear that it was rumoured to be myself, as I didn\’t blog that day.

Nice story, except I was on a train to Exeter in the morning and a flight to Portugal in the afternoon, which is why I didn\’t blog.

But who is it who can tell us what Her Majesty provides for breakfast?

I\’m All of a Flutter

My word, Polly T does rather lay into the tax system today. And, umm, quite rightly too (not what you expected to read here, did you?).

Those at the very bottom pay a far higher marginal tax rate than those at the top, with a bungled benefit system imposing a 70% tax loss for every extra pound they earn.

Indeed, it\’s the overlap of the tax and benefit systems. Solvable in a number of ways: lower benefits perhaps (perhaps not a good idea), greater tapering (very expensive), no means testing of benefits (hugely expensive but possibly the way to go with a citizens\’ basic income) but te simplest i simply to take the poor out of the tax system altogether.

He could take all 10p payers out of tax altogether, a move that would cost £7bn and cut everyone\’s tax a bit, with the lowest-paid gaining most.

Of course, I and other vicious right wingers like the Adam Smith Inst would go further. Let\’s really bang that tax free allowance up to £12 k or £14 k, really take the working poor entirely out of the income tax system.

Indeed they are right as secret fiscal drag, failing to raise thresholds, has quietly brought more people into higher tax brackets – but not the richest, whose earnings rose fastest; no new tax band for them.

We\’ve been muttering about fiscal drag for a long time: as wages generally rise faster than other prices, tax bands should go up faster than the general level of prices. Something whih has deliberately not been done, pulling people into those higher tax bands indeed. We could though use this very same argument about raising the IHT limits…..given the rise in house prices.

Now the Fabian Society proposes ways to start winning back the argument. It is too late, the society thinks, to win back IHT. It suggests a capital receipts tax used in other countries, where recipients of gifts are taxed over a lifetime instead of estates after death: everyone could receive up to £80,000 tax free, with tax rising gradually until £260,000, and everything above taxed at 40%.

Not a bad idea: tax the recipients, not the estate.

How odd that, on personal allowances at least, Polly is now onside with the Adam Smith Institute.

Tee Hee.

Tony Juniper:

More recently still, however, and based on an analysis of conditions in the past derived from ocean bed sediments and ice cores, leading climatologists led by NASA\’s Jim Hansen have suggested that even 350 ppm might dangerous.


While the climate change sceptics and deniers comprise an ever-dwindling band, they are still undermining our last chance to deal with the climate change emergency. I\’m sure they\’ll be here again today, peddling the junk science of special interests and the ill-conceived, unreferenced and non-peer reviewed tripe loaded onto the websites from which they seek solace from the reality of global warming.

You are, of course, aware that the Jim Hansen paper is not peer reviewed? That it is a "pre-paper"? Further, that it is making very contentious (code for "no one else as yet agrees") points about climate sensitivity? Ones which very few indeed take seriously as yet?


Greenland Slipping into the Sea

Or rather the ice upon it:

But her team also found that, when considered over the whole year, the surface meltwater was responsible for only a few per cent of the movement of the glaciers that they monitored. Even at its peak, it appeared to contribute only 15%, and often less, to the annual movement of the outlet glaciers at the edge of Greenland.

"Considered together, the new findings indicate that while surface melt plays a substantial role in ice sheet dynamics, it may not produce large instabilities leading to sea level rise," says Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington. "There are still other mechanisms that are contributing to the current ice loss and likely will increase this loss as climate warms."

"To influence flow, you have to change the conditions underneath the ice sheet, because what\’s going on beneath the ice dictates how quickly the ice is flowing," said Das. "If the ice sheet is frozen to the bedrock or has very little water available, then it will flow much more slowly than if it has a lubricating and pressurised layer of water underneath to reduce friction … It\’s hard to envision how a trickle or a pool of meltwater from the surface could cut through thick, cold ice all the way to the bed. For that reason, there has been a debate in the scientific community as to whether such processes could exist, even though some theoretical work has hypothesised this for decades."

So we\’re back to the idea that it will melt, but not the catastrophic and immediate slipping of all the ice into the ocean. Back, in fact, to the 2500, 2700 AD timescale for that sea level rise which we think will occur.

Whatever discount rate you use (and whatever growth rate to the economy you apply) it\’s really rather difficult to construct a case that we should do something now to prevent that happening then.

For example, using the 3% or so global growth rate, in 2500 those people extant then will be more than 2 million times richer than us. At 2%, 17,000 times richer.

They can deal with it themselves.

Intelligent Life

Well, yes, it would be interesting to find it here first….

But this calculation isn\’t as bleak as you might think:

The chances of finding intelligent alien beings on other Earth-like planets are tiny new research has concluded.

The likelihood were are not alone and intelligent life has evolved is just 0.01 per cent on each suitable planet according to calculations by one scientist.

Assume that his calculations are correct: does that mean the possibility of intelligent life out there is low? It really rather depends upon how many planets there are out there….and with billions of stars, I\’d say that the probability is really rather close to unity.

That is, the probability on any one planet is low, but the presumed number of planets makes it almost a certainty. After all, we\’re here, so we know that it can happen, don\’t we?


This Will Be Fun

Tesco is to test putting "carbon labels" on its own-brand products next month in a move to enable consumers to choose products which are less damaging to the environment.

The retailer will put carbon-count labels on varieties of orange juice, potatoes, energy-efficient light bulbs and washing detergent, stating the quantity in grammes of CO2 equivalent put into the atmosphere by their manufacture and distribution.

As the scheme expands we might see some very angry people. Imagine what will happen when Spanish tomatoes, or New Zealand lamb, are marked as having lower footprints than domestically produced equivalents. Going to make those food miles people look pretty stupid, isn\’t it?



Yet wherever you live, there is no way back from crack, the ultimate dead-end drug. You either stop taking it, or you die.

Where I live, out here in the real world, stopping taking crack is known as a way back.

Vitamins are bad for you

No, really:

Popular vitamin supplements taken by millions of people in the hope of improving their health may do no good and could increase the risk of a premature death, researchers report today.

So, Linus Pauling was wrong then.

But Patrick Holford, a nutritionist who has formulated supplements for the company Biocare, said: "Antioxidants are not meant to be magic bullets and should not be expected to undo a lifetime of unhealthy habits.

"When used properly, in combination with a healthy diet full of fruit and vegetables, getting plenty of exercise and not smoking, antioxidant supplements can play an important role in maintaining and promoting overall health."

Yes Patrick darling, but if you\’re doing all of those things then antioxidants are hardly necessary, are they? But then sales would suffer, would they not?


Typically French


France has launched a political campaign to restore food protectionism at the heart of Europe’s agriculture policy as food riots erupt in poor countries and global leaders give warning of the dire consequences of soaring grain prices.

High prices mean that subsidies are necessary: just as low prices once meant that subsidies were necessary.

With deft political timing, the French Agriculture Minister blamed economic liberalism and “too much trust in the free market” for the soaring cost of food.

He said: “We must not leave the vital issue of feeding people to the mercy of market laws and international speculation.”

Oh please, do fuck off.

Can we leave yet?

Pigs in Bath


A herd of more than 60 pig sculptures, above, appeared yesterday as part of a public art project. The King Bladud’s Pigs in Bath art initiative will eventually lead to 100 of the animals scattered across the city. The white, life-sized sculptures will be painted and decorated on behalf of different communities and businesses across the region. Residents hope that the project will boost awareness of a 3,000-year-old legend, which tells how King Bladud founded Bath after discovering the healing powers of its hot spring waters while walking with his swine.

How long before those are adorning student flats across the City?

Good Lord!

Polly\’s got it!

It\’s a motherhood gap, not a gender pay gap!

The Office for National Statistics reported yesterday that women in their 40s earn 20% less per hour than their male counterparts. This is the motherhood penalty – and the more children a woman has, the wider the gap. Young women start out earning almost the same, deluded by beating boys at exams. Motherhood knocks most out of the running.

Hurrah! Facts and logic come into play!

Only 24% of parliamentary seats are occupied by women, 20% in the UK (but celebrate Spain\’s new 50% female cabinet); 90% of top EU company boards are men. Women dominate primary school teaching, men run universities.

Mmmhm, hmm. The motherhood gap will explain much of that: taking a few years out of the workforce does make it more difficult to reach the top of the greasy pole, this is true.

The UK has the largest pay gap – no surprise – both cause and effect of Britain\’s shameful status as the EU\’s most unequal country.

Not sure that this is true. Of course, it depends upon how you actually measure it (some places use monthly pay, some hourly etc) but according to this report it isn\’t in fact true.

Womens\’ wages as a percentage of mens\’ is, on average, 78.6% across the EU economies (old EU that is). The UK is at 82%, exactly the same as Sweden, and thus above average. Germany, Portugal and Austria are the laggards.

For as long as the minimum wage stays below a living wage, woman and children will stay poor.

Raise the minimum wage and women will be unemployed, not just poor.

Where does it all begin? The motherhood penalty starts in pregnancy, when 30,000 women lose their jobs, never mind what the law says.

No, it doesn\’t. It starts before they become pregnant: it starts because they might become pregnant. Pregnancy and the associated maternity leave imposes costs upon employers. They are being entirely rational (and yes, we do need to note that not all individually rational behaviour creates in sum the outcome we would prefer) in offering those who might become pregnant either lower wages or not offering them a job at all. Summed up that means that the motherhood gap starts before pregnancy. It\’s worth noting that those considered unlikely to have children (lesbians in one study) don\’t suffer the pay gap, nor do women who have passed their fertile years without having any (single, never married childless women do not have a pay gap, in fact, they earn fractionally more than their male peers).

The heavy penalty for motherhood in loss of earnings and good jobs keeps women in their place.

In one way Polly\’s right (leave her maunderings about pink and Barbie aside). Yes, the motherhood pay gap is indeed a result of the way in which society is structured. But no, it\’s not to keep women down, nor to oppress or support the patriarchy. It is simply that those who take one, two or three several year breaks from the workforce will be disadvantaged, by their own choice, against those who do not. Further, that possibility of those breaks will mean less investment by employers in training and the development of human capital.

And the expense to employers of those breaks will mean that those who migh take such breaks suffer a certain portion of that disadvantage.

As above, this is all entirely rational and understandable. the incentives are structured this way. To change the behaviour you have to change the incentives.

Like, for example, reduce statutory maternity leave to three months: if you don\’t come back at that point your job is gone. Don\’t like that? OK, put up with the motherhood gap in pay then.

Well, at least we\’ve one cause for celebration. Polly\’s now recognised that it\’s motherhood, not gender discrimination.

Update: Polly writes back! After telling me to get a life (ahem) she points me here. Indeed, the EU stats do show a 30% pay gap for the UK.

However, they seem to be including all private sector employees (actualy, also excluding small companies). So we\’ve got both the gender (or motherhood) pay gap plus the well known one that part timers make less than full timers per hour (of either or any sex). When you\’ve got, as we do in the UK, many more women part timers in the labour force than other countries then this is going to skew results.

So, her figure is correct, but doesn\’t mean all that much.

Why Men Make More Money

It\’s not actually as if this is a surprise, of course:

Money doesn\’t make the world go round: it\’s testosterone. The more that traders have, the richer they\’ll become – up to a point.

John Coates, who used to manage a trading floor at Deutsche Bank on Wall Street but is now at the Judge Business School at Cambridge University, and Professor Joe Herbert, a neuroscientist, set out to study the brains of City traders to discover what makes them tick.

They measured levels of testosterone and cortisol (a stress hormone) in 17 traders at a City of London bank for eight consecutive business days. They found that those traders with higher testosterone levels in the morning were most likely to make money on the day\’s trading. One trader hit a six-day "winning streak" during which he made more than double his daily profit. During that time his testosterone levels went up 74%.

This free market/capitalism thing, it does indeed reward judicious risk taking. And yes indeed, testosterone is what makes men more likely to take risks (judicious or not). Thus we have an economic system which rewards part of the male set up.

It is also, of course, possible to create an economic system which does not reward such risk taking, and thus does not privilege males simply for their hormonal make up. But is the absence of advance (which is the corollary of the absence of risk taking) worth the greater gender equality?


Polling News

There\’s an argument used here in the UK, that not enough people vote. That something should be done to raise the turnout.

"The country has strongly emphasised its belief in democracy and its institutions. More than 80 per cent of citizens voted."

That result would of course please those who worry about such things.

  • Projections showed that Mr Berlusconi\’s coalition won 163 seats in the Senate, compared to 141 seats for Mr Veltroni.
  • In Italy\’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, the count was 332 seats to 215.
  • The perma-tanned billionaire said he was "deeply satisfied" with the result.

Great, so all we need now is for Rupert Murdoch to take out citizenship and run. That\’ll get the voting numbers up then!