Meera Selva

China has been quite rightly criticised for exploiting Africa, buying up mining concessions and primary goods in opaque deals that benefit African leaders but not necessarily their people.

Let\’s just clear that up a little, shall we?

African leaders have been quite rightly criticised for exploiting Africa, selling mining concessions and primary goods in opaque deals that benefit African leaders but not necessarily their people.

There, that\’s better.

Farmers\’ Markets

I am a nasty, nasty man, for I admit that I find these sorts of stories terribly, terribly amusing:

Farmers markets have become so popular – there are estimated to be about 550 across the UK – that there are concerns they are becoming victims of their own success. The argument is that if they get too big they lose what many feel they are all about: an opportunity for small-scale producers to sell goods produced nearby.

Just as the supporters of Farmers\’ Markets insisted, there is indeed a taste for good quality, locally produced food. Excellent, they worked that out and have built a system which provides exactly that. Might not be my cup of tea but so what, if it increases the consumer surplus of others then a damn good thing say I.

But that taste seems to be quite large, so much so that it looks as if it might turn into a real, large, industry. Horrors!

But then, how do they think the supermarkets, against which they see themselves rebelling, got so large in the first place. By, err, supplying what people wanted to buy, wasn\’t it?

Women\’s Corsetry

I know, I know, just the sort of serious subject you expect here on a Monday morning.

The quest for the perfect figure is causing droves of British women to resort to wearing the throwback girdle.

Really?

But its ability to reduce the waist by up to two dress sizes has seen it return.

Hmm, can we turn the truth in advertising people on them? Or is your, at the moment of disrobing, ending up with rather more than you bargained for to be seen as an added bonus rather than deception?

Kylie Minogue apparently donned a bit of extra support under her figure-hugging black dress at the Q Awards last month. Accepting her Q Idol award, she said: "I would like to thank those of you who continue to support me – including my dress!"

Denise Fraser, a buyer for the website Figleaves.com, said: "In the past, shapewear was something that your mother wore.

"But now there is no longer that barrier."

Hmm. Actually, given that Kylie Minogue is now 39 or so, she rather fits the "mother" demographic, doesn\’t she?

 

 

Russian Customs

Well, here\’s a surprise:

Sources say the conflict is as much about financial interests as power: some former KGB figures are said to offer protection to businesses and are involved in money laundering and smuggling.

The fiercest battle is reported to be over control of Russia’s customs organisation.

There is indeed good money to be made by being in charge of it.

The investigation, which uncovered evidence that Tri Kita managers had bribed FSB officers to smuggle in goods without paying duty, led to the dismissal and arrest of several high-ranking FSB figures last year.

We, of course, are far too small to be of interest to such people. But over the past 6-8 months there have been increasing problems in trying to import or export anything. We\’re a little unusual in that we do indeed pay all of the applicable customs duties on our materials, as we have done for over a decade. But we\’re now, even so, being hit with endless delays, samplings and so on. All the prelude to a shakedown in fact. So while we\’re of no interest to the big boys, the littler ones seem to be looking for their slice too.

It\’s actually got so bad that we\’re looking to build a supply chain outside Russia, despite it being the obvious place for us, chock full of both our desired material and the expertise to purify it in the manner we want. It\’s not even, to be truthful, the idea that a slice of the action will be demanded. We can change pricing to deal with that. It\’s the uncertainty that matters: a two month delay in shipping means we lose (as we have done) a customer.

Doesn\’t bode well for the Russian economy as and when the oil price falls, does it?

Political Machinations

Note that there\’s not even a pretense at providing a public interest explanation:

GORDON BROWN is preparing to announce curbs on spending by political parties which will prevent Tory candidates from gaining an advantage in marginal seats.

His first Queen’s speech this week, in which the prime minister will set out his legislative programme for the coming year, will signal a party funding bill to close a legal loophole that has allowed the Conservatives to splurge money on key constituencies in the run-up to the next general election.

Ministers have expressed concern that millions of pounds being provided to Tory candidates by Lord Ashcroft, the former party treasurer and one of the party’s biggest backers, is damaging Labour’s chances in marginal seats.

Just damaging Labour\’s chances is sufficient reason to change the law. Who now would want to deny the truth of public choice economics? That politicians do things which are good for politicians?

More Royal Gay Sex Scandal

Isn\’t this all becoming fascinating?

THE aide at the centre of an alleged blackmail plot against a member of the royal family has claimed he also had a homosexual liaison with the royal’s father and a Tory MP. The claims are made on recordings seized by police.

Given that we all now know who the junior royal is we therefore also know who the father is. And that\’s an allegation I think most unlikely, given the known predeliction of that gentleman for the ladies. And as to who the MP is, well, we\’ve actually got quite a number of out MPs these days, even in the Tory party. The thought that one of other of them might in fact have sex, might indeed have a boyfriend, is hardly shocking now, is it?

On the other hand, bonking both the father and the son does sound like taking this family values thing a little too far.

Or would the accusation be social climbing (although between a Tory MP and a royal aide, hard to tell who would be slumming and who climbing, really)?

Little Willy Hutton

He\’s good for a laugh this morning, that\’s for sure:

Thus the collapse of the American housing market, the explosive growth of American home repossessions and the discovery that \’structured investment vehicles\’ (SIVs), the toxic newfangled financial instruments that own as much as $350bn of valueless mortgages, are not American problems.

"Valueless"? Certainly, it\’s true, that people are having a hard time putting value upon them, which is the cause of our problems, but that\’s not to say that they are valueless, in the sense of worth nothing. Even the most pessimistic forecasts assume that the majority of those loans will continue to be paid, all the way to completion of the mortgage. Of those that will default, there migh be renegotiations, there might be foreclosures, the house then passing into hte ownership of the lender which they then sell again. Sure, there will be losses in that whole process but no one at all thinks that those $350 billion of loans are "valueless" ….except our foremost financial commentator, Little Willy Hutton, of course.

What should have happened, of course, is that when the Bank of England found that it could not find a secret buyer for Northern Rock in the summer, it should have done what it did in the 1974 secondary banking crisis. It should have taken Northern Rock into the Bank of England\’s ownership. Individual depositors and the City institutions alike would have been quickly reassured, and when the crisis passed the bank could have been sold back into the private sector.

But in 2007, the Ridley view of how to run a bank is also the authorities\’ view of how to respond to a crisis. There is a prohibition on even short-term public ownership. In a free-market fundamentalist world, this, like regulation, is regarded as wrong. Instead, the most expensive and riskier route has been taken so that Northern Rock remains part of the problem rather than the solution.

And that is also hilarious. For it doesn\’t mention why the Bank of England didn\’t do something (possibly) sensible like that. Because it is in fact no longer responsible for regulating the exposures of individual banks. Still responsible for the markets as a whole, true, but not the individual banks. That\’s the responsibility of the FSA. And, err, who set up this system of greater (note, greater, not lesser, at least on paper) regulation? Why, that would be Gordon Brown wouldn\’t it?

But of couse no criticism of the Great Man can be allowed to drip from Hutton\’s pen now, can it?

Immigration Controls

I think you\’ll find that this was predicted:

According to Romanians who have worked in Britain, many who exercise their right as EU citizens to enter the country simply disappear into the black economy. Others sidestep the regulations by seeking self-employed status or by securing a contract with a British firm.

Daniela Marinescu, who runs the Phoenix recruitment agency from an office in a concrete block near the centre of Bucharest, said the rules simply pushed those who wanted to work in Britain underground. "Most people who want to go to the UK will go there to find jobs on the black market," she said.

All that happened, following the denial of the right to work, but with the right to enter as EU citizens, was that people entered and worked illegally. Such a victory for those wanting immigration curbed, eh?

Naomi Klein Again.

Apparently buying insurance against disasters is a bad idea, shows how much of an uncaring capitalist bastard you are.

I wonder if her brain would explode if you pointed out to her that the origins of insurance companies are in mutual societies? You know, the common man banding together against the visicitudes of an uncaring world, owning the creation in common?

Lester Brown Says Something Sensible!

I know, something of a shock, but:

Lester Brown, president of the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute thinktank, said: "The competition for grain between the world\’s 800 million motorists, who want to maintain their mobility, and its 2 billion poorest people, who are simply trying to survive, is emerging as an epic issue."

Last year, he said, US farmers distorted the world market for cereals by growing 14m tonnes, or 20% of the whole maize crop, for ethanol for vehicles. This took millions of hectares of land out of food production and nearly doubled the price of maize. Mr Bush this year called for steep rises in ethanol production as part of plans to reduce petrol demand by 20% by 2017.

The corn to ethanol program really is insane. Unfortunately, the rest of the article is rubbish:

Empty shelves in Caracas. Food riots in West Bengal and Mexico. Warnings of hunger in Jamaica, Nepal, the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa. Soaring prices for basic foods are beginning to lead to political instability, with governments being forced to step in to artificially control the cost of bread, maize, rice and dairy products.

In Caracas at least, we know what th problem is.  There are shortages because the government has stepped in to artifically control the price….if you price something below cost then it will not be available.

Experts describe various scenarios for the precarious food supply balance in coming years. An optimistic version would see markets automatically readjust to shortages, as higher prices make it more profitable once again to grow crops for people rather than cars.

Unfortunately, we can only expect them to do that, markets to work, if people don\’t try to control the prices. Oh, and get rid of the absurd imposition of requirements for biofuels. This isn\’t, in fact, a crisis caused by markets. It\’s one caused by idiot politicians. Hang them and the markets will indeed sort it out.

 

Status Quo

This comes up in a piece on Status Quo:

They became friends, but Parfitt didn\’t join the band until they recorded Pictures Of Matchstick Men. It hit the charts in the UK and US, and it\’s still their only American hit.

Wikipedia says the same thing. But I\’m really not sure about this at all. I thought they had a number one in the US in the 90s. It may be that my memory is entirely faulty….but I definitely recall hearing something on US radio and thinking, "What in hell are they playing Quo for?" and then hearing the announcer state that this was a hit. Anybody actually know?

And no:

I didn\’t know this was a John Fogarty song.

State Funding of Political Parties.

Such a good idea, isn\’t it?

Another effective control mechanism is that the Kremlin dictates access to state funding for political parties, and also how much airtime they have on state-controlled television and coverage in the main state-controlled newspapers.

In order to get funds and media exposure, a party must give the Kremlin a firm assurance that it will not discuss controversial issues, such as state corruption, or the way the ruling elite uses the courts to intimidate its opponents. Once that assurance is forthcoming, the party will receive money for its campaign and its candidates will be allowed to appear on television.

You What?

Sorry?

Fresh doubts over the Government\’s immigration figures emerged last night after new statistics showed that almost one million people from outside Europe have been given the right to work in Britain over the past three years.

This is the one part of the immigration process that the Government can, in theory, control. And they can\’t even count it properly, let alone control it?

Good News From Citigroup

I have a feeling that I might be in a minority here, possibly even a minority of one, but this looks to me to be good news:

Fears of more turmoil hitting global stock markets grew last night after it emerged that Citigroup, the world’s biggest bank, has called an emergency board meeting for this weekend amid fears of escalating bad debts.

There were concerns in New York that the Citigroup board meeting had been called to discuss the possibility of the bank writing off an increasing amount of bad debt. This could seriously hit its profits.

Citigroup’s shares have already slumped 25 per cent over the past three weeks after the bank wrote off $5·9 billion (£2·8 billion) worth of bad debts.

Much of this originally arose in the US sub-prime mortgage market, which is currently in crisis as a large number of borrowers with poor credit histories have defaulted on their repayments.

Just to lay out why I think it\’s good news. OK, so we\’ve got the sub-prime mess. It\’s not just that though, the extension of loans that are now turning sour. The way that they were sliced and diced meant that the risks were spread (good) but that no one really knows where the risk is now (bad). This has led to all sorts of attempts to cordon off such SIVs and so on from the regular markets: one was being proposed by Citigroup indeed. Throw it all into one huge fund (the Superconduit) and hope the problem goes away.

However, all of these attempts suffer from one basic problem. Someone, somewhere out there, has lost a tonne of money on investing in the tranches and slices of these sub-prime mortgages. Until that loss is crystallised, made known, we\’ll still have the fear and uncertainty in the markets. And it\’s that fear and uncertainty which we actually fear a great deal more than we do the losses.

So who is it that "should" lose the money? Well, it "should" be the shareholders in the banks that leant it actually. And if this is what Citigroup is going to do, write down the debt, take the loss, then that\’s actually what we want. The loss is crystalised, we know where it is, and we can get back to having functional credit markets again. The right people will have lost money as well.

It\’s almost as if the larger the write down the better it is in the larger scheme of things.

Ten People I\’d Like to Brick

As no one has asked me to do this particular little meme I\’ll simply have to pick it up and run with it myself. So, in ascending order of desirability of my being able to brick these people.

10. Umm

9. Well,

8. I

7. Think

6. This\’ll

5. Keep

4. Me

3. Busy.

2. The French.

1. All politicians.