You sure?

Andrey Illarionov, a market reformer and Putin\’s economic advisor until his resignation two years ago, alleged that the Russian government\’s £75 billion Stabilisation Fund, created in 2004 to cushion the budget from a fall in oil prices, was being exploited by members of the ruling elite for their personal benefit.

He gave no details of how this allegedly occurred.

"The Stabilisation Fund, in the form in which it was created in which monies were accumulated, has ceased to exist. It has died. This is now a fund for increasing the personal wealth of specific individuals," he claimed in a radio interview.

Now that is a surprise!  Politicians get to control $ hundreds of billions and some lines their pockets?

Slap me down with a wet kipper.


A town\’s Olympic-style flame is to be replaced by a lightbulb because of the enormous gas bills and the carbon emissions it gives off.

The 15ft high Eternal Flame was a gift to Bournemouth, Dorset, from its local churches to mark the Millennium.

Burning continuously, it provided a focus for the town square – at a cost of £8,000 a year. Church officials also realised its emissions were harming the environment.

Nothing\’s too good for heroes, eh?

We\’re Killing Ourselves!

Look out for more restrictions on who can have NHS treatment: you\’ll need to have your ID card marked with the portions of fruit and vegetables you\’ve consumed each day before long.

Almost 70,000 deaths could be avoided every year if Britons followed healthy eating guidelines, a wide-ranging government report says.

However, it\’s a little difficult to take the figures on offer seriously.

The nation\’s poor diet costs the economy £10 billion, of which £7.7 billion comprises NHS treatment that could be avoided if people cut down on fatty and salty foods and ate more fresh fruit and vegetables.

There\’s a basic point about the NHS. Because it covers us all, for our lifetimes, it\’s rather difficult for us to cost it money by dying early.

Those who die prematurely would have lived for almost 10 years longer if they adhered to dietary advice, the report says.

Hmmm. Now, NHS spending per capita (from memory here, so hope I\’ve got it right) is some £1,800 a year. Pop your clogs 10 years early and the NHS thus saves £18,000 on you. And if you don\’t die of your unhealthy lifestyle, you\’re going to die of something else, something which may cost more or less than what you have got.

So while we can indeed say that the costs of treating those with these diet related diseases is £7.7 billion, when we do we\’re not actually being all that honest. For the amount saved by those 70,000 having 10 years of NHS treatment is £12 billion or so (please note, these are very rough numbers indeed, used only for comparison).

…the report says that if everybody ate healthily the economy would be £20 billion better off due to the reduced health care costs and extra years of productive life.

That\’s also a terribly suspect figure. We\’re told that it\’s 10 years of life being given up on average. The average lifespan is into the late 70s for men, early 80s for women. Whether we assume that this is before that extra 10 years or after it, those extra 10 years are all past the pensionable age. People at this time of life are not known as contributors to the economy (please note that this has nothing to do with the fact that rising lifespans are a great idea, we\’re talking solely about the financial calculations here), in fact, they\’re known as something of a drain on it. 70,000 people with another decade of the State pension is actually a cost of some £35 billion rather than a contribution to the productive side of the economy.

But don\’t worry, government policy is going to be determined by what\’s in that report, not what is actually true. Aren\’t we lucky?

So, Err, Rudy Giuliani Was Right?

You\’ll recall how Rudy Giuliani was mocked for his insistence that early treatment of prostate cancer enabled him to survive? The way in which everyone leapt up and down and insisted that the difference between the US and European numbers on years of survival was simply earlier diagnosis, not actually better outcomes?

Taking hormonal therapy early can help to slow the spread of prostate cancer by up to eight years, a study has shown.

Four months of hormone therapy delayed the spread of prostate cancer by eight years, American researchers report online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The effect of the treatment is to lower levels of the male sex hormone testosterone in the blood. It is an established treatment, but is generally given later in the course of the disease and for longer periods, when it can have damaging side-effects. “By taking a little bit of hormonal therapy early, patients may avoid having to take a lot of it later,” said Mack Roach, of the University of California in San Francisco, who led the team.

My word, seems he\’s right (even if for the wrong reasons).

Oliver James on Affluenza Again.

The paperback version of his book must be coming out as he\’s got another piece in the G about it:

In itself, this economic inequality does not cause mental illness. WHO studies show that some very inequitable developing nations, like Nigeria and China, also have the lowest prevalence of mental illness.

Glad we\’ve got that little correction for when the hardback came out I pointed something out:

But the assertion that it is inequality that causes the madness is what appears to be — if I can use the word — insane. Economists measure inequality using the Gini coefficient. A value of one means that one person has everything, the others nothing, while a value of zero means the equality of the grave. Denmark does have a low one by international standards, 0.247; the UK 0.36, the US 0.408. However, in a small problem for James, that for China is 0.447 and that for Nigeria is 0.506 (all World Bank figures, 2004).

But other than that it\’s the same old James. Capitalism makes us all depressed, boo hoo hoo.

But Selfish Capitalism stokes up relative materialism: unrealistic aspirations and the expectation that they can be fulfilled. It does so to stimulate consumerism in order to increase profits and promote short-term economic growth. Indeed, I maintain that high levels of mental illness are essential to Selfish Capitalism, because needy, miserable people make greedy consumers and can be more easily suckered into perfectionist, competitive workaholism.

Relative materialism? What is this other than a fancy name for keeping up with the Joneses? And does anyone really believe that this is something "caused" by capitalism? Or that it\’s something innate in human beings which capitalism allows the expression of? But my favourite part of the argument is this:

With overstimulated aspirations and expectations, the entrepreneurial fantasy society fosters the delusion that anyone can be Alan Sugar or Bill Gates, never mind that the actual likelihood of this occurring has diminished since the 1970s. A Briton turning 20 in 1978 was more likely than one doing so in 1990 to achieve upward mobility through education.

We\’re, umm, using a Harvard dropout and a man who left school at 16 as examples of upward mobility by education?

It is to giggle.

We\’ll Have to Shoot These Monkeys I\’m Afraid.

Male macaque monkeys "pay" for sex with females by grooming them, scientists have revealed.

The availability of females even affects the "price". Where there are fewer females, males are forced to groom their partners for up to twice as long before they are able to have sex, the research found.

For of course, the purchase of sex from females is to be made illegal.

But the reason for shooting them is not that they are breaking the law, oh no, it\’s that they are making Harriet Harman look stupid, and we can\’t have that now, can we, she does it so well herself. Ably assisted by Dennis MacShane, of course.

And We Were Doing So Well…

Having managed to start off the New Year with myself and Antonia Bance actually agreeing on a point we then get this:

7. Hundreds of new houses built in Oxford, hundreds of thousands nationally, and increased regulation to target profiteering and unscrupulous landlords

That\’s part of her wish list for the coming year. The problem is that the two aims are mutually contradictory. We actually want landlords to make a profit: that\’s what gives them the incentive to invest in a house and then rent it to people. Making more housing available (a good idea at a time of both rising population and a further, on top of that, rise in household formation as we live in smaller groups) means an expansion of the privately owned rental market. Thus less regulation, not more.

One of the beneficial changes over the past few decades has been the way in which the regulations on that market have been lifted. Assured tenancies, the abolition of "fair rent", essentially a move back in time, or, if you prefer, towards a more European market, by the destruction of the insane rules which pretty much destroyed the rental market after WWII.

We\’ve already in fact tried this experiment, regulating landlords, and it leads to the absence of housing available to rent. If we actually want more housing available, better that we not make the same mistake again, eh?

Jennifer Siebel

Bit of a shocker here about Jennifer Siebel:

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and his girlfriend, actress Jennifer Siebel, became engaged in Hawaii over the weekend, knowledgeable sources said Monday.

San Francisco has a heterosexual mayor?

Who knew?

Oh Dear Jared, Oh Dear.

I\’m afraid that Jared Diamond has got things terribly, fatally, wrong here. Well, fatally for his argument, at least.

Per capita consumption rates in China are still about 11 times below ours, but let’s suppose they rise to our level. Let’s also make things easy by imagining that nothing else happens … China’s catching up alone would roughly double world consumption rates. Oil consumption would increase by 106 percent, for instance, and world metal consumption by 94 percent.

If India as well as China were to catch up, world consumption rates would triple. If the whole developing world were suddenly to catch up, world rates would increase elevenfold. It would be as if the world population ballooned to 72 billion people (retaining present consumption rates).

Some optimists claim that we could support a world with nine billion people. But I haven’t met anyone crazy enough to claim that we could support 72 billion. Yet we often promise developing countries that if they will only adopt good policies — for example, institute honest government and a free-market economy — they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people.

The problem with this argument is that there really are people crazy enough to insist that we can support 72 billion people. But you may not think that they are total lunatics, for they are the IPCC. Yes, the International Panel on Climate Change does indeed think that we can support 7 billion (their prediction in the A1 family) all of whom have a living standard equal to (at least on average) that of a US citizen in 2000. Seriously, look it up here at the SRES. Using the same construction as Diamond, those 7 billion living high on the hog in 2100 are the same as the 72 billion he talks about.

So far from not having met anyone crazy enough to think this is possible, Diamond needs to realise that everyone worried about climate change believes that very thing. For the models being used to predict future CO2 emissions have, at their heart, this very assumption. That living standards will continue to improve, that there will be convergence in living standards and that that convergence will be upwards, not down.

Now I don\’t mind if Diamond wants to insist that this is not possible. That\’s up to him. But if he does want to then he\’s also got to revise his view of climate change, because that is based not on the idea that this increase in wealth is impossible, but that it is certain.

One or the other, not both.

How to Address Him

So, if our detail-obsessed Lord Chancellor had inherited a baronetcy, pursued a second career in the Anglican church and had won the Air Efficiency Award rather than the hot air medal, he would be the Right Honourable the Right Reverend Sir Jack Straw, Bart, PC, MP, LLB, AE. In that order.

Yes, Jack Straw has just published a guide to how to address people with titles. Multiple ones, as above. Like we needed that, eh?

Anyway, here\’s the Worstall guide to the system. It\’s actually the same as with multiple sets of cutlery at the table. Course by course you start with the outside ones and make your way inwards. So it is with titles. Once you\’ve worked out which is the fork equivalent and which the knife (ie, before the name or after, titles are before, medals and awards after) then the more important the award or title the closer to the name it gets.

Lords are higher than admirals, so it\’s Admiral Lord West. VC\’s are higher than MBEs so it\’s Bloggins VC, MBE. That\’s it!


Erm, Gentlemen?

The RSPCA has called on retailers to stop selling meat from chickens reared in poor conditions. The charity, based at Horsham, West Sussex, has urged supermarkets to sell only free-range, organic or Freedom Food varieties by 2010, and has set up an online petition. It says that shoppers should pay more to ensure that standards improve and that the low prices in supermarkets mean that some farmers cannot earn enough money to provide suitable conditions.

So, supermarkets should rig the market so that farmers receive more money? Umm, we are all aware that they\’ve just been fined hundreds of milions of pounds for doing that very thing with the milk and dairy market, are we? So, do we get to see the RSPCA fined this time for conspiracy to defraud the public?

Sensible Copper

I was sent this link by email with the comment "sensible copper". On this subject at least, Richard Brunstrom does appear to be so:

Richard Brunstrom, who has campaigned for drugs like heroin to be made legal, says he believes the move towards decriminalisation is "10 years away".

The chief constable said repealing the Misuse of Drugs Act would destroy a major source of organised crime.

He also said he thinks ecstasy is safer than aspirin.

More power to his elbow.

Worth noting that we have effective decriminalisation (not legalisation) down here in Portugee and there doesn\’t seem to have been a mass outbreak of anything very much at all. One thing they are known to do though is arrest foreigners hanging around known drug markets: they\’re not keen on drug tourism, you see?