Gosh, Was He?

George Monbiot:

Well it was published on December 11 – I mean to say, December 11 1997. The US had just put a wrecking ball through the Kyoto protocol. George Bush was innocent; he was busy executing prisoners in Texas.

Nice line of course, but given that there was one execution in Texas in December 1997 I don\’t think "busy" really captures it.

When George Bush announced, in 2001, that he would not ratify the Kyoto protocol, the world cursed and stamped its foot.

Erm, George, you do understand American politics do you? The President doesn\’t ratify treaties. The Senate does. And under Clinton there was an indicative vote something like 95-0 against ratification. It\’s simply not in the President\’s power to insist upon something like this: propose, influence, yes, but not insist.

In July 1997, the Senate had voted 95-0 to sink any treaty which failed to treat developing countries in the same way as it treated the rich ones.

He does in fact mention it, but seems not to get the implication.

But underlining his complaint is something very puzzling. He\’s against emissions trading, insisting that each country must reduce its own emissions. Why? This is vastly more expensive than trade: as emissions are a global problem we don\’t actually care where reductions come from, we just want them to come at the lowest cost.

But then George has never really understood trade, has he?

Nice Line

Speaking of embarrassments, the Spice Girls have managed to imbue their long-awaited comeback with all the glamour and class of a hurried crap in a service station toilet by whoring themselves out to Tesco. The first instalment, in which the Girl Power quartet try to hide from each other while shopping for presents, represents a important landmark for the performing arts: Posh Spice becomes the first human being in history to be out-acted by a shopping trolley.


Erm, really?

This has the accidental effect of letting us all know how much CCTV cameras cost. According to the council, training a camera on Oscar\’s cigarette would cost £175,000 over 10 years. The mind boggles, doesn\’t it? CCTV cameras are supposed to be a cost-effective way of fighting crime.

I appreciate that a certain amount of maintenance and upkeep will be required – but £17,500 a year?

How many of the things do we actually have around? 4.2 million?

Mmmmmm. £71 billion pounds a year on them? 5% of total GDP? Twice the military budget? The take from VAT?

There\’s one of two things going on here.

1) We\’re spending vastly too much on this technology.

2) The council is lying about the cost.

Your choice as to which.


Tommy Sheridan

Well, yes, I think we\’ve all rather been waiting for the other shoe to drop, haven\’t we?

Tommy Sheridan, the flamboyant Scottish politician, was yesterday charged with perjury in relation to a £200,000 libel trial.

It\’s over the libel trial of course:

During the case the judge, Lord Turnbull, warned that a criminal investigation into perjury was "inevitable".

Tommy\’s reaction?

Police also searched his home in a north-western suburb of Glasgow. After he was released on bail, Mr Sheridan said he was the victim of a "political witchhunt" carried out by Rupert Murdoch, the owner of News Corporation which publishes the News of the World.

"This whole farcical inquiry, which has used up an incredible amount of public resources, has been orchestrated and influenced by the powerful reach of the Murdoch empire," he said. "This battle is going on however long it takes to clear my name."

Well, actually, the allegation seems to be that you lied in court in order to make off with £200,000 Tommy. And if that is actually proved then any sentence will be the least of it. For (and I\’m reasonably certain of this) I think you\’ll end up owing the NotW their legal fees from that case: usually something north of £1 million for a high profile libel one.

Slash n\’ Sex

Presented without comment:

Former GUNS N\’ ROSES guitarist SLASH is tired of dating porn stars, because the sex is too exhibitionist.
The 42-year-old rocker – born Saul Hudson – has previously dated a number of porn stars, and famously missed out on bedding X-rated actress Traci Lords because he was too intoxicated on crack cocaine.
But he admits life in the bedroom can become repetitive.
He says, "The sex (with a porn star) is great and very uninhibited. The lows were getting too much of the same thing. It starts to feel like you\’re making a movie every time you have sex."

OK, a comment. Could this be the onset of middle age?

Errm, This is Slightly Odd

So in the middle of this \’perfect storm\’ what do we have. The utterly useless and clueless Ruth Kelly promoting HIPS for all houses. These sales packs will slow the supply of housing to the house market and so lead to a greater slowdown. Whilst falling house prices are probably a necessity after a bubble, this government policy has come at exactly the wrong time.

Umm, tell me if I\’m completely bonkers here, but doesn\’t a restriction of supply lead to higher prices?

Die, You Rich Bitch You!

The ethos of the NHS laid out for you:

A WOMAN will be denied free National Health Service treatment for breast cancer if she seeks to improve her chances by paying privately for an additional drug.

Colette Mills, a former nurse, has been told that if she attempts to top up her treatment privately, she will have to foot the entire £10,000 bill for her drugs and care. The bizarre threat stems from the refusal by the government to let patients pay for additional drugs that are not prescribed on the NHS.

Ministers say it is unfair on patients who cannot afford such top-up drugs and that it will create a two-tier NHS. It is thought thousands of patients suffer as a result of the policy.

Better that she die rather than use her own money to live: equality is all.

Ms. Riddell

Most amusing. Three points:

One of the most welcome parts of Balls\’s children\’s plan is the renewed commitment to abolish child poverty by 2020. If that happens, and it will take some investment, then many ogres of childhood may melt away.

Could we please get this straight? This wll not be investment. It will be current spending. We\’re not going to be able to spend billions up to 2020 and then stop, considering the problem solved. We\’re going to have to go on spending those billions forever, until the end of time. For each new generation of children will require exactly the same corrective taxation and benefits handouts to alter the market incomes outcome to the desired one.

Health, fitness and weight are all class issues. Obesity and heart disease are plagues of the poor. It is no accident that far more children are overweight in the UK, with its sclerotic social mobility, than in the fairer Nordic societies.

OK, we\’re on the page where the education system does or does not lead to social mobility. So can we please actually have a look at what those fairer Nordic societies actually do in their education systems please? Sweden has a pure voucher system for education financing. Finland has a modification of vouchers (and, to what will most assuredly be a fit of the fainting vapours from educationalists, divides children at 15 into academic and vocational streams, at different schools: this is Grammars and Sec Mods, just at a later age). Denmark has a private school system both larger than the UK\’s and also funded considerably by the State:

The private independent schools (frie grundskoler) play an important role in Danish education. There are around 430 private schools situated all over the country, and approx. 11% of a cohort go to private schools for primary and lower secondary education.

Primary and lower secondary education is free of charge at municipal public schools. The private schools charge a fee, and the average for non-boarding schools is DKK 13,000 per year. Both the government and the municipality contribute considerably to the cost of operating the recognised private schools. 

Primary and lower secondary education is governed at municipal level, and it is the obligation of the municipality to ensure that all children receive education. 

Both private schools and continuation schools receive a substantial state subsidy.

Oh, and note that it is organised locally, not nationally. So if we\’re going to try and change the UK education system to get to that fairer outcome, can we please start adopting some of the policies which lead to that fairer outcome? Like, umm, vouchers, subsidy of private schools, sorting the academic from the vocational? Or is real world evidence not acceptable these days?

Critics say it\’s not in the gift or remit of the state to confer happiness. Why not? When it has proved so adept at making children unhappy – by piling on too many jail sentences, Asbos, exams, dead-end schools and unreal expectations – it also bears a duty to be an agent of a better life.

Err, if the State is making people uinhappy then surely we don\’t want it to potter off and try and make them happy in other ways: what we\’d actually like it to do is stop making people unhappy, isn\’t it?

Our Will

Excellent as ever. Starting from the point that the 00s are like the 1920s, he goes on to say that we might be headed into something like the Great Depression. OK, not sure about this thesis, but let\’s take it that he\’s right. We should therefore be doing something different from what turned the Great Crash and the associated implosion of the banking system into that Great Depression, no? That is, not repeat the mistakes of last time around?

I know at least one central banker who spent the summer reading JK Galbraith\’s Great Crash. The first task of President Franklin D Roosevelt after his election in 1932 was the recapitalisation of the bankrupt American banks by new public agencies – which his Republican critics decried as socialism. But it pulled the US out of slump. Unless the western interbank markets start functioning again soon, the question will arise as to which governments are going to bail the western banks out of their foolishness. Will it be our own – or that of Mr Hu Jintao and the potentates of various oil producing Arab states?

Thus the conversation in Cape Town. Ominously, the first reaction to last week\’s injection of funds was a sell-off in the stock markets, but by Friday there were hopes that it might have delivered some short-term relief.

The British government should be heeding central bankers\’ concerns. It should be publicly announcing pre-emptive plans to support distressed mortgage holders and distressed lenders. It should be recasting the system of financial regulation, so that banks become tightly regulated, like utilities, as a quid pro quo for government guarantees of their deposits. Banks and building societies should be required to be much less reckless in their lending. The bill providing for the nationalisation of Northern Rock should be widened to include the other banks that will require short-term assistance. The UK should be pressing for a proper system of international financial governance and regulation.

Ah, no. Mr. Hutton is recommending that we follow exactly the same path as last time, the one that did in fact turn into the Great Depression. "Less reckless in their lending" equates exactly to a reduction in the money supply, to a restriction of credit.

Essentially, the Great Depression, in the monetarist view, was caused by the fall of the money supply. Friedman and Schwartz write: "From the cyclical peak in August 1929 to a cyclical trough in March 1933, the stock of money fell by over a third." The result was what Friedman calls the "Great Contraction"— a period of falling income, prices, and employment caused by the choking effects of a restricted money supply.

Well done Willy!

Our \’Enery

Porter rather lays into Polly T here.

The breathtaking dishonesty of her argument is to describe anyone who opposes Labour on these grounds as a being a right-winger. In our democracy liberals exist in all parties – thank God – and it is eloquent of her desperation that she seeks to portray those who stand for liberty, rights and privacy as being individualists who are seeking the aura of victimhood, which of course decrypts as privileged middle-class dilettantes. The allegation comes from the hard-line sectarian communists of my student days, and it is hardly surprising to find the same generation still at it in New Labour, yet now adding notes of vanity, self-righteousness and priggishness.

I had an email from an Observer journalist once in response to my advice on voting. Voting Tory would make Polly\’s head explode and it was worthwhile for that reason alone. The gist of the email was that anything which made Polly\’s head explode was indeed worthwhile.

There\’s still something of a fault line between the Observer and the Guardian you know. The former is more classically liberal, the latter more modernly.


The battle to sell stricken mortgage bank Northern Rock hit huge new difficulties this weekend when it emerged that favoured bidder Sir Richard Branson doesn\’t have a banking licence.

This has been talked about for what, 6 weeks, and only now is anyone saying that he doesn\’t have a banking licence?

More to the point, would he actually get one? Depends perhaps on how much weight the FSA puts on the various reports about him in Private Eye over the years. I\’m trying to remember, haven\’t they accused him of asset shuffling at times?

I Beg Your Pardon?

Women must stop admiring men who drive sports cars if they want to join the fight against global warming, the Government\’s chief scientist has urged.

The solution to climate change is that woomen should stop admiring alpha males?

You\’ve got a few hundred thousand yearsof evolution working against you there you know Sir David.

Worth a Giggle


These are South Africa\’s dispossessed, representatives of the millions of poor blacks who feel they have been left behind by President Thabo Mbeki\’s free-market economic policies.

What free market economic policies? A minimum wage that is vastly above productivity levels, meaning that 40% of the population is unemployed? The continuation of apartheid, in that race determines who is allowed to own assets? If only there were in fact a few more free market policies in South Africa.

Yes, it\’s Bribery

And money well spent from what I can see:

The unwanted foreigners, who had no legal right to remain, were given free flights, handed £1,000 in cash at the airport, then paid a further £3,000 to start enterprises in their homelands.

More than 23,000 migrants have taken advantage of the scheme. Their UK-funded businesses range from market stalls to hotels and clothes factories, in countries as far-flung as South Africa, China and Colombia.

Ministers say that paying failed asylum seekers to leave is cheaper than forcibly deporting them, saving money for taxpayers. However, the Tories last night condemned the payouts as "bribes".

It costs less (£4k to £11k) to set people up in a market stall or some such in their destination than it does to forcibly remove them from here. So on a pragmatic basis it makes sense. And, of course, we\’ve also created 23,000 (whether they\’re all still going is another matter) small businesses across the world.

The Rationing Service

Nice to see NICE being called what it actually is:

A life-saving treatment will be denied to tens of thousands of victims of Britain\’s most common male cancer after a U-turn by the NHS rationing body.

Prostate cancer treatment, by comparison with any of the female cancers (ovarian, breast etc) is already vastly underfunded.

The groundbreaking ultrasound therapy has been shown to kill nine out of 10 prostate tumours, and five years after treatment, 80 per cent of patients show no sign of the cancer recurring.

Compared with surgery or conventional radiotherapy treatment, it is not invasive and is far less likely to lead to devastating side effects such as impotence or incontinence.

But it costs £13,000 per treatment, not £4k or £5k.

You get what you\’re given in a Stalinist system, not what you might want nor what might actually be good for you.

Economics Bleg

Anyone with access to JSTOR want to send me a copy of this paper?

The Economic Theory of a Common-Property Resource: The Fishery


Update: OK, got a copy, thanks Noel!


Being Vile About the Sutton Trust Report

So we had the Sutton Trust report.

Parental background continues to exert a very significant influence on the academic
progress of children:
o Those from the poorest fifth of households but in the brightest group at age three
drop from the 88th percentile on cognitive tests at age three to the 65th percentile
at age five. Those from the richest households who are least able at age three
move up from the 15th percentile to the 45th percentile by age five.
o If this trend were to continue, the children from affluent backgrounds who are
doing poorly at age three would be likely to overtake the poorer but initially bright
children in test scores by age seven.
o Inequalities in degree acquisition meanwhile persist across different income
groups. While 44 per cent of young people from the richest 20 per cent of
households acquired a degree in 2002, only 10 per cent from the poorest 20 per
cent of households did so.

But we\’ve also got this:

The problem with this famous Eyferth study, which formed the backbone of Flynn\’s Race, IQ, and Jensen, is that it was a study of children. So? After Flynn wrote this book, behavioral geneticists gradually made the amazing discovery that the heritability of IQ (and many other traits) sharply rises as children grow up, while family effects on IQ fade out.

Now I have no idea whether that last is in fact true, but if it is it provides us with a way of interpreting the Sutton Trust\’s results. A way that will be most un politically correct. Children of the poor do badly in the educational system because they are dim. That dimness being a genetic problem, one which becomes apparent as they age.

It is, in fact, the exact opposite of the Trust\’s thrust. It isn\’t that a bad environment hampers the children of the poor, it\’s that we only find out about their dimness as they grow older.

No, I don\’t think I like that conclusion either but what if it is actually true?

What if, say, the educational mobility of the 50s through 70s was a one off event? That there were those with the brains but not the opportunity to rise, that once the opportunity arose they did in fact rise but that there\’s no more such to come?

All depends rather on the heritability of IQ I guess and that\’s something that creates a firestorm whenever it\’s mentioned.

As I say, I\’m not sure I like that conclusion but I\’m absolutely certain that it will enrage all of the right people.

Solving Homelessness

Well, yes, I see the point.

In St Louis, Missouri, they went one step farther. Abandoning the usual approach to rough sleepers, where permanent housing is seen as the goal of rehabilitation, the city authorities decided to make housing the first step on the journey back to normality, not the last. They simply rented some apartments, approached their hardest cases, gave them the keys to their own free homes, and showed them how to get there. No strings, no process, no hassle. It worked. The toughest of vagrants started coming inside.

Of course it isn\’t quite that simple. With the litany of problems, physical and mental, that assail the majority of rough sleepers, huge amounts of support are needed to maintain a life inside. But how much better and cheaper to support and manage their needs indoors than out. And boy, do we have the skills to do that.

Over the past ten years, local authorities, charities and church groups have become masters at keeping people indoors once they get there, but it\’s getting the last few through the door that is the problem.

The logjam could be broken and the warring factions reunited by doing exactly what the Americans are doing: giving away homes free to chronic rough sleepers, and then working to keep them indoors.

Are you spluttering “Just give them a flat?! The same flat I have to work all week to pay for? Are you mad?!”?

If the moral argument that we have a duty to the unfortunate doesn\’t sway you, then the economics might. In Britain, though, the maths is hard to do. Government direct spending on rough sleepers is hidden within general housing grants and we have absolutely no idea what burden this small, troubled group places upon the NHS. Throw in local authority spending, and the budgets of the many homeless charities, and my rough estimate puts the number at anything up to £30,000 a year for each rough sleeper: enough to rent a one-bed flat in Chelsea and pay the minimum full-time wage, and have change left over.

Given that we are indeed talking about a hard core of a few hundred, perhaps a thousand or two, across the country, simply renting a flat for them and handing over the keys could well be a cheaper option than the current system. But what happens then? What happens when people find out that all you\’ve got to do to get a free flat is to go and sleep rough for a bit? (The definition of "a bit" being absolutely crucial.)

For people do respond to incentives. I\’m not sure that I\’d do it in the winter but I  can imagine myself in younger years, perhaps over the summer break from uni or something, sleeping rough for a few weeks in order to get a free flat. And if I can imagine myself doing that, me from a background of some privilege, how many other people would take that, arguably, entirely rational decision?