Where’s Ronald Coase when you need him?

Dozens of weddings, Sunday services, choir practices and even funerals have been disrupted by the increasingly loud music drifting in from outside – often from rival buskers trying to outdo each other from separate pitches on either side of the church.

Choristers at the Abbey and workers in surrounding offices say they have resorted to wearing earplugs to block out the sound which continues for around eight hours a day at the height of the tourist season.

Rev Mason said the stress levels of the Abbey musicians, who regularly broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4 and perform concerts overseas, have been driven higher by the constant performance of a small repertoire of songs ranging from cover versions of hits by Simon and Garfunkel or Simply Red to flamenco music and opera favourites.

The Abbey has agreed a special “traffic light” system with regular buskers, alerting them to moments of quiet and special services during which most have agreed not to play.

But, Rev Mason said, a handful of the loudest performers have refused to cooperate, driving the Abbey’s centuries-old musical tradition to “crisis point”.

Knowing the place as well as I do I can confirm that this is a real problem. Physical violence would be an attractive solution to the problem if the reprobates but sadly, we’re not supposed to do that. The actual answer is simply to treat the entire Abbey churchyard and the Abbey as one single pitch. Rather than what it is now, which is three (the south year, the west, and the Abbey itself). And thus, if everyone regards it as one pitch then there will be, whether by regulation or general agreement (seriously, buskers are pretty good at protecting and allocating pitches, (there’s even an economics professor with personal experience of this)) agreement about who gets to have a go on that one pitch at any one time.

Don’t forget the Welsh….and the Paddies

The political truce that saved the Union collapsed on Friday as David Cameron’s plans for English “home rule” were condemned by Labour.

Following Scotland’s No vote, the Prime Minister immediately set out plans to ensure that there are “English votes for English laws”. Those plans could result in England having its own first minister and would herald one of the biggest reforms of Britain’s tax system.

But they could prevent Scottish MPs voting on English-only issues in the wake of the independence referendum.

Excluding Scottish MPs from votes concerning only England would represent a disaster for the Labour Party.

Westminster sources said Mr Cameron’s announcement was calculated to kill Labour’s electoral chances.

For it’s not just the West Lothian question any more, is it? Both Stormont and Cardiff have powers: the MPs elected from areas that have those powers shouldn’t be voting on those matters for England.

And there’s a lovely problem. For the delegated powers differ. So on some matters all UK MPs can vote, on some only the Scots are excluded. On others the Paddies have to stay still and on still others the Welsh as well can shut up. It’s going to be a fine old mess: unless we simply equalise the devolved powers of course. Which does sound rather sensible.

It’s all a little different in the civil service

OK, so at the start this is just trying it on:

A Canberra public servant told her boss she needed longer breaks than her colleagues, saying she had to find a café that served organic coffee with soy milk.

The correct response to which is “Yes, tee hee dear. Now get back to work”.

After all, this is a game of repeated iterations: she’s not having to search out a new cafe every day, is she? But what comes next?

When the Australian Taxation Office bureaucrat was warned about her absences from her desk and told she had to adhere to time management requirements, she took her case to the Commonwealth government’s workplace authority.

After the appeal was dismissed, the Executive Level 1 public servant went on stress leave and claimed workers compensation, arguing that her ATO supervisor’s approach left her with “adjustment disorder”.

That’s taking the piss that is. Perhaps Australia doesn’t have the sensible policy of charging people for access to the employment tribunal system?

Fortunately the appeals system told her to fuck off.

The NFL and domestic abuse

There’s something about this furore over domestic abuse by NFL players that I’m not really getting.

OK, sure, someone who beats up their spouse should get investigated and possibly* charged and tried. Fine with that. But what the hell’s all this about banning them from being football players?

Do we ban an accountant from the profession if she dumps a saucepan on her husband’s head?

Sure, employers can have whatever they like in their employment contracts. “If you’re convicted of theft you’re fired” is just as fair as “if you’re convicted of domestic abuse”.

But clearly I’m missing something very important as I cannot for the life of me understand what’s going on with this “crisis”. Why is there this vast public outcry over specifically football players?

* No, really, not all incidents that are worth investigating are worth having a trial, let alone a conviction, over. Thus possibly.

Proof that Scottish Independence is a great idea

Well, this is actually pretty easy. When you look at the people who are arguing against it then obviously Scottish independence is a seriously good idea.

No, really, anything opposed by George Galloway, David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Barack Obama must have bleedin’ something going for it.

That the Wee Eck is in favour of it does tip the other way but even he’s not enough to outweigh those four.

So, vote Yes!

And finally we’ll be shot of the lot of you.

Isn’t Australian just such a lovely language?

Australia’s Declining Use Of Frangers Means STIs Are At All-Time Highs


It’s obvious from the context what is meant but where in buggery* did that word come from?

And I thought there was some joke about sellotape or something, not frangers?

*Possibly not quite the correct word there. Although “But now more than 1760 cases have been recorded – predominantly gay males between the ages of 20 and 39.” maybe it is, maybe it is.

An interesting commentary on the state of business in Russia

Vladimir Yevtushenkov, one of Russia’s richest men, has been placed under house arrest on accusations of money laundering.

The arrest brought accusations from the fallen oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, released from prison by Vladimir Putin last year, that the move was linked to Kremlin interest in Yevtushenkov’s oil assets. Rosneft, the state-owned oil group, dismissed Khodorkovsky’s comments as “absurd”, on Wednesday morning.

Yevtushenkov, who is worth $9bn (£5.5bn) according to Forbes magazine Russia, was arrested late on Tuesday. The billionaire is the chairman and largest shareholder of Sistema, a conglomerate whose board members include the Labour peer Lord Mandelson.

Sistema controls Russia’s largest mobile phone operator, MTS, the oil company Bashneft and other lucrative assets. The accusations relate to Yevtushenkov’s acquisition of Bashneft, one of the few Russian oil producers that is not under state control.

Sistema said it considers the accusations baseless. Shares in Sistema collapsed by 28% in the first half hour of trading at Moscow’s MICEX stock exchange on Wednesday.

No, leave aside guilt or not, likely being a bad’un or not. And the real point being that the first question on everyone’s lips was, “What the fuck has he done to piss off Putin?”

Which tells you rather a lot about Russia Today really…..

The Murphmonster’s latest insanity about economics

In that case then I think it worth explaining just why I find free market economics so frustrating. Fundamentally this is because of the absurd assumptions that underpin the logic of those who adhere to these beliefs. Saying that, many of those who do so will, I am sure, say that what follows represents beliefs they do not personally recognise. I hate to disillusion them, because the reality is that all this will reveal is that they are the unwitting slaves of some far from defunct economists because what I will describe are the assumptions that underpin the vast majority of economics journal papers in the UK, including those that result in the policy prescriptions of almost all free marketeers (including, depressingly, on tax).

So what are these assumptions? You can give and take a little on these, because once you get above about eight there is some overlap or substituitability between them, but each is common and worth noting. I should, in fairness, add I started with a list from here, but expanded a little as I thought appropriate. Free markets to work require that there be:

Many sellers each of whom produce a low percentage of market output and cannot influence the prevailing market price.
Many individual buyers, none has any control over the market price
Perfect freedom of entry and exit from the industry. Firms face no sunk costs and entry and exit from the market is feasible in the long run. This assumption means that all firms in a perfectly competitive market make normal profits in the long run.
Homogeneous products are supplied to the markets that are perfect substitutes. This leads to each firms being “price takers” with a perfectly elastic demand curve for their product.
Perfect knowledge – consumers have all readily available information about prices and products from competing suppliers and can access this at zero cost – in other words, there are few transactions costs involved in searching for the required information about prices. Likewise sellers have perfect knowledge about their competitors.
Perfectly mobile factors of production – land, labour and capital can be switched in response to changing market conditions, prices and incentives.
No externalities arising from production and/or consumption.
Markets that clear, which requires that for all sellers there is a buyer.
Markets that reach a state of equilibrium i.e. there is an optimal outcome to economic activity.
Rational expectations, which means that people accurately forecast statistical expectations and all errors are random.

Well, we might argue about a few of these. Rational expectations for example really doesn’t mean that. Only that people are not systematically biased in what they think the future might bring. And the point is not so much to insist that markets only work if they do think this way as to examine whether the point it true or not. Also worth noting that this is the basis of Keynes’ ideas on the origins of the business cycle too. It’s not a new or “free market” idea.

Coase in part won the Nobel for pointing out that externalities can, but only in certain circumstances, be dealt with in a purely free market with the appropriate property rights. And everyone else, from Marshall through Pigou onwards has pointed out that the right thing to do about them when this isn’t possible is to incorporate them into market prices. This is the argument both for a carbon tax (negative externalities) and public subsidy of basic research (positive externality of a public good).

Which brings us to his complete misunderstanding of markets that clear. This doesn’t mean that there is a buyer for every seller. It means that prices change so that markets clear: at £10 each there’s not a buyer for every seller of lovely fresh pears, at 1 pence each there’s too many buyers for willing sellers and at some number inbetween the market clears as the willing supply and willing demand becomes equal. Our biggest problem being that we’ve no way at all of determining what that market clearing price is without using the market as a whole as our model. Which is why, when we’ve those externalities, we’ve got to change the price through either tax or subsidy and then let the market deal with it, find that market clearing number. This is why Stern concentrated on working out the damage from emissions: once we know that (whatever you think of the answer he came up with) then we can tax at that rate and then the market clears giving us the correct amount of emissions.

At a slightly less detailed level he’s describing the simplifications that we make to build a model. The vast majority of what happens next is relaxing one of more of those simplifications and seeing what happens to the model. There’s reams and reams of papers on oligopolistic competition, imperfect information, bounded rationality and all the rest.

Which brings us to the next point at again a higher level of abstraction:

As I have said, you can argue that one or two extra conditions can be added to this list and that a couple may overlap. It does not make a lot of difference to the outcome because the fact is that all these conditions need to exist simultaneously if markets are to provide optimal outcomes for the economic organisation of society. If any one of them fails then because of the simple application of chaos theory and the power of small numbers the outcome from leaving markets to themselves are wholly unpredictable.

Dunno what the hell that chaos theory and small numbers stuff is about. But he’s not getting the real meaning of “optimal” here. The real meaning being “as perfectly perfect as anything can be”. And there’s not a single economist out there who wouldn’t agree that there are times when a pure market solution, only a pure free market solution, might be in this sense sub-optimal.

It’s at exactly that point that the argument then gets interesting. When we bring in things like public choice economics (essentially, the people who make, enforce and administer laws are greedy thieving bastards like the rest of us), bounded rationality (the people who make, enforce and administer laws are just as ignorant as the rest of us) and so on and so on then we want to ask the extremely important question. OK, so a pure free market outcome is sub-optimal. And is whatever we get from the ignorant musings of a retired accountant from Wandsworth optimal? Or sub-sub-optimal?


What a bloody good idea

A pop-up restaurant event selling dinners requested by prisoners on death row is under pressure to shut before it even opens after a barrage of criticism.

The event, called Death Row Dinners, was due to open in trendy Hoxton Square, East London next month – charging customers £50 for their ‘last meal’.

But organisers are now reconsidering their plans after an online backlash.

Chefs were to cook ‘a five course feast of their culinary twists on some of death rows most interesting and popular last dinners’, according to a statement from the organisers.

It adds: ‘Prepare to be charged, sentenced, searched and frisked.’

The event, which is set to run for a limited number of nights, was promoted with pictures of men, apparently prisoners, with menus around their necks.

OK, they’ve loaded it with a lot of pretentious tosh. But the basic idea is absolutely fabulous. You’d make a mint full of money running that in the US….

Polygamy is not illegal in the UK

Studying for a PhD in engineering at Cambridge, she might not seem like a prime candidate to enter into a polygamous marriage.

But that is what Nabilah Phillips did, dropping out of university to become the second woman married to businessman Hasan Phillips who has since acquired a third wife.

Yesterday it emerged that Mrs Phillips, from North London, is among thousands of Muslim women entering into such relationships which are illegal in the UK but allowed under sharia law which permits men to have four wives.

Bigamy is illegal: being legally (or, as it works out, trying to be legally) married to more than one person at the same time. But that’s not what happens here. There’s one legal marriage (or perhaps none) and a series of religious only marriages.

And the law says nowt about which sky fairy is allowed to determine who you decide to bed or live with.

Polygamy isn’t legal: there’s no legal recognition of the relationships for example, no claims for benefits as a married couple etc. But it’s also not illegal either. Probably best described as alegal. You know, like so many things in life, there’s no special provision in the law for it either way. Also known as freedom and liberty.