June 2008

Our Richie Again

Richard Murphy\’s just released a long report, all part of evidence to the Treasury Committee. No, sorry, the whole thing is too dreary even for me to try and point out all of the logical errors.

This does stand out though: 

Inflated financial services sector

Lastly, and importantly, the UK is host to an OFC, as the IMF have shown in work by Ahmed Zoromé123. Put simply, the UK’s financial services activity is excessive for domestic market needs. As such it is clearly set up to service offshore clients, some of whom will undoubtedly use the other tax haven characteristics of the UK noted above.

An OFC is an offshore financial centre. So, umm, well, yes, I suppose The City is indeed an OFC, given that it\’s the pre-eminent international financial centre of the world. Kazakh miners list in London after all. The euromarkets revolve around London too.

It\’s just that in MurphyWorld this is a bad thing. Specialisation, division of labour, comparative advantage, all naughty, naughty things.



Cruel Oppression

It\’s remarkable how we continually get told that the UK is some ghastly, horrible, misogynist society when this is the sort of thing that has happened in recent decades:

Fourteen years ago this week, I discovered I was pregnant with my first child. I was nervous – it was my second pregnancy and I couldn\’t be sure I wouldn\’t lose this one – and I worried what a child might mean for my life. But at least I did not have to worry about losing my life. The lottery of childbirth – whether a mother would live to see her baby – ended in my family two generations ago when maternal mortality in the UK dramatically improved in the 1930s. The legacy of that great breakthrough is that pregnancy is now usually a cause for celebration, not an occasion to write a will.

What prompted the recollection of an anniversary I\’ve not noticed before was the realisation that what I relied on, as a matter of course, is regarded as a luxury in most of the developing world: skilled midwives, an obstetrician and operating theatre if needed, and the antibiotics and drugs that ensured that, 14 years and another two births later, I\’m still around to bring up my children. Basic, everyday stuff in the developed world.

But not so in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in every 16 women dies in childbirth. (Since you started reading this article, a woman somewhere in the world has died giving birth.) In the UK, the comparable ratio is one dead woman in every 8,200. Maternal mortality is the most dramatic health inequality on the planet – more stark even than child mortality.

There is plenty of evidence for how, with the right combination of political will and policy, the maternal mortality rate can be dramatically reduced. Thailand cut it by 75% in 18 years; the Matlab region of Bangladesh cut it by two-thirds in 21 years. Yet in 20 years, the rate in sub-Saharan Africa has barely budged.

On any real accounting this is one of the very finest societies the planet has ever seen for women to live in (and men, of course, but that\’s not quite the point here). So why are we continually told we\’re so awful?



Not Quite What It Seems

A report:

Eastern European migrants working on the construction of a £600m NHS hospital have been taking home as little as £8.80 for a 39-hour week, the Guardian has learned, in what has been described by union bosses as one of the worst instances of employee abuse in the building sector since EU enlargement.

The group of around 12 men, most of whom are Lithuanian, are construction workers on the government-backed PFI project in Nottinghamshire. Though allegations of abuse of migrants\’ rights on construction sites are widespread across the country the scale in this instance has shocked unions and politicians.

Michael Clapham, MP for Barnsley West and Penistone, who is due to raise the matter in parliament today, said: "This happened on a government project where there are good rules and a strong union – who knows what is happening on the hundreds of smaller sites around the UK?"

According to industry guidelines and an agreement between unions and the building firm Skanska, which is overseeing the project, workers on the site should have been earning more than £7 an hour. But after deductions for rent, tool hire and utility bills, some of the Lithuanian employees were receiving so little observers say it left them virtually destitute.

Horrors, right? Vile exploitation? And we all know that people only read the first few paragraphs of a news story anyway.

So, this meme will escape into the conversation and will become one of those unimpeachable facts. People being screwed over and working for only £8.80 a week. Expect to see it all over CiF soon enough. Maybe even in a column or two.

However, it\’s the next sentence which is the important one:

Payslips seen by the Guardian show that one man worked a 39-hour week and took home just £8.80 after his entire monthly rent was deducted in one week, in breach of the law.

Ahh…..paying some 25% of your wages for housing, well, umm, isn\’t that actually about the national average? Or below it even?

Sure, it\’s a little stupid, possibly even malevolent on the part of the employer to take a month\’s rent out of a week\’s paycheque, but it\’s not really quite the same as being paid £8.80 a week, is it?

After a 39-hour week, one man took home £8.80 when his monthly rent of £155 was deducted in one week.

So his monthly income is (assuming a four week month) £655.20, with a £155 rent payment, so a £125.05 average nett weekly income after housing costs. No, I wouldn\’t want to work for that either, but it is very different indeed from £8.80, isn\’t it?

But just watch this meme spread.

Ministers and Reality

Meg Hillier, a Home Office minister, wrote a letter to this newspaper that began: "The Government makes no apology…" and went downhill from there. It added: "There is no evidence that employment checks are either a barrier to volunteering or damage relationships between children and adults."

Not much connection between the two really, is there?

You What?

So the French Marines have a display day. So they have some fake hostage release exercises as part of that display day. All pretty normal so far.

Fifteen civilians and two soldiers were injured in the incident which involved a demonstration by members of a marines parachute regiment of hostage liberation exercises.

Four of the 17 were seriously injured, with two described as critical, following "incomprehensible" scenes at the barracks near Carcassone, in the country\’s south-west.

The problem? Someone issued live ammo instead of blanks. Or rather, someone used live ammo instead of blanks.

One soldier had been detained last night. Although no explanation was immediately forthcoming for why the wrong ammunition was loaded into weapons, police said there was no suggestion it was a deliberate act.

Military men might want to contest that no suggestion. I can\’t imagine any way that a trained soldier wouldn\’t know the difference.

Propaganda and King Arthur

So we\’ve a number of Froggies telling us that Arthur is simply English propaganda, changed and fitted up from the original very sketchy stories to suit whatever happens to be the cultural and political needs of Perfidious Albion over the years.

Even if a character who vaguely resembled the fabled leader did exist, he would probably have been a Welshman with strong connections to Brittany and whose sworn enemies were the Anglo-Saxons, they said.

The organisers of a conference and exhibition to be held at Rennes university in northern France next month said they will provide ample evidence that the Arthurian legend has continually been updated, often as a sop to English nationalists attempting to revive the Age of Chivalry.

The event, "King Arthur: A Legend in the Making", will highlight the argument that historians were joined by artists and writers in creating the "fiction" of the legend.

My word, gosh, you don\’t say? So unlike the Frogs and Roland at Roncevaux, don\’t you think?

Tee Hee

Oh, tee hee indeed

A spy camera, estimated to cost £10,000 and designed to catch fly-tippers, was cleared by council workers after it was concealed in a rubbish bag.

The expensive camera was placed inside a black bag beside a notorious illegal fly-tipping site. The disguise was so good that workers for Chichester District Council, West Sussex, cleared the camera believing it was genuine rubbish.

"Because the camera had been hidden in something that looked like rubbish, they cleared that away as well," said John Cherry, the deputy council leader.

Voting to Leave the EU

So, The Express is running a vote. If we had a vote on whether to leave the EU now, would you vote yes, let\’s go, no, let\’s stay, or don\’t you know?

You can vote here.

Current results are 91.6% yes to leaving. I can only assume the majority is so small because the "can we leave yesterday" option isn\’t included.

Calling Wind Power Supporters

OK, so there\’s ths paper come out about the actual effects of having lots of windpower on the UK grid. Yes, I\’ve read the paper and yes, this article gives a fair enough summary.

Now, could someone who really understands the science here (and preferably someone who supports the installation of wind power, if there actually be any people who are both) please explain something to me.

Why in buggery are we going ahead with wind? It doesn\’t seem to solve any problems at great cost.

It\’s even (in theory at least) possible that it will raise carbon emissions.

Science Paper Bleg

Anyone got institutional access to Elsevier journals?

This paper looks most interesting:

Written by an independent consultancy and funded by the Renewable Energy Foundation, the report says backup electricity plants will be needed to meet demand during calm conditions.

Published online in the journal Energy Policy, the study confirms concerns among critics that wind around Britain is too volatile to provide reliable energy.

Here\’s the money shot:

At 6pm on February 2 2006 – the point of peak electricity demand for the whole year – wind farms would have been unable to provide any power at all, researchers found.

So far it seems that the thrust of the report is that wind farms simply won\’t work. At a cost of £100 billion.

Update, got it, ta Milo!


Hang Them All

British MEPs are joining a 200-strong European parliament jaunt to Paris this week, costing the taxpayer up to £200,000.

The three-day trip, organised by the European People’s party (EPP), a centre-right group, will include dinner at the Palais de Versailles and a champagne boat trip down the Seine.


The government is to allow organs to be taken from people before they are officially brain dead in an effort to tackle the shortage of transplant donors.

Not dead yet, eh?

Willy Today

OMG! Short selling! It\’s an outrage!

Twit. It adds liquidity to the market which is something we want. It\’s also hardly new, been around for donkey\’s years. Further:

The scale of speculation is eye-poppingly huge. Since Hedgestock, hedge funds have become ever more important. The worldwide industry manages £1 trillion of assets and a leading hedge fund manager told me they are only a third into their growth cycle – another £2 trillion is to come.

Is that large?

When they were small you could argue they were a justifiable irritant, challenging and punishing governments and companies alike, who had got themselves into unsustainable financial positions. But now they are becoming the mainstream, degrading the operation of capitalism, turning it into a casino, reducing people\’s lives to the chips.

A trillion?

The world\’s financial assets reached a record $140 trillion worth of stocks, bonds and other financial assets as of 2005, more than three times as large as the total worldwide GDP, according to a study by McKinsey & Co.,

Well under 1% of global financial assets. No, I think we\’ll categorise that as small shall we?

Replacing APD

Sure, there\’s problems in the details, but the basic idea here seems very good indeed.

Easyjet will tomorrow break ranks with the rest of Britain\’s airlines and come out in support of the Government\’s replacement for Air Passenger Duty (APD).

The low-fare carrier will urge the Government to ignore protests from interests as diverse as British Airways, the US Government and cargo airlines and push ahead with plans to replace the current tax on passengers with one on aircraft.

What we really want to tax (yes, yes, assuming this climate change thing has anything about it at all) is emissions. In a perfect world this would mean taxing the fuel and leaving it at that, however there\’s perverse incentives here: for airlines to fill up abroad and not in hte UK. That flying around with extra fuel would increase emissions over all, which ain\’t the point at all.

Thus we need to tax some proxy. The plane flight itself (with adjustments for type of plane and distance flown) is a better proxy than the passengers themselves.

BA is lobbying for an exemption for transfer passengers, which make up 34 per cent of all flights coming through Heathrow, arguing that the proposed replacement for APD will make UK airlines uncompetitive.

Meanwhile, cargo airlines, which currently pay no APD, argue that the new tax will reduce demand for UK exports, particularly hi-tech goods, which are highly sensitive to pricing differentials.

Easyjet will argue, however, that transfer passengers, cargo carriers and long-haul operators should all pay, while those operating older aircraft should pay more – a particularly antagonistic stance towards US carriers, which generally operate older fleet.

While Easyjet can be accused of talking their own book (they\’ve got a young and efficient fleet, fill more spaces on their planes etc) they are in fact correct. The emissions from transfer passengers, from cargo, are exactly the same as any other emissions and there\’s no reason why they shouldn\’t be taxed.

The basic idea is really very simple. Tax negative externalities at their social cost and then stand back and let the market sort it all out.


Hurrah for ID Cards!

Young women fleeing forced marriages are being betrayed by GPs and benefits staff who "collude" with families to return them against their will, a senior police officer police has revealed.

Doctors and Job Centre workers are breaching confidentiality rules and passing on vital information to families, allowing them to trace and punish Asian women who are attempting to escape coerced marriages and "honour"-based domestic violence.

Commander Steve Allen, who is the spokesman on forced marriages for Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), revealed that some doctors have informed girls\’ families that they have asked for the contraceptive pill, placing them at risk from fathers or brothers who believe this means the family\’s honour has been besmirched.

Cmdr Allen also told The Sunday Telegraph that Job Centre workers have accessed the National Insurance details of women who flee violent husbands, tracing where they collect benefits and passing the details on to their families so they can be found and forced back to their marital home.

Having a National Identity Register, one where it is a criminal offence not to update your address, will make tracking down such miscreants so much easier, won\’t it? And with the hundreds of thousands of people who will have access to said database, it won\’t be possible to stop people doing so.

Finally, a use for it then! To continue the oppression of young Asian women. Makes you glad to be British, doesn\’t it?