August 2010

What ghastly horrors!

So, the Koch brothers fund various people because as rich men they spend their money trying to make the world a better place as they see it.

It might not be a better world as you see it, that\’s for sure, but they are spending their money as they think it will. The money comes from various foundations they have set up.

Ritchie:

These people want to destroy democratic politics as we know it……..They deny our right to think for ourselves……..They want to destroy our rights to choose……But they pave the way for much worse. And big money funds this. Daily. And I am sure it funds those who promote this vicious creed. And that’s what we have to oppose. Because such groups set out to destroy all we value. They do so with a low profile. From tax havens. Behind fronts. And they do so with a mixture of respectable activity. But the aim is to destroy our democracies none the less. This is the challenge we face. Wake up and smell the coffee. This is what’s out there. And it’s spreading, like a cancer.

Amazingly, absolutely none of this applies to Richard, the Tax Justice Network or any other of his friends and front organisations who are funded by the Ford Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Trust, the TUC, PCS……

No doubt it\’s because their hearts are pure that living off rich men\’s grants does not, in any way, affect their published musings.

That, for example, a report funded by PCS, the union representing most tax officers, recommends that the government stop firing tax officers. No, no, how could you think that there might be a link?

Short answers to Daily Mail headlines part XXX

In B&Q they cost 20p. So why does the NHS spend £99 for a screw to put in your hip?

The ones at B&Q are steel, have wide tolerances and are not sterile.

The NHS buys screws that are titanium, with narrow tolerances and sterile.

As the article itself says:

We sell screws that are barely any different from the ones you see in B&Q, priced five for £1. Yet ours cost between £30 and £40 — each. And while they cost us, at most, £10 to make, we justify the mark-up because they are slightly finer. Oh, and sterile.

60-75% gross profit margin on a manufactured item is nothing out of the ordinary now, is it?

Ha-Joon Chang

The world economy, which was growing at about 3% in per capita terms in the \”bad old days\” of widespread regulation and punitive taxation for the rich in the 1960s and 70s, has grown at about half that rate in the last three decades.

Hmm.

Taking a quick look at Angus Maddison\’s figures that doesn\’t seem to be true.

So what else are we to be told that isn\’t true to bolster the case for those clever people to tell us all what to do rather than us being allowed to decide what to do for ourselves?

MacShane on trafficking

Dennis MacShane really is a one, isn\’t he?

David Cameron and Nick Clegg stand accused of sending the \”wrong signal\” to pimps and human traffickers across the world after the coalition decided against endorsing an EU directive designed to co-ordinate European efforts to combat the trade in sex slaves.

As new figures show that fewer traffickers are being jailed than at any time in the last five years, Labour called for a government rethink on the directive, appealing to the pro-European Liberal Democrats to explain to their coalition partners the benefits of EU action.

Denis MacShane, Labour\’s former Europe minister, launched the appeal after the government decided not to sign up to the directive. The document includes a common definition of the crime of trafficking, to make it easier to convict offenders in the EU\’s 27 member states.

Absence of successful prosecution is taken to be proof that not enough is being done.

Only five people were convicted of human trafficking for sexual exploitation in the first six months of this year, according to figures from the UK Human Trafficking Centre, compared with 33 and 34 in the previous two 12-month periods. A further nine were convicted of other offences, having been arrested on suspicion of trafficking.

The alternative, that the low number of successful prosecutions means that not many are committing the crime seems not to be even considered.

For example, we don\’t take the low number of High Treason prosecutions as being evidence that we must change the definition of High Treason. Rather, we take it as evidence that not many people are committing High Treason.

And yes, MacShane\’s partner is indeed one of the loopier campaigners on this point, almost as bad as Julie Bindel.

The past really was different

The Reverend Robin Roe.

Irishman, Church of Ireland priest, British military chaplain, MC, Ireland and British Lions rugby international (plus Barbarians, London Irish etc).

Rugby led directly to his Army duties as, when England played Ireland at Twickenham in 1952, Roe was one of two novice priests – both Protestants – in the Irish team. The other, Canon “Gerry” Murphy (now chaplain to the Queen at Sandringham), had done military service and encouraged his team-mate to do the same.

On the Campaign for Better Transport

OK,  so toll road may or may not be of value.

So, how do we try and work out whether it is of value?

In the spring of 2006 it attracted just under 60,000 drivers a day. By the start of this year, the figure had fallen to just over 40,000, marginally more than when the toll opened.

Those who are willing to pay can enjoy a far quicker journey during the rush hour, especially when travelling southbound when using the relief road takes around 40 minutes – about half the time needed on the M6.

But at other times the time saving is marginal – in many cases little more than five minutes. This, the Campaign says, means the toll is poor value for the motorists.

Well, we could use whatever measure the Campaign for Better Transport is using, this is true. They don\’t think that saving between 40 and 5 minutes is worth £5. Fine, that\’s their view.

However, we don\’t actually run the country on the valuations of the Campaign for Better Transport. We try, as hard as we can, to run the country on the valuations of us, the hoi polloi, the citizenry.

And it would appear that 40,000 people a day do think that a saving of 40 minutes to 5 minutes is worth £5. Which means that whatever the Campaign for Better Transport think, it is worth it, it is of value, to those 40,000 people.

That, of course, is not the full picture. For now we have to try and find out whether the provision of the infrastucture is worth the value that it provides to those 40,000 people. What\’s the cost to put against that £200,000 a day of value?

No, I\’ve no idea what the toll road cost to build. But we have one thing we can look at:

Macquarie who built the toll described it as one of the jewels in the crown.

That would at least indicate that the people who built and run it are making a profit: that the income they get from selling what people are happy to pay for is higher than the cost of providing what people are happy to pay for.

We thus have added value.

The people using the road are gaining more value, which we can measure by their willingness to pay for it, than it cost to provide what those users are valuing.

So, the toll road is \”worth it\”, whatever the Campaign for Better Transport say about it.

For, you see, value is not what is defined by the Campaign for Better Transport. Value is, instead, what we ourselves decide is valuable, we peasantry as we spend our hard earned spondoolies.

So the rail unions, who part fund the Campaign for Better Transport, can fuck off quite frankly.

Plus ca change

Bjørn Lomborg, a self-styled \”sceptical environmentalist\” who has long opposed international curbs on carbon emissions, is now urging world leaders to invest heavily in clean energy.

Erm, that\’s not actually a great change from his previous views.

In fact, I don\’t see it as a change at all. He has always said that climate change is happening and that we\’re causing it. He\’s also always bought into the basic economic approach: either a carbon tax or cap and trade plus adaptation. Mitigation only makes sense so far as it it improves the general lot of mankind.

He\’s also always said that over and above this there should be government led R&D into non and low carbon technologies. This is all in his first book so I really don\’t see what the change is.

What goes around comes around

On Henry Ford and his $5 a day wages.

So Don shouts at a newspaper and references an old post that I\’d done on the same subject. Round and round we go as I point you to Don\’s post.

Great comment there though:

Boeing has, apparently, decided that it\’s okay if employees cannot afford the product they are producing.

Proof that I suffer from liberal guilt

To \”suffer\” from liberal guilt means that you are somewhat uneasy about all sorts of awkward things that it is tempting to harden your heart against, like global injustice, global warming, racism. It means that you are troubled by the stubborn persistence of our class system, though you personally have done fine by it. It means you sometimes worry that you might be prejudiced against all sorts of people. It means that your vague patriotism is laced with uncertainty about whether our ancient constitution is able to be truly inclusive. It means, for goodness sake, that you fail to be completely fatly smugly relaxed about this problematic world we inhabit. Is that really so shameful and wet, so laughably mentally effeminate?

I don\’t worry about all of these things all of the time, that\’s true. I have at least thought through all of them at one time or another and some of them I still worry about and others I don\’t.

Those that I do worry about are the ones where I\’ve tried to sort through the various possible solutions. If, for example, \”global injustice\” is taken to mean that we\’re rich and they\’re poor (a not uncommon version of that perceived problem) then indeed I worry about it and I\’ve even reached the same conclusion as most of the economists on the planet. Property rights, globalisation, freeish markets, try not to let the idiots take over the government, that sort of thing.

About the only thing that stops me being recognsied as a liberal by other sufferers from \”liberal\” guilt is that having actually looked at the causes of those problems I do worry about I seem to have very different ideas about how to solve those problems.

There is really no excuse for failing to feel liberal guilt about global warming. No excuse. It is a fact that our affluent lifestyles are endangering the planet, to some maddeningly unknown degree. What is wrong with someone who is not made uneasy by this? What is wrong with someone who affects (or, worse, genuinely feels) indifference to this fact, and sneers at the muddled, hesitant, hypocritical responses of the conscience-pricked rest of us? Of course we don\’t know if cutting down on meat will really help things, and make future flooding of distant lands less likely. But those farting cows are a problem, and maybe one should sponsor slightly fewer of them. To be a bit anxious about this is just to acknowledge the strange moral universe we seemingly inhabit.

The worry is fine: but don\’t you think that having worried you\’ve got a certain burden placed upon yourself to go and find out what will in fact cure the problem? Globalisation, freeish markets and a carbon tax would do nicely, as the IPCC themselves tell us.

After all, liberal guilt is all very well but to delve into my Catholic childhood, what matters after guilt is not the confession, it\’s what you do to remedy the effects of your actions which have led to the guilt.

A couple of Hail Marys or passing on the steak in favour of lentils doesn\’t do it you know.

Cuts in overseas development aid

John Hilary is really rather funny in his rant against the cuts in overseas aid. We\’re left with the impression that it\’s all being gutted and that we\’re going to leave the poor to starve in the gutter. Then he gives us some examples:

Information received by Michael McCann MP indicates that Mitchell has already told the Treasury he can cut 165 jobs at DfID\’s East Kilbride office in this autumn\’s comprehensive spending review, making one in three of its employees there redundant.

Sacking bureaucrats in Scotland really is such a fundamental betrayal of our moral duty to aid the poor, feed the hungry and clothe the naked, isn\’t it?

Indeed, the government announced the first cuts to the UK\’s international development programme within days of taking power. On 17 May, Andrew Mitchell scrapped the DfID\’s £6.5m global development engagement fund, a scheme designed to increase public understanding of the causes of global poverty and to mobilise action in support of international development.

As is cutting an advertising program to make people think more kindly about the donation of development aid.

Mitchell was also quick to scrap the DfID\’s development innovation fund, a new scheme which had been widely welcomed because it offered direct support to the anti-poverty initiatives of civil society groups in developing countries.

Just as it is obviously vile to be cutting the funding of John Hilary\’s muckers in other countries.

There is real concern that Mitchell\’s fixation with \”output-based aid\” will inflict long-term damage on the quality of the UK\’s international development programme.

Can\’t you just feel the vileness of insisting that aid actually does something?

Ultimately, a country\’s development path is determined by historical forces and political choices at a far higher level than aid, and it is these more complex factors that risk being overlooked in a narrow focus on measurable, short-term outputs. The DfID must support those systems that empower poorer countries and communities in the long term, so that they can overcome the obstacles to their own development. Only this will see an end to global poverty.

As yes, that\’s it. Hilary thinks that aid is best spent changing the political and social systems of other countries so that they accord with his own prejudices.

Just a small note but the Bennite autarkic socialists never really went away. It\’s just that having accepted that we\’ll never go for it they decided to use our money to try and impose it on all those brown and poor people.

Aren\’t they the lucky ones?

Still deluded about the Soviet system

Seriously, does anyone at all still believe this?

In October 1984, six months into the dispute, the National Union of Mineworkers was desperate for cash to fund the strike, because a judge had ordered the confiscation of the union\’s entire assets. The NUM leader, Arthur Scargill, had stepped up efforts to raise cash from the USSR; Soviet miners had responded by donating more than $1m from their wages.

Come on, it\’s one of the marks of a totalitarian state that there is no such thing as an independent union (or independent anything else for that matter).

Thatcher wanted to know whether Gorbachev had approved the donation, since the Soviet miners would have needed government permission to convert roubles into foreign currency.

Yes, that\’s certainly true. But the original \”donation\” would have been at least approved, if not actually instigated, by the government itself anyway.

Viktor Popov, appeared unmoved. \”The ambassador simply maintained that Soviet trade unions were independent and democratic and that the Soviet government was not answerable for their exercise of their rights\” to donate to their British comrades.

Simply untrue. Such ability to make independent decisions just did not exist.

The following day, a senior Soviet official returned to the Foreign Office with a message stating that \”any form of aid that might be given to the British miners would be undertaken independently by the Soviet miners without the slightest participation of the Soviet government or its departments\”.

Just nonsense.

It was a foreign state intervening in Britain\’s domestic affairs.

Whether you think it was a justified attempt or not is entirely another matter, but in the Soviet system there was just no way at all that anything as large and national as a miner\’s trade union had any independence from government or party.

The green building conundrum

A couple\’s plans to build a £700,000 solar powered home in the Cotswolds have been left in ruins after developers built new houses which blocked out their sunlight.

You can build green housing or you can build dense housing: but you cannot build both.

Indeed, one of the few ways to get a release from the standard minimum 14 houses per hectare is to state that you\’ll be building green housing and that you need the extra space to provide shadow free access to the sunlight (for no, it isn\’t just things like solar cells on the roof, you need to think about sunlight through windows as well for things like the Passivhaus standard).

Bit of a tension there, really? Concrete over more of the most densely populated country in Europe or use non green heating?

All of which really rather amuses for there are those greens who say we must preserve open land and those who say we really must have this green power.

This is fun

Bob Herbert:

America is better than Glenn Beck. For all of his celebrity, Mr. Beck is an ignorant, divisive, pathetic figure. On the anniversary of the great 1963 March on Washington he will stand in the shadows of giants — Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Glen Beck:

Despite the presence of former Gov. Sarah Palin and many Tea Party trappings, the event was not political, or at least not in any conventional sense. Rather, the speakers called for bringing religion into the public square and using it as the guiding force in all aspects of American life.

Oh, right, religious peeps gather where religious peep made great speech and this is evidence of the destruction of American society.

Ho hum.

Laffer Curve sighted in the wild again!

Via.

See?

Cash-strapped Bulgaria and Romania hoped taxing cigarettes would be an easy way to raise money but the hikes are driving smokers to a growing black market instead.

Criminal gangs and impoverished Roma communities near borders with countries where prices are lower — Serbia, Macedonia, Moldova and Ukraine — have taken to smuggling which has wiped out gains from higher excise duties.

Bulgaria increased taxes by nearly half this year and stepped up customs controls and police checks at shops and markets. Customs office data, however, shows tax revenues from cigarette sales so far in 2010 have fallen by nearly a third.

And:

New York\’s Oneida Indian Nation moved a cigarette-manufacturing plant to their upstate reservation to shield smokers from steep taxes that Governor David Paterson has vowed to impose.

\”By moving the plant to the Oneida homelands, the Nation is availing itself of a long-settled law that recognizes the right of Indian tribes to sell products they manufacture on their own reservations without interference from state tax laws,\” tribe officials said in a statement.

It really is possible to set tax rates so high that revenue collected falls. The ways around the taxes might be illegal (and thus evasion) or legal (and thus tax planning or tax avoidance, to taste) but we can indeed spot that Laffer Curve out there in the wild.