August 2010

Project Acumen: not quite what we\’ve been told really

Project Acumen is yet another investigation into trafficking into the sex industry.

It\’s what led to the stories of there being 12,000 trafficked women last week.

Seems that there are some problems with these numbers.

Like, y\’know, they\’re bollocks?

….then you’re trafficked. Because that’s what the protocol says. Now it doesn’t say that in Westminster law because the Home Office is full of highly paid assholes living off the taxpayer who haven’t learnt to cut and paste yet,

Yes, you really do want to read it. Apparently, if you\’re working in a brothel because you\’re poor and not paying your national insurance stamp then you\’re trafficked.

Fascinating stuff from Richard Murphy

Our intrepid campaigner against tax avoidance: you know, working the tax laws to your own benefit?

Lovely series of articles in which Ritchie seems to be advocating:

Turn your nanny into a personal services company and save £2, 530 a year.

Use the stakeholder pension to save up to 20% of income that you won\’t have to pay in national insurance.

Reduce your tax bill by claiming all of your allowances.

We should change the law so we don\’t worry about fiddles under £1,000.

Save 10% of your income by incorporating.

It\’s all very different from what he says now, isn\’t it?

The joys of Chavismo


The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a nongovernmental organization, created after the Chavez government stopped publishing murder rates around 2003, is considered to have the most reliable data on crime and violence. When Chavez took office in 1999 there were 4,550 homicides, while last year there were at least 16,000 homicides, the group said.said that in 2009 Venezuela had about 54 homicides for every 100,000 residents.

That is higher than Mexico, with about 12 homicides per 100,000 people. It is also higher than war-torn neighbor Colombia, which logged around 35 killings for every 100,000 residents.

Roberto Briceno, director of the OVV, notes that the murder rate in Venezuela was more less stable for several years preceding the Chavez government, and only began to rise sharply and steadily after Chavez became president. He also points out that in 1998 there were over 5,000 homicide arrests to go along with the 4,550 homicides, while in recent years homicide arrests have fallen to around 1,300 even as homicides skyrocketed.

It\’s especially dangerous in Caracas, where the murder rate is nearly triple the national average, with some 140 homicides per 100,000 people.

The joys of Bolivarian socialism, eh?

Of course, when a newspaper or two published photos of the overflowing morgues, the reaction was to ban newspapers from publishing pictures of overflowing morgues.

Our Ken

I honestly can\’t remember meeting a more gentle, modest and courteous man. Or laughing so much.

For a comedian it\’s the second sentence that is important. But that Ken Dodd also merits the first sentence is, in he larger sheme of things, perhaps more important.

Sir Michael White


Green is a brilliantly successful British entrepreneur, but his family tax arrangements are very complicated and he would not get elected to the kind of Tory club to which David Cameron once belonged.

Err, yes, OK, I think that it\’s probably true that the Bullingdon Club probably wouldn\’t elect some Jew in the rag trade, one who left school at 15, as a member.

But, erm, aren\’t we rather supposed to go beyond such prejudices when working out who we might ask to help out in running the country?

Even, possibly, consider what people are rather than where they came from?

I\’m really not sure whether White hasn\’t quite thought through this sneer as yet (that an Oxford University dining club wouldn\’t elect someone who didn\’t go to Oxford University for example) or whether he really does mean to bring up the \”Jew\” and the \”trade\” bit.

Johann Hari and economic statistics

It\’s quite lovely to see Johann meeting some numbers he doesn\’t understand.

Perhaps we shouldn\’t be too hard on him for of course we all do this. Stray off the reservation of our own knowledge base and end up misunderstanding the technicalities of what the numbers mean. Not note or even realise that there are qualifications, hems and haws, well maybes but you\’ve not quite caught the subtlety of what is being said sorts of things.

An example:

Professor Peter Cappelli studied 122 companies and found that lay-offs most often shrank their future profitability, instead of swelling it.

Would be interesting to know how he dealt with causality there: a company that is shrinking in profitability will be laying off workers just as much as it is possible that one which lays off workers shrinks in profitability.

But much more importantly:

The facts backing this up are striking. The OECD has studied developed economies over a 20-year period, and it found labour productivity growth was much higher in the countries where it is hardest to fire people.

Hmm. Here are the OECD labour  productivity stats and here are the stats for changes in labour productivity. Make of them what you will. But the reason given:

The better you treat a workforce, the better they work.

That doesn\’t really pass the smell test. Are we really trying to say that some bureaucrat somewhere, absolutely and totally impossible to fire, is going to work harder and provide a better service than someone who at least has the possibility of being turfed out for, say, vomiting over the boss and then screwing his pooch?

OK, that\’s an extreme. So instead let\’s take as being true that countries where it is harder to fire a worker have both (yes, we\’ll be nice, and say both) higher productivity per worker and also have had stronger rises in that productivity.

They should therefore be vastly richer….you get more out of the labour you\’ve got available then you really ought to be richer. But this last bit doesn\’t seem to be true. Italy, where it\’s almost impossible to fire a worker doesn\’t seem to be richer than the US, where anyone and everyone (near enough, outside that tiny unionised part of the workforce) is on an at will employment contract and can thus be fired at lunchtime. Nor does Italy (or take any of the other such hard to fire labour markets) seem to be richer than Denmark which is similarly fire at will.

So there must be something wrong with this story: we cannot see the effects which should flow from it being hard to fire to the greater wealth that higher labour productivity should bring.

Why not?

So here\’s the caveat. We do note that those countries where it is hard to fire have higher unemployment rates than those where it is easy to do so. The usual story is that making it difficult to get rid of people makes it a much more serious decision to take someone on and that thus fewer people do get taken on.

Worse than that, we see labour markets in places like France and Spain (and to some extent here in Portugal as well) separating out into two very different levels. There\’s those who get the full time, protected job, and those left to the twilight world of short term contracts. It\’s not unusual for it to take into their mid 30s for someone in any of the three to get a \”real\” job. With all of the concommittant employers not training up workers because they\’re on short term contracts.

Anyway, what we do see is those higher unemployment levels where it is hard to fire people. So the reason that they\’ve got high labour productivity for those in work is that they\’ve got lots of people not working at all (yes, labour productivity is measured this way, it\’s from those working, not total labour force).

And, not surprisingly, employers hire those with higher productivity and leave those without much to rot on the dole.

So while we might indeed see higher labour productivity in those places where it\’s hard to fire people the mechanism isn\’t as described at all. It ain\’t that cuddly management gets more out of them: it\’s that realistic management never hires the unproductive if they know they can\’t get rid of them.

Now, me, I like the easy to hire, easy to fire system: it\’s the only way I\’ve ever managed to get a job at least. And yes, you can differ on which system you prefer.

But if you\’re going to start quoting economic statistics at people in a national newspaper then it really is incumbent upon you to understand the subleties of said statistics.

Otherwise we might just think you got the job because you\’re in one of those easy to hire, easy to fire, countries.

A question for Australian Republicans

In the current election you\'[ve got a choice between someone born in Wales and someone born in London to be your new PM.

So why the fuss over the idea that the Head of State wasn\’t born in Oz?

You seem happy enough with the idea that you\’ve got to import Brits to rule over you after all….

Fun with numbers

One of those numbers that we don\’t really know all that much about is the number of Teh Gays there are.

No one has actually gone around everyone in the country and asked how they prefer to have their gonads fondled: Tab A to Slot A, Tab to Tab or Slot to Slot. So we can only make approximations.

We do get numbers like 10% of the population but those come from activists like Peter Tatchell who have an obvious desire to big up what they are activists about. They also seem to include all of those who have ever gone tab to tab or slot to slot as being always desiring to do so. A bit like calling the child who has tried spinach once a spinach eater even if all subsequent attempts to offer spinach lead to it being hidden behind the potatoes.

We also get numbers like 1 and 2% and these seem to represent those who are exclusively tab/tab, slot/slot, desires not changing at all dependent upon circumstances (for given the malleability of human sexuality we know very well that the desire for sex/love will overcome much finickiness about the type of it in restrictive circumstances).

So today we are given the figures for civil partnerships:

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics show that in 2006, the first full year after the law changed, there were 16,106 civil partnerships.

The following year, after many of the couples who had been waiting to enjoy legal union took advantage of the new law, there were half as many – 8,728.

The figure fell again in 2008 to 7,169 and figures published on Thursday show there were 6,281 civil partnerships last year.

Of these, 51 per cent were between male couples while the average age of men having civil partnerships was 41.2 and 38.9 among women. Most took place in Westminster and Brighton.

So, what\’s the number of marriages?

The provisional number of marriages registered in England and Wales in 2008 was 232,990.

Now in some ways these numbers are directly comparable, in that civil partnerships are only for Teh Gays while marriages are only for Teh Straights.

In others they\’re not….that first year of CPs is clearly the clearing of something of a backlog. We might wibble about straights being more likely to marry because of children but given that the majority (I think it is now?) are born outside marriage that\’s not all that important.

So we might take a stab at saying that Teh Gays appear to be about 3% of the population.

What we\’ve actually got is that the number of gay couples sufficiently committed to wish to register that committment in a legal manner is about 3% of the straights who wish to do the same. But it\’s not an unreasonable way of estimating prevalence in the general population is it?

The joy of personal finance journalism

Oooooh, horrors!

Despite receiving billions of pounds in taxpayer support during the credit crisis, high street lenders are refusing to pass on the full benefit of historically low interest rates to customers, figures show.

Instead, they have used the cheap cost of borrowing to drastically increase their profit margins.

Bastard Bankers! Hang them! Hang them!

Two years ago, the difference between the rate at which banks themselves borrowed money and the rate they offered to customers for fixed-rate mortgages stood at 1.28 per cent.

Today it has risen to 3.29 per cent for a two-year fixed-rate deal, the highest gap since records began 21 years ago, according to Moneyfacts, the personal finance website.

The increase — which has taken place despite the Bank of England rate remaining unchanged at 0.5 per cent since January 2009 — means that on a £150,000 mortgage, the banks have taken an extra £149 a month for themselves, rather than share the benefit with customers.

This is equivalent to an additional profit of £1,778 in a year and £3,576 over the two-year term.

Umm, wait a minute. They\’re comparing the cost of a two year fixed rate mortgage to the base rate? That\’s not right at all.

If we want to look at the banks\’ margins we need to compare the rate they\’re charging with their own funding rate.

A floating rate mortgage is funded (whether actually so or not it\’s calculated internally on the banks\’ books as being so) from overnight or monthly deposit rate funds, because if that short term rate changes then so does the mortgage rate. A two year fixed rate mortgage is funded, or at least calculated as being so, for this is the risk the bank is taking, as being funded by two year money (and five year by five year and so on)…because if the short term rate changes the bank cannot change the mortgage rate.

So, the correct way of measuring the banks\’ margin is to look at what the two year rate is. And yes, it is higher than the short term rate for there\’s this thing we\’ve got called the yield curve. The longer you borrow money for (except in truly exceptional circumstances when that yiled curve becomes inverted) the higher the interest rate you will be paying.

There is something about this muttered waaay down the piece:

Although the rates paid by borrowers on this type of deal are at almost a seven-year low, experts said they should be even lower because of the lower wholesale cost of borrowing.

It stems from a decline in swap rates – the rate at which banks lend to each other – being greater than the falls in the interest rates paid by borrowers.

I\’m not sure that actually makes sense as it is but it is at least pointing to the right point. That two year mortgage rates are not determined by the base rate, but by the market rate for two year money. Which is higher.

And yes, there were times way back when, when Northern Rock still bestrode the high street like a financial collossus (I think at one point they were one third of all new mortgage offerings?), when the yield curve was inverted and thus two year deals were cheaper than floating rate deals.

So, desperate fail in managing to explain what is actually going on.

But it gets worse of course, for we\’ve also got a desperate logic fail.

Do you remember what happened when the banks were offering all those deals at those lovely low rates? Yes, they all went bust didn\’t they? So, given that we rather like having a financial system (which is why we pumped in all those billions of taxpayer support) we\’re in fact rather happy that they are now pricing things more resonably, are including in their margins enough to pay for themselves, the losses in the future and (yes, there are always losses in the future) in general being able to stand on their own two feet and not need billions of taxpayers\’ money in the future. Hey, maybe even pay back some of what they\’ve had.

I think that\’s pretty good for just one newspaper article, don\’t you? To be wrong in the detail of how much banks actually are making in margin and then wrong as to the big picture of whether we\’d like them to be making margin at all?

Myra Butterworth, please take a bow.

On today\’s job market in journalism

Essential attributes
• An undergraduate degree of 2:1 or above
• Experience of writing, including features and interviewing
• Excellent spelling and grammar
• Experience of subbing
• Experience of online journalism
• Ability to write in a descriptive but concise style
• A solid knowledge of British politics
• Ability to grasp concepts quickly
• Excellent computer skills
• Good project management skills
• An ability to work quickly against a constantly changing news agenda

Desirable skills
• A post-graduate qualification in journalism
• An ability to understand basic HTML coding

Desirable personal qualities
• Self-motivated and proactive
• Flexible and adaptable
• Good team-worker with ability to work alone
• Hands-on approach to work
• Quick-learner
• Good attention to detail
• Enthusiastic


No wonder that the vast majority of journos are disgruntled lefties. Experience plus a postgraduate degree for less than median wage? In London?

Project Acumen

Looks like we\’ve got the numpties writing the reports again:

UP to 12,000 women have been smuggled into Britain and forced to work as prostitutes earning hundreds of millions of pounds for organised crime gangs, reveals a new study.

Sigh. Being smuggled into the country is one thing. Working in the sex trade is another. And being forced to work in the sex trade yet another. Evidence of one is evidence of illegal immigration. Evidence of one and two is evidence of illegal immigration for the purposes of working in hte sex trade.

Only evidence of three is evidence of sex slavery.

The two-year study, known as Project Acumen, revealed that 30,000 women are working in brothels around the country.

Police estimate 17,000 are immigrants and believe 11,800 may have been trafficked into the country.


The study also found that around 5,000 of the foreign prostitutes ­working here had suspected they were likely to end up working in the sex industry long before they left home.

That\’s incredibly lame.

What we want to know is what is the number who are forced into sex work….what is the number who are being raped repeatedly?

Shit, did they get Julie Bindel to write this one too?

Can we hang these puritans, now, please?

Cheap snack offers in shops and food outlets are as dangerous as happy hour drink giveaways, health campaigners claimed yesterday.

Desperate retailers are bombarding customers with cut-price chocolate, crisps, cakes and fizzy drinks to boost profits.

Nutritionist and obesity campaigner Zoe Harcombe said: “The supermarkets pounce on us at every opportunity and feed the obesity epidemic on their way to profits. Pushing this sort of processed food is as bad for health as selling drinks cheap or offering double measures. There was rightly an outcry about that, there should be similar concern about this.”

Zoe said coffee shops specialise in ever-larger drinks and ask customers if they want a cake, muffin or pastry with their order.

What terrors, eh?