August 2010


However, Lord McNally suggested in an interview with The Daily Telegraph that the new legislation would go further, in effect creating a privacy law.

He conceded that there were concerns that a privacy law had been created through successive rulings by judges. Some, such as Mr Justice Eady, have been heavily criticised.

Lord McNally said: “There was a danger that we were getting towards having privacy law by judicial decision. If we are going to have a privacy law it should be openly debated and freely decided by Parliament.”

Umm, no, I\’m not a lawyer, but I don\’t think that the courts have been making this up out of whole cloth somehow.

I have a feeling (which perhaps someone can confirm or deny) that what he judges have been doing is looking at the European humand rights stuff, that stuff which was encoded into English law under the Human Rights Act. There\’s something about a right to privacy of family life in there isn\’t there?

Which means that Lord McNally is being at best disingenuous. The judges are simply applying statute. We could go further though, pondering on whether the Human Rights Act had been freely and openly debated by Parliament for example. Even whether M\’Lord understands what he\’s talking about.

Or whether I do of course.

Sir Jonathan Porritt Bt. on sustainable development

In reality, there is not one single part of government – or the whole of the public sector, for that matter – anywhere in the UK where sustainable development has as yet been properly mainstreamed. And by properly mainstreamed, I suggest DEFRA continues to use the old Sustainable Development Commission definition as in “sustainable development becoming the central organising principle for everything that Government does”.

He certainly doesn\’t lack ambition. So, ex-head of a soon to be abolished quango says that it\’s vitally important that everything government does is done according to the bees in his bonnet.

No wonder he decided to go the quango route to power rather than electoral politics. He actually did have some power whiile the political party he (used?) to belong to has 0ne 656 th of the representation in the Commons.

But as I do like to say, there\’s something that grates about an Old Etonian baronet telling us all we must be peasants again: without even the pleasure of multitudinous children to pass the time.

Mis-state what we said to prove you\’re right

So, Ritchie tells us that stock market volumes have fallen and the roof hasn\’t fallen in. Thus all of us who chided him over his backing of a financial transactions tax are wrong.

So volume and value have fallen, dramatically.

And has liquidity collapsed as some predicted? No, it hasn’t.

Has the supply of capital to UK large business failed? No, it hasn’t.

Has the world stopped revolving as it seemed some would suggest. No, definitely not.

Because the truth is that this volume of share dealing is simply not needed to create effective markets.

The truth is that effective markets might actually benefit from considerably less dealing. Keynes suggested two trading windows of ten minutes a day might be sufficient. There’s a lot of sense in that. Calm reflection is what is needed for effective markets. We don’t have time for that. A little less liquidity would help no end. And a financial transaction tax might just help create it.

But the thing is that we didn\’t say the roof would fall in if there was an FTT.

What we did say was that an FTT would lead to lower liquidity. Lower liquidity would lead to wider spreads on the market. Thus everyone buying shares (to use shares as the example as Ritchie does) would pay a little more for their shares and everyone selling them would get a little less.

Thus there were two problems with an FTT, both to do with tax incidence. The first is that the economic effects of the tax would be carried by those buying and selling shares: our pension funds, our insurance policies, us going direct.

The second is that dependent upon how much the margins spread out these costs could in fact be higher than the total amount raised: we could have an incidence of greater than 100% of the revenue raised.

Now, to work out whether this is correct (or even likely) we would need to look at what, if any, effect the fall in trading volume has had upon spreads. No, I have no idea, perhaps one of you do?

What was the average spread (perhaps a range of spreads would be better, high-cap, mid-cap, low-cap maybe? If anyone actually collects the stats that way) in 2007 and what is it now in 2010?

When the IFS did look at this with respect to Stamp Duty on share transactions they did find both such incidence and that it was of the order if not higher than the revenue raised. But what we\’d like to know now is whether that is indeed true again?

You know, actually use the real world to test Ritchie\’s theorising.

About the 10 minute thing though….there is one market that works exactly that way. Ten minute trading sessions in each metal (clearly you cannot have only 10 minutes twice a day for trading in thousands upon thousands of different shares, just think of the number of people you would have to have available to enable that to all clear in 10 minutes!) at the London Metal Exchange. So, do we take it then that the LME is the model Ritchie thinks that all markets should follow?

If not, why not?

When a Professor of Sociology does economics

Greg Philo (for it is he, how could Adam Smith\’s old Glasgow University have come to this?) tells us that the solution to all of our woes is a simple 20% tax on the accumulated wealth of the top 10%.

A straight 20% haircut of all their property, pensions, equities and all the rest.

Forgive me if I forsee a few little problems here but let\’s just start with the biggie shall we? You know, this Keynesian stuff about aggregate demand and recessions?

So, we\’re going to institute a one off £800 billion tax.

Mhm, hhm. That\’s about 60% of GDP.

Are we really absolutely certain that we want a 60% of GDP fiscal contraction in the middle of a recession? Tax rises are, after all, just as fiscally contractionary as cuts in government spending. The fiscal effect, the effect on aggregate demand, would be akin to keeping tax rates at current levels and stopping all government spending upon everything.


We really want sociologists suggesting economic policy now do we?

Danny Dorling: Numptie

The traditional North/ South divide is creeping further south as the impact of the recession widens the economic gap in Britain, an academic claims.

Oh aye?

But as Government cuts are introduced, towns marginally on the south side of the divide, such as Leicester, Warwick and Lincoln, could begin to struggle and be pushed on to the northern side.

Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at Sheffield University, who led the research, said: \’Britain is a country pulling itself apart. \’The North/South divide is no longer a vague idea.

\’We have enough information on life chances, health and wealth to say where the line lies and what is happening to it.

\’The recession is exacerbating these differences and I suspect the dividing line will also move southwards as the Government\’s cuts take effect.\’

But if you are a radical egalitarian (as Danny Dorling is) this should be good news, no? More people are being more equal in a shared Northern misery and poverty. And being more equal makes people happier, reduces the murder rate, drugs taking and everything else that ails a society, doesn\’t it?

So why\’s he complaining?

Gosh, this forecasting stuff is tough, innit?

In a set of 21 papers published by the Royal Society, the scientists from many disciplines and countries say that little more land is available for food production, but add that the challenge of increasing global food supplies by as much as 70% in the next 40 years is not insurmountable.

OK, good.

\”Plant breeders will probably be able to increase yields considerably in the CO2 enriched environments of the future … There is a large gap between achievable yields and those delivered … but if this is closed then there is good prospect that crop production will increase by about 50% or more by 2050 without extra land\”, says the paper by Dr Keith Jaggard et al.

Long term increase in yields is some 1% per year. 1% compounded over 40 years is 48.89% growth.

That paper was a toughie to write then, wasn\’t it?

Add in, as they say, modern distribution and storage systems in places which don\’t currently have them, plus perhaps getting current yields up to current best yields (ie, farming methods we already know we\’ve got) plus, perhaps, that hugely desirable green revolution on the crops of Africa (cassava, sorghum, millet) and far from there being a problem it looks like we might end up with too much food, not too little.

Just don\’t see it as being a problem really….and that\’s even before we get to things like GM and so on.

Actually, on the known and proven basis that you all know far more than I do, anyone know the answer to this question?

Yes, OK, we know that richer societies improve their diet (as they themselves see it of course, not as those telling us we should not eat meat or dairy see it). This increase grain consumption etc.

We also know that richer societies have better food distribution systems. Less rots in the fields, less rots in transit, less rots in the shops, less rots at home, rats eat less of it and so on and so on. This is one of the definitions of a richer society of course, that the productivity of a part of the system is greater.

So, the question is, how much of the one offsets the other? How much of the greater demand for grains caused by a richer society desiring a better diet is offset by that richer society wasting less of the grain that is already grown?

Anyone actually know?

Logic fail

\”A full-blown graduate tax of say 5% on earning for the rest of your working life faces considerable opposition,\” a senior government source said. \”It creates an incentive for people to leave the country and study abroad.\”

No it doesn\’t you twat. It creates an incentive to get the education here for free then go abroad to work where you don\’t have to pay the tax. It also creates an incentive to come here from abroad for your education (for EU students must be treated the same way as domestic) for free and then bugger off back home.

Given that the problem is not enough money and too many people applying this really doesn\’t sound like a sensible solution at all.

Midwives on the march

So, The Lancet publishes a paper which shows that home births have a three times greater risk of death of the baby.

Midwives are outraged.

Then we get obstetrician saying that perhaps a quarter of births are suitable for home births. Midwives point to Holland where the mortality rate is very low which has one third of births at home.

However, the argument from the midwives does really seem to be in ideological terms.

She said midwives now \”feel there is a concerted and calculated global attack and backlash against home birth which is being unfairly pilloried by some sectors of the global medical maternity establishment.

\”There is a danger that risk during childbirth is presented in a way which is leading women to believe that hospital birth equals a safe birth. It does not. There is no hard and fast guarantee that a woman will have a safer birth in a hospital than at home\”.

There are concerns globally that midwives, who have long campaigned for mother-friendly births, have lost ground in recent years. Hannah Dahlen, the president of the Australian College of Midwives, backed her counterpart in Britain saying that \”intense medical lobbying and strategically released journal articles\” had put the profession in Australia \”in the hands of the medical profession\”.

Warwick said there has been a trend for some doctors to cast birth as a \”medical problem and not a natural process\”.

OK, maybe it\’s ideology and maybe it\’s a power struggle but do note that the one set of numbers they don\’t argue against, don\’t even attempt to show to be wrong is….whether or not a home birth carries a higher risk of death of the baby.

Wonder why?

Or am I just being excessively male with my insistence upon facts rather than how people feel?

On London as a financial centre

Standard Chartered chief executive Peter Sands said at its results recently that he was increasingly concerned about where to be domiciled: \”London is still the world\’s centre for international banking. It is our preferred solution to be here, unless we are hopelessly disadvantaged.\”

Well quite.

There\’s all sorts of reasons why the banks won\’t move, from opera and theatre through to simple inertia. But make it too bad for them and they will move….and that same inertia will make it very difficult indeed to get them back.

And what\’s the easiest part of the bank to move? The HQ, the domicile of the company. They might not do it for tax but they might for another reason:

Leading bankers are claiming to be so hamstrung by bonus restrictions that they are threatening to relocate overseas. Anger about the Financial Services Authority\’s (FSA) strict implementation of the G20 code on pay follows the Treasury\’s decision to impose a bank tax unilaterally, and has raised questions about whether the UK is the right place to be headquartered.

Bankers claim the FSA is the only regulator to be enforcing the bonus rules for domestic banks\’ international operations, making it difficult to compete in foreign territories. They also say the regulator\’s definition of who qualifies as having \”significant influence\” captures more than twice as many staff as in rival countries. \”Significant influence\” staff have to take proportionately less pay in cash and defer a larger element for three years.

And if the HQ goes then so does the corporation tax….and, BTW, it\’s illegal for us to either stop or try to charge any company on its way out if it\’s going to another EEA or EFTA country. Liechtenstein anyone?

Yup, it\’s that report again

Think tank the New Economics Foundation (NEF) look at how much food, fuel and other resources are consumed by humans every year. They then compare it to how much the world can provide without threatening the ability of important ecosystems like oceans and rainforests to recover.

This year the moment we start eating into nature\’s capital or ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ will fall on 21st August, a full month earlier than last year, when resources were used up by 23rd September.

All the usual caveats apply.

They insanely insist that nuclear has the same carbon footprint as coal, that the CO2 aborbed by the food that you eat is somehow different from the CO2 that you exhale, that land can only be used for one thing at a time and even then they find out that the thing we\’re running out of is the ability to recycle CO2 emissions.

Yes, we know that, we can see the rising concentration in the atmosphere.

Not worth the paper they\’ve written it on.

Does Frank Rich actually read what he writes?

Still another recurrent argument from the Thurmond era has it that no judge should overrule the voters, who voted 52 to 48 percent in California for Prop 8 in 2008. But as Olson also told Chris Wallace, “We do not put the Bill of Rights to a vote.”

Yup, quite, liberty and human rights trump democracy. The mob may vote for something like a ban on gay marriage but if we find that such wishes of the mob constrict that liberty or human rights then we set aside those wishes of the mob.

Note that this is nothing to do with gay marriage per se: it applies to unfair trials, Jim Crow, abortion, slinging those \”radical muslims\” into jail without any trial at all and so on. Whatever our individual ideas about any of those things individually.

So, what does Our Frank call the judge over turning the wish of the mob?

Make no mistake about it: The Proposition 8 trial, Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision and the subsequent reaction to it (as much a non-reaction as anything else) constitute a high point in America’s history-long struggle to live up to its democratic ideals.

No Matey, it\’s exactly the opposite. It\’s America living up to its ideal that there is something more important than democracy, greater than democratic ideals: liberty.

That\’s what a Constitution is for, fool.

On these Japanese lifespans

That was before the police found the body of a man thought to be one of Japan’s oldest, at 111 years, mummified in his bed, dead for more than three decades. His daughter, now 81, hid his death to continue collecting his monthly pension payments, the police said.

Alarmed, local governments began sending teams to check on other elderly residents. What they found so far has been anything but encouraging.

A woman thought to be Tokyo’s oldest, who would be 113, was last seen in the 1980s. Another woman, who would be the oldest in the world at 125, is also missing, and probably has been for a long time. When city officials tried to visit her at her registered address, they discovered that the site had been turned into a city park, in 1981.

To date, the authorities have been unable to find more than 281 Japanese who had been listed in records as 100 years old or older. Facing a growing public outcry, the country’s health minister, Akira Nagatsuma, said officials would meet with every person listed as 110 or older to verify that they are alive; Tokyo officials made the same promise for the 3,000 or so residents listed as 100 and up.

The effect might be large enough (but probably isn\’t) to change life expectancy figures for the country as a whole.

However, there\’s something else here as well: World Bank, WHO etc figures on life spans are created from the figures that governments themselves provide. So if governmetns are mismeasuring life spans, the international figures are also incorrect.

Which brings me to the subject of Cuba. They really might have the life spans they say they do: but given that they\’re based upon figures that the Cuban Government itself provides, can we be sure about that?

And is there any way to check?


Sometime between the late Seventies and now, the rules of children\’s party games changed. I couldn\’t say precisely when, because a generation passed between the day I last joined in as a cake-guzzling infant and the day I first presided as a haggard parent.

Bit of a stunner, isn\’t it? The gap between generations is the time it takes for an infant to become a parent: a generation.

Thanks Rafa!

Interesting argument

Precisely because everyone else does learn English we should be learning other languages.

Foreigners will go on learning English, regardless. The British have an obligation, it seems to me, to reciprocate. Call it what you like – mutuality, courtesy, fair exchange, good practice. Not to do so is in every sense hateful. A self-exemption. A trusting in force and market, where – for once – force and market do not apply. A departure from international polity. A terminal and blazingly wrong conceit.

Something to do with us being the polite ones perhaps?

I realise I\’ve made this joke before but….

Laurie Penny on music videos:

The distinction must be made here between legitimate concerns about protecting young women from abuse and the contempt for female sexuality in general suggested by the term \”sexualisation\”. When feminists speak about objectification and abuse, we tend to be dismissed, precisely because those words still speak truth to power, frightening those who profit from the violent commodification of female sexuality. The notion of \”sexualisation\”, on the other hand, is less threatening: it is easily incorporated into the strategies of conservative moral posturing, because it implies that sex itself is the problem – specifically, the women who have it.

That career move to be the Germaine Greer de nos jours seems to be shaping up quite nicely. Book contracts cannot be far behind….and then, in 25 years or so the menopause and she too can settle down and write about gardening.

I\’m not really sure why I find it all to be so annoying to be honest. She can obviously write, comes up with some cracking phrases at times. But it all seems to be wittering in the end, wibbling about nothing very much at all. We are after all, in the socially freest, least gender structured society, the world has ever seen: this modern western world we inhabit.

Sure, it ain\’t perfect as yet but aren\’t there more important failures that such talent can be turned toward discussing?

A date for the diary

I don\’t normally blog on press releases but…..

On August 22, 2010 women across the USA will once again march for the right to go topless in public anywhere a man can go topless in public.  August 22 is National Go-Topless Day.  Cities hosting marches this year inclue New York City, Chicago, Miami Beach, Austin, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles (Venice Beach).  ….. Your readers will appreciate knowing about this event in advance so that they can determine for themselves whether they want to participate or just watch.

Err, yes, exceptions do have to be made sometimes……