August 2012

Julian Bagginni: the ignorant philosopher

Or at least the tosh talking one.

This is a lesson with far wider significance. Our present economic woes are in no small part down to the fact that economies grew not on the basis of such real exchanges, but on the movement of numbers on a screen. And that’s also why foreign ownership isn’t really the central issue. Whether French or British, the privatisation would put the docks not so much into the wrong hands, as out of human hands altogether. Instead of having custodians, the docks would simply become data in a spreadsheet, squeezed for every last drop of profit, with no thought to their social or historic importance.

Err, yes. The docks are a business. Should be treated like one too.

It’s a bitter irony that, just as the National Trust is successfully raising funds to buy a section of the White Cliffs of Dover for the benefit of the nation, the Government could be about to sanction the sale of another stretch right next to it. Dover Harbour Board, a non-profit independent statutory body which has run the docks since 1606, wants to privatise the docks, along with a section of the cliffs that form part of their backdrop.

And that\’s the sort of emotionalism, mixing the iconic white cliffs with the port, that philosophy is rather supposed to abjure, isn\’t it?

In which Ms. Gordon is entirely wrong

Children aren’t commodities, and families should not be seen as toy sets, uncompleted until you have all the different figurines. When someone spends £30,000 flying to New York to select the sex of their next child, they aren’t choosing life. They are choosing a lifestyle. And that is very different.

Actually, ever since we said as a society that whether to have a child or not, whether to take a pregnancy to term or to coathanger it, was entirely and absolutely only the potential mother\’s decision, ever since then children have indeed been a commodity.

Once the pass has been sold then it is sold you see. Once the life or not decision depends upon what some other wants then there\’s no reason at all why that want should not be determined by the desires over gender, eye colour, height, freckles or any other triviality. Societally we already agree that a club foot or hare lip is a sufficient reason for execution. Why not extend that to being ginger? Or male?

Do vegetarians actually have to be cretins?

It\’s possible to have entirely serious discussions about going veggie or not. It\’s also possible for people to be entirely cretins about the subject:

With many regions like the Sahel in Africa already facing near-famine conditions, 2 billion people already malnourished, and an estimated 2 billion increase in the world population by 2050, a global plant-based diet seems not just desirable but inevitable.

Dear God you stupid bloody woman. The Sahel is marginal land at the, err, margins. It is largely suited to nomadic pastoral farming. That is, if you\’re going to get any food value out of the bit north of the sorghum belt and south of the Sahara you\’ve got to get it by raising animals and eating the products thereof.

There are vast areas of the globe that fit this profile too. There\’s no point in trying to grow wheat or potatoes on Britain\’s hill farms for example. Plowing the Scottish Highlands won\’t get you anywhere: but mutton or venison can be usefully raised. Truly maximising the caloric production of the land would include raising animals: for there are plenty of areas where you can\’t actually raise much else.

And she\’s obviously not bothered to read this report:

The Stockholm International Water Institute\’s report notes that one third of the world\’s arable land produces grain to feed livestock rather than people.

She says she\’s aware of it, sure, but she\’s obviously not read it.

Overconsumption and the corporatisation of food supply chains also underwrite the factory farming responsible for unconscionable levels of animal suffering and the depletion of marine ecosystems.

Because, you miserably ignorant cow, that very report states that corporatisation of the food supply is exactly what is needed in the poor countries.

But is this actually true Seumas?

Lawyers are always told never to ask questions to which they don\’t know the answer. I am not a lawyer.

It\’s hardly surprising that the mainly publicly owned rail systems in the rest of Europe – several of which now run bits of Britain\’s privatised rail – are cheaper.

Is this actually true?

I know that many European systems are indeed cheaper for passengers, yes. But are they cheaper in total?

Anyone actually know? Not quite sure what the metric should be. Per passenger mile perhaps? But including all costs (which should most definitely include things like pensions!) is the British rail system actually more expensive than those others?

I have a feeling, but no more than that, that Seumas is looking only at ticket prices. Which would be a little naughty really.

As I\’ve been saying for some time now

As Alex Morton has argued in Cities for Growth, a paper for the think tank Policy Exchange – the problem with the UK housing market is not, as many policymakers seem to imagine, a lack of credit, but a lack of supply. Nor is there any absence of land on which to build. The constraint instead lies with lack of land with planning permission in the areas of the country where people want to live .

I’m not arguing for a Texan-style free-for-all. This would be inappropriate for such a densely populated island. But it seems bizarre that a country that so unashamedly celebrates consumerism in all its various guises, should deny its citizens, by virtue of an outdated, Soviet-style planning system, the one thing that would make a significant difference to quality of life – a ready supply of spacious, affordable housing.

Except, well, what is wrong with a Texan style free for all?

What a truly great business idea

Suddenly it hit him. Instead of trying to cajole others to review a client’s work, why not cut out the middleman and write the review himself? Then it would say exactly what the client wanted — that it was a terrific book. A shattering novel. A classic memoir. Will change your life. Lyrical and gripping, Stunning and compelling. Or words to that effect.

In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site, At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.

As someone who has done real book reviews (ie, actually read a book, considered it and then had the review published in a national newspaper that then paid me a fat fee) this sounds like a really great business.

Except for one little problem. People tend not to want to pay for actual real reviews: only for puff pieces. Pity really, I did very much enjoy book reviewing. But bills do have to be paid….

Alcopal pills

This looks like a nice and profitable piece of woo.

Campaigners are calling for pills which allow drivers to drink five pints of beer and still pass a breathalyser test to be banned after a businessman began selling them in the UK.

Arthur Kibble, 64, boasts the \’Alcopal\’ capsules allow motorists to drink until they are over the limit, yet still give a breath test which is nine times lower than it should be.

The claim is that the pills (all natural! Quite possibly organic and vegan too!) stop alcohol absorption through the stomach wall. Which, if true, would delay booze in the stomach from getting into the blood stream and thus would work.

However, it would only delay (I know very little biology but I am certain that as the alcohol gets further down the gut it will just be absorbed there even if they do work), not prevent.

A couple of things occur: firstly, if they\’re all natural then why did a pharmaceutical firm develop them?

More importantly, anyone at all can drink five pints and then drive safely and soberly. For alcohol takes time to get into the bloodstream. Neck five pints and drive for 10 minutes and you\’ll still be under the limit. Drink 5 pints over 2 hours and you won\’t be. I have a very strong feeling indeed that that is the effect which is being exploited.

George Monbiot\’s after capitalism

In this little video George says something very strange indeed.

That the economy is limited by the real value of assets in the physical world.

Which is a very strange indeed thing to say about any possible world after capitalism. For it\’s actually the definition of the world before this strange capitalist/free market mix that we have.

It pretty much was true of the Malthusian world, that wealth only increased as physical resources grew. The huge change that the capitalist/market mix brought, that industrial revolution if you like, is that wealth escaped from that limitation.

The communist economies were still bound by it. That lovely example that Paul Krugman uses. That the Soviet economies had, by some estimates, absolutely no increase in total factor productivity. All growth came from using more resources (including more and better educated labour). And as Bob Solow has pointed out 80% of the market economies\’ growth over that same 20th century came from tfp growth, only 20% from greater resource use.

That is, that the very system he wants us to get beyond, capitalism/markets, is the very system that has freed us from his constraint, that wealth depends purely upon real world physical assets.

And changes in tfp are exactly the measure by which wealth creation is disconnected from those real world physical resources. Which leads us to, if you\’re concerned about the availability of such real world resources, why on Earth would you want to abandon the only economic system we\’ve ever had which divorces wealth from their availability?

Campaign to protect rural England? Pah!

It\’s the campaign to boost urban landlord\’s rents.

The vast majority of green belt is open countryside, still rural in character despite being close to London, Birmingham and other cities. This “ordinary countryside” is as precious as our great national parks but it is under serious attack, from day-to-day planning proposals and from a Chancellor who is too ready to blame planning for bigger economic difficulties. It is down to Eric Pickles — backed, I hope, by the Prime Minister — to live up to the Government’s commitments and act to save the green belt.

The actual effect of the green belt is to boost rents for those who own land inside it. London\’s green belt aids in making the Duke of Westminster, Earl Cadogan, Viscount Chelsea rich.

Property in the Algarve

Was in the bank today and chatting to the manager thoughts turned to the property market.

It\’s basically dead. He\’s completed 3 transactions so far this year: as opposed to his normal 3 or 4 a month. ERA and Remax, the two big estate agent chains, have closed at least half their places. The banks have repossessions coming out of their ears.

The real problem is finance. This bank, a national one, is looking for 60-75% deposits. Essentially, not even worth trying to aim for. Either you\’re a cash buyer who downgrades a little or you don\’t bother.

I\’ve seen one place, not quite in the golden triangle, but close to it. In the Vilamoura/Boliqueme area at least. Down from 950,000 asking to €299,000 just to get it away. 4 bed farmhouse on decent sized garden (English country garden size, 1/2 acre). The only thing even slightly odd about the place is that water is from a borehole, not mains. But that can be an advantage if you actually want to water your garden.

If you\’ve ever thought about wanting a holiday place, or even something a bit more than that, down here in the Algarve then now is a really good time to be looking. If you\’re a cash buyer that is.

Some quite astonishing deals out there from pressed sellers. Haven\’t really bothered to look at flats but wouldn\’t be at all surprised to find 1 bedders in town going to €40k or a little more.

If there actually is anyone in the market I\’m sure we could come to some sort of a deal over our (actually, my mate) doing a search around the bargain bins for you.

Ruins in the country at €20 k (but that\’s deep country), flats in town at €40k and above, entire villas (no, not just townhouses, proper villas) near the sea and the golf at €250k and up seems possible with a lot of digging around to see who really has to sell.

Just through having been here a long time we know the builders (indeed, my mate is one), maintenance people etc. Even, though whisper this quietly, who to bribe and how much to get planning on the swimming pool you want and all that.

Hmm. Perhaps this is something that should be thought about a little more? Given that we do in fact have all the knowledge to be property buyers for people?

If, that is, there is anyone actually looking for property down here. Which is rather the point of this post. Halloo?

Water Horrors!

Leading water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world\’s population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages.

Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to research by some of the world\’s leading water scientists.

My word, that is a problem.

Competition for water between food production and other uses will intensify pressure on essential resources, the scientists said. \”The UN predicts that we must increase food production by 70% by mid-century.

So, is that going to be difficult or easy? That\’s what we really need to know, no?

A separate report from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) said the best way for countries to protect millions of farmers from food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia was to help them invest in small pumps and simple technology, rather than to develop expensive, large-scale irrigation projects.

\”We\’ve witnessed again and again what happens to the world\’s poor – the majority of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and already suffer from water scarcity – when they are at the mercy of our fragile global food system,\” said Dr Colin Chartres, the director general.

\”Farmers across the developing world are increasingly relying on and benefiting from small-scale, locally-relevant water solutions. [These] techniques could increase yields up to 300% and add tens of billions of US dollars to household revenues across sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.\”

Oh, that\’s all right then. It\’ll be piss easy apparently. Move standard rainfed peasant farming one notch up the technological scale to perhaps Ancient Egyptian levels with say an Archimedes Screw and we\’re done.

Back to sleep everyone.

What does amuse is that John Vidal seems not to have even read his own article where the final paragraphs contradict the opening ones.

That old letter of the law

You know who continually tells us that we must pay taxes according to the spirit of the law, not the letter.

Treasury and tax officials are in urgent talks to try and limit the damage caused by a VAT ruling that threatens to result in companies making fresh claims for millions of pounds in rebates on bad debts.

But what happens when it appears that what HMRC thinks is the spirit of the law is actually contrary to the letter of said law? And a tax tribunal agrees that HMRC\’s interpretation is in fact in breach of EU law (quite possibly in spirit as well as letter)?

Should everyone just cough up as Parliament apparently intended or not cough up as they and the EU wrote?

Quite, the answer is that the letter of the law is paramount as the tax tribunal has agreed. And that\’s how it has to be for how can there be any clarity at all without such a position?