Tim Worstall

Fortress Britain


Train passengers face routine airline-style bag checks and body searches as part of a new counter-terror crackdown announced by Gordon Brown.

So, er, has anyone done the cost benefit analysis?

This could include screening luggage at major stations like London King\’s Cross or Manchester Piccadilly using mobile checking devices that can be moved around the country.

And this will achieve what? Imagine that there are terrorists, primed and ready to bomb. So we set up the screening systems and start screening people coming into a particular station. Our bombers are therefore not going to use that station on that day, are they? The only way we could keep them off the railways is to screen all stations all the time: and no one at all things that that is going to be anywhere near cost effective. Remember that this would, from the evidence of the only bombing actually on trains in memory, that this would also have to include each and every London Underground station. And, err, every bus stop.

I can\’t see the value of this at all, other than in the sense of something being seen to be done, however wasteful and futile that something is.

Glasgow Airport is cited: what, we stop cars arriving at the airport now?

It is currently unclear who will bear the costs of any security improvements.

That\’s easy. The general public in huge delays. Time equals money, you know?


Hmm. I\’m not quite sure what to think of this.

I really don\’t know whether a supporter owned club, entirely transparent and actually run by the supporters (as opposed to simply owned, like, I think, Barcelona is) is a good idea or not.

There\’s more here as well.

But as I\’m asked about economics (as is Chris Dillow if he\’s got the time) I\’ll stick with that part:

In longer words, It’s as near to pure communism or socialism as you’re going to get in football, and while a community owning the club is, in principle, seems attractive, there’s all sorts of areas that are heading for trouble on this.

I don\’t actually think that this will be the problem, if problem there is. There\’s nothing I can see wrong with either communism or socialism as long as it is voluntary. If people decide that they are willing to put up their own money and then own an asset in common, well, good luck to them. No skin off either my or your nose.

Further, we\’ve seen over the centuries that exactly these sorts of common ownership schemes can work very well. Building Socieities were all mututal (and some still are) as were many insurance companies.

Now whether or not this is going to work with a football club I have no idea (as I have no idea how a football club works anyway) but don\’t let the "socialism" bugbear lead you to condemn it. We should save the condemnation of socialism, or communism, for when people try to enforce it upon us, not when people decide to try it out for themselves.

After all, as above, there are times and industries where it works very well**: and isn\’t the structure of the family best described as a form of paternalistic* socialism?

* Not meant to mean the patriarchal part of paternalism though. Perhaps "parental" would be better.

** And of course this is one of the joys of liberal capitalism. That people can go off and make these experiments and then report back on whether they do work or not.

Burka Blue

Burka Blue, Afghanistan\’s first all girl band.


My brother\’s been working out there for a few years now, head cheffing for the forces. Not heard any stories from him about dating the local girls, perhaps this helps to explain why?

Hardly a Surprise

Really, not a surprise at all:

A reckoning may be looming, however. Research suggests that the demands made by A-list actors have turned the movie business into a loss-making industry at the precise moment that it has mislaid its audience at the box office.

A report, Do Movies Make Money?, predicts that the 132 films distributed by the six leading Hollywood studios in 2006 will make a pretax loss of $1.9 billion (£920 million).

The findings by Global Media Intelligence (GMI), an offshoot of Screen Digest, a London-based research company, are based on evidence that revenue growth has stalled after a “golden age” between 2000 and 2004, while costs have ballooned. GMI believes that several of the biggest box office hits of 2006 made an overall loss or failed to return significant profits to their investors. These include Mission: Impossible III, Superman Returns, Dreamgirls and Miami Vice.

Falling DVD sales, increasingly ambitious marketing campaigns and demand for ever more spectacular special effects have all played supporting roles. The leading culprit, however, is the spiralling costs of “gross participation” deals, which can account for up to $100 million on a single film.

Roger Smith, the author of the report and an industry veteran of more than 30 years, said that deals offering top actors, directors and producers a share of the gross revenue from a film have risen steadily in recent years. They are not included in budgets and are paid on top of the star’s official salary. GMI estimates that they cost Hollywood at least $3 billion last year.

Money flows to the rare commodity. Whether it\’s football players who have that extra 1% of talent, bankers with that extra whatever or the film star who can green light a movie. There\’s really nothing surprising about it at all.

Plant Food

An interesting little aside:

The fact that leaves are turning brown later each autumn is caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and not global warming, British scientists have discovered.

Over the past 30 years autumnal senescence, the process of plant ageing by which leaves discolour then fall, has been delayed in Europe by between 1.3 and 1.8 days a decade. Trees have also been growing leaves earlier. During this time atmospheric CO2 has risen by 13.5 per cent.

See? CO2 really is plant food.



Bend Over

And get ready for it.

Wates and Kier, two of the biggest construction companies in the country, have decided not to bid for any of the contracts. Meanwhile, the Olympic stadium and the aquatic centre have attracted just one bid each.

The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) had expected thousands of companies to show interest in contracts. But the construction industry is thriving and the biggest companies are concerned about the risks to their reputations and the bureaucracy involved. They have been put off by prominent troubled projects such as the Wembley and Cardiff stadiums, which were built well over budget at the contractors’ expense.


Tough employment conditions built into contracts — including direct labour, local labour and stringent health and safety regulations — are also forcing up prices.

The ODA will release figures today showing that all but 23 of the 1,715 workers now on site are being paid the London Living Wage or more, and 50 per cent of workers live in the capital, with one in five from local boroughs.

Yup, it\’s going to cost even more than they\’ve already admitted.

Now This Really Does Take The Biscuit!

First, there\’s the standard engineer\’s fallacy:

Before asking how many engineers we need, we should first ask: "What will they be doing?"

We should not even be asking how many engineers we need. We should ask "do we have a functioning market for engineers? Do people respond to the incentives within that market?" If the answer to both is "Yes" then we have the number of engineers that we need.

But much more fun that that:

Chris Wise, the engineering director behind London\’s Millennium bridge

We\’re now taking advice on engineering from th bloke behind the Millennium Bridge? The one that ignored the basics of harmonics? Even after the Tacoma Narrows bridge, the film of which is shown in about the first 15 minutes of any engineering course?

was professor of creative design at Imperial College until 2005

Those who can do, those who can\’t teach, eh?

You Can Ignore Economics

But economics won\’t ignore you:

But of milk, eggs, sugar and cooking oil there was no sign. Where were they? The question yesterday prompted a puzzled look from the manager. "There isn\’t any. Everybody knows that. Pasta is probably the next to go," he shrugged.

Welcome to Venezuela, a booming economy with a difference. Food shortages are plaguing the country at the same time that oil revenues are driving a spending splurge on imported luxury goods, prompting criticism of President Hugo Chávez\’s socialist policies.

Milk has all but vanished from shops. Distraught mothers ask how they are supposed to feed their infants. Many cafes and restaurants serve only black coffee.

Families say eggs and sugar are also a memory. "The last time I had them was September," said Marisol Perez, 51, a housewife in Petare, a sprawling barrio in eastern Caracas.

When supplies do arrive long queues form instantly. Purchases are rationed and hands are stamped to prevent cheating. The sight of a milk truck reportedly prompted a near-riot last week.

This isn\’t actually a surprise. When you set the price of an item below its cost of production then people won\’t produce the good.

Government price controls on staple foods are so low that producers cannot make a profit, they say, and farms and businesses hesitate to invest in crops or machinery, or stockpile inventories, for fear of expropriations.

"We\’ve warned about this from the beginning – all of these price controls in the long run end up producing shortages," Ismael Perez, of the industry group Conindustria, told Reuters.

You can even fight economics but economics will win.

English Football

Errm, excuse me?

The Premier League is in discussions with Downing Street over ways in which it can increase the number of home-grown players appearing regularly for England\’s leading clubs.

Why is anyone talking to a Scot about this? Further, will the same rules appply to the Scottish Leagues? The Welsh (in so far as they have one)? NI? Well then, bugger off.

Discussions have begun with senior advisers to the prime minister and James Purnell, the culture secretary, to try to develop a consensual "British solution" to the apparent decline in the number of British and Irish players in the nation\’s top sides.

Err, look, that really does give the ball game away, doesn\’t it? The Premiership is England\’s football competition. If it is to be bent to creating a national team, it would be logical for it to be bent to the creation of an English one, correct? So they can bugger off again.

But vastly more important than this is the point that football clubs are in fact private businesses. Within the strictures of general immigration law (you know, EU workers can work anywhere etc.) Government has no damn business telling a private company who it may or may not employ (assuming that we\’re talking about consentinig adults, of course).

So they can bugger off a third time.

Watch Out For Your Wallets!

Now who would have guessed it?

Potential bidders for Northern Rock are pressing the government to waive a £2bn* interest bill on the stricken bank\’s outstanding £20bn loan. Their representations to the Treasury mark the opening skirmish of what could prove to be a politically damaging battle for control of the bank.

Bidders are arguing for more lenient lending conditions to Northern Rock in return for safeguarding valuable jobs in the north-east of England. One bidder has already highlighted the benefits of its bid for the job prospects of the bank\’s 5,500 workers in Newcastle and Sunderland.

Note that currently Northern Rock isn\’t actually paying interest on  that loan, although it is accumulating. So what hte bidders are asking is that the accumulated bill not be called in. Nice work if you can get it, certainly, and I certainly would blame anyone for trying it on. However, I would hope that the Government tells them to bugger off.

Either Northern Rock has a value while accruing that interest or it doesn\’t. If it does then someone will buy it. If it doesn\’t then no one will and it should be gradually shut down. By writing off the interest the Govt (or Bank, or Treasury, to taste) is simply moving money to the current shareholders, increasing the value of NR to their benefit.

As it\’s the shareholders who should be losing money in this affair this isn\’t in fact what we ought to be doing.

But pressure is likely to fall on the chancellor Alistair Darling, who is well aware that Labour has a majority of seats in the north- east and needs to protect them ahead of a general election. Accusations that the government, far from losing money on lending to Northern Rock, was guilty of profiteering are unlikely to play well with MPs in affected constituencies.

Unions in the region, already agitated at delays in the bidding process, could also exert pressure on the government to relax lending rules to allow a bid to go through.

But if the interest is foregone, it\’ll be for that reason. Politics. For, as we know, politicians do things that benefit politicians, not things that benefit you and me.

* One question though. How does borrowing £20 billion for three months at 7% give you a £2 billion interest bill? £350 million, surely?

Climate Change and Cod

Now yes, OK, co are indeed sensitive to water temperature, most especially at spawning time.

The prospect of cod returning to levels where it is can once again be the staple of fish and chips looks gloomier than ever in the wake of a study of the impact of climate change.

The world\’s cod fisheries are disappearing fast, with a global catch that declined from 3.1 million tons in 1970 to 950,000 in 2000. If such a trend continued, the world\’s cod stocks would disappear in 15 years, by some estimates.

Today a study suggests that it is going to be hard for stocks of the fish to recover quickly. As the favourable areas for the fish move north as a result of warming, then the species could be in trouble.

So yes, I would expect climate change to have an effect on the cod populations.

However, that\’s as nothing compared to the idiocies of our current fisheries policies. It\’s rather a mote and beam problem: we still run fisheries as a hunter gatherer industry, still insist that the Commons problem remains unsolved. For example, I\’ve seen figures which insist that we throw back, dead, into the ocean, more cod from the North Sea than we land, as a result of the Common Fisheries Policy. The first thing we have to do is solvethat, in the way that Norway, Iceland and the Faroes have done, by making the right to the fish an asset, one owned by the fishermen.

Only after we\’ve dealt with that major part of the problem should we start to worry about what more minor effect climate change might have.

That Reform Treaty

Referendums on the new European Union Treaty were "dangerous" and would be lost in France, Britain and other countries, Nicolas Sarkozy has admitted.

Well, of course. That\’s why we\’re not getting such a vote, isn\’t it? Can\’t let the proles make the wrong decision now, can we?

That\’s Nice

For some at least.

The Pentagon is spending billions of dollars on new forms of space warfare to counter the growing risk of missile attack from rogue states and the "satellite killer" capabilities of China.

Congress has allocated funds to develop futuristic weapons and intelligence systems that operate beyond the Earth\’s atmosphere as America looks past Iraq and Afghanistan to the wars of the future.

There will be those who gorge on the contracts sent out on an emergency basis.

The most ambitious project in a new $459 billion (£221.5 billion) defence spending Bill is the Falcon, a reusable "hypersonic vehicle" that could fly at six times the speed of sound and deliver 12,000lb of bombs anywhere in the world within minutes.

Unfortunately we\’ve already been involved in that one and I don\’t think we passed the required standards. Hafnium carbide is a) the most refractory (ie, highest melting point known) material and b) bloody hard to make.

This though looks much more interesting:

Darpa is also developing a small unmanned launch vehicle that would provide "responsive and affordable" access to space, for less than $5 million per launch. The first test flight was made in March.

Getting into orbit for that sort of price is an order of magnitude improvement. Only one more order of magnitude needed and we\’ll be "there". "There" being just about anywhere, for as has been pointed out, once you\’re in orbit, you\’re not half way to the Moon, you\’re half way to anywhere.

Mainstream Minerals Corporation

Just a minor point for Mr. Google and anyone who might have received the press release from Mainstream Minerals Corporation:

New 40 ft intersection with a grade of 13.54 g/t Gallium (Ga), 21.50 g/t Scandium (Sc), 12.98 g/t Rubidium (Rb), 20.27 g/t Cerium (Ce), 8.25 g/t Lanthanum (La), 12.03 g/t Yttrium (Y), 1.83 g/t Ytterbium (Yb), 3.23 g/t Selenium (Se), 6.76 g/t Lithium (Li), 3.58 g/t Cadmium (Cd), 4.28 g/t Niobium (Nb), 2.25 g/t Hafnium (Hf), 38.57 g/t Cobalt (Co), 79.29 g/t Vanadium (V), 83.61 g/t Strontium (Sr), and 96.53 g/t Zirconium (Zr).

Those concentrations of rare earths are what is commonly known as "dirt".

All these metals have significant economic and strategic value and depending on purity and lot size, individual powders refined into metal may range in price from US$15.00 per kilogram for lanthanum metal, to US$30,000 per kilogram (US$30.00 per gram) for scandium metal. Some of these metals like Rubidium, which is not actively traded, have sold for as much as US$58.20 per gram.

Worth noting that scandium metal is also not "actively traded". I would be astonished if more than 10 kg a year was sold annually, globally.


Seumas on Castro

For some, Cuba\’s resistance to multi-party elections, its clampdown on those who work with the US against the regime, its shortages and bureaucracy mark Castro down as a failed dictator,

I wonder why anyone would think that?

But for millions across the world, Cuba\’s resistance to US domination, its internationalist record in Africa and Latin America, its achievements in health and education and its pursuit of an indepen-dent, anti-capitalist course remain an inspirational point of reference

Doesn\’t matter if you\’re a failed dictator then, as long as you\’re anti-US and anti-capitalist?


A competition in Australia:

The Australian Fabians are running a young writers’ competition, for those aged 18-28. First prize is a trip to London, to work in the think tank Demos for a month. Second prize is two months working for Demos in London.

Seriously though:

Spend a month with the UK’s leading think tank

Demos? Leading? Think tank even? Aren\’t these the people that fired Madeleine Bunting because she was too sane?

Such a Lovely Place

Homosexuals deserve to be executed or tortured and possibly both, an Iranian leader told British MPs during a private meeting at a peace conference, The Times has learnt.

Mohsen Yahyavi is the highest-ranked politician to admit that Iran believes in the death penalty for homosexuality after a spate of reports that gay youths were being hanged.

Bombing\’s too good for them, of couse.

Polly on Savings

Not quite sure where to start today, the logic running through this piece is so tangled.

The subprime savers are the wretched Farepak people who were not even borrowing money, only saving for zero interest. How can a company fail when all it did was take in poor people\’s money for a whole year, pay them no interest, in exchange for an above-high street-priced catalogue of goods at Christmas time? There was no credit or interest offered, only a "safe" place for cash. Families living on the edge want to put Christmas money out of reach. Why ordinary banks aren\’t offering the same fixed-date deal, with no or low interest, is a mystery.

I\’m pretty sure that you can in fact deposit money in a bank account at no interest you know. Not 100% sure, but pretty certain.

No government will give a blank cheque against every failed enterprise, but the difference was in the instant reaction to Northern Rock. Overnight all bank savers got a cast-iron £35,000 guaranteed – a sum unimaginable to Farepak or First Solution savers.

Wasn\’t actually much of a change though. £32,000 or so was already guaranteed .

In the 10 years since Labour came to power promising to start a people\’s bank to give modest access to credit to those in most need, nothing has been done. Basic bank accounts now receive benefits, pensions and wages, but they offer no credit, not the smallest overdraft facility.

See, Polly agrees, you can deposit money at no interest in a bank account.

People on low incomes need ordinary bank accounts with easy access via cash machines, and a credit facility at a fair interest, like everyone else.

Ah, now we\’ve morphed to offering credit, rather than a safe place fo savings. Something a little different, isn\’t it?

Poverty is their problem: most are relatively prudent, or else they\’d starve (benefits for a family of four total only £200 a week).

I beg your pardon? Is that really the number? Including housing benefit? Seriously, I don\’t actually know and would like to.

That\’s where this always returns. People on subprime pay and benefits are just too poor to save – and yet they have to borrow when minor mishaps cause financial catastrophe. So loan companies can charge what they like – check out the Provident\’s site for loans at 183% APR – often with worse rates door to door.

Mhmmm. 183% APR eh? Wonder how they\’re making money on that. There are in fact non-profit lenders in the US who offer this sort of credit to the poor:

But alternative payday loans have also drawn criticism from some consumer advocates, who say the programs are too similar to for-profit payday loans, especially when they call for the principal to be repaid in two weeks. At GoodMoney, for example, borrowers pay $9.90 for every $100 they borrow, which translates to an annual rate of 252 percent.

Sounds like Provident is offering a good deal really.