George Today

Hmm, George reads two papers drawing on the same evidence. He then decides that the one with teh catastrophic outcome must be the right one.

And thus society must be turned upside down.

He really doesn\’t seem to get the economists\’ point. That doing these things might (and at the speed that Monbiot is arguing they should be done, will) cost more than not doing them.

That\’s "cost" as in deaths, shortened life spans and general human misery, not just "cost" as in cash.

Umm, Iain?

Not quite sure this stacks up.

If lots of people are having free (but safe) sex as the Terence Higgins Trust suggests, then there ain\’t gonna be that baby boom….

Who are these people?

How deluded can you get?

José Manuel Barroso said that the UK is "closer than ever before" to entering the single currency, because of the fallout from the global financial crisis.

He told French radio that "people who matter in Britain are currently thinking about" membership, adding that the country was sufficiently pragmatic to drop its traditional hostility to the currency if there was a strong economic case.

"I\’m not going to break the confidentiality of certain conversations, but some British politicians have already told me: \’If we had the euro, we would have been better off\’," Mr Barroso said in an interview.

During the boom interest rates would have been lower, leading to a greater boom. Vide Ireland and Spain.

Currently, during the bust, interest rates would be higher than they are now, making the bust worse.

We\’ve used a depreciation in the currency to give us a fiscal boost, something that wouldn\’t have been possible if we didn\’t have our own currency.

So who are these idiots thinking that being in the euro would have been a better idea?

A sensible drug policy.

At least one country has managed to get there.

The heroin program, started in 1994, is offered in 23 centers across Switzerland. It has helped eliminate scenes of large groups of drug users shooting up openly in parks that marred Swiss cities in the 1980s and 1990s and is credited with reducing crime and improving the health and daily lives of addicts.

The policy is part of a so-called "four pillar" strategy combining repression, prevention, treatment and risk reduction.

The nearly 1,300 selected addicts, who have been unhelped by other therapies, visit one of the centers twice a day to receive the carefully measured dose of heroin produced by a government-approved laboratory.

They keep their paraphernalia in cups labeled with their names and use the equipment and clean needles to inject themselves — four at a time — under the supervision of a nurse, and also receive counseling from psychiatrists and social workers.

If the incredibly conservative Swiss society can manage to deal with hte problem in this entirely pragmatic manner, why in hell can\’t we?

And the problem is?

Train fares cost more under the privatised rail system than they did under British Rail, it has emerged.

The finding undermines the key justification for the Government selling off the railways 12 years ago. John Major, who was then Prime Minister, promised that privatisation would mean lower fares.

However, a study has found that, taking inflation into account, from next month the average price of regulated fares – which include season tickets and saver fares – will be 0.6 per cent higher than in 1997. On some routes the rise will have been as high as six per cent.

Anyone care to tell me what the rise in passenger numbers has been?

I seem to recall that it\’s something like 50%.

So we\’ve a system which has seen a 50% rise in use and fares have risen 0.6%?

And this is a problem? I\’d say it was rather a success actually, put in only those terms.

If there\’s been a huge rise in demand for something, something of which there is a limited supply, you\’d expect price rises to be rather more than that, wouldn\’t you?

This isn\’t a criticism of carbon markets…

It\’s a validation.

Other manufacturers in India and China producing similar products are expected to earn an estimated £3.3 billion over the next six years by cutting emissions at a cost of just £67m.

Yippee!

We\’ve saved 3.3 billion of ecological damage at a cost of just 67 million. Hurrah, Hurrah!

This is exactly what we want to be happening, emissions being reduced at the lowest cost.

So what\’s the problem?

 

Insanely counterproductive

THE solicitor-general, Vera Baird, has signalled the introduction of new rights for millions of carers of elderly relatives and sick children, raising the prospect of a clash with Lord Mandelson, the business secretary.

Under the proposal, in a bill to be outlined in the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, carers who believe they are being unfairly treated because of responsibilities at home could make a claim of “discrimination by proxy” against their employer.

I\’m not going to argue that this is a good or a bad idea. Make your own minds up upon that.

The measure will form part of a series of changes to grant new workers’ rghts. Baird also hinted the government could in the long term revive plans to force businesses to carry out equal-pay audits to ensure women are not underpaid.

Baird made it clear that ministers would act if businesses did not show they were serious about closing the pay gap. “If it doesn’t [happen] then, after a limited time, we’ll need to reconsider,” she said.

I\’m also not going to argue that this is a good or a bad idea. You can make your own minds up about that.

However, doing the first in order to achieve the second is an insane idea.

Why does the gender pay gap exist? Because, for better or worse, in our society, women take on the greater part of the caring burden. Of caring for children, of caring for parents and other relatives. They thus are less committed (on average of course) to the workplace, to their careers. They work for fewer years, are more likely to work part time, more likely to take career breaks. All of these lead to lower (on average of course) pay.

Insisting that carers, who are overwhelmingly likely to be women, should have greater rights to work part time, to further career breaks, is just going to increase that gender pay gap.

As I say, either idea in isolation can be taken any way you want to. It could be that you are morally outraged by one or other, possibly even both, that carers cannot already claim such rights, that the gender pay gap is an abhorrence. But it\’s undeniable that increasing the cause of the pay gap as a way of closing the pay gap is insane.

Oh dear Willie

Our Wullie manages to get rather confused again.

He was in London last week, promoting his new book The Subprime Solution and between events he met the Chancellor, the Governor of the Bank of England, the Secretary of State for Business and Regulatory Reform and even – for a few minutes – the Prime Minister. One reason for taking him seriously is that he\’s the only prominent economist who can claim to have predicted today\’s bust.

But his solutions are so non-standard and outside conventional thinking, and his manner so self-deprecating and academic, that it takes a while to get the radicalism of his message. Minds seemed to wander last week – and it took me a good few meetings before I understood.

If we are going to get banks to lend and borrowers to borrow, argues Shiller, we have got to reduce decisively the risks they confront. He starts with the mortgage market and the collapse in house prices because they are at the centre of this crisis.

Mortgages, he thinks, always unfairly contained too much risk for ordinary borrowers. Now they are a disaster. Who in their right mind would pledge hard-earned savings as a deposit for a house in a falling property market and, on top, take responsibility for repaying a big mortgage over 25 years when they may lose their job? It is far too much risk and reflects an unfair balance of power between borrower and lender. A left-of-centre government should insist that mortgages are redesigned so they contain far less risk for ordinary borrowers.

Shiller does indeed have some exceptionally interesting ideas about mortgages and the mortgage market. But not quite what Hutton goes on to say they are.

Here\’s my review of the book.

Beyond that, though, he sees this not as a market failure but as the absence of a market. That is, a market that allows you to speculate or bet upon house prices falling. Thus, his long term solution is to build exactly such a market. Fortunately, he\’s already built one of the essential building blocks, an index which we can use to measure house prices in the major US cities. Known as the Case-Shiller indices (modest man our Professor) these are already used as the basis for a modest futures market. Very modest, actually: business is such that it covers some $15 billion worth of houses, a small fraction of the trillions of total house value in the US. As with all futures markets you can speculate (translation: bet) that prices will rise or that they will fall. This is the extra layer of speculation that he wants to add to the current housing market. So what good might come of this? More besuited plutocrats gambling away the lives of the poor perhaps? Perhaps not actually, there are two obvious and highly desirable outcomes from having such a market.

….

I said up above that this solution would make some peoples\’ heads explode, that the solution to an excess of speculation is to create a market in yet more speculation. Yet in this case it is indeed true, this is a valid solution. For what we\’ve been suffering from is not a market failure, rather from the absence of a market. In which case, the solution is to design the market needed to solve our problem.

Shiller isn\’t saying that the government should guarantee mortgages. He\’s not saying that the State has to step in. He is saying, rather, that the response to the absence of a market is to create a market. In this case, a market of futures and options in house prices. In short, more speculation is needed.

Willie han\’t spotted that. Odd really…..

Sorry?

The civil servant at the heart of a Whitehall leak investigation was in hiding last night as a political storm raged over the arrest of the Tory frontbencher Damian Green.

The 26-year-old civil servant was detained at his home in Middlesex at 6am on November 19. The assistant private secretary, who has been suspended from his job, is being looked after by the Home Office at a secret location because it owes him a “duty of care”, officials said.

The suspect is being held at an undisclosed location by the Home Office?

That\’s all a touch Stalinist isn\’t it? After he\’s been charged and released they keep him in custody?

Well, yes, but…..

What is the point of the media if it does not see its primary task as gathering information to hold power to account?

The primary purpose of the media is to make money for those who own it. Just like any other business.

Yes, I know I\’ve said it before….

But Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said the UK should take responsibility for emissions.

"The committee should put pressure on the Government to abandon climate-wrecking plans to expand UK airports and not to build coal-fired power stations without carbon capture and storage from the outset," he said.

"Investing in green energy and cutting energy waste can create tens of thousands of new jobs, reduce our dependency on the yo-yoing cost of fossil fuels and put Britain at the forefront of a green industrial revolution."

Look Andy, creating jobs is a cost of such schemes, not a benefit.

The very fact that thousands of jobs are created is proof that your plans make us poorer.

He\’s got a little list

Lord Mandelson is drawing up plans to choose which businesses and industries are important enough to be saved in the event of their going bankrupt as the recession bites, the Guardian can reveal.

In his first newspaper interview since returning to the cabinet, the business secretary said he planned a more interventionist policy for industry.

Company data such as the number of employees, the importance of the firm\’s research and development and its performance were likely to be factors in deciding which businesses should be given government aid.

It\’s the sort of thing that Herbert Morrison, his grandfather, loved doing. Didn\’t that work well too?