Metric Martyrs

I think I know howthis will play out:

She faces 13 charges which are set out in a document that runs to 67 pages. They include two counts alleging that she used imperial weighing scales without an official stamp. The charges were brought by Hackney Council.

Great emphasis will be placed on the fact that her scales did not have the requisite stamp (and checking weighing equipment and measures has long been a function of local government). That they were Imperial will be played down.

However, I doubt very much that Hackney will stamp as being accurate Imperial only scales, so everyone can say with a straight face that of course you can use Imperial, only you must have stamped scales, which you can\’t get.

The interesting question will be whether the jury buys this or tells them to bugger off.

Relatedly, I must admit that I hadn\’t known this amusing detail:

Julian Harman, of Camelford, Cornwall, was ordered to pay costs for selling Brussels sprouts using imperial measures.

£ 10 Billion Trade Agreement!!!!

Sure, it\’s nice to have more trade, nice to have more investment here (which of course raises the productivity and thus wages here).

Tens of thousands of jobs could be created in Britain by Chinese companies, Gordon Brown said, as he hailed an historic deal which he hopes will increase trade between the two countries by £10 billion over the next two years.

£ 5 billion a year, eh? 0.003% of the economy? Even with our rather anaemic trend growth rate of 2.5% or so, that\’s simply noise, not something we could actually identify. And we could probably get that sort of boost without flying hundreds to China on the taxpayers\’ penny: simply abolish a hundred or two restrictive regulations instead.

Another way of looking at it. If boosting trade is indeed so important, then we should be looking at ways to do it in the most efficient manner. Patrick Minford has pointed out that leaving the EU and having free trade would boost the economy by 3%.

So, again, if boosting trade is such an important point, we could get 100 times the bang for our buck by leaving Brussels, instead of going to China.

What a Result!

President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia has announced the cancellation of all tax concessions for copper mining companies operating in Zambia, saying they were ‘unfair and unbalanced’ and that in their place ‘The government has, therefore, decided to introduce a new fiscal and regulatory regime in order to bring about equitable distribution of the mineral wealth.’

The change is dramatic. Without them mining firms would have earned US$4 billion in the 2008/9 financial year but would only have paid tax of US$300 million. Revenue is expected to rise to US$650 million after the change.

So, Richard Murphy supports governments unilaterally breaching contracts, does he?

Zambia signed legally-binding development agreements with various mining firms to pay fixed taxes for periods ranging from 15 to 25 years at time when copper prices were low at the international market.

Gosh, that\’ll be good for future business investment in Zambia, won\’t it?

Tsk, Tsk.

I have long been concerned about the regressive nature of the UK tax system; regression that is in part caused by the wholly unfair way in which our social security charges work.

National insurance is charged on earnings up to £34,840 this year (and £40,040) next with a small exemption (£87 a week this year). Any tax at 11% (in the main) that stops (bar 1%) when a bit above average earnings is reached is obviously regressive.

But Richard, National Insurance isn\’t a tax, is it? It\’s payment into a social insurance policy.

If you want to change that, to move to a system whereby the social insurance is indeed funded by taxation, then you have to remove all of the eligibility limits thatwe currently have on the benefits you can receive from the social insurance policy.


On Being a Liberal

They say “the Devil is in the details.” Sometimes, so is God. Statists, Socialists, right-wing paternalists – all those who think of humanity in terms of classes, races and masses – need constantly to be confronted with such stories and images. They claim to love humanity; everything they do is for “Society” or “the greater good.”  These are the merest of abstractions. A good human loves and cares for other humans around him; for actual, individual specimens with all their faults and weaknesses, not classes or masses.

Next time you hear an appealing abstraction weighed against the interests of an individual or a family, please picture a man making barbed wire to imprison his uncle or my neat little secretary typing a death list. They served abstractions too.


Polly On Europe


No other bills will go through in this time. The place will be a morgue, with only a clutch of the living dead on their feet for hour after hour. A daily three-line whip will fray MPs\’ tempers, but any amendment means the whole treaty falls – here, and right across Europe.

So, err, The Mother of Parliaments gets to discuss, but not change by even one comma, a bill….and it\’s a good thing that they cannot change it?

Many Tories talk up a new, looser relationship, free-trading like Norway in the European economic area. But Norway pays dearly as a big net contributor, getting no grants in return and no seat to share in EU decision-making.

Does Norway make a higher or lower net contribution than the UK?

In all 26 member states, the Tories\’ only allies are Greek communists, Dutch animal rights and Sinn Féin.

And, as the polls show, a substantial portion of the British public (those stating that they would vote no in a referendum). That\’s an important thing to miss out really.

Out of fear and populism, Labour never sold voters the value of the EU –

Indeed, we are still waiting for someone to show us the cost benefit analysis. Like to try Polly?

Meanwhile, it leaves the Tories with an impossible policy that leads only to the EU exit door.

Oh well, if that\’s the outcome, bring it on then!

Status and Income Redistribution

This description of the practical, private, daily consequences of living with low status in a stratified society was a sharp illustration of theoretical studies of inequality. Research by academics such as Richard Wilkinson and Michael Marmot has exposed the statistical connections between status and health, and status and life expectancy. What they have shown is that even small differences in status have a significant effect on longevity and wellbeing. The man in the bulletin showed how social injuries are experienced, and how they might accumulate.

This is true.

But that experience isn\’t leading, as one might expect, to a generalised support for greater equality.

People in these positions bemoan the growth in inequality. They all agree that there should be greater redistribution from the rich to the poor.

Ah, now we\’re talking about income inequality, not status inequality. The two are not in fact the same thing and it\’s most unlikely that we\’ll solve one by altering the other.

As an example, Polly T is rumoured to earn £140k a year from The Guardian. That\’s third or fourth year earnings for a middling hedgie these days. Does that hedgie have a higher or lower social status than Polly T (I mean in general, not amongst us hateful right wing bloggers, where her status is something lower than whale shit)? Gordon Brown has climbed to the very top of the political greasy pole. His income is a percentage point or two of the incomes of those at the top of the banking tree. Who has the higher social status?

Further, what if we did in fact make incomes vastly more equal? Given that human beings are status seekers (sorry, but this is an essential part of what makes us human, there\’s no getting around that) then we\’d just invent a new method of denoting status. We\’ve done it before, we\’ve allocated high status to those good at hacking peasants with a broadsword, we\’ve allocated it to those who pray harder than others, we\’ve allocated it to those born to those good at either. We\’ve even allocated it to those good at sports, even if unfortunately we\’ve done it too little to those with the brains to improve the human condition.

It\’s a fundamental mistake to look at the consequences of inequality of social status and claim that equality of income will solve them. What really surprises me about said mistake is that this is done in England, a place which for centuries had a class, and thus social status, system which was not based on money at all.

Sea Shepherd

I\’m a little confused here:

For two days now, two crew members of a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel have been held on a Japanese whaling ship, which they boarded in the Southern Ocean. They were delivering a letter informing the captain that his ship was in violation of both Australian and international conservation law.

Using violence to board a ship on the high seas. Don\’t we have a name for that?


Glorious, Glorious!

A corrupt civil servant behind one of the biggest frauds in Whitehall history has managed to avoid paying anything towards a £1.5m confiscation order because the Crown Prosecution Service delayed enforcing it for 11 years, the Guardian has learned.

Gordon Foxley, who was head of defence procurement at the Ministry of Defence from 1981 to 1984, was given a four-year jail sentence in 1994 for taking bribes from foreign arms manufacturers. The trial judge ordered him to hand back £1.5m that had been used to buy his family eight properties. But the high court has now struck out a legal attempt by the CPS to enforce the order because the judge ruled a fair trial of the issues was impossible after such a long delay.

So someone actually convicted of a crime does not pay the money back, while those who have never been convicted of a crime can be forced to pay under new laws.

How excellent a system they\’ve built for us.

Subsidies, Subsidies

Always the same, eh?

When a litre costs 0.7p, and filling the tank of a 4×4 costs 42p, it is a fair question. Petrol is so cheap here – reputedly the cheapest in the world – as to be almost free. Even under the artificially overvalued official exchange rate, petrol is 45 times cheaper than in Britain.

Some economists call the subsidy "Hood Robin", because it steals from the poor and gives to the rich by favouring relatively wealthy car owners above the poor who rely on public transport.

Subsidies most often don\’t actually benefit those they\’re aimed at initially.

I\’ve got this half-formed thought rolling around. I\’m not quite sure whether I\’m onto something or whether it\’s actually a very silly idea, so your thoughts would be appreciated.

It\’s pretty much a basic assumption at that interface between economics and politics that efficiency and equity often are in conflict. We might say that the market distribution of incomes is efficient, but that it is inequitable. Thus we should redistribute through taxation.

Or we might say that the market pricing of petrol is inequitable, it being too high for the poor, so we should subsidise it. Or, closer to home, that heating is too expensive for pensioners so we should send them al £200 a year to increase equity, at the expense of the efficiency of the heating market and the wider economy (for all taxes have deadweight costs).

My half-formed thought is that equity and efficiency are not in quite as much conflict as many think.  An inefficient system, by definition, either uses more resources to get to a specific outcome or, gets to a  worse outcome with the same resources, than an efficient one. This in itself is inequitable, as in order to get to our (possibly) desired equitable position, the reason we\’re actually fostering this inefficiency, we leave everyone worse off in aggregate than they would have been.

Writing this out I think I\’m actually reinventing a wheel that\’s been around a long time. The answer usually given might be to do with the decreasing returns stuff: the 99th pound you have is worth less to you than the first, so taking that 99th and giving it to someone as their first might increase aggregate well being.

But I still think that there\’s less conflict between equity and efficiency than many think: that an inefficient system by and of itself is inequitable, despite that decreasing returns stuff. The question then becomes whether the increase in equity from the redistribution overcomes the decrease in it from total resources.

Yes, this is reinventing a wheel, isn\’t it?

OK, I\’m left with the statement that we need to look more closely at the claims of increased equity as against efficiency in each specific case. As there are two effects it\’s an empirical question as to which predominates in each case.

No, not knew then, just another reason to be casting the gimlet eye over claims on either side each and every time perhaps?



One effect of the proposed CGT changes:

If his proposal to increase the tax rate from 10pc to 18pc is left unchanged, Brewin Dolphin fears a flood of share sales before the start of the new tax year on April 5 that will artificially reduce prices.

A spokesman said: "If he confirms the changes, there will be a massive sell-off. AIM is illiquid and we feel there is a danger that this will concertina up into a very short period. It would be creating a false market as people sell out purely for tax reasons."

Brewin Dolphin, the largest private client adviser in the UK, has reviewed the 63 AIM companies for which it is corporate adviser, and found that "50pc of the shares are held by individuals who could be affected by the loss of taper relief". If the new CGT rules are confirmed, those investors would be "under pressure to crystallise gains this tax year".

Now there used to be a solution to this sort of thing, called "bed and breakfasting". You sold your stock to your broker in hte afternoon and bought it back at a pre-arranged price the next morning. You might pay a penny margin to him for the privilege. You thus crystalised your gains and or losses for CGT reasons.

I\’m a long way away in both time and distance from the details of the markets these days but I\’ve got the impression that you\’re not in fact allowed to do this these days. You can only crystalise such CGT positions by undertaking arms length transactions perhaps?

As I say, I\’m not sure about this, it\’s only an impression at the back of the brain somewhere. Bu if true it would be an interesting example of how one change has consequences further down the line.

Two Stories on Education

Much burbling about "fairness", "equity":

In a key test case, Brighton will become the first city in England this year to employ the system as a tie-breaker at all of its over-subscribed secondaries. It is believed other areas may be encouraged to follow suit in an attempt to bring greater transparency to the admissions system.

The new admissions code bans schools from interviewing children and parents, or asking for extra information designed to weed out pupils from poorer homes who may be more difficult to teach.

Jim Knight, the schools minister, warned it was "unacceptable that children may be missing out on school places" 12 months after the new rules were imposed.

And elsewhere:

Failure to teach children the three Rs at a young age is damaging the British economy, according to a report published by Cambridge University today.

Productivity lags as much as 25 per cent behind economic competitors such as Germany, France and the United States because workers lack basic reading, writing and numeracy skills, it is claimed.

Those productivity numbers I\’m sure are wrong but leave that aside.

I can\’t help thinking that if less effort was expended on the "fairness" side of things rather more might be on the "teaching" side. It isn\’t the most difficult thing in the world, to teach the basics of readin\’, \’ritin\’ and \’rithmetic, given that the ankle biters are there for five years on a compulsory basis.

The Problem With the Police

They appear to be run by aliens, ones with only the most tenuous knowledge of the English language:

Peter Fahy, head of race and diversity, said: "Having listened to the British Association for Women in Policing it was clear many forces wanted to produce a better uniform themselves. It is at that level that the proposals need to be trialled."


Incentives Matter!

Half of all marriages in Britain are unhappy, but the millions of men and women trapped in matrimonial misery will not walk away for fear of financial and emotional hardship, according to a new survey.