All posts by John Band

Anyone who proposes a worse policy wins a prize

OK, so we appear to be in the early stages of a major recession, which may well go on for years. A whole load of people may well lose their jobs, pay rises will be a thing of the past for people who keep them, and overall incomes from working will fall substantially.

Meanwhile, inflation has fallen to pretty much nothing. Falling fuel and food prices are among the main drivers of the fall in inflation. Imported consumer goods, of the sort that kept inflation low during the boom, have risen in price due to the pound’s devaluation.

So let’s think about the people who’re left worst-off by this. Are they:
1) people living on fixed incomes (ie pensions or savings), who’re seeing their living standards remain pretty much flat, who have no chance of a catastrophic decline in incomes, and who spend disproportionately on heating;
or:
2) people not living on fixed incomes, who’re seeing their living standards fall, who’re at risk of losing their jobs, and who’re much more likely to spend on imports, but who have relatively large savings to cushion the blow if anything bad happens;
or:
3) people not living on fixed incomes, who’re seeing their living standards fall, who’re at risk of losing their jobs, and who’re much more likely to spend on imports, but who have debts to service that will utterly crucify them if bad things happen?

The answer, fairly obviously, is group 3. People with decent net savings are just fine: if they never had jobs, they’re insulated from anything bad happening anyway; if they have jobs now, then they can afford the time taken to find a new job if they lose the current one.

So the new Conservative party policy of punishing people in group 3 to reward people in group 1 [*] can only be viewed in two ways: either breathtaking, witless stupidity, or the intergenerational equivalent of class warfare, deliberately screwing over economically productive people even more than the recession will do anyway to give money to the elderly, who the recession won’t have any impact on. [***]

[*] in group 2, where I’m lucky enough to sit, we’ll gain slightly on the tax breaks but lose out from the spending cuts [**].

[**] To “they’ll be funded by cutting waste not productive spending”-ists, that’s not the point. If you’ve got a plan to cut waste, great – but you still need to explain why the benefits from that plan should accrue to people who’re doing fine, rather than something sensible like a rise in the income tax allowance to benefit the working poor.

[***] Of course, the working poor are busy either working or drinking themselves into a stupor to forget their miserable lives, whilst pensioners spend their time talking to Edna in the post office about absolutely nothing, and therefore voting rates for the latter group are far higher than the former. This is another reason why democracy is A Bit Pants, Even If It’s Better Than The Alternatives.

Created in Birmingham

I just voted for West Midlands creative networking blog Created In Birmingham as the Best UK Blog in the 2008 Weblog Awards, and I’d urge you to do the same.

No, I don’t particularly care about the Brummie creative arts world (much as I love Napalm Death and Jasper Carrott…), but they’re the entrant with the single best chance of beating evil bigot and certifiable lunatic Melanie Phillips to the top spot. View it as a kind-of Rickrolling For Good…

Oh, and congrats to Nosemonkey for his nomination. Sometimes you have to let the good suffer to avoid the evil, or similar items of cod philosophy.

Epic political theory WIN

Andrew at LC on bloggertarians:

Libertarians almost all seem to believe that they have achieved everything in life entirely by themselves, having struggled against mighty odds and overwhelming enemies to become moderately successful computer programmers, despite the horrible disadvantages of being born white, English-speaking heterosexual males in middle-class families.

I admit this is slightly unfair: some bloggertarians are gay, and some are from upper-class families.

Alternative sources

When citing rest-stop graffitti:

1. List the name of the rest area (if it has a name) in italics.
2. Name the state in which it was located.
3. Name the highway it abuts (with direction headed).
4. List the nearest mile marker.
5. List the date the graffitti was observed.

Example: “Head you wouldn’t believe, call 555-3278.” [The Ida C. Collins Memorial Rest Area, Wisconsin; Interstate 94 South (Mile Marker 218): May 14, 1997.]


And many more
. Via.

Infinite fighting with websites, all the time

For someone who isn’t a professional webmonkey, I seem to be spending scary amounts of time both in my job and at home being forced to deal with ridiculous amounts of web-based nonsense.

Ho hum. With more wood-touching than a tree fetishist in the Black Forest, it looks like I’ve got everything, both work-wise and home-wise, more or less sorted for now. Yay.

On learning from your mistakes

The Metropolitan Police and the CPS, yesterday:

The Metropolitan Police have apologised to Colin Stagg, who was wrongly accused and jailed for the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common.
Assistant Commissioner John Yates said “mistakes were made” and added: “It is clear that he is completely innocent.”
The Crown Prosecution Service has also written to Mr Stagg expressing regret the case was brought against him.

The Cleveland (UK) Police and the CPS, yesterday:

“We are not reopening the investigation into Kyle Fisher’s death and we are not issuing an apology.”
“I am entirely satisfied that the Crown Prosecution Service and the police were wholly right in bringing this case to court for a second time.”

In which your host doesn’t forfeit his life

So, my decision a year ago to stake my life that house prices wouldn’t fall by more than 20% in 2008 appears to have been vindicated. That’s just as well. And I’m still projecting house prices from Jan 2008 – Dec 2012 to outperform the base rate (OK, the base rate cuts have helped with this one…)

Note to debt doomsayers

When someone buys a country’s government bond, the government needs to pay it back on a specific date. If the government refuses to do so, there will be a total collapse in international confidence in the debt of the country and of all its banks, companies and residents, a currency crisis, and generally a wide range of Very Bad Consequences.

When someone works for a country’s government and is told they’ll get a nice fat pension, the government can decide to not pay it. This will upset the person who works for the government quite a lot, and might be perceived as somewhat unfair. However, the consequences for the country’s ability to borrow, invest and trade in international markets are non-existent.

Therefore, anyone who counts public sector pensions as a liability faced by the UK government in the context of the current financial crisis (generally as a way of saying ‘ooh, we’re nearly as bad as Iceland’ – Nadeem Walayat, this means you) either doesn’t understand what they’re talking about, or is trying to mislead their audience into thinking things are much worse than they really are.

Why we aren’t all doooooooooooooomed

A commenter at CiF, against all odds, cites some relevant statistics:

Financial services which – some people fondly believe – is “all we do nowadays” made up only about 5% of the economy at their height, (rather less now, methinks), whilst industry accounts – according to that CIA thing everybody else seems to be quoting from – for 23.4% of GDP.

In Germany, by contrast, industry makes up a massively larger 31.1% of GDP. (With France a measly 20.6%, the US an even more measly 19.8%, and mighty Japan, at 26.5% only 2% bigger.)

(Link)

The Bill Emmott piece on which he’s commenting isn’t at all bad, either. Although the total, ruinous collapse of the dollar next year is going to be the major story…

‘None of the above’

Mark Wadsworth highlights a new political survey called Take The Quiz. Along the lines of the utterly pointless Political Compass, but slightly more worthwhile [*], it takes (paraphrases of) manifesto commitments and other policy statements from the major UK-wide [**] political parties, and asks you to pick the one you most like / least dislike on a given topic.

Oddly enough, I’ve turned out 63% Labour, despite opposing many if not most of their actions. I think this is primarily because the other parties are even more ridiculous on economic/tax issues, which were the ones I flagged as ‘most important’.

For example, on question 4, ‘what should we do about university fees’, Labour is the only party who’s answer isn’t about abolishing the eminently sensible principle of making people pay a small contribution towards the education that massively enriches them (whilst still retaining a large government subsidy for said education, more than reflecting its benefits to society). For Question 6, ‘how should Britain tax its workers?’, all the options are moronic:

1) Britain should phase out VAT and instead introduce eco-taxes.
2) We should replace council tax with a local income tax. This will be fairer and help pensioners.
3) Our tax system is the 2nd most complicated in the world. Introduce a simple flat tax system instead, which would take 4½ million people out of tax altogether. No tax on minimum wage.
4) We should cut council tax for pensioners and boost pension savings.
5) We should keep the current tax system as it makes public expenditure more affordable.

2 is the most stupid idea ever, and almost in itself stops me voting Lib Dem – at the moment, income is taxed too much and wealth too little; council tax (along with inheritance tax) is a very half-hearted but at least positive step to redress the balance. The core assertion in 3 is almost certainly a lie, and while simplifying taxes would be a good idea, a flat tax is a really quite grossly blatant piece of letting off the rich (equally, having a system of two or three marginal tax rates administered by PAYE that kick in at income thresholds would be no more complex than having one – in both cases, all you need to do is feed your total net pay into a computer and it can work it out. It’s the credits, exceptions, top-ups, and suchlike that cause the complexity). 4 is also stupid, given that the current generation of pensioners are the best-off generation of people ever to have lived (and most likely who ever will), as they were the ones lucky enough to live to an average age of 80 with a guaranteed pension system based on an average life expectancy of 65.

1 isn’t a terrible plan in theory, but it’d be impossible to implement (domestically you can raise the price of CO2 permits, but you can’t sanely assess the carbon footprint of every imported product without destroying trade). 5 is almost completely incoherent, and is presumably Labour policy, but manages to be the least ridiculous of the alternatives available.

The picture is similar across the other questions. Probably the stupidest options of all are for Question 16, ‘Should the age of retirement be increased?':

* Yes – retiring at 65 isn’t sustainable. The retirement age should eventually rise to 70.
* No – 70 is too old to continue working in full time employment.
* People should have the choice whether or not to continue working if their health is good enough.

This is akin to a man with his hair on fire asking the question ‘should my hair be on fire?’ – perhaps in an ideal world it wouldn’t be, but it is, and there’s no real room for debate. A pensions system can only work when the age of pay-out is the median age of death. Raising the pensions age to 70 might help, but we’d also need to raise rates of smoking, alcoholism, obesity and dangerous sport among our seniors in order to get life expectancy back down to sustainable levels…

So yeah. If you wonder why people don’t vote, if you wonder why I laugh at anyone who suggest there’s innate value to democracy (I support representative democracy because it’s empirically less bad in the medium term than everything else we’ve tried, but the suggestion that it has any moral worth in itself is just bizarre), and most importantly if you wonder why some people still hold their noses and vote Labour despite its obvious ineptitude, corruption and nannyism, then this look at the reality of UK parties’ policies will both help and utterly depress you.

[*] the best ever such survey was conducted by the late Chris Lightfoot, who used empirical data to determine which attitudes are *actually* correlated among members of the public, rather than taking an undergraduate political philosophy framework and pretending that it correlates to real people’s real beliefs. He discovered that the Political Compass is, indeed, nonsense – the most important set of correlated beliefs are “we should hang ‘n’ flog people, politicians are crooked bastards, screw Europe, the poor and immigrants, and cut taxes” (and their opposites, obviously), mirroring stereotypical left-right splits completely. The only other set of correlations with any significance were “we should have free markets, less tax, be more like America, and invade Iraq” (this was in 2004), I guess reflecting the Economist vs Jacques Chirac…

[**] well, GB-wide.