Category Archives: Bit of politics

Taxes on the rich clearly aren’t too high

There are lots of countries in the world that are tax havens. They are short of skilled labour. Anyone earning enough to pay higher-rate tax in a Western country has a skillset that would easily land them a job doing something similar in a tax haven.

Instead, they’ve chosen to live where they do. Definitionally, this shows that they believe the tax is a price worth paying for the quality of life they enjoy there. If they didn’t, then they’d have moved to a tax haven already [*].

So while some rich people might complain that they think taxes are too high, they clearly mean this in a “it’d be nice if this thing was cheaper, but I’m still going to buy it at the price it’s on sale for” way (rather like people buying Apple products), and therefore we can discount their protests.

Taxes on unskilled workers, who don’t have the same advantages when it comes to free migration, are a different story: the poor can’t be deemed to have agreed to the deal in the way that the rich clearly can.

So the morally best way to reform the tax system would be to remove the working poor from the tax net, while ensuring that those wealthy enough to have a choice bear more of the cost. This is even before you consider the massive benefits (on virtually all measures) of having a more equal society.

[*] there is a pragmatic argument that “we’ll be stuffed if all the talented people leave”, and there is presumably a level of tax at which this might be true. However, evidence from the 1960s and 1970s (when marginal tax rates on very high incomes were above 90% in the UK) suggests that the proportion of talented people leaving even at that rate was low enough as to be irrelevant to overall economic growth.

Good answer to a rhetorical question

On a fairly standard CiF article about the death penalty (the Americans are planning to execute a woman who was involved in a plot to kill her husband, but who was demonstrably too stupid to have led it; everyone sane disapproves; everyone evil and vindictive approves strongly), the standard liberal joke question came up:

i’ve never understood how someone can be pro-life and in favour of the dealth penalty.

Obviously, lots of right-wing idiots came up with failed answers. But a liberal commenter called LinearBandKeramik (no relation) actually came up with an excellent one:

Pro-life individuals are not primarily opposed to abortions because of a concern for the unborn child. It is more about maintaining a social structure in which women’s independence is circumscribed by their ability to give birth. If the choice to give birth or not isn’t fully under the individual control of the women concerned then it allows others (other women, men, the church etc.) to have greater power over them. In other words they’re not really pro-life, they’re pro-control.

Such individuals simultaneous support for the death penalty flows partly from a lack of compassion and also from a belief that violence should be the remedial option of first resort, regardless of the problem.

Pretty much 100% on, there.

Easy answers to simple questions, #423

From the comments on Charlie Brooker’s excellent Guardian piece on the insane fuss over the not-a-mosque not-at-ground-zero:

How many Saudi’s would object to a Church being built in one of their cities if they were asked and polled? How many Americans object to a mosque? How many in Switzerland recently voted against minarets? Are they are all reactionary, sexist, homophobic, racist, xenophobic, nationalist, fascist, intolerant bigots?

Yes.

Well, except for the ‘sexist’ and ‘homophobic’ bits – while those are closely correlated with the other attributes listed, they aren’t directly relevant to the case in hand.

Bonus extra stupidity:

One never knows, there is a definite possibility that an Islamist atrocity may once again occur on UK soil and also an outside chance that a member of Charlie’s family is in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wonder if Charlie, or any of the others supporting this prospective mosque near the Ground Zero site, would have such a positive attitude to this proposed development, if this came to pass.

Yes I bloody would. Because I’m not an appalling, stupid bigot, I’m fully aware that moderate Sufis would have had absolutely nothing to do with such an attack, that Islamist extremists hate moderate Sufis even more than they hate America, and that the best way to combat the ideology that created Al Qaeda is to build bridges with moderate Islam.

Digressionally, Cordoba House would have been a good name for the mosque, given that the Andalusian caliphate was the most religiously tolerant government the European world had ever seen at that time (or indeed, at any point before the 19th century). It was replaced by the genocidal mania of the Spanish Inquisition – a welcome reminder that anyone claiming Islam is inherently less liberal than Christianity is deeply, deeply stupid.

Supreme Court (UK edition) for the win

Lord Rodger, yesterday:

Just as male heterosexuals are free to enjoy themselves playing rugby, drinking beer and talking about girls with their mates, so male homosexuals are to be free to enjoy themselves going to Kylie concerts, drinking exotically coloured cocktails and talking about boys with their straight female mates.

Great ruling, though. And nice to see the government welcoming it, in a weird departure from precedent and stereotype.

Of course, the Sun had to spoil it: Gay illegals can stay. Err, no, you bigoted idiots, they aren’t illegals, they’re legitimate refugees – that’s exactly what the Supreme Court ruling has just determined…

Depressing but probably true

From the Rodent:

It would’ve been wiser and more useful in military and diplomatic terms; more humane, productive and billions of pounds less expensive if the US and Britain had responded to 9/11 by crashing two planeloads of US marines into the centre of a randomly-chosen Afghan city at 700 mph and executing 300 randomly-chosen British squaddies by firing squad.

Conjecture on Mr Weisenthal’s Centre

Any self-professed ‘human rights group’ that criticises a decision to, erm, respect someone’s human rights is not actually a human rights group, so much as an opportunity for a bunch of vindictive tossers to further hone their already highly developed sense of victimhood and entitlement.

Eggscerable reporting, or ‘no, the EU won’t ban eggs by the dozen’

The latest insane euromyth, as faithfully invented by the Daily Mail, is that the EU is planning to ban the sale of eggs by the dozen or half-dozen. As usual, the Littlejohn Rule applies here: if the story sounds like something you “really couldn’t make up” (thanks, Mr Dale), then somebody doubtless has made it up.

The main thrust of the Daily Mail’s story is that under proposed EU legislation, it will be illegal to print “six eggs” on a box of six eggs. Instead, the quantity of eggage will have to be listed solely in kilogrammes. This is simply – and really really obviously – false, and if you believe it then you’re doubtless someone who’s checked whether the word ‘gullible’ is really in the dictionary.

Here’s the actual legislation, proposed by the European Parliament. The quote that the press have misunderstood (or, more likely, lied about) is:

1. The net quantity of a food shall be expressed, using litres, centilitres, millilitres, kilograms or grams, as appropriate:
(a) in units of liquid in the case of liquids within the meaning of Council Directive 85/339/EEC of 27 June 1985 on containers of liquids for human consumption ;
(b) in units of mass in the case of other products.

In other words, all food that is sold in the EU will need to list either its volume (for liquids) or its mass (for solids) in metric units on the pack. Note the absence of anything banning the use of other indicators on the pack, such as “number of eggs”, “mass in pounds”, “number of moles of hydrogen atoms in the packet”, etc. Anyone who wishes to do so can advertise any or all of the above, as long as the metric unit of volume or mass is clearly marked. See: a pint of milk.

So the more outlandish claim, that the legislation would ban the sale of eggs in packs labelled as ‘six’ or ’12’, is obvious, total nonsense.

The only thing substantiating the piece at all is the Mail’s quote from an unnamed source at the UK’s Food Standards Agency, “Retailers would not be allowed to put ‘Six eggs’ on the front of the box.“. Whether the Mail has grossly misquoted the FSA spokesman, or whether the FSA spokesman is an idiot, is not clear. Either way, the quote is wrong.

A more sensible criticism of the proposed rule comes from The Devil’s Knife – that the change would cost food packagers money for very little benefit, wasting everyone’s time and resources:

Well, I would imagine that selling a 500g box of eggs that does not, in fact, contain 500g of produce is illegal under Trading Standards. So now the egg producers are going to have to weigh each and every box, and stamp the exact weight on each box. Not only will they have to buy the stamping equipment (because you can bet your bottom dollar that just writing the weight on is not legal: they even have to stamp each individual egg now, for fuck’s sake) but it is also labour-intensive.

Well, this would be true, except that eggs are already graded by weight – e.g. a ‘large’ egg weighs 63-73g – which requires them to be weighed. And under EU labelling rules, positive errors are allowed on packaging, as are negative errors of 3% (for a package that weighs 300-500g, like six large eggs).

So if the new rules do come in, an egg producer who wished to comply with them at zero cost could just add ‘weight 385g’ to all their boxes of large eggs, and otherwise carry on as before.

Meanwhile, an egg producer who wanted to emphasise the fact that their large eggs were super-large could put the actual weight if they chose, based on the grading by weight that they would have done anyway. Obviously, this would require more complicated software for labelling; whether the producer views it as worthwhile or not depends on whether they reckon it’ll help them make money. Like, erm, most commercial decisions…

Update: John Harrison of Allotment.co.uk has helpfully clarified the (current and not planned to change) rules for small producers in comments:

It’s currently perfectly legal to engage in farm gate sales (or front door sales for backgarden chicken keepers) so long as you do not grade the eggs and provide a use-by date.

This means the box sold at the door of six eggs will be various sizes, which is actually quite useful when cooking. Some things a small egg is perfect for and you can hardly use ‘half a large egg’. The useby date is generally just a matter of adding 30 days to the laid date.

Home producers do not need to stamp the eggs etc. It’s when you supply shops etc that the weight of regulation comes in.

In praise of firing squads

I oppose the death penalty, but if countries are going to impose it, then the firing squad is a pretty decent method. It’s rapid and painless enough not to be sick torture, but it’s also brutal enough to remind everyone concerned that they are, actually, violently and prematurely ending a life.

Which is good, because that’s what the death penalty involves, whether or not you personally support it. You’re either saying “it is right for the state to violently and prematurely end this person’s life for the good of society/justice”, or you are saying “it is not right for the state to violently and prematurely end people’s lives”.

Shooting – as with UK-style hanging by the days of Albert Pierrepont – doesn’t try and cover up the fact that a human being is being violently killed, whilst also not revelling in the person’s suffering (unlike, say, crucifixion or stoning). Lethal injections and gas chambers, by removing the element of violence and disguising the taking of a life as a medical or scientific procedure, are no more humane than shooting or hanging – but far more dishonest and hypocritical.

If firing squads turn your stomach because they involve killing a person, then that’s all to the good. But don’t kid yourself that any of the other methods of execution are any better.

Well, apart from the one administered to Arthur Charles Herbert Runcie MacAdam Jarrett (unbelievably, not available on YouTube), of course.

‘Anti-Europe’ is an accurate term for UKIPpers

There are two possible meanings that the phrase ‘anti-Europe’ can carry.

One is the Fox News interpretation, under which Europe is full of gay, garlic-eating communists, and therefore should be bombed, or at least avoided. The other is the opposition to European political integration, or to the view of Europe as a political rather than solely a geographic entity.

If someone’s from Europe and/or voluntarily in Europe [*] – which includes almost everyone with any interest at all in the debate on European political integration – to describe that person as ‘anti-Europe’ in its first meaning would make no sense at all, unless they were actually an insane self-loather (Melanie Phillips is not a counterexample here).

Hence, people opposed to European political integration who complaining about the use of ‘anti-European’ to describe them are silly. Nobody’s claiming that you hate yourself, football, the Parthenon, black pudding, the English language and motorways. You do, however, hate the concept of Europe as a political entity. And that’s why you’re being described as ‘anti-Europe’.

There is some truth in the complaint, in that there’s a genuine conceptual difference between ‘anti-Europe’ and ‘anti-EU’. While most anti-EU types are also anti-Europe, there are a few people who favour European political integration but also believe that the EU is so hopelessly corrupt and useless that it should be abolished and we should start again. But they’re the only ones to whom that distinction applies, there really aren’t very many of them, and they’re not the people who join UKIP…

[*] a reminder to UKIPpers: the UK is, geographically, in Europe.

When Good Contrarianism Goes Bad

So, I come up with a contrarian view on the BP issue that I don’t 100% hold, but which is a genuine aspect of the story and which has been completely neglected in any of the coverage I’ve seen. I mention it on Twitter, I spend a couple of days thinking about it, and then I write it up for a blog post.

…and then, the same bloody day, the sillier ends of the UK press have the same idea, although with far less research and more pointless nationalistic ranting. Had I known they were going to do that, I wouldn’t have bothered – there’s a difference between contrarianism where you float a viewpoint that nobody’s promoting, and Clarksonism where you float a viewpoint that lots of people are promoting and pretend that you’re being oh so brave and daring for doing so. The latter is no fun at all, and even the perception of the latter is a bit embarrassing.

Anyway.

There are elements of Obama’s public references to BP that can only be explained by Brit-bashing. The underlying problem in the US oil industry is regulatory failure, and if the US oil industry were to operate under the same regulatory framework that the UK oil industry adopted after Piper Alpha, then the disaster wouldn’t have happened. And the best way to deal with safety in general is the aviation industry’s one of heavy, preemptive regulation, with accident inquiries that avoid blame and stick to making recommendations that are enforced, rather than doing nothing until there’s a disaster and then throwing around massive amounts of blame and infinite lawsuits [*].

I’m in two minds about the US administration’s behaviour at the moment, though.

As I mentioned in comments to the other post, I don’t understand their strategy here: the incident is fundamentally George Bush’s fault, in that his government deliberately cut regulation from its already poor start and also granted permits for unprecedentedly deep-sea drilling, which the current government has had no time to fix. Any UK or Australian PM worth their salt would be milking this fact for all it was worth, and saying “unlike our inept, industry-beholden, corrupt predecessor, we’re going to create a proper regulator to ensure this doesn’t happen again”.

But assuming that slating former presidents is off the menu in US political debate, and given that the public are baying for blood, I can see what they’re doing on self-preservation grounds. And if it ends up with BP paying the expected actual cost of $20-30bn for the cleanup, compensation, and fines for any specific violations that led up to the disaster, and not being charged crazy punitive damages, expropriated, kicked out of the country, or similar, then that’s a reasonable outcome.

Whether the fact that the markets seem to think a worse outcome is likely is because there’s a genuine political risk that Obama is going to go Putin-y on foreign investors, or whether it’s because markets are paranoid beasts at the best of times, remains to be seen. I’m not sure it’s a good thing that the US president is using the kind of rhetoric that makes markets believe he might – but I’m not sure he has much of a choice.

In short, let’s see what happens. If the end outcome is a reasonable settlement, coupled with massive increases in regulatory requirements, enforcement and spending in the US oil industry, then bring it on and three cheers for Mr Obama.

[*] relatedly, my attitude towards dead oil rig workers is very similar to my attitude toward dead volunteer soldiers: “that’s sad for you and your loved ones, but it’s also why you were paid so much more than someone with your skill-base could have earned in a job that didn’t have a substantially elevated risk of death”.