That ‘Americans pay for drug R&D’ point

In the unlikely event that you’ve fallen for the absurd myth “US healthcare is really expensive because they pay for the rest of the world’s drug development”…

Total global pharma R&D spending was US$53bn for 2004 (it won’t have order-of-magnitude changed since then). US healthcare spending was US$2.4 trillion for 2007.

So even if you assume the US does literally pay every penny associated with global pharma R&D, that’s only *2%* of US healthcare spending. If you’re worried about medical innovation being stymied by some kind of NHS-like system in the US, all you need to do is commit to investing a tiny proportion of the savings in a public R&D fund.

This would have the added advantage of focusing on drugs that are useful, rather than near-identical-but-patent-dodging clones of existing drugs which can be sold to gullible patients and gullible-bordering-on-bribed doctors based on cherrypicked studies and outright lies.

Punishment from the gods

Apologies for lack of posting, I’ve been struck down by something resembling the flu. I was lucky as it wasn’t quite as full-on I WANT TO DIE as it’s been described by some (although there were a few hours like that), but deeply unpleasant and not recommended nonetheless.

Anway, I’ve not been blogging much during this time as:
1) it hurt to open my eyes
2) it hurt to focus on things
3) I wasn’t in a particularly temperate mood about things
4) in some kind of properly-ridiculous instilled-Protestant-values stylee, I felt guilty about doing something that involved writing words on a computer while too ill to be at work writing words on a computer.

(yes, I know the latter is silly: the words I write at work are much more boring, based on spreadsheets, and told to people who actually need to listen to them, whereas blogging is just about writing what I want to write and that I hope will be interesting. This is why I’m very jealous of columnists, both the ones who are better writers than me and the ones who are much worse.)

Before everything went properly wrong – although I was feeling distinctly foul which may explain its belligerent tone and/or incoherence – I wrote an article on comedy for Liberal Conspiracy. My comment #7 telling everyone who didn’t like the piece to fuck off was written with screwed-open eyes the day after the piece, which was the worst day of the fluidity; apologies.

I did manage to discover, on finally prising myself out of bed, the excellent-if-you’re-ill-and-your-brain-isn’t-working-properly Swiss Railway Journeys. This isn’t your average travel show, or even your average trainspotter show. Swiss trains are electric, modern and identical to each other. Swiss railway lines vary between slightly hilly and very hilly, as does Swiss countryside. The programme is narrated by the world’s most boring man, in the same tone as the football scores. Occasionally they take a five-minute digression to visit a cheese factory, which is modern, automated and spotlessly clean. The whole thing is set to non-stop elevator music. It’s somewhere between Buddhism, Last Of The Summer Wine and hell.

I also read Terry Pratchett’s Nation; I figured something actively marketed as a children’s book, by a man who normally writes children’s books marketed as adults’ books [*], would be at about the right level of taxing for my mental state. I was right… and it was moving and sweet and well-written and it’s definitely a book you should give to children. Particularly ones who happen to have right-wing parents.

However, I couldn’t quite get away from its resemblance to something else. According to an online review (although I haven’t seen the quote elsewhere), Pratchett has said:

To summarize Nation is quite impossible

This is lies, I can do it in four words: “shorter His Dark Materials”.

[*] this isn’t a criticism of Pratchett. It’s a criticism of people who think he’s in a different category of writer from Philip Pullman, Roald Dahl and other writers of clever children’s books.

How to rebuild your credit rating

I wrote this as a response to someone on B3ta, but realised it might be useful for a wider audience:

First, get your debts cancelled, written off, paid, or otherwise disposed of. The Citizens Advice Bureau will explain this best. Don’t pay anyone anything for advice – it won’t be any better than the CAB’s free service.

With your debt cancelled, first get a Basic Bank Account (here) – these are offered by most major banks, even if your credit is unimaginably bad, and mean that you can get paid your salary into your own account and take out cash from machines. It doesn’t give you a debit card or an overdraft. If this goes OK, your bank should be able to upgrade to a debit card account, or at least an Electron/Solo card account, before too long.

In the meantime, if you’re confident you won’t be tempted to spend the money, then also apply for a ‘people with dodgy history’ credit card with someone like Vanquis Bank. This will charge you an eye-raping rate of interest, but the reason you’re getting it isn’t to borrow money: just buy a tenner’s worth of petrol on it once a month and make sure you always pay off the fiver minimum balance, which will demonstrate that you can be trusted with having a credit card and making regular payments (pay off the rest of the balance every three months or so, before it gets out of hand).

Make sure you’re on the electoral register, try and make sure your name’s on the electricity, water, phone bills, and try and get a contract mobile once you’ve had the bank account and the credit card for a few months (even if that means paying them a deposit). That should all help – but in the end it’s a waiting game.

By all means comment on anything I’ve missed or that’s ropey…

How dare you provide me with goods and services

B3ta’s Question of the Week is on banks and banking. Oddly enough, the consensus is ‘against’. However, someone called ‘Star Wars’ has a rather nice post going against said consensus, which distills most (not all) complaints that people make about retail banks and penalty charges:

I opened a bank account once in the full and reasonable expectation that the banking system existed entirely for my benefit. Because of this, I didn’t bother reading the paperwork I’d signed; nor did I take much notice about my credit cards, overdraft limit, or anything else like that. After all, when the banking system is designed around your personal needs, desires and proclivities, it’s up to the banks to keep up with you.

Or me, in this case.

So I am, of course, full of righteous indignation about the manner in which these huge corporations have utterly failed to give their undivided attention to me, and – worse – the way in which they have utterly failed to read my mind and sort out all my banking requirements on my behalf without my even having to ask them.

I’m also disgusted by the way that these businesses seem to think that they can behave as though it’s important to make a profit. What temerity! What kind of world is it when a bank thinks that it exists to sell goods and services and make money from those sales, just like any other business? After all, I think we’ve already established that the system is for MY benefit, and mine alone. I think it’s disgusting that they should be able to charge me fees just because I really can’t be bothered to look after my own finances. It’s not as if I get anything in return (except interest on my savings and access to loans when I need them – but they don’t count).

I’m steaming with rage about the way in which, that time when the ATM went mad and doled out free £20 notes, I had to repay what I’d been given by accident.

Personally, I blame the Illuminati, the Bildeberg Group (I don’t know what this is, but I’ve heard of it, and it sounds sinister) and the Jews.

Yes, I know that banks can sometimes mess up, lose thousands of pounds of your money, and leave you in the utter shit. This is entirely bad, even though such events are normally sorted out pretty quickly.

However, nearly all the stick they get isn’t from people like that: it’s from people who can’t be bothered to check whether they’re over their overdraft limit, and/or who’ve borrowed silly amounts of money so they can go to Ibiza and have a big TV…

Update note: this isn’t sticking up for investment banks, or mortgage banks who were busted by their innovative financing models. Nor is it criticising people who are angry as taxpayers about the money channelled into banking. That’s fair and right. Blaming the bank when you spend money you’ve not got isn’t.

Rewriting history, recession edition

Says Railway Eye, a cynical and Tory-leaning transport blog:

There is certain information that voters and taxpayers might reasonably expect a Government department to know.

Or at least have a reasonable stab at.

Such as just how risky NatEx’s very aggressive bid for the East Coast franchise was; bearing in mind that the previous operator had failed to deliver with a lesser bid.

This is a stupid, nonsensical myth. For one, GNER failed on the East Coast Main Line because its parent company Sea Containers went bust and hence the DfT didn’t have confidence in its ability to meet financial contingency plans – its revenues never fell short.

For two, four companies – the four companies who know the most about the UK railway market – bid similar amounts as National Express for the East Coast franchise.

Up until the end of 2008, I was working as a strategy consultant. I was quite good at it; one area in which I fell down (in management’s eyes) was my pessimism [*] about clients’ projections.

So, on a particular project I ran in Spring 2008, working with our economics unit – one of the most respected that there is, and one of the ones that’s now making doomsaying predictions about government debt (…’which we’ll gladly help you reduce, if you’ll take our advice on cuts’) – I got them to take the lowest possible scenarios for growth that anyone considered vaguely sane, and factor them in as a ‘worst case’ [**].

For the US, that was 0.9% growth for 2009. For the UK, I can’t find the figures, but it was in the region of 1% growth for 2009. UK economic growth is currently expected to be about -4% for 2009.

The point isn’t that my lot were inept. They weren’t; they were reflecting the negative end of what anyone capable of holding down a job at a bank, government, NGO or economics think-tank [***] considered plausible. Hence, for the Treasury, and for National Express, and for every other bugger, to base their expectations on growth in 2009 being a third of what it was throughout the early 2000s was reasonable, and sufficiently conservative that you actually had to fight (senior, older, previous-recession-experienced) people to get that much through.

And yes, it was wrong, and yes, the next few years are going to be painful as a result – but suggesting the decisions made when literally nobody who wasn’t mad thought we were going to have a proper recession were therefore stupid decisions, rather than good decisions that happened to be proved wrong based on information that wasn’t available at the time, is far stupider than the original decisions ever were.

[*] ‘lack of commercial something or other’.
[**] some of the partners had survived prior recessions, so we didn’t actually call it ‘worst case’. Which is probably just as well.
[***] this is not a high bar.