Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2014 is going to be the best year in human history.

This time last year, I made some predictions: 2013 is going to be the best year in human history. It was, for most of the world at least. And 2014 is going to be even better, for all the same reasons.


How did I do with my prognostication?
The scourge of war is receding from human experience. Though they are still going on, they involve fewer combatants and kill fewer people. As people get richer, and pass through the dangerous middle-income phase, they have too much to lose by fighting.
Alas Mali and the Central African Republic saw crises rise to the level of war in 2013. The civil war in Syria the ongoing wars in Afghanistan continue to claim lives. There have, however been no big, new wars involving western forces. We missed the window of opportunity in 2012 to prevent the disaster in Syria, and it is now too late. I suspect letting Bashar al Assad win is now the least bad option.
Several states in the US have signalled the abandonment of the war on Drugs (well Marijuana at least)
One country, Uruguay, has fully legalised it. The logic of the War on Drugs is waning. Several successful politicians in North America have been caught using Crack and Cocaine, none of whom look like junkies. Dozens of people who clearly aren't drug-addled derelicts, self-arguing in underpasses, but who maintain busy and high-profile lives have "come out" as having taken Marijuana or Cocaine. It won't be long before such people no-longer have to pretend to have hated it, or for it to have been a response to an emotional trauma.

In 1963, "some time between the end of the Chatterley Ban and the Beatles' first LP" people started to admit they like to have sex, and not just for procreation. Rock & Roll became acceptable when in 1976, Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols said "fuck" on live TV, at a stroke rendering that nice young Mr (now Sir) Michael Jagger, respectable. Perhaps a TV cook with ample curves might be the person whom we can thank for ending the hypocrisy of the drug war. Unlikely. But someone's going to provide the moment. And soon. A wise man once said....


The world is still getting richer, even if the squeezed middle in the west isn't.
The giant emerging economies are creating wealth at a rate unprecedented in human history, by the simple expedient of abandoning the socialist choke-hold on creative economic endeavour.
India and China may have slowed, India especially so, but the truth holds. Their Governments have seen the fruits of economic liberalism and seen it work. India may regret electing someone who seems to be an unrepentant Hindu nationalist, Narendra Modi of the BJP in 2014, but it won't be for his economic policies which are far more business-friendly than the rather corporatist Congress party.
 The poorest parts of the world are the fastest growing. Even if inequality in the west is rising a bit, and that's debatable, global inequality is falling. 
This is still true, but less so.

So, to carry the game forward, here are some concrete predictions for this time next year.

Money & Business
The FTSE100 will reach an all-time high, for the first time since 1999, and will continue the bull-run. 7,000 will be left behind.
Thanks to tightening money, The Oil Price will fall below $100 and stay there. The Brent/WTI spread will narrow from 99/111.

UK Politics
The Labour lead will fall from 6-8%. UKIP will win popular vote in the European parliament elections, then their support will drift back to the Tories thanks to a strengthening recovery. Scotland will vote 'No' to independence. Ed Miliband will remain a worthless union stooge. The voter-repelling and emetic Ed Balls will remain shadow Chancellor, because his boss is a spineless dweeb, with shit for brains and "Red" Len McClusky's hand up his bum. Tories will post a lead, but I doubt it will be done consistently.

International
The Syrian civil war will not end, but Assad will regain control of much of the country, leaving an islamist insurgency. The world will continue to look the other way.
China's growth will slow. The rumblings of dissent new riches have smothered will start to grow louder. The Communist Party may seek to use Sabre-Rattling with Japan to detract domestic opinion from the looming economic crisis.
Something dramatic will happen on the Korean Peninsula.

Happy New Year

There you go. My posts have been sporadic in 2013 as I have less new to say. But I still enjoy writing from time to time, and it's nice to know my readers, both of you, are still out there somewhere and I hope, whether you come in from RSS or by a random websearch for stewardesses boobs (I still get a lot of hits that way, for reasons that are beyond me) you still think what I say is interesting, provocative, informative or entertaining.

Have a happy new year. And remember risk is to reward as hangover is to party.



Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A Christmas Adventure in Venice...

This is the view looking south-east from Venice, near St Mark's square on a damp Christmas morning, 2013 at dawn. You can see the spire of the San Georgio Monastery which reflects the Campanile in St. Mark's.


Spectacular and memorable to be there with almost no-one about. Not even the ubiquitous troupes of Chinese and Japanese tourists following a tour-guide with a flag.

I was heading East, to the island of Lido, which has Venice's only beach. It has in December, all the faded Grandeur of the British sea-front, and looking out to sea, I could see enormous container ships. Trade, once would have passed into the Lagoon to enrich Venice, but these ships will be heading for Trieste.

I half-expected to find a few like-minded hardy souls. I expected a flabby German, hearty Norwegian or Elderly British matron to be striding confidently towards the sea, bathing cap on, and towel under their arm.

I was alone. The beach as far as the eye coutd see, was deserted.


But having come this far, I had to give it a go. Yes. I was wearing budgie-smugglers.



The Northern Adriatic in December is much, much colder than the English channel off Brighton, a fact I found out about 2 minutes after this picture was taken. In fact, as shocks to the systems go, diving in is nearly equivalent to skiing through an ice-hole in Norway. A couple of minutes (optimistically) in the water was enough. Ice-cream headed and turning blue, I emerged from the sea to meet a family from Pittsburgh, who told me about their polar-bear club which swim in the Monongahela river on the first of January every year. 

It's on the to-do list.

Swimming in the Icy sea certainly makes the Christmas morning Belini and Panatoni more worthwhile . 

Merry Christmas from Venice.



Thursday, 12 December 2013

Gender Segregation in Universities

If you believe the hype, you'd think British universities are going to be routinely segregating by gender in order to appease islamists. Twitter is outraged. This is about new guidance from universities UK which suggests that some external speakers may be allowed to segregate their audience by gender. The libertarian in me says as no-one is going to be forced to attend such an external event, segregate away, as it's no skin of my rosy nose. It advises for example that segregation is left to right, not front to back, to ensure equal participation, but in the competing "rights" of equality of gender and religion, compromises should be available. Money quote:

"...Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system..."
Of course any speaker demanding gender segregation at a UK university is not being culturally sensitive. The kind of speaker who would demand such a policy doesn't care. Indeed the hue and cry will ensure more radical islamists do demand it; the ensuing publicity will be far more valuable than the speaking gig, whether or not the event goes ahead.

I would be unlikely to attend an event where the genders were segregated to appease a bigoted Islamist. But I wouldn't give them the satisfaction of making a fuss about it. And if you feel you need to go, the segregation demanded reflects badly on the speaker, but is sitting on the left really so bad?

We have become obsessed by trivial symbols. Is anyone actually going to be forced into "gender apartheid" in British universities as some more hysterical commentators have suggested? Or are you just going to have to sit where you're told to listen to a ranting islamist for an hour or so? Are we so insecure in our society that rational debate cannot overcome the antediluvian nonsense of these religious throwbacks?

"Live and let live" is the most important mantra of liberal democracy. Let's not give those who oppose it, the satisfaction of letting them think their ideas actually present a threat.



Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Ukraine

Insofar as the world's rivalries exist, generally were 'the west' win, the outcome is better for ordinary people. The Ukraine had a choice between the EU, which whatever its flaws has been a force for democracy and prosperity in post-soviet Europe, and the continued influence of Moscow's thuggish regime.

Thatcher or Regan would have stumped up the $30bn (chum-change in the grand scheme of things) or so needed to bribe President Viktor Yanukovych to sign an agreement with the EU which wound eventually have pulled the country from Russia's grasp. But a failure of nerve means Europe's largest country The country which suffered most from the famines unleashed by Lenin and Stalin, will not now turn its back on Moscow and embrace a brighter, freer, more democratic future looking west.

But because of a collective failure of nerve, perhaps due to the financial crisis, Moscow threatened, the west blinked and the Ukraine turned, and walked back towards a Soviet past. Moscow is strengthened. We are weakened.

When did we get so weak? So gutless? So insecure about the fact a democratic system is simply better than all alternatives? So unwilling to face down our less-than democratic adversaries?

The rise of China is not a vindication of totalitarian communism, but complete demonstration of its failure. The financial crisis was a much needed recession, not a "failure of capitalism". China's rise happened immediately they abandoned state planning. They have been totally and comprehensively co-opted into the western system. They cannot afford to step out of line. We can cut china loose, if necessary at the cost of a recession. They would suffer a revolution. Their leaders know this.

And the truth is, the west is richer and more powerful relative to Russia and its remaining post-soviet empire than its ever been. And we've already beaten China. And yet we can't stare down a failing, dying, alcoholic bankrupt old bear.

Everyone is better off when the west wins. Only the mewling, gutless "leadership" of western countries and their simpering left-wing cheerleaders cannot see it. Obama will go down in history as one of the worst presidents for this reason, amongst others.



Friday, 6 December 2013

What Chancellors Do and Don't Influence

The Commons hue and cry of the Autumn Statement has died down. It was clear that at some point growth would return, and when it did, Ed Balls would be left with egg on his face. And so it transpired. There is a problem with the Cost of Living, but it started under Labour, and isn't as bad as they make out now. Yes wages are falling relative to inflation, but there's plenty of other factors at play, as I pointed out to Andrew Neil, yesterday. Labour's narrative completely ignores things like changes to taxation which have offset it. Living standards fell in 2007,2008 and savagely in 2011 but have subsequently returned to growth.


For Labour to make a song and dance about Gas Prices is particularly egregious as most of the rise is due to either taxation or a rise in the wholesale price, neither of which the utility companies can do anything about. Good politics. Lousy economics. Of course this...


... is going to have a bigger positive effect on living standard than anything a chancellor might do. A strong pound, a result of the UK's economic stability (our debt is now cheaper to insure than the Americans' - AA not withstanding) is an unalloyed good thing, but this won't stop the BBC is going to start with its mercantilist wibble about exporters suffering.

The cycle of rise and fall in GDP is like breathing. Investment happens in 7-10 year cycles then there's a fallow couple of years as malinvestment is purged. Gordon Brown thought he'd ended boom and bust, but that turned out to be hubris. The mechanism by which 'the great moderation' happened, the Greenspan put, actually made the crisis when it happened much, much worse. Recessions are like forest fires in Mediterranean climates, not only natural, but vital to the regeneration of the species that live there. But if you try to prevent them, you allow build up a thick scrubby undergrowth that when it does burn, destroys the productive part of the wood.

So George Osborne is claiming credit for the recovery. He's as wrong to do so as Ed Balls is for blaming him for the stagnation post 2010. But that's a standard lie of politics, widely repeated because I think chancellors believe it themselves. But that does not make what Osborne is trying to do wrong. Every post-war recovery is associated with spending cuts, but if you listened to Labour, only state "support to the economy" can create growth.

The fact is state spending takes resources, not just tax, but people. If all the quality graduates are becoming social workers and diversity co-ordinators, they're not starting small businesses or working in manufacturing. It's no surprise that when the state stops hiring, good people find something else to do that doesn't involve standing in the way with a clip-board.

State headcount has fallen faster than at any point since demobilisation at the end of WW2. State spending is high, when you include debt service, welfare and pensions, but the discretionary bit is lower than at any point since (I think) the 1950s. And this is as it should be. Money transfers like pensions & welfare increase overall utility and don't take money out of the economy. Indeed the poor have a lower marginal propensity to save than the rich. The bit that does take money out of the economy, worthless state apparatchiks has fallen. The economy is bearing a lower burden of unproductive state prod-noses.

So you have commentators saying the recovery is unsustainable, that it's the wrong sort of growth. But these are the same people who said austerity was self-defeating and who confidently predicted a triple-dip. The truth is the economy's not that amenable, at least in the short term,  to manipulation by chancellors. And in the long run the economy's not even amenable to Federal Reserve Chairmen. This recovery will last a few years, then we will have another recession. And it won't be the chancellor's fault then either.

What this crisis and the recovery shows, as if any more evidence were needed, that economies function best when the state enables, but does not do, and otherwise keeps itself as out of the way as possible. Carry on George. You're doing a good job.



Beside the sea or in the city: the best locations for weekend breaks in the UK

When it comes to planning a holiday in the UK, regardless of whether you opt for a city break or a seaside holiday, there are a number of places to choose from.

The first thing you should consider is the time of year you wish to embark on this break. If it's a winter break you're after, two great options include a cosy hotel by the sea or otherwise, Christmas in the city.

London

There's nowhere quite like London at Christmas time, the lights are bright, the shops are brimming with an array of festive delights and the atmosphere is dazzling. Then there are the winter wonderlands to consider, which often comprise a myriad of open-air ice rinks, which take pride of place at Somerset house and Hyde Park every December.

As a capital city, London boasts a wealth of activities and entertainment. If you're planning your trip around Christmas time, then you'll be pleased to know you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to things to do. From an evening spent at the theatre to a romantic river cruise and dinner at a top-notch restaurant, there's an abundance to see and do when in London.

It's important to pack a good pair of comfortable shoes if you wish to sightsee by day, as there's lots of walking to do. It's also wise to pre-buy a travel card for your stay, as paying to use the tube each and every time can be both inconvenient and expensive.

It might be even worth booking a Superbreak New Year Break in London, which is definitely worth experiencing once.

Manchester

For somewhere a little closer to the North, Manchester is a great city break destination. This vibrant area boasts an abundance of attractions, comprising Christmas markets, the nearby picturesque Peak District, a bustling city centre, a number of renowned eateries, as well as a fantastic shopping scene. Regardless of age, there’s something to suit all here.

Scotland


Regardless of when you choose to visit Scotland, it’s always an area of picturesque beauty. It's rich in culture and national heritage and boasts natural glens, stunning scenery, secluded islands and medieval castles. Relaxing in the tranquil highlands whilst sampling the famous Malt Whisky is a great Christmas treat!



Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Labour's dishonesty on tax.

There are few things that annoy me more than watching Labour complain about a "tax-cut for the rich". The top rate of tax is higher under the coalition than it was for all but one month of Labour's time in office. The rate was raised as a nasty political ploy in order to trap the coalition. Labour raised a tax, knowing it would be damaging, simply so they could accuse the Tories of being "for the rich". I cannot think of anything more damaging than using the tax-system to score political points.

This is why Labour ruin everything, every time they get into power.

Never, ever let them get in again.



Monday, 18 November 2013

It isn't about cyclist behaviour.

Whenever a cyclist dies, and there have been 5 deaths in London in the past 10 days, there's always a chorus of voices saying "yes, but they run red lights". The word "They" is always a handy combat indicator of sloppy thinking. When you lump everyone who shares a characteristic, in this case people who use bicycles, together, you're rarely expressing much more than brute prejudice.

I've explained in some detail why cyclists generate such ire in some drivers. But it's the term "cyclist" which is problematic. There are many people on bikes. Few would self describe as "cyclists", any more than most people  driving cars would consider themselves "motorists" or even "drivers". They're just people listening to the radio while they get to work.

There are many tribes of cyclist. Just as there are many tribes of car-driver. Just as not everyone in a car is the kind of sub-human who chooses to drive a BMW twat-panzer right up your trumpet, not everyone on a bike is Lucas Brunelle.





Ignorning cycle lanes - The people who died in London seem to be disproportionately female, young, and they're being killed in the bike lane, usually by large, left-turning vehicles. The dead cyclists aren't by and large running red lights, over pedestrians, and into traffic. Those people aren't the ones being killed. I can't repeat that enough. The cyclists being killed are the ones behaving as the pedestrian and motorist think they ought. Cyclists are dying, not because they are taking risks, but because the infrastructure, such as it is, is badly designed and putting people in conflict with vehicles. The "filter lanes" at many junctions for example put cyclists on the left of left-turning lorries with tragic results. Many "cycle lanes" are full of parked cars which require a cyclist to repeatedly enter a stream of traffic. Each manoeuvre is a source of conflict. Many more cycle lanes take a cyclist into the "door-zone".

The experienced "lycra lout" is well out of the way of these hazards by ignoring the "perfectly good cycle lane" and instead can be found "riding down the middle of the road", a position known as "primary" to cyclists but "in my way" to motorists. Cyclists have a right to use the road, do not have to use a cycle lane, especially when it's unsafe to use it. Motorists have no right to pass, nor do cyclists have an obligation to let them. It is unlikely in London, any delay can be attributed to a cyclist as the motorist will only overtake to the back of the next queue. Motorists should understand a cycle lane you can park in or drive into, isn't a cycle lane at all.

Pavement riding - is anti-social. But anyone riding a bicycle on a pavement is almost by definition not a cyclist. They are people scared off the roads by vehicles. It is not something anyone self-describing as a cyclist would do. While I don't cycle on pavements, I understand why some feel they have little choice. Roads are scary, cycle lanes inadequate and councils do cycle infrastructure on the cheap with "shared use" paths bringing cyclists and pedestrains into conflict. Whatever the prevalence of this problem, the risk to pedestrians is so grotesquely over-stated by anti-cycling dick-heads as to be ridiculous. The solution to pavement riding is to make the roads safe-enough so that the people who currently ride on the pavement feels safe enough to get back where (s)he belongs.

Smug and Self-Righteous, thinking they own the road - This is a staple of the journalistic cycle-hate piece. Apparently we're "smug" and "self-righteous" for pointing out that the more confident and aggressive a cyclist is, the safer he is. Being meekly tucked up on the left, in the gutter, where the motorist wants us is by far the most dangerous place. It's not "smug" or "self-righteous" to demand better behaviour from people who pose a mortal threat to me. The fact remains that a motorist annoyed by a cyclist "in the way" has at least seen me, and if his irritation stems from an inability to pass, then he's not attempting a dangerous pass, so I am safer. Were I "out the way" in the gutter, amongst the potholes and broken glass, that motorist might be tempted to squeeze through, with potentially fatal results. Don't blame the cyclist for doing what is necessary to stay alive. Blame the road engineer for building in conflict.

Red Light Jumping - yes. I occasionally run the red light. Generally when the pedestrians have gone, I go before the traffic to get a head start. If there are no pedestrians, I'll judiciously roll over, if it is safe to do so. At large, complex junctions, or ones with multiple traffic phases, I'll wait. Basically, I regard Red lights as advisory. I don't care two hoots about "the law" which comes a distant second to my safety. Where the infrastructure is good, and the design clear, I'll obey the rules. Where the infrastructure has been designed without thought to my safety or comfort, I'll make my own way, thanks. It's not as if motorists don't break the rules. "Amber Gambling" is red-light jumping by another name, and everyone does it. Speed limits are not (to put it mildly) rigorously observed. I'll obey every red light, when every car overtaking me slows down and passes with at least 1-2m. The fact is jumping a red light is nowhere near as dangerous to the cyclist as it appears to the motorist. I'll say again, the red-light jumping lycra-nazi is NOT the cyclist dying on London's roads. Feel like making a comment here? I'm not interested in your anecdotes about "a cyclist you saw...". Any such comments will be deleted.

They wear black/don't use lights - riding without lights after dark is illegal and rightly so. But any requirement on cyclists to wear high-viz clothing must be resisted, for the same reasons as mandatory helmets must be resisted. Demanding cyclists wear unsightly high-viz clothing denormalises cycling and makes cyclists an outgroup. Some motorists don't see a person on a bike, but a "cyclist" and are tempted to "punish" that member of the out-group for the perceived transgression of another with a close pass. People should be able to cycle in normal clothes as they do on much of the continent which will improve motorist behaviour. There is evidence that cyclists (especially female cyclists) on upright bikes, dressed in street clothes and without helmets are treated better by motorists probably for this subliminal reason.

They think they're saving the world - This is just pure projection. I've never met a cyclist for whom environmental concerns outweigh the financial, health and fun (yes, most of us ENJOY cycling to work) elements of cycling. It's undeniable though. A cyclist isn't contributing to road wear, pollution, congestion, noise or taking up much parking space. A town in which there are lots of cyclists, and few cars is happier, healthier, wealthier, and simply a nicer place to be. Houses next to an upgraded bicycle lane rise in value, those next to an upgraded road, fall. Bicycles are undeniably better urban vehicles than cars.

I am sure there are some cyclists killed will have in some way, through recklessness or intoxication contributed to the situation in which they died. But they will be a small minority, and certainly far fewer than incidents where motorist recklessness, aggression or intoxication contributed to the fatality. Most of these people would have been calmly riding to or from work, and simply been crushed by a big vehicle as they meekly took what they thought was supposed to be a "cycle superhighway". The road shouldn't guide people into lethal road positioning. Inexperience shouldn't be lethal. Addressing driver inattention or misbehaviour and poorly designed roads are whole orders of magnitude more important in saving cyclists lives than addressing cyclist misbehaviour, a problem which exist mainly in the minds of angry, stressed motorists.

Yet every death ends up with a debate with motorists about red-light jumping; mere 'whataboutery' to deflect debate away from the elephants in the room - rubbish infrastructure and the attitudes of some drivers. Even more disappointing to hear Boris Johnson give air time to the trope that it's beholden upon cyclists to obey the rules, when in many cases, it's the rules that's killing them. The fact remains the consequences of bad behaviour in 2 tons of steel capable of 100mph is vastly greater than the consequences of bad behaviour on 15lbs of steel at 30mph. There is no moral equivalence between cyclist's bad behaviour and motorists bad behaviour, because the former is largely borne by the perpetrator, whereas the consequences of the latter are not borne by the motorist.

Proper infrastructure, which does involve taking space away from the motor vehicle, will make cyclists safer, and reduce conflict to everyone's benefit. 25% of rush-hour traffic in some areas of London is now bicycles. By numbers alone, cyclists now deserve proper safe infrastructure.

Update: As I wrote this, a further cyclist has been killed in London, bringing the total to 6 in 11 days.



Thursday, 7 November 2013

Top Trolling from Rod LIddle in the Spectator.

Off yer bikes! Cyclists are a menace to society — and self-righteous to boot 

You are just pedalling, you plastic-hatted ninnies, not saving the bloody planet 

 Rather than the invisible cyclist, who's American, perhaps fat, out-of-shape, double-chinned Labour party member, Rod Liddle could have started his Spectator rant with an article about why stupid, working class, labour-voting ignorant chavs cannot control themselves around cyclists, written by someone who lives in the UK and who knows what they're talking about. Like this one, by me. Instead he finds a pretty harmless piece of hyperbole from a San-Fransico Blogger to start with.

‘Such anti-cyclist anger reminds me in many ways of the feelings about gypsies that I would hear expressed when I lived in central Europe. In Hungary, people would tell me they disliked gypsies because they were lazy and dishonest. The truth was that gypsies — like, I would suggest, cyclists — were unpopular principally for being different.
So he starts with a cyclist complaining that others treat them (us) as an outgroup. Liddle Then moves on to a classic piece of trolling - nice and controversial treating cyclists as an outgroup:
Like many people, I am worried that too few cyclists are being killed on our roads each year.
Q.E.D. Can you imagine being able to write that in the Spectator about any other group of people? Premiership footballers perhaps.
While the number of cycling journeys undertaken in the UK has risen enormously since 2006, and exponentially since the exciting, hirsute Sir Bradley Wiggins won a bicycle race in France in 2012, the official statistics show only a moderate rise in fatalities.
The first error of fact. Wiggins' win in the Tour De France came long after the number of cyclists started to rise.
This suggests to me that car drivers have become more accommodating in their behaviour towards these people and have lost their radical anti-cycling zeal.
This is a good thing. No-one is bothered by black neighbours any more either. The only people who still hate cyclists are stupid, ignorant, working class, labour-voters mostly in white vans, who hate anyone different. Hate. It's a bad thing, Rod.
They have been bullied out of it, one suspects, by official propaganda that insists that knocking cyclists over, deliberately or otherwise, is somehow ‘antisocial’, and by the effusions of lionised celebrity cyclists like Wiggins, and that also ennobled Scottish man who cycles round and round a track very quickly indeed, like a sort of thin-lipped ginger hamster with outsized calf muscles.
Propaganda?
Wiggins and the Scottish man are both militant campaigners against the killing of cyclists, and they are also in favour of more cycle lanes (which cyclists like to see built, but never use)...
To understand why few cyclists use the laughable provisions in the UK, see the excellent Warrington cycle campaign's facility of the month.


...and further speed restrictions on the people who actually pay for the roads (car drivers), but the government is on board too.
Of course car-drivers don't "pay for the roads". Most cyclists also own a car, and indeed are more likely to do so than the average member of the public. Cyclists are drawn from two populations: those too poor to own a car, but these are now outnumbered by affluent people for whom cycling is an enjoyable way to get to work. Of course Rod Liddle, being a member of the Labour party, is not concerned with tiresome research, or so-called "facts".
My concern is that if killing cyclists is no longer allowable in a free country, then it is the thin end of the wedge and it may be that down the line cycling will become an ‘acceptable’ pursuit for normal people. We have seen this happen before with homosexuals, single mothers and some foreigners; one moment we are enjoined not to victimise them, the next they are clamouring for equality. Somewhere, surely, we have to draw the line.
OK he's trolling. Good work.
Well, ok, I jest, in predictably bad taste. And you were probably aware that I was joking, unless you are a committed cyclist who is determined to be outraged. By ‘committed’ I do not mean that you are the recipient of state protection in a secure asylum....
Thanks for admitting you're joking. But what... there's more to this article?
...but rather that you are one of those people with an expensive bicycle, a lot of Lycra, a pompous little pointy plastic hat, hilarious goggles, a fatuous water bottle and the fervent conviction that you are a Victim as a consequence of your Vulnerability. And that in being a Victim as a consequence of being Vulnerable you are somehow empowered to take it out on everybody else you see on the public highways, especially car drivers and pedestrians.
Oh, so having said you're joking, you then start with the SERIOUS BIT? About how we're all so insufferable for not wanting to get crushed by a fucking truck? Or for expecting drivers to respect our safety? Is that what you're saying Rod?
There is nothing quite like considering yourself a Victim to bolster the self-esteem, nothing like resentment to make the hours go by a little quicker. Not all cyclists fall into this category of course, far from it. But plenty do. Dare to disparage the cycling fraternity and all hell will break loose; when you are a certified Victim all sense of proportion — and humour — departs.
Well forgive me for not wanting to be crushed by a truck.
I discovered this when I mentioned in a blog recently that I was not sure why I had to pay, through my taxes, for my friend to have a new bicycle — there’s a government scheme on offer which effectively gives you a bike on tick, interest-free.
No there isn't, Rod. There's a scheme which lets some people (but not soldiers or the self-employed) to buy a bicycle out of pre-tax income via their employers. It saves at most £400.
Ooh, the fury. But it was nothing compared to the opprobrium heaped upon the head of my colleague Matthew Parris who jokingly suggested that life in his village would be improved by piano wire strung across the roads to decapitate the hugely annoying cyclists.
But this has actually happened. And so some of us don't think it funny.
Cyclists — or some of them, a lot of them — have become, these last few years, full of themselves, puffed-up with righteous anger. Part of this has been encouraged by the success of Wiggins and the Scottish hamster-man. But part of it too is because these people don’t think they’re simply pedalling from High Holborn to Paddington; they think they’re saving the bloody planet.
This is a charge often levelled, but it's a straw man. Most people cycling from High Holborn to Paddington (a route containing some of the best infrastructure in London, incidentally) will do so because it's cheap, healthy, fun, sociable and pleasant way to travel. Few cyclists think they're "saving the planet". And if some do, so what?
And they think that the rest of us are destroying it. As the anonymous blogger put it in that quote at the top of the page, they think that they are different.
No we don't think we're different, the blogger you quote doesn't think cyclists are different. But you clearly think we are different, don't you Rod? You're projecting your own prejudices.
No — you’re not. You just can’t afford a car or are deluded about the impact cycling a few miles makes to the environment. And you can’t be bothered to walk.
Interesting how Labour members think they're allowed to sneer at the poor. Of course even Jeremy Clarkson admits a city without cars littering the place is simply a nicer place to be. Cars do ruin the environment. It's not just about Carbon. It's why we pedestrianise streets. Because cars scare people away.
Cyclists are another one of those things about which the government and establishment are of one mind and the general public another. There is absolutely no doubt that the behaviour of some cyclists, the militant lot, enrages both pedestrians and car users — i.e. the vast majority of the British public.
The militant cyclist is unlikely to be the same person as the pavement cyclist, who's much more likely to be from the tribe openly sneered at by Liddle - too poor to own a car.
I had always thought, when I saw two cyclists riding abreast on a narrowish road, holding up the traffic, that they were unaware of the annoyance they were causing. That maybe they didn’t know there was a car behind, and another 50 cars behind that car.
If it's not safe to pass two cyclists, it's not safe to pass one cyclist. There's no extra delay.
Oh, but they do, they do. Check out the cycling websites and you will learn that they ride two abreast precisely to stop cars overtaking them, because on narrow roads they are convinced that car drivers will cut in too close to them as they pass.
Convinced, because IT HAPPENS.
So they block the entire road and feel good about it, because they are Victims. The law states that they are allowed to ride two abreast
...on any road, not just...
...on a big, wide, straight road, no bends and curves, where there is plenty of opportunity and width for cars to pass by in comfort; but a hefty majority of the posts I saw on several websites revealed very different strategies. Their view is that unless a car has room to pass two cyclists, it shouldn’t be trying to pass one. And with that they wrap themselves in self-righteousness as the queues of traffic tail back further and further.
There is no right for you to get past at will, and no obligation on cyclists to "get out of the way". That you, a fat, slovenly, Labour voter is so filled with a massive entitlement complex that you think you have a right to get past, just shows how fat, stupid and selfish you are. Your 30 second delay (and it really is just that) is more important to you, than another human being's safety. Which is just fucking grotesque when you think about it.
Likewise, riding on the pavements and thus maiming pensioners. The law is clear about this, for a change. They should never do it.
And if you go to "cycling websites" you'll find the "militant cyclists" pretty universal in their condemnation of pavement cyclist, but never let the facts get in the way of a good rant, Rod.
But they do it because they feel safer there, of course.
Most pavement cyclists are poor people trying to get about. They feel threatened on the road. Because you think you have a right to get past.
Listen, you plastic-hatted ninny: if you don’t have the balls to cycle in the road, then ditch the bike.
Most pavement cyclist don't wear helmets. Unless they're small children. Who ARE allowed to cycle on the pavement. Facts, Rod. They're out there if you look....
It is still the case that, mile for mile, pedestrians are far more ‘vulnerable’ than cyclists. Mile for mile, more pedestrians are killed. They — we — are the real victims, even if we do not whine about it continuously.
Yes, Rod, they're killed by motorists, not cyclists.
And the number of pedestrians maimed by cyclists is also rising by the year, to the extent that legislation has been proposed to ensure that cyclists respect the laws of the land the same as everyone else.
The grotesque exaggeration of the number of pedestrians hurt by cyclists is a tiresome trope of this sort of piece. How many people are hurt by cars, and how many by cyclists, Rod?...Rod?
And of course, there are other irritations and dangers. I get infuriated by the cyclists tearing past me on the rural footpath where I live, scattering dogs and kids like confetti, believing that because they are allowed on the path, they are under no obligation to consider anyone else who might be using it.
This happens occasionally. But equally frequently, the 'shared use' path has pedestrians wandering about on the bit set aside for cyclists. Who's to blame? The council for engineering conflict.
I am thinking of training my dog to attack cyclists who behave like this, catch up with them on the uphill stretch and chew their tyres off. I think I will use, as a signal to the animal to launch its attack, the word ‘Hoy!’
Funny, using the name of the cyclist whom you pretend to not remember. Well done, you fat, Labour-voting twat.
And of course there is the running of red lights, a continual complaint from car users, and the weaving in and out of traffic with an expression of rectitude on their faces.
It had to come. The "red-light" crap. Car drivers too regularly run red lights. At least as frequently as cyclists. It's just for reasons that are obvious, only one motorist will see a motorist do so, whereas dozens of motorists will see a cyclist run a light. It happens. But cyclists running the occasional red is simply not a big problem. Cars doing so is.
And while it is true that by far the greatest number of pedestrian injuries and deaths are caused by car drivers...
...Nice of you to admit it...
...as a pedestrian you always have the sneaking suspicion that, in general, car drivers will try their best to avoid hitting you, while cyclists not only don’t care but will happily blame you for any injury which occurs.
"Sneaking suspicion" of nothing except Rod Liddle's brute prejudice. A straw man, ideas put into the heads of cyclists (THEM!) whom he has not bothered to consult.
It is the last point which is the crucial one. It is about attitude.
Yes it is, Rod. If you see a cyclist and think, "I'll slow down, pass when it's safe, I'll probably not be delayed at all", then you won't feel the hate. Calm down, Rod. You're fat and out-of-shape. Your heart might not take the stress.
For a long time car drivers have had it drummed into them that what they are doing is antisocial and undesirable and have been subjected to ever greater strictures about what they can and can’t do in their cars, how fast they should travel and why they should leave the car in the garage to ease congestion and save the planet.
Well, Rod, it's not cyclists causing congestion is it? And you think people should be allowed to go as fast as they like, or abandon their vehicles wherever they choose? These "strictures" aren't for the cyclists' benefit, but for pedestrians. And motorists.
As a consequence, they have become mindful and cowed. By contrast the cyclists have been told that they are doing a Good Thing, that it would be better if we all cycled (it wouldn’t — it would be better if we all walked) and so believe they can do no wrong.
Simply not true. This is a mere projection of Rod's own feelings of impotence when stuck in traffic. Traffic of course being created by other fat people like him in cars.
They have the moral high ground, which includes the pavement, since you asked.
I've dealt with the Pavement issue.
I think we need a bit of legislation to sort them out, to penalise adult cyclists who ride on pavements, to book them for dangerous driving when they’re cutting lights or riding two abreast on unsuitable roads. And either to make it compulsory for cyclists to use cycle lanes or for local authorities to stop providing them (and turn the existing ones back into normal roads). Then the cyclists will feel an even greater sense of victimhood, and thus be happier.
Or maybe, just maybe, proper, segregated infrastructure will encourage those people who want to cycle to do so without enraging fat, idle, Labour-voting inadequates as the fat about in their fat-mobiles, and indeed making their lipid lives a little easier. More, better cycle lanes will engineer out the conflict. But that would involve giving "THEM" (a word which along with "They") appears 71 times in Rod Liddle's article) what they want, and that would not appease Rod "fat labour" Liddle's sense of victim-hood which flows through this article. The word "They" usually indicates a lack of thought, a generalisation about another group, and such generalisations rarely stand up to scrutiny.

This is an embarrassment to the Spectator, riven with ignorance of the subject and full of internal contradictions.

Did I mention Rod Liddle is a fat member of the Labour Party?

Update: Before you comment, be sure to check your "thoughts" against this Cyclist-hate Bingo card. I want to collect the lot:



Thursday, 31 October 2013

Why Politicians don't "tell the truth".

Because they can't.

Every utterance is not reported on its merits. When asked a question like "are green taxes good for the economy" the answer, as anyone who's looked at this, or any other issue knows, "it depends".

Politicians will therefore be asked to elaborate. I'm going to answer that as if I was a junior minister in the Department for Energy and Climate Change:

"So there are some good taxes, and some bad taxes. For example, I am in favour of fuel duty because tax has to come from somewhere, fuel duty's fair, provides an incentive to drive less, slower, in a more fuel-efficient car and so reduces pollution and congestion; but think the VED is ridiculous. Green Levies on utility bills are regressive and distortionary, but taxes on extracting Oil and Gas from the ground aren't. There's a case for state subsidy of renewables & nuclear, but wind-power is ridiculous"

That answer will piss EVERYONE off. The anti-tax, anti-green band of conservatism exemplified by the Taxpayers' Alliance will focus on support for Fuel Duty. The Daily Mail will report it as "Minister wants you to pay MORE for your petrol", but the Guardian will contrast the "greenest government ever" with support for cutting green levies on utility bills. In the media hive-mind WINDFARMS=GREEN POLICY so a politician trotting out the summary of my opinions above will risk being branded a "climate-change denier" which will mean being ignored by about a third of the electorate from that day hence.

Papers report politicians in a way to ensure politicians are even less popular than Journalists (which is incidentally why politicians are beating up blameless utility companies right now - the abused victimising those even more hated), by focussing on the comments which will annoy that paper's readership the most. Everyone thinks the politician in question is "an idiot" who "doesn't know what he's talking about". Everyone's prior assumption of politicians being stupid, ignorant arseholes, who're only in it for themselves, or possibly their mates in the Union lobby/city/big business/EU (delete according to taste), is reinforced.

So politicians don't answer the question. Instead they position themselves on whichever "side" of the debate on which they wish to be reported as being by the media, and utter the soundbite they wish to get into the papers.

And that, in a nutshell is why politicians don't answer anything to the satisfaction of economists, experts, bloggers or,indeed, anyone paying attention. They can't, because Journalists don't report in enough detail. A politician's comments might get 30 seconds of broadcast news. Even newspaper journalists don't report in enough detail because we, the public, aren't that interested in politics. And so we get the politicians (or the caricature of them presented by the media) we deserve.

Meanwhile politicians actually do try to create the best legislation they can, according to their beliefs and principles. And everyone will hate them for it, despite the UK being a reasonably well-governed, orderly and pleasant place to live. Our politicians are obviously doing less wrong than in much of the rest of the world.



Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Every kilo counts: a guide to packing your bags

Sick of struggling with over-laden bags as you attempt to board your plan? Find yourself cursing extra baggage fees when you go over the allotted allowance?

Packing is a common headache for travellers with everything from getting items into the suitcases to getting the suitcases on the plane throwing up their fair share of issues. Here we offer a brief guide to packing you bags, proving that every kilo really does count.

How much can I take with me?

The average checked-in luggage allowance you’ll likely be allowed when travelling long haul or on short haul European flights is around 20kg while domestic flights will be around 15kg. These are only basic guides though and can vary from airline to airline so it would be wise to check with your carrier before travelling.

You will also usually be permitted to carry on one piece of hand luggage on the plane with you, dimensions of which will be available from the airline you’ve booked with.

To avoid any nasty surprises at the airport remember to weigh your bags on a pair of bathroom scales before you travel. Firstly, it will give you the opportunity to take out any non-essentials or, if you feel there’s nothing you can do without, then it gives you the chance to buy additional allowances from your carrier before you depart.

What should I take?

The most important thing is the luggage itself. The weight of your suitcase is included in your allowance so try to choose a lightweight suitcase or even a hold-all if you can get away with it as this will leave you more to play with when packing.

Sort what you’d ideally like to take into three piles: essentials, wants and luxuries. Once you have the piles ready, pack your suitcase in that order.

Try to make the most of your luggage space by placing your shoes flat, side by side. Also ensure you check the airline website for prohibited goods, these are normally things that will be confiscated if found or will stop you from flying so don’t take any unnecessary risks.

Anything else I should consider?

How long are you going away for? A week? 2 weeks? Longer? Does your accommodation have a washing machine or is there a launderette nearby? What’s the weather going to be like while you’re there?

All these questions need to be asked when packing to determine just how much you need to take. For instance, if you were booking flights to Istanbul from Pegasus in January then temperatures can average at just 8°C so you won’t need to worry about making room for your summer sorts or flip-flops.


Even if booking a trip to somewhere with almost guaranteed sun it is important to go prepared. The weather in any location is variable so make sure you check the forecast for the period you’re travelling and pack a light jacket or cardigan to see you through any cooler times. 



Monday, 28 October 2013

You Don't have to be a 'Climate Denier' to Hate Wind Farms.

For the record, I accept the scientific consensus about Anthropogenic climate change. I also accept the economic consensus about what we should do about it (CO2 pigou taxes, etc...). The political "consensus" that we all need to put on a hair shirt, tax ourselves into penury, provide enourmous subsidies to wind and give up the advantages of modern life, because "the environment reasons" is just Watermelon nonsense. It's an attempt to stifle capitalism by people who've never liked it, but who now use a different excuse to demand capitalism shut itself down. Dialectic materialism has been replaced by dialectic environmentalism, but the prescription is the same: economic planning. They were wrong last time, they're wrong this time.

There are many things we can do to make our energy supply less polluting. And we should pick the low-hanging fruit first. In the UK, much of our energy (39% at the time of writing) comes from coal. Much of this could be replaced with lower-carbon, cleaner, safer Natural Gas. This will require widespread fracking but will allow the UK's CO2 footprint to go down quickest in the short-term. If you are going to go with wind, Gas can be cranked up and down quicker than coal can.

But it's not even clear Wind Turbines are good for the environment, even in Narrow CO2 Terms. Turbines have high embedded energy: they have to replace an awful lot of coal to justify the CO2 used in their manufacture, taking over a year to 'pay back' the energy used in their manufacture. Solar Photo-Voltaic generation is tumbling in price. It will not be long before such power generation will be competitive with fossil fuels, without subsidy. At this point, everyone will be mad to not have a solar panel or two on their roof. Instead of letting the market do its work, Government has done its usual job of picking a winner, littering the countryside with unsightly, noisy, unpopular, expensive, vibrating wind-farms, next to which those politicians will not have to live; but by which they will force others to live in order to demonstrate their "green" credentials but the cost of wind energy is NOT falling. These wind farms will never produce cheap energy.

In Germany, where they have a lot of wind power, when it's windy it overloads the network and barely have sufficient base-line capacity when it's not. On a cold, still day, without French nuclear capacity, Germany would suffer blackouts. Today, it's windy, they will probably get 60% of their energy needs from wind, and will not find a market for their Gas-produced power (much of which must stay on all the time...). This distorts the wholesale energy markets across Europe.

Wind turbines kill birds. I am pissed off by this, even if you're not.



The much touted subsidy (a price guarantee) for recently negotiated for new nuclear capacity is about a third that given to wind power, though it lasts longer. Subsidy is money taken from the surplus generated by productive endeavour, and given to unproductive endeavour and is unarguably a bad thing. This is what the market finds out and the market is working -Solar feed in tariffs are falling as the price of cells falls and their efficiency rises. It has long been accepted the up-front costs of nuclear are so vast, state guarantees are needed for new capacity to be built, but it seems likely Nuclear will be competitive, if the wholesale energy price rises at least in line with inflation as it has in the past. Wind however doesn't generate useful electricity at an affordable price, even where it's enjoyed massive investment and has an arguably net negative effect on the environment. People will pay to not be near them.

So, assuming you want to cut your CO2 output, 1) switch to Gas and Nuclear for base-line power. 2) encourage Solar PV generation. Encourage biomass CHP projects. Wind is an expensive, stupid, ill-thought out sideshow; an economic basket-case which has absolutely no chance whatsoever of solving the energy problems of the 21st century. There are much more effective technologies: Predictable Tidal flow, less intermittent wave power, solar PV rapidly falling in price, Nuclear for the base-load and one-day solving everything, fusion power.

The most important thing to ensure a good environment is that the economy grows healthily. If the economy is growing, people will feel they have a surplus to spend on luxuries like "the environment". And at this, the eco-mentalists will squeal "but the environment is not a luxury". It is, if it's a choice between a job and a windfarm people will choose the former. Most reject the latter, even when they're feeling rich. When times are tight, the people will demand an end to environmental costs and foreign aid. Central to anything looking like a healthy economy is the absence of subsidies, though there is a case for time limited price guarantees to "encourage" development of technologies, this would better be achieved by a simple emissions tax on the polluting power rather than the complex levies which distort the energy markets at present. Look at the economic mess Egypt is in where Governments  are struggling to Govern largely (though not entirely) over the issue of state fuel subsidies which make up 12% of GDP. Such subsidies have a habit of growing like a cancer. Germany is in a similar boat with its enormous subsidy to wind power.

Wind turbines have costs paid by rural dwellers (especially feathered ones) for the green consciences of urbanites. They make no economic sense, and little environmental. Let's follow France, whose nuclear power stations keep Europe's lights on when the wind's not blowing, and in the meantime, FRACK BABY FRACK.



Thursday, 24 October 2013

Why not Nationalise Grangemouth refinery?

Twice in the last couple of days, I've been asked to talk to the Media about Grangemouth. Twice I've been asked the same question by the BBC: Should it be nationalised? The first time I was surprised by the question, and answered with waffle about there not being a case for the refining business, but the petrochemicals plant is important as the centre of a manufacturing hub. The second time I ducked it completely. "not my area of expertise".


Strategic infrastructure?

This is cowardice on my part. Of course Grangemouth shouldn't be nationalised. The manufacturing businesses surrounding Grangemouth will have to find other sources of supply or close. Tough, but better than the alternative, even though this manufacturing hub makes up 10% of Scottish GDP. The problem is the refining and petrochemical business suffers from overcapacity accross the whole of Europe. This is in part because Governments sometimes have seen refineries as "strategic" and intervene whenever they get into trouble, and in part because of simple competition from newer, bigger refineries and petrochemical plants elsewhere, particularly in Asia and the USA.

You'll see a lot of waffle in the media about "fuel security". The best security is having multiple sources of supply, and being rich enough to afford the prices of market fluctuations. Of course it's nice if your domestic supply can be exported, but even this has problems. You'll also see fearmongering about petrol prices. There was little noticable effect on petrol prices from the strike in 2008. While there may be disruptions to supply to forecourts in remote areas of Scotland, the fuel companies are likely to have contingency plans, and any disruption is likely to be short-lived and local. Remember the biggest fuel store in the UK is that in everyone's car. But the main reason this won't affect prices is because we already import nearly half the UK's diesel, and export 20% of petrol. The supply chain is already diversified and robust.

European refineries built after the war produce too much petrol, demand for which is falling thanks to more efficient cars, fewer miles driven and a switch to diesel. They produce too much fuel oil which no longer heats our homes and powers our industry, the cleaner, cheaper gas does. They produce too little diesel and aviation fuel, which the UK must import. We struggle to find a market for our glut of petrol and fuel oil, because everyone's refineries have the same problem. And there are simply too many of them in Europe.

Grangemouth is not the only European refinery closing this week. Mantova in Italy has also been mothballed. European refineries, old, with a nameplate capacity of, in Grangemouth's case, 205,000 barrels of oil a day, which is turned into stuff for which there is no market. It's unsurprising they're struggling against big, new American and far-eastern refineries which have capacities over twice that. American refineries pay (at present) $15 or more less for their crude (the WTI/Brent spread) too and produce the stuff the market (currently) demands.

If the plant is nationalised, the Government (whichever one, Scottish or British) will have to pick up the tab for a business currently losing £150m a year, with a pension fund £200m in deficit. The plant is said to need £300m in investment to set the plant running to produce what the market actually demands. So we're looking at a measurable, whole-integer percentages of the Scottish Government's budget of £27bn, when they're already running a 10% deficit. Good luck sustaining that.

The difference between Ineos and the Scottish Government is the former has lots of experience in building, running and managing petrochemical plants. The Scottish Government has none. It's impossible to conceive of Alec Salmond running a nationalised petrochemical business better and more profitably than private sector managers. I doubt the Scottish Government (soon to be independent?) could find the money to wear the inevitable losses in perpetuity without cutting back elsewhere. So everyone in Scotland will have to pay taxes to keep 800 people in jobs and be much poorer as a result of the direct transfers.

Then there's the precedent. Having secured nationalisation for "key infrastructure", which is what the unions want, they will want to get the same result for every other big business which starts to find the competitive pressures of the Global economy a bit much. With the back-stop of nationalisation for any factory employing 500 or more Scots, unions will be tempted to drive a harder bargain. Scotland becomes a little less profitable, and receives less and less investment each year as a result.

Because investment drives productivity, and productivity drives wages, Scots will find themselves getting poorer if the Government caves in to Unions' demands. The laws of compound interest mean this happens slowly at first. But Scotland lacks the resources of the UK's diversified, trillion-dollar economy to stand the pressure for long. Even with the resources of the UK, it took massive "nationalisation of the means of production" less than 30 years to cripple Britain. The Scots are far, far to the left of the rest of the UK, and British business after the war was profitable to start with. If they get what they, and the BBC appear to want, nationalisation, the Scots will see why nationalisation doesn't work much, much quicker than that.

So next time I'm asked "should Grangemouth be nationalised?". I'm going to say "No. Of course not, though there's a case for helping with the investment needed, but I don't think even that's a good idea".



Monday, 21 October 2013

The Nuclear Deal

Q: Why do we so desperately need new power stations?
A: Because Labour calculated that the blackouts wouldn't happen on their watch, and new power stations aren't popular and nuclear ones especially so. Therefore Labour, despite advice, only gave the go-ahead for renewables.
Q: Why do we need the French and Chinese to build our power stations?
A: Because Labour shut down a successful domestic nuclear industry in 2002.
Q: So isn't there a huge subsidy?
A: Yes, probably, but much less than offshore wind (though wind's guaranteed price is for a shorter time). A subsidy through a guaranteed price is likely to be cheaper than the Government bearing the risk of building costs, and may even be free (ish) if energy prices rise in line with inflation as expected.

Prediction, Labour will have a field day pointing out the "expensive" energy procured by the Government, then will not change anything, or indeed take any decisions at all about power stations, should they ever get into power again. Because Labour prefer being noisy sound-bite ranters than seriously dealing with the energy shortage to which the UK is extremely close.

Labour: Utterly irresponsible student union politicians. This is why they break the country every time they get power.



Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Al Madinah School "In Chaos"

The first disaster of the Free Schools program is the Al Madinah school in Derby. Of course this doesn't have the impact the lefties hope it will because it's a free school. And it's a Muslim school, that most parents wouldn't have sent their kids to under any circumstances.

Kids were segregated at meal-times because (snork) "the canteen is small". Female staff were forced to wear the veil. And the teaching was crap. Most parents will see "Muslim school fails" not "free school fails" (hard-core lefties will see the opposite) and everyone will feel their prejudices re-enforced.

It scored the lowest mark, 4, in all the categories measured.

The only problem is in the reporting I have absolutely no way of putting that in context. How many traditional state-schools get put in 'special measures' with such a score. Do we not hear about it because it's relatively common? Google is your friend. Though I cannot find statistics, it's clear there are plenty of standard state-schools in special measures.

So. How many traditional schools are there? How many are inadequate?
How many free schools and academies are there? How many are inadequate?

Of course, a school has to be good before it was allowed to become an academy, so there's a selection bias there. None of these issues are addressed by any reporting on the issue. Just a lip-biting insinuation that this Free-school failure is a disaster not just for the kids, teachers and parents of the school, but for the free schools program. Labour say x, but Michael Gove says y. This isn't balance. This isn't reporting. This isn't analysis. The media is failing at its basic task of holding our elected representatives to account.

Labour say this is a disaster for free schools. It's not. Not any more than the King Charles School in Falmouth or Stimpson Avenue primary in Northampton are disasters for State education. There will be experiments amongst free schools. Some will fail and will be found out quickly. By killing off failed experiments, standards improve. Muslim fanatics trying and failing to set up a decent school and being found out, is a feature, not a bug of the policy.

Of course, the NAS/UWT and NUT are on strike today, partly to make it harder for inadequate teachers to be sacked. The fact this attitude prevails in parts of state education is the real reason for most failure. The school's relationship with the local authority is probably irrelevant. But I suspect free schools will be more responsive to parents, and less tolerant of bad teaching. Time will tell. But the failure of the odd school here and there is part of making the system as a whole better.



Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Left-wing Myths.

Of course people have left wing views when they're ignorant of such concepts as Tax Incidence and have opinions formed around myths like "world inequality is rising", which went unchallenged on "thought for the day" this morning. Of course, with the Chinese, Indian and much of African economies growing at 8-12% (thanks to the much maligned free-trade) the number of people living on less than $1 a day is falling faster than at any time in history.

Even within western countries, inequality isn't rising that fast. The UK's GINI numbers are skewed by the presence of the international super-rich in London, a feature which probably affects New York, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Monaco, Paris and Cape-Town. Otherwise, the middle class is growing, and the working class is shrinking. Inequality is mainly between welfare-recipients and those who work. I argue that our poorly designed welfare state with its manifest disincentives to finding a job represents a trap.

Vodafone doesn't pay tax? Vodayfone may have successfully won a case against HMRC, and had £4.8bn written off, but it otherwise paid the tax due. Does anyone argue that a company isn't allowed to challenge the Revenue in the courts? Because the left is dangerously close to arguing for retrospective and confiscatory taxation. It's there in the report and accounts - they paid 27% of £9.8bn operating free cash-flow in tax (compared to a headline corporation tax rate of 24%). It may have been aportioned in different years, resulting in a figure in the profit & loss account of 17% on £8.5bn of operating profit but the CASH is the actual amount paid to the revenue and the equivalents around the world in that year.

Lefties often reject widely accepted economic concepts like tax-incidence, the idea that the economic burden of a tax doesn't always fall on those writing the cheque. If corporation tax was abolished, some of the extra money would go to shareholders who pay CGT and income tax on dividends (at a slightly lower rate), however much would go to customers in the form of lower prices (does anyone argue that the mobile phone market isn't competitive?) with the money spent (and taxed elsewhere) or workers in the form of higher wages, resulting in a much higher rate of tax. The result of abolishing Corporation tax would probably be rather small overall, at least in the long-run.

The idea that Corporate Tax avoidance is THE problem is ridiculous. Avoidance involves using the legal means to keep your tax bill to the minimum. It's up to the Revenue to challenge "abuse" in the courts. If the court agrees, you pay the difference. The problem the revenue faces is that the UK is now pretty much at the limit of what the people (and the companies they run) will take. People will not pay very high marginal rates. They will hide income offshore, they will move, they will take lower wages, bring forward capital expenditure. Many will think that the rewards of running a business are simply not worth it, and retire.

Left wing myths are so deeply embedded, it's difficult to challenge all of them, all the time. But these myths result in a slowly strangled economy. Because the solutions that fall naturally from left-wing myths: more investigations, tighter regulations and stronger enforcement are so poisonous to economic endeavour. This is why Labour break everything every time they get power.



Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Who advocates for the Poor?

It may surprise you to learn I am not against generous benefits, or even the principle of redistribution.

Much of your wealth or otherwise is down to luck. There are moral and practical reasons for supporting redistribution. The best is based on one simple fact: It's just much, much easier to get rich if you start with wealthy parents, good nutrition, high IQ, an education costing half a million pounds, height above average (if male) good looks (if male or female) and no regional accent. Start with these advantages, and you're most of the way to getting into the top 10% of earners straight out of university, which your parents, of course were able to afford. Of course some have some or none of these advantages and succeed, but very few. Those who succeed support those who don't through redistributive taxes and benefits. This is fair because many of those struggling do so because of bad luck.

There's a utilitarian argument. The poor have a much higher marginal utility for money than the rich. This is the argument for progressive taxation. A pound on benefits matters more to its recipients than a pound on taxes to a higher-rate tax-payer. So society is better off if some money is moved from one to the other.

Finally, if you make sure everyone has enough money to eat and keep a roof over their heads, there's less likelihood they'll pick up pitch forks and re-distribute by force. Think of the benefits bill as insurance against being on the end of a gibbet come the revolution.

So your taxes, about a third of which go to paying working-age benefits, about a third in pensions, and the rest, everything else are part of a decent society in which everyone's helping everyone else. Or they would be if the system wasn't comprehensively broken, failing at all the significant tasks the welfare state is supposed to achieve. The welfare state is supposed to prevent poverty. It is, in fact, its major cause.

The problem is one of incentives, and not just those faced by the poor themselves. It's obvious to anyone who isn't paid handsomely to farm the poor, that for many people, it's simply irrational to work. Once they've paid for taxes, clothes, transport and lunch, they're considerably worse off than they would have been had they stayed in their pyjamas and watched Jeremy Kyle. Why would you take a miserable, boring, unpleasant minimum wage job instead of existing on benefits? The job insecurity at the bottom of the pyramid and the bureaucratic complexity of informing the authorities of a 'change in circumstance' is a further barrier. So when when the low-waged is "let go" after a couple of weeks, he's got to re-apply for Housing benefits, Job-seekers' allowance, Council Tax Benefit, income support and so on, from scratch. He may be genuinely destitute as a result of payments stopped, then restarted again too late, thanks to an abortive effort to "do the right thing". Is it really any wonder so many feel trapped?

So, who benefits from this system? Certainly not those getting the benefits many of whom are comprehensively trapped in a life they wouldn't have chosen. Not the Children of those getting benefits, who learn no other life thanks to the distorted incentives faced by their parents, but in whose name the benefits are paid. Certainly not the people paying the bill, John Q. Taxpayer, who thanks to the system face a sullen and resentful underclass, some of whom spend their non-working lives looking for ways to relieve you of your easily saleable property in order to buy sufficient narcotics to break the tedium for a few hours.

The main benefit of the benefits system accrues to those employed on secure graduate salaries to administer the system. These people are the farmers of the poor. This is not just the civil servants and local government employees who administer the system, but also the charity employees who don't see the homeless and destitute (they outsource this to unpaid volunteers). It's the police who are part of the state-crushing of the spirit of the young who find themselves trapped in this hell. The that the poor exist at all causes fear in the hearts of the affluent, and justifies the need for a police force. The Bureaucracy is an excellent provider of jobs. Which is why none of the solutions suggested by the Left of the political spectrum would ever reduce bureaucacy or police numbers, or the benefits bill. For that would involve firing sub-paying members of Unite or the PCS, and Unite is by far the biggest funder of the Labour party.

The Conservatives, Iain Duncan-Smith especially, are aware of the above. They were just unprepared for the sheer effectiveness of the poor-farmers at defending their state-financed do-gooding jobs. The Tories tried to cut the number of benefits, simplifying the system. They have tried to work on the incentives by reducing withdrawal rates. And they have tried to limit benefits. No-one should be richer out of work than in.

The problem is the Conservatives blamed the poor for responding to incentives quite reasonably. The Left have a nice handy boogey-man to scare their charges into continuing to voting for a machine which is actually enslaving them. The poor are still trapped. Some policies that might have worked are only half-implemented. And life goes on. Unite the Union gets bigger, the bureaucracy gets more opaque.

So now I'm going to sing the praises of another surprising character: Nye Bevan the architect of the welfare state, who saw precisely the outcomes described above. Which he saw benefits as being low and universal, where possible, and contributory where not. Basically, everyone got a bit, and if you needed more, you had to have paid into the system at some point. Worklessness for life was simply not an option, so it didn't really happen. Bevan would have been horrified at what his system has become.

People need to advocate for the poor. What do they actually need? Options. And what does the system remove from them? Options. They cannot choose where they live, whether they prioritise transport or housing, food or clothing. They are given a house. Their housing benefit bill, incidentally distorts the housing market for everyone else too. They are made a pawn in someone elses game which involves stats and targets and certainly not the aspriartions of a human being at the bottom of the pyramid.

The only way we can ensure a decent standard of living for everyone is to provide a basic income below which it has been decided that no-one can fall, in perpetuity, for life. No work done will see that basic income withdrawn. So there's no disincentive to find what work is available. In return, we scrap the minimum wage, which prevents the poor and low-skilled having any means to improve their lot through effort. We stop taxing income and profits altogether reducing the costs of hiring people. We replace income tax, NI, council tax and corporation tax with a proper land value tax and a few pigou taxes. This means the poor will be able to escape taxation almost entirely, if they wish to live far away. And we stop demanding the poor account for their choices to people who want to help, but actually trap them in a bureaucratic hell.

The losers from this policy: The tens of thousands of civil servants who administer the thousands of pages of tax-rules. The hundreds of thousands of civil servants and local government employees who administer the benefits system (some of whom will be needed to administer a LVT). The winners are the poor, who will have real options once again and won't have to submit to the whim of the bureaucrat or fill in endless forms. This will also give options to the rest of us, and hopefully make the country a much, much better place to live.

The poor have the same Hierarchy of needs as the affluent. Would a system which didn't seek to crush their self-actualisation and didn't put barriers in the way of the social and human contact be better, not just for the recipients, but all the rest of us too? The problem is the system serves best those employed by it. It gives them a secure, well-paid job, and power over fellow humans. The poor deserve better. With options, you can bet few would choose the trap they're currently in. By freeing human talents from the trap, we're all wealthier. Give the poor what they need. And then leave them alone.

More redistribution. Less Government.



Where are the Right-Wing Comics?

They exist. They just don't shout about it, perhaps due to not wanting to be associated with 70's throwbacks like Jim Davidson. There are many who'd not describe themselves as "right", especially at the Libertarian end of the spectrum.

The problem is that comedy should always "punch upwards" taking aim at people in power. Conservatism is Traditionally about the defence of the status quo. The spectre of rich, smug people denigrating the choices of poor people is often cited as a reason for there not being "right-wing comedy", but this is a staple of left-wing comedy: Think of Labour-supporter, Harry Enfield's "The Slobs" or much of Little Britain. Indeed the assumption that rich people are the only people to benefit from "right wing" solutions, is part of the problem. People commissioning comedy don't mind laughing at the chavs, if there's a Labour supporter doing the laughing.

Listening to the 'now show' on BBC radio 4, where the song (series 41, episode 3, about 8 minutes in) lamenting the privatisation of the Royal Mail, was basically a paean to nationalised industry. Surely there are comics out there who can write a gag about how totally useless the Government's been at running everything, and why do they still run ANYTHING? If only for balance.

"But Labour are the butt of jokes too..." as they are. However attacking Labour from the left, and the Tories from the left isn't balance. It's advocacy. When Ed Miliband is the butt of jokes, it's about him being weak, or giving into right-wing policies. Tory policies and politicians are routinely derided as stupid, ignorant and heartless. This isn't balanced at all. What is political comedy for if not for challenging the entrenched ideas? Laughing at the Conservatives as they try to shrink the state bit is simply bullying by the new establishment, from a position of power. It's little better than the jokes about blacks moving in next door, from the 1970s.

Thanks to Labour, the state now spends 50% of GDP, borrows more than any peace-time government in history, and despite the cuts, is still doing so. The idea that all would be ok if only the Government had more to spend, has been tested to destruction yet comedians still set up their gags with the assumption that the cuts are unnecessary and evil.

We're the 6th largest economy on the planet, giving nearly 25% of GDP in direct fiscal transfer to the poor. Instead of this vast transfer of wealth reducing poverty, it has entrenched it. Surely naiive, but well-meaning social workers not ACTUALLY solving anything lest they lose their jobs could be the butt of the occasional joke? Surely left-wing politicians cynically fixing it so the poor are worse off in work, to ensure their nicely concentrated vote, could be the butt of a joke or two? Instead of comedians swallowing the Labour line about the 'bedroom tax' and regurgitating it for laughs, maybe, just maybe, they could point out the hypocrisy of the Labour position (they introduced a near identical policy for private tenants)? Or is that too much to ask?

There are ideas challenging the status quo - attacking corporations, not from a profit-shy left-wing perspective, but an anti-corporate welfare, small government perspective, which are crying out to be turned into comedy. Maybe, just maybe, the butt of the joke could not be a rich, posh guy after profit, but a spiv, abusing regulations to avoid competition? The predictable, but unintended consequences of popular but simplistic policy could surely be turned into comedy?

"Alternative comedy" in the 80s worked because it attacked the new power - Thatcher. The Ben Eltons and Alexi Sayles and the remaining political comics of the UK are too stuck in this narrative. It's Lazy to blame Thatcher and business for everything when she left power nearly a quarter of a century ago. The time is ripe for a new Alternative, attacking the lazy assumptions of a bloated state and asking where half our money goes, and why it achieves so little of what it sets out to do. Perhaps a comedian could find another punchline than "profit is bad" when talking of business?

Had I any talent at all at stand-up, I'd give it a go myself. In fact, there's an 'open mic' slot at my local... anyone want to help me write a few gags....



Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Rail is (nearly) Obsolete

Railways are a 19th Century solution to 21st century problems. And the Government's planning to invest £50bn in them (in reality probably £80-150bn) on a new, shiny High Speed 2 line from London to Birmingham.

That's £1,500-£4,000 for each taxpayer that could be spent upgrading the capacity (and so lowering fares) on the existing network. But no. Economic theory, when filtered through the daily moron idiot-o-graph, says "capital spending boosts the economy" and this is some capital spending, so the argument goes, let's do it. Plus politicians get to look (or say they're being) "bold" or "forward-looking". They're being nothing of the sort.

The economic case for HS2 is based on business travel. And it assumes the busy executive would 1) not work on the train, and 2) would be more likely to travel from London to Birmingham for a meeting. Of course what actually happens is the busy executive DOES work on the train, so high-speed mobile internet means the premiums to high speed travel drop markedly. Furthermore, he's more likely to travel from Birmingham to London for a meeting. The High speed lines from Lyons to Paris and from Osaka to Tokyo increased the centre's economic activity at the expense of the provinces, rather than providing the boost to regional economies as promised, and they reduced the need for local management jobs.

It's not just "business executives" who mostly have meetings less frequently than politicians imagine, and who will travel the other way to that anticipated. Night out at the Opera? - HS2 puts London's Royal Opera House in range, rather than Birmingham's (excellent, it's where I once saw The Marriage of Figaro, but less glamorous) Hippodrome. Will anyone be travelling from London on HS2 to go to the Theatre in Birmingham?

Of course HS2's a grotesquely expensive white elephant designed around the needs of a vanishingly small population: a tiny number of businesses who need to travel from London to Birmingham regularly, and Birmingham's 29 (28 next time...) MPs. Better to invest in the light rail, commuter services in conurbations like Birmingham where it might do some good. What's the point of getting to Birmingham from London, if you need a car to do so from

The main reason it's a white elephant: Self-drive cars which are on the horizon. The technology proven here & now, and will be available, if Google is to be believed, by 2018. This is what will revolutionise transport, not a single High speed line on a single track, at some point 25 years hence.

Think about it. Driving will no longer be dead time, you'll work in your car just as you work on the train. If you don't work, you'll read a book, watch a movie or stare blankly out of the window thinking about sex. Instead of sitting for 95% of the time, depreciating in car-parks or on the drive, cars can run errands while you're doing something else. Deliveries can happen at our convenience, not that of a delivery drivers tachymeter. All that space used to store depreciating metal will be used for something more productive. Vehicles, freed from human reaction time, will be free to cruise on motorways close together, saving fuel, increasing capacity. Delays will be greatly reduced. Junctions will not need traffic lights. Roads will not need signs, beautifying the built environment. Freed from the need to store cars, we can choose, central urban, or suburban/rural space. The effect on house-prices will be vast.

Everyone will have a door-to-door taxi, as and when they need it. Why go to the train station? Why subsidise trains? Don't spend £80bn (or whatever) on HS2. Spend it on something else. Or don't spend it at all.




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