Oct 052009
 

DK rips into a leftie who appears to be claiming that raising the minimum wage to £7/hr (a ‘Living Wage’) will be good for workers and good for businesses. Like, automatically. Always. ‘Cause it’d sure be stupid to do it if it would make some people worse off.

Let’s experiment, shall we?

I own a widget factory.

I have 100 employees turning out widgets for £5.80/hr, 40 hours/wk, 52 weeks per annum.

My wages bill is thus £1,206,400 per annum. Add in Employers’ NICs, and that wages bill becomes £1,287,667.

Let’s pretend my factory is very cheap and costs me £25,000 per annum to operate.

Each of my widgets costs £1 to make; I sell each widget at £1.20 for a 20% (entirely reasonable) profit.

Fortunately I sell 1,500,000 widgets per annum, leaving me with a nice profit of £487,333 per annum. I share this equally with my three business partners, giving us each a yearly income of £121,833.25. Once I’ve paid Employers’ NICs, my own NICs, and income tax on this sum, I’m actually taking home £70,031.

Suddenly, the law demands I pay my employees £7/hr.

Now my wages bill is £1,569,216 per annum (including Employers’ NICs) plus £25,000 overhead.

Selling 1,500,000 widgets per annum, now my profit has shrunk to £205,784 per annum, which I share equally with my three business partners, giving us each a yearly income of £51,446. Once I’ve paid Employers’ NICs, my own NICs, and income tax on this sum, I’m actually taking home £32,800. In raising my employees’ wages by £1.20 each per hour, my own income has shrunk by more than half.

If my widget sales fall, my income becomes even smaller. If my overhead rises (energy bills go up, you know), my income becomes even smaller. If I want to offset this by raising the price of my widgets, my customers’ business costs rise (at a time when they have already risen, because they too have to pay their employees more); alternately, sales of my widgets fall. I realise I can earn more than £32,000 as a school teacher.

Best-case scenario, my business becomes more expensive to run, my customers’ businesses become more expensive to run, the prices of our products rise, and our incomes shrink.

Worst-case scenario? My partners and I sack our 100 employees and sell the factory. My employees are now earning £0/hr. My partners and I go off to teach maths to left-wing dunderheads who, despite our efforts, will never understand that occasionally, just occasionally, raising the costs of a business means it is no longer worthwhile to operate that business.

Tax figures found here.

Sep 182009
 

All kinds of bizarre financing going on here, just to keep the airline above water* ‘through the global downturn in air travel.’

With everyone from Al Gore to British doctors insisting that we all reduce our carbon footprint – i.e., no flying for the plebs – and governments slapping green taxes on airfare left, right, and centre, I wonder just when exactly AA thinks passenger traffic is going to pick up again.

Especially when the service they offer is such utter, utter shite.

I myself used to be quite a loyal AA customer, in the grand old days of four years ago, when I could buy a ticket for a service from my local airport direct to Gatwick for $350 (incl. tax). I would fly on a not-obnoxious Boeing 777 and the flight attendants would bring me tomato juice with a friendly smile.

These days, you can’t buy a ticket like that for less than $1200, and the service flies to Heathrow instead. It runs on 747s (shite) with incredibly rude cabin crews who tell you off for getting out of your seat to use the toilet.**

Since the last time I flew on that dismal AA service (July), I have flown on the Virgin Atlantic service from DC to Gatwick (August). I did not mind in the slightest that I was routed through DC, because what I lost in time was made up for by VA, who outshine American like the sun outshines the moon. On the beautiful new Airbus with seat-backs designed to shift down and back rather than recline onto someone’s patellae, the flight attendants encouraged us to walk about the cabin to stretch, plied us with complimentary booze, and provided us not just with pillow and blanket, but also woolly socks, eyemask, and teeth-brushing kit. Need I emphasise that on most other airlines, those are things you only get in business class or better? And I was in economy.

And the whole thing cost me HALF of what I would have paid on American.

Needless to say, I wrote American a letter explaining all of this, and their eventual response was that they hoped to continue to provide me with good service. Ha! They only way I’d fly American again would be if they dropped their fare to $1 (incl. tax). For all those people whose ‘shares in AMR jumped 18% on the back of the news,’ my advice to you is: sell up now, motherfuckers.

*You see what I did thar?

**Mind you, this is still better than Thomas Crook. But then, so’s a bowlful of steaming ordure.

Sep 042009
 

I was standing at the counter in the chemists’ over the road this afternoon when my eye was drawn to a shiny leaflet displayed there. For a moment, I daydreamed, admiring the design and the pretty colours, the words ‘Brixton Pound’ turning my thoughts to a possible new club or home for rescue dogs.

Then, with an actual, physical start of surprise, I noticed what it was really advertising. The Brixton Pound.

Once I’d paid for my goods, I snatched up a copy of the leaflet and went out to the pavement to read it. Here is what it says:

WHAT?

The B£ is a local currency launching in autumn 2009. It’s a practical way for Brixton residents to support local traders and boost Brixton’s economy.

The B£ will work alongside pounds sterling – but can only be spent with independent local businesses within Brixton. Brixton will be the first urban centre in the UK to have its own currency.

WHY?

Your money goes further:

  • Rewards and special offers for using the B£
  • The B£ keeps circulating within Brixton – local people benefit each time you spend one

Good for the local economy, community and environment:

  • Supports independent shops and local jobs under threat from the recession and larger chain stores
  • Maintains the diversity and character of Brixton
  • Localising trade helps cut carbon from transport

The B£ is secure:

  • Printed on watermarked secure paper
  • Backed by sterling held by Lambeth Savings and Credit Union

WHO?

The B£ is being launched by a group of local volunteers in partnership with:

  • Transition Town Brixton (Community-led vision and action on Climate Change)
  • Lambeth Savings & Credit Union (Lambeth’s financial cooperative)
  • nef (economics as if people and the planet mattered – Lambeth-based economic think-and-do tank)

Please show your support by joining the B£ 1000 club. Membership is free and you will be one of the first 1000 people to use the B£ when they are launched. Visit www.brixtonpound.org to sign up.

Several questions leap to mind.

First, what is the exchange rate between B£ and £ to be?

Second, how exactly is that going to be determined?

Third, most traders in Brixton purchase their goods from outside of Brixton (I would guess). If the B£ is worth less than or as much as the £, how is it going to help them?

Fourth, most residents in Brixton earn their money in £. If the B£ is worth more than the £, how is it going to help them?

Fifth, if the B£ can only be spent within Brixton, the ‘diversity and character’ of what Brixton residents buy is going to shrink. You can’t buy a drink at a pub in Streatham with your B£. You can’t take a bus to Stockwell with your B£. What, in fact, will your B£ buy you? Locally-sourced goods from local traders. Which, in Brixton, is basically drugs. Hello, black market!

I’m not suggesting that alternative currencies are a bad idea in and of themselves; in many circumstances, I would argue, they’re necessary, especially when hyperinflation for example has devalued the official currency. They probably do this in Zimbabwe. But an alternative currency in a location like Brixton, that produces few truly ‘local’ goods and where most of the residents are earning their money outside of Brixton in pounds sterling, is at best pointless, and at worst, damaging to local traders.

I haven’t actually worked through it all in my head yet, however, so I’m willing to be told differently. I just thought it might be interesting for other libertarians to hear about this. Especially Tim Worstall.

Jul 202009
 

Y’know, amongst all of this drama about banking and debt and monetary policy, I’m surprised no Catilina has turned up. He campaigned, unsuccesfully of course, on a platform of tabulae novae: that is, a general cancellation of debt. The proposal was, although manifestly stupid, very popular with a vast number of Romans.

The crisis of 63 BC was in part precipitated by Pompey’s re-opening of the markets in Asia Minor, two results of which were that debts in Rome were suddenly called in by creditors, and cash moved out of the city to places like Pergamum. This is, of course, one of the problems with the gold standard: how do those people advocating the gold standard now answer this dilemma?

Jul 052009
 

Last Sunday, Madeleine Bunting wrote a piece for the Guardian that is simultaneously the most vicious and most thought-provoking essay I’ve read these many years. Tim Worstall, as usual, tipped me off, taking issue as he did with Bunting’s aside that neoliberalism and fascism have been destructive in contradistinction to communism and socialism, and while he is right to point up the hilarity of that assertion, it is but small beans in comparison to the rest of what she says.

She begins:

The certainties that have dominated the last quarter of a century – that the market knew best, achieved efficiency and produced wealth – have collapsed. Few would disagree with him, but the clarity of that conclusion is matched by the confusion about what comes next.

There is, within this statement, an apparent confusion about what, exactly, a market is. There shouldn’t be, because Bunting could reference a cosy view of life in the pre-modern era, where a market was a place where exchange occurred (village square, local goods stalls, bescarfed women with basketsful of eggs, etc.), but she doesn’t do this. And she is wrong not to, because that is what a market is even today: a space where information about exchange takes place. A market is a tool, an amorality: a perfectly-operating market is efficient, because it permits potential exchangers to learn the value of what they wish to exchange, and it does produce wealth, because that free information allows the parties to an exchange to maximise their mutual benefit. A perfectly-operating market, however, does not know best, because a market is a tool, not a party to exchange itself.

What has collapsed, and Bunting could have pointed this out easily, is the informative value of the imperfect market in which exchange has recently been taking place. This is, by and large, a corporate, capitalist market heavily interfered with by the state in the form of regulation, taxation, and subsidy (amongst other things). Such a market does not convey correct information – its worth as a means of conveying value is approaches nil, because true costs (in particular) are obscured by strictures outwith the market itself. This is not necessarily a bad thing – even the most strident advocates of free markets often admit the need for certain external strictures, especially in pricing externalities, QED – but more often than not, interference in the functioning of the market is performed imperfectly in the pursuit of goals many of us disapprove (public money being used to bail out corporate institutions being one, whether it’s the automobile companies or the banks or the shareholders of both; asymmetrical information in the operation of the banking system; etc.). It is the failure of this type of market that has given the lie to whatever ‘certainties’ we might have cherished for the last quarter of a century; but this is no more an intrinsic flaw in markets per se than the existence of greed is an intrinsic flaw of money (which is simply another tool in the process of exchange).

Bunting is right to ask, ‘What comes next?’, even though this question is a non-sequitur in the case of market fundamentalism, since what she goes on to explore has very little to do with the collapse of the politico-corporate market. But never mind that; what does come next?

In his last Reith lecture, on Tuesday, Sandel will call for a remoralisation of politics – that we must correct a generation of abdication to the market of all measures of value. Most political questions are at their core moral or spiritual, Sandel declares, they are about our vision of the common good; bring religion and other value systems back into the public sphere for a civic renewal.

So, in the absence of certainties about ‘the market,’ we need a new certainty, a new way of measuring value, though Bunting never addresses the obvious question: ‘Measuring the value of what, exactly?’ It becomes clear throughout the rest of her piece that ‘value’ is being used as a positive abstraction, standing in for some nebulous idea of satisfaction + happiness + equality + prosperity. ‘The market’ has failed to deliver that mixture; what, in its place, can do so?

But never mind that, either, because she’s not going to explore it. Instead, we return to the tired memes of ‘the common good’ and ‘civic renewal.’ There is an a priori assumption here that questions of politics, whether it be government or simple collective action, must have an answer that is geared toward achieving a common good. This assumption may not be such a mistaken one; I’m sure many people share the view that collective action exists exclusively to achieve collective good. What constitutes ‘the common good,’ however, is highly debatable, and is probably at the root of all political differences. If there were a set of easily-identifiable and self-evident commonweals, we would not need so much variety of political choice. (Whether or not we really have, at least in the UK of today, such a huge variety of choice is another question I’ll leave others to explore.)

The same objection applies to the belief that political questions are moral or spiritual. No one has yet, despite centuries of philosophers’ attempts, managed to identify a universal morality or spirituality, any more than we’ve identified a universal ‘common good.’ Morality – the distinction between right acts and wrong acts – is not absolute, even if we think it ought to be – even if some of us think there are absolutes – because there will always be intelligent minds who disagree, and whose reasoning contains no obvious flaw that can be corrected.

Bunting does seem to recognise this problem, at least on some level, because she focuses the rest of her argument on civic renewal; and it is easy to see why, since ‘few indeed’ disagree that civic engagement has ossified:

The problem is a near sense of desperation as to how this is to come about, as current prescriptions offered by all political parties are emptied of meaning and credibility. Meanwhile, politics is in danger of becoming a subject purely for a small technocratic coterie dominated by highly complex financial regulation and arcane detail of parliamentary reform. It’s a politics of credit derivatives and standing committees, which is a foreign language to 90% of the electorate.

The sense of the end of an era is even more pressing in the UK than in Sandel’s America because it has coincided with the final discrediting of a form of professionalised, careerist politics. But to general bewilderment, even twin crises of this magnitude are not prompting political engagement; the paradox is that they may generate anger but are not generating action. The possibility of change – of radically reforming the institutions that have so betrayed trust – is slipping between our fingers. Bankers resume banking their bonuses, politicians revert to party rivalries to elect a Speaker unlikely to command the crossbench support necessary for reform. And we are left pondering what it is that brings about change – crises are not enough, outrage is not enough.

This is a fairly good summation of the problems facing the demos. Crises have occurred; comfortable systems have been discredited; there is outrage but no action. I commend the author.

She does not, then, do what I would do, which is to ask, ‘Why is there no action, when there is obviously such a need for it, and a fertile ground in which it can take root?’

The reason she ignores this is because, in asking why no action is taking place, we encounter a new, and much more troubling, set of problems.

There is a perception that systems for acting do not work. We live in a democracy, and the legitmate mechanism for action in a democratic society is the vote, by which the demos choose their proxies in government on the basis of specific platforms; the proxies are expected to carry out these platforms or be replaced by new proxies. The demos is the master of its government; between elections, it can direct policy through petition, protest, and (though this is itself a problem) lobbying.

In this particular democracy, most of those avenues for acting have been closed. The demos has been ignored: government has taken action without its approval, from bailing out banks to nationalising rail lines to giving Fred Goodwin a pension (if you like) to setting up unelected quangos to regulate government behaviour (IPSA) to creating a surveillance state to cracking down on protestors… and the list goes on. Much of what the government (and remember, it is supposed to respond to the demands of the demos) has done in the past let’s say quarter of a century (since that is where Bunting starts) has shifted power away from the demos, and this is one of the factors that has so depressed civic engagement. The legitimate avenues for action are closed: action in the face of these developments would be akin to beating one’s skull against a brick wall.

To give Bunting a bit of credit, she does not suggest that democracy itself is an unassailable system of governance; as the Devil’s Kitchen has pointed out, democracy has many faults.

A necessary (but not sufficient) condition for change to occur, one might argue, is the belief that change can happen. There appears to be, instead, a desultory fatalism here which Bunting does not address, summed up in part by the uniquely democratic aphorism, ‘No matter who you vote for, the government always wins.’ As long as the entrenched institutions, whether government or corporate capitalism or what you will, continue to barricade the legitimate mechanisms by which change can occur, they grow ever more monolithic and unchallengeable. In such circumstances, righteous outrage at crises and failures will turn inward, because short of fomenting a destabilising revolution, ways of reducing the unaccountable power of such institutions are not truly present.

There are many who would claim that it is the complacency of the demos itself that has allowed this situation to come about: for even unaccountable monoliths are not entirely maleficent, and there will always be those who benefit more than they would do in the absence of such institutions. Unanswerable corporate capitalism has permitted many people to enrich themselves tremendously, often at the expense of others; a powerful and paternalist government has protected many people from the consequences of their own failures, often at the expense of others. There are also people who have enriched themselves without exploitation, and people who have been protected by the state from the consequences of others’ failures. It is the complacency of those who have benefited that has put a cork in mechanisms for change; appeals to self-interest have worked, and I would guess many people who have no experience of any of what I have just said still gamble that, one day, they might do. They don’t want to reduce the monoliths because they judge the possible future benefits of them to be greater than the actual present costs.

But the safety, comfort, and benefit that monolithic institutions provide comes at the price of being unable to alter them easily or indeed limit their acquisition of further power, even when they turn against you.

Having omitted the why of civic disengagement, Bunting still tries to present a solution, and this is where we discover (a) that her omission was deliberate, and (b) the true viciousness of her argument.

Battening on to some documentary-maker’s assertion that ‘what is paralysing the collective will’ is ‘the dominance of individualism,’ she says:

“What we have is a cacophony of individual narratives, everyone wants to be the author of their own lives, no one wants to be relegated to a part in a bigger story; everyone wants to give their opinion, no one wants to listen. It’s enchanting, it’s liberating, but ultimately it’s disempowering because you need a collective, not individual, narrative to achieve change,” explains Curtis.

His analysis is that power uses stories which shape our understanding of the world and of who we are, and how we make sense and order experience. Powerful, grand narratives legitimise power, win our allegiance and frame our private understandings of how to measure value and create meaning. They also structure time – they fit the present into a continuum of how the past will become the future. This is what all the grand narratives of communism, socialism, even neoliberalism and fascism offered; as did the grand narratives of religion. Now, all have foundered and fragmented into a mosaic of millions of personal stories. It is a Tower of Babel in which we have lost the capacity to generate the common narratives – of idealism, morality and hope such as Sandel talks about – that might bring about civic renewal and a reinvigorated political purpose.

The solution to disengagement, apparently, is a collective grand narrative. In her own words, then, let’s explore what a grand narrative might have to offer.

(1) Grand narratives legitimise power.
Rather than reducing the power of monolithic institutions, they entrench it. This is precisely the opposite of what the demos appear to desire, which is a return of power to the civic level, not a legitimisation of the transfer of power away from it.

(2) Grand narratives win allegiance.
They put a high gloss on failed, unaccountable systems in order to provide the illusion that those systems are both palatable and good. The allegiance here is an adherence to someone else’s vision, an abdication of self-determination in favour of a purpose imposed from the outside that may suit neither the individual nor the collective will.

(3) Grand narratives frame our understanding of value and meaning.
In other words, they change what we desire, rather than fulfill it. This is not changing the systems to suit the demos; this is changing the demos to suit the systems.

(4) Grand narratives structure time, fitting the present into a continuum of how the past will become the future.
They provide a comforting but impossibly teleological illusion of human development. As Bunting points out, this is what religions and modern political systems do. Historians (and I know whereof I speak) are fond of imposing teleological interpretations on the past: Marxist historiographers are particularly prone. Overlaying a narrative on the past implies that there is, or has been, an end toward which all human action has tended. Religions, similarly, overlay a narrative on the future, assuming a state of perfection or enlightenment toward which religious principles are the most perfect route. Although many religions place a great premium on the perfection of the individual soul, reaching the end state requires a collective effort, just as modern political systems do. But do we really want our political systems to share common characteristics with religion? In many major religions, those individuals who do not work in service to the collective goal, or do not achieve perfection individually, suffer punitive judgment; should our politics operate in this same way? Or should they instead operate according to mutual benefit, common agreement, and compromise? The religious edifice is built upon the idea of revealed truth, and access to that truth is controlled by the spiritual elite. Do we want our political edifice to be built upon revealed, unchallengeable truths, access to which is controlled by the political elite?

Throughout history, the mechanism whereby religion has maintained social control and its grand narrative is the restriction of information. Do we really want to emulate this in the political sphere? Ignorance may indeed be bliss, but to impose ignorance on the demos for any purpose whatever, no matter how noble it may appear to be, must be one of the summits of evil.

Bunting’s desire for a grand narrative is not about ‘civic renewal and a reinvigorated political purpose'; it is about retaining the monoliths whilst finding a way to ensure that the demos happily accepts, and even supports, their power. This is the insidious reason for why she does not address the root of disengagement and inaction: she does not want action, she wants acquiescence.

Curtis argues that we are still enchanted by the possibilities of our personal narratives although they leave us isolated, disconnected, and at their worst, they are simply solipsistic performances desperate for an audience. But we are in a bizarre hiatus because the economic systems that sustained and amplified this model of individualism have collapsed. It was cheap credit and a housing boom that made possible the private pursuit of experience, self-expression and self-gratification as the content of a good life. As this disintegrates and youth unemployment soars, this good life will be a cruel myth.

There are plenty of people around trying to redefine the good life – happiness economists and environmentalists, among others – and Sandel’s authority adds useful weight to their beleaguered struggle against the instrumentalist values of the market that have crept into every aspect of our lives. But Sandel’s call for remoralisation seems only to expose how bare the cupboard is – what would it look like? What reserves of moral imagination could it draw on for a shared vision, given that the old shared moral narratives such as religious belief and political ideology have so little traction?

Individualism, contrary to what Bunting seems to present here, is neither fragmentary nor dependent on consumerism. She is right in presenting it as a struggle for ‘experience, self-expression, and self-gratification,’ but this must be as defined by the individual him- or herself, often without regard for the much-vaunted ‘common good.’ And indeed, no attempt at ‘the good life’ succeeds completely, but the ability to make the attempt, and define ‘the good life’ for oneself, must exist; that, for most people, it does not is but another aspect of that fatalism that has muted the outrage.

And shared visions, shared moral narratives, are bad, not least because nobody has yet found one that can be shared by everybody. A shared vision is an illusion held in common that works only for those willing to be directed (or deceived) by it, and there are many. Understanding this is what led to Nietzsche’s philosophy of perspectivism. He was writing in the context of the grand narrative of Christianity, but the essence of perspectivism is that there is no universal truth, no universal reality: instead, there is only the personal perception of reality, and individually unique epistemologies as numerous as the number of individuals themselves. Many people have criticised this view as relativist, and indeed it is, but Nietzsche also allowed for ‘formal’ truths, which are developed organically through the intergration of many individual perspectives. Perspectivism is perhaps the closest we have come toward the repudiation of the grand narrative as a concept; grand narratives are possible, but only in the presence of wilful or imposed ignorance and the denial of the discrete, individual consciousness.

Bunting goes so far as to identify a possible grand narrative, which she does not like:

A new grand narrative will emerge, Curtis believes, admitting he is an optimist. But perhaps there is another aspect to our predicament. That the new grand narrative has already emerged and it is one of environmental catastrophe. Perhaps this reinforces the sense of political paralysis. That the only grand narrative on offer is so terrifying – of a world rapidly running out of the natural resources required to sustain extravagant lifestyles and burgeoning population – that it disables rather than empowers us to achieve political change. Terrified, we retreat into private stories of transformation – cosmetic surgery, makeovers of home and person – because we see no collective story of transformation we can believe in.

Fatalism rears its head again in the idea of a coming catastrophe that paralyses the will to change. I argue that this is merely an effect, not a cause, of civic disempowerment; it is again the belief that the changes we try to achieve are but minute struggles against the overarching immovability of monolithic institutions.

She finishes:

Every other modern narrative – communism, socialism, even those that were destructive, such as neoliberalism and fascism – laid claim to a version of the kingdom of God, a better world that would nurture a better human being. They were all narratives of redemption and salvation. All that we have now is apocalypse, and it is paralysing. How then can we build hope?

The kingdom of God, a better world and a better human being – what place have these ideas in political discourse? They are entwined with the desire for a grand narrative. This teleological view of human progress is the most paralysing of all views. Even if the goal is unknown, or not yet understood, it imparts a sense of finality and destiny that petrifies the individual and the collective mentality. We are moving toward x, perhaps diverging down erroneous paths, but the desire to reach x exists, and we must all surrender to it. If there is a goal, and we do not share it, what hope can there be for the dissenters? ‘Better human being’ returns us to the world of the moral absolute, a non-reality, and ‘narratives of redemption and salvation’ are especially frightening. Redemption is for those who have transgressed; salvation is in the gift of a higher power. Will we set up human arbiters of sin and human judges of righteousness in our new narrative? I repeat, what place have these ideas in political discourse?

It is a funny thing that ‘apocalypse’ does not mean what Bunting thinks it means. She infers from it chaos, destruction, collapse; but at its root, it is αποκαλυψις, an uncovering, an unhiding, a revelation. And perhaps what she hates about apocalypse is that is has uncovered mutable truths; it has removed certainties and replaced them with the understanding that certainty itself paralyses. The absence of a grand narrative is a state of being to be celebrated; it is both energising and liberating, bringing as it does the knowledge that we are not bound to a shared reality, a vision imposed on us by others. We as individuals can create our own meaning and give our own existence its purpose – and that purpose is whatever we choose, based upon whatever values we wish to hold. We can fight for self-determination even in a society that ritually denigrates the individual, ascribing its success only to the existence of the collective, and demanding gratitude and service in return. The paralysis is proof that that society is dying.This apocalypse is good, and recognition of our own paralysis is a vital step toward freeing ourselves from the tyranny of those who would make us pawns in their ‘narrative’ of social transgression and secular salvation.

balls, n. Brit. rubbish.

 indolence, political blunders  Comments Off on balls, n. Brit. rubbish.
Jun 302009
 

Via the delightful Mr E, I see that Ed Balls, Minister for Fucking Up Your Children and Families, has got himself into trouble on multiple counts:

First, he told some great big whoppers on the radio about Labour’s budget bringing the national debt down, when in fact their very own budget shows the national debt rising. Fraser Nelson illustrates with some pretty graphs.

Second, when Balls got wind of Nelson’s article, he demanded it be taken down, practically causing Nelson to bust a kidney from laughter in the process.

Nelson says:

Balls was deploying the “false proxy” – one of the tools he and Brown use to mislead the public. The Brown/Balls spin technique is all about the gap between their verbal and financial positions. Debt is a classic case in point. Most people understand “reducing the national debt” to mean, well, reducing the national debt. Brown and Balls would claim to do this, when in fact they were increasing the national debt – but by slightly less than the growth of the economy. Orwell would have great fun with Brown and Balls – they have invented statistical doublethink. A way of describing ‘up’ as ‘down’.

Pretty sneaky, Balls. Pretty sneaky indeed.

Apparently, one of the things Balls said on the radio this morning was the following:

We have acted in the downturn, that will mean that the economy is stronger, we’ll have less unemployment, less debt. Therefore we will be able to spend more on schools and hospitals. The Conservatives have opposed these plans, the national debt will be higher with the Conservatives.

In the mind of the Man Who Would Be Chancellor, spending more = less debt and opposing spending = more debt. Excuse me while I ask, WTF. ‘The national debt will be higher with the Conservatives’? I grant that may well end up being true, but only because Labour have spent the last 9 months spending non-existent money like an overpaid benefits claimant in Asda.

Okay, wait, that was classist, wasn’t it?

Spending non-existent money like a teenaged geek with a stolen credit card in the Apple Store.

Whatever the simile, Balls has just proved that the level of political discourse is no better here than in my native land: ‘We rock, and the other guys are totes poo-heads. Am I right or am I right?’

One thing that is different, however, is the unbelievable fact that people win elections in this country by promising more public spending. Some of the electorate evidently want to wrap themselves in the cotton wool of this promise so badly that they’re happy just to hear it as bullshit, never mind it actually happening:

We don’t care if the commentators or the economists turn against us. This is all about shoring up the base in the northern heartlands, which we lost in the European elections. We don’t want or need them to understand the nuance of the argument. We just want them to hate the Tories again.

The equation being, of course, that the British hate spending cuts, and thus hate the Tories, yea even unto the Day of Judgment, Amen.

Whereas the Americans, as far as I can still tell, adore spending cuts, and have hitherto gigantically mistrusted anybody who doesn’t advocate them. Now, obviously, I’m well aware that Americans are being lied to also – no American government has managed actually to cut spending since, like, EVER – but the difference lies in the lies we wish to be told.

(Did you see what I did there?)

Americans want to pretend the government is spending less of their money than ever on less and less stuff. The British want to pretend the government is spending more of their money than ever on making the current stuff super-awesome.

I wonder what proportion of the US population pays income tax, versus what proportion of the British population pays income tax.

I bet it’s a smaller proportion here in the UK. Anybody have the data? I’m willing to be corrected.

More Henry VIII nonsense

 argh, stupid-heads  Comments Off on More Henry VIII nonsense
Jun 082009
 

What is it with the British government’s desire to honour this disgusting parody of a man? Is it because Gordon Brown increasingly resembles him? (Watch out, Sarah…)

The Royal Mint is issuing some special coins to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession to the throne. The coins will feature the personal motto of this second son, intended for the priesthood and never meant to be king, who succeeded thanks only to the untimely death of his older brother, whose ‘virgin’ widow he married, cheated on, and ‘divorced’ in a move so emotionally and politically insensitive that it nearly provoked war with the Holy Roman Empire. For this he is given credit for founding the Church of England.

The motto in question is ‘Rosa sine spina,’ never an official royal tag line but Henry’s own bizarre self-description, that of beauty without defence. Pardon me while I ask, WTF?

And may I also point out that one of Henry VIII’s mottos is already on the bloody coinage? Fidei defensor. Why honour him further?

Anyway, bollocks to this stupid coin and commemoration. If there is one thing we can all be sure of, the one person guaranteed to be in hell with Judas, Brutus, and Cassius is Henry VIII.

Immigration woes, part 2

 argh, stupid-heads  Comments Off on Immigration woes, part 2
Jun 062009
 

As I explained in a previous post, one of the items I had to supply for my tier 1 application was proof of earnings; the Border Agency requires two separate documents that prove one’s income.

Because their ‘guidance notes’ are so Byzantine, before I made the application I rang the Immigration Enquiry Bureau to ask for clarification. The conversation went something like this:

Bella: I have here a letter from my employer and a P60 as proof of income. Do those count as two separate documents?

Chappy: Yes, yes they do.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when on Thursday I received a letter from the Border Agency refusing my application on the grounds that a letter from my employer and a P60 are not considered two separate documents – both being prepared, as they were, by my employer.

After recovering from the Britney marathon, I rang the Immigration Enquiry Bureau on Friday morning. The conversation went something like this:

Bella: I have here a letter from my employer and a P60 as proof of income. Do those count as two separate documents?

Lady: (after putting me on hold to seek clarification) Yes, yes they do.

Bella:. Yes, that's what I was told when I rang this number before making my application. Why, then, do I have a refusal letter here informing me that, in fact, they are not considered separate documents?

Lady: (after putting me on hold again) I must apologise for giving you incorrect information, but as you will see in the guidance notes…

Bella: The guidance notes say nothing of the sort. That’s why I rang for clarification in the first place. You people have given me incorrect information twice now, and according to this letter of refusal, I have no right of appeal or review. You must see that the Border Agency itself is partly culpable for my mistake: what recourse do I have?

Lady: All I can suggest is that you write to the case worker who considered your application and explain the situation.

So I have written to my caseworker, and to my MP, in the hope that they will reconsider the original application if I provide a second document (bank statements) to prove that income, and if they consult their own recordings of telephone enquiries.

Because I cannot make another application. For one thing, I do not have another £820 to spare. (TGS, thank you for your very kind offer.)

For another, the application also requires that one has maintained a minimum bank balance of £800 for three months prior to applying. This was easy to prove when I made the original application; but in paying their exorbitant fee, my balance dropped to £780 – twenty quid below their minimum requirement, meaning that I would need to wait a further three months to achieve that minimum balance and re-apply. Unfortunately, that would mean waiting until September to make a second application, and my current leave expires 31 August.

And for another, for the tier 1 application, one can claim points for age. At the moment, I am 27 and so can claim the maximum number of points. In July, I will turn 28 – and thus lose half of the points I was able to claim for age on my original application.

The upshot is that, unless the Border Agency abandon their bureaucratic impulses and allow a reconsideration, or my MP takes pity on me and does something to assist me, I will no longer qualify to remain in the UK as a tier 1 migrant.

One other possible option is the tier 2 category – a work permit sponsored by my employer. This prospect raises another problem: that of proving that I am a better candidate for the job than any UK or EU national. Considering the specialised job I do, in theory this would be easy to prove. However, in order to prove it, the school would need to show that they had advertised the position with the JobCentre for some minimum length of time. Which, naturally, they did not do, because teachers do not look for jobs at the JobCentre. So the school may not be able to prove my superiority to native Britons and Europeans. The tier 2 permit also, apparently, requires the applicant to get an ID card. I’m not real pleased with the idea of doing that, as one can imagine.

Thus, there is very little I can do at the moment (although my employer and I are investigating the tier 2 possibility), and whether I can remain in the UK beyond the end of August is for the most part out of my hands and up in the air.

I am very irritated that, based on their own incorrect advice, the Border Agency has refused me permission to live and work here, especially since I can clearly support myself and will contribute to Britain’s economic well-being. I suppose those factors are simply not as important to the Government as indulging the bigotries, misconceptions, and protectionist instincts of a small number of the populace.

Some people over at the Devil’s Kitchen have suggested that marriage might be the answer and, having looked into it on a whim, it would seem that taking such a step would indeed take care of the immediate problem. Unfortunately, in reading the Border Agency website and this poor man’s horror story, I see that it would only suffice for two years, whereas the tier 1 application, had it been granted, would have lasted for three. Also, if I’m going to marry anyone, I want it to be for the, y’know, romantic and practical reasons – not because I need a visa. The very idea offends my ego.

May 092009
 

Occasionally after work, Mr Smug Git and I repair to the local watering-hole and, lubricated by a pair of pints, proceed to sequester the pub’s copy of the Sun and roundly take the piss until (a) we run out of beer money, or (b) he has to get on the train back home.

Yesterday, most unusually considering the front pages of all the other newspapers in Christendom, the Sun carried no mention on its own front page of MPs’ expenses. Instead, the top stories were something to do with footballers being rude to referees, and this:

DD-Day: THE SUN’S campaign to axe the Marks & Spencer bra tax ended in a stunning victory last night.

‘We boobed,’ say Marks & Spencer. ‘In these times of economic trouble, we won’t charge £2 extra for Bras of Unusual Size.’

The Sun’s ‘Hands Off Our Boobs’ campaign, which I managed to miss entirely whilst it was being waged, appears to have championed a bizarre cause, but now that I think of it, hurrah for the Sun!

Because, for what is not a particularly complicated or cloth-intensive garment, the simple brassiere is one of the most expensive pieces of women’s couture. A rapid search of the M&S website ‘by price’ reveals that the most inexpensive bra they offer at the moment comes in at £8. (If one desires the matching knickers, it’s a further £3.) By contrast, one can purchase two tops for the same price, at £4 apiece.

Good on the Sun, I feel, for ensuring that large-busted women are not penalised by a £2 extra charge. It is bad enough that women fork out for these ridiculous apparatus anyway; those blessed (by nature or surgery) with generous chests shouldn’t have to pay even more for what is, let’s face it, two little triangles of cloth connected by a bit of cheap elastic and wire.

Somehow, however, I doubt the Sun will espouse the other women’s cause that is truly outrageous: the blatantly sexist charging of VAT, however reduced, on menstrual items that only women need – but not, let us remember, on things like Jaffa Cakes.

Tell you what, Ms. Harman: instead of championing economically stupid plans that actually hurt women (over-generous maternity leave, flexible working hours, shoehorning females into top banking positions a la affirmative action, etc), why don’t you take a page out of the Sun’s book and get this tampax tax eliminated?

Mar 172009
 

Over on the Devil’s gold post, commenter Revolution Harry questions fellow commenter Ian B’s assertion that ‘getting more stuff is a Good Thing':

Economic growth on its own is fine, though I take issue with your idea that ‘getting more stuff is a good thing’. Depends on the ‘stuff’.

Ian B’s riposte is a thing of sheerest beauty:

No it doesn’t. People getting more of what they want is a Good Thing, period. If you have more stuff than you want, fine, get rid of it or even better give it to me. If you think there is some kind objective method of deciding what stuff people should have, and that they shouldn’t be allowed to have stuff that others decide they shouldn’t have, then I think that’s reprehensible.

Getting more stuff is what the western world and free markets are all about. Stuff is great.

I concur wholeheartedly: Stuff is great.

I must say also that the discussion taking place over that particular post is possibly one of the most interesting I’ve read in a good long while. I highly recommend it.

My own view of ‘money’ has always been extraordinarily simplistic. As I understand it (and please, no flaming: I admit in advance to ignorance and silliness), this is sort of where money comes from:

I make baskets. You make shoes. We decide, mutually, that two of my baskets are worth one pair of your shoes. When I need shoes, I give you baskets according to this formula, and the same holds true when you need baskets – you give me shoes.

Mordred breeds cows. You need Mordred’s cows to make your shoes; Mordred needs my baskets for feed. I give Mordred ten baskets; he gives you one cowskin; you give me five pairs of shoes. So far, so good.

But I don’t need all of these shoes, or at least not at the moment, and you need more cowskins than Mordred needs baskets from me. Not to mention that there’s also Lancelot the chicken-farmer, Guinevere the prostitute, and Gawain the lumberjack to add into the equation, which makes it all hopelessly complicated.

So together we agree upon a unit of substitution for all of this stuff, and call it a squeed. Every item we produce is worth so many squeeds – perhaps my basket is now worth 10sq. Now, however, I decide I’d quite like not only a pair of shoes, but also a half-hour with Guinevere. So I sell my baskets for 11sq – after all, I’m the only basket weaver in town – pocket my 1sq profit, and save it up to pay Guinevere 5sq for my half-hour on Thursday. Then Guinevere spends 3sq on a handful of eggs from Lancelot, and saves the remaining 2sq toward a nice pair of shoes.

The situation becomes even more complex, however. Supposing Mordred puts his prices up too, because he also fancies Guinevere and wants to purchase some of her time. Realising that she’s now in demand, she too can charge more. What if another basket-weaver arrives and sets up shop? Not everybody can weave baskets, true, but lots of people can be prostitutes – so Guinevere’s prices might come down again when Elaine comes onto the scene. All of these things change the value of my baskets, as well as how much my squeeds will buy me.

Finally, and most importantly, what is a squeed, and how many are there? If the supply is finite, it will recirculate stalely amongst the community and quickly accumulate in certain spots like scum on a pond; if it is possible to increase the supply, that too will affect squeedal value and the price of goods. Ideally, squeeds should be an item we can’t really use (why waste something useful?), and relatively rare, although not too rare; also, a squeed should be something we can get more of, but not easily. Gold is, therefore, a good substance from which to make squeeds.

On the other hand, gold is heavy, and the village over the hill uses it for roofing tiles. They might come and forcibly relieve us of the contents of our over-burdened pockets! Better to agree on an amount of gold to represent 1sq, create a worthless (to the other village) paper 1sq note, and keep all of the gold squeeds in a safe place, like under the mattress. As long as we always have enough gold to back up most of our paper squeeds, we should be fine.

And there, my friends, we must cease Bella’s Theory of Money, because we enter the world of fractional reserve banking, which is where my limited and child-like understanding of the monetary system ends. I hope you have enjoyed today’s episode of Arthurian Village Economics.

UPDATE: Ian B continues froody:

And thirdly, it is common to glibly say we’ve had enough growth now and we bally well ought to stop. Well, you might think you’ve got enough stuff, but I haven’t got enough stuff and the average subsistence farmer in Africa hasn’t got any fucking stuff at all, and it is reprehensible to tell him he can’t have any because of an imaginary infinitude on a misunderstood graph. We have vast potential for improving our productivity, absolutely vast. We’ve only been in the industrial revolution for about three centuries, not even that. There is shitloads left to discover and invent. How dare you tell people on the breadline they’re rich enough?