Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Picking Up The Bills





It was the duty day of the week today, the one where we have to do the shopping.  Looking at the bill my personal financial adviser aka fund manager aka forensic accountant concluded that it was a bad day at the office.

Inflation is said to be reduced and experts are going into panic at the perils of low inflation for the future of the economy but on the car park we were wondering why the cost of our routine purchasing is now so high and rising rapidly.

Looking at the media there are a raft of stories about sharp rises in property values, how rents are rocketing and all the things people claim they can no longer afford.  For those with cars to repair or care for costs are also well up.

The short answer is that the indexes are now restricted in scope and no longer reflect the broad sweep of expenditures.  As soon as the full reality of the obligations and needs of life are looked at then we do have inflation and it is not checked and it is doing the usual damage to the economy.

A reason why so many complain or have real concerns is that so many are living at the margins.  Effects of this are less voluntary "saving" and when straying across the margins the accumulation of increasing debt and interest liabilities.

Savings is a word with many meanings.  It might be long term aimed at a future pension.  It might be intended for future consumption.  But it might be needed either for essential replacements or future bills.  Sooner or later this or that will need repairs, new parts or stop working.

Low interest rates may do wonders for some people notably those in the businesses of borrowing big but for the kind of savings that are in effect future required expenditure many people are fighting a losing battle as prices rise inexorably and these days often more than income.

Because of the intensity of present consumption allied to the rapidity and uncertainty of money flows it is not balanced but delicately poised for many possible shifts and in directions we do not expect or plan for.

So don't believe a word of what they say.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Capten, Art Tha' Sleepin' There Below?





As someone increasingly detached from the world and indeed reality it is a strange place to live in.  It could be the other way round, reality is mine and it is the world that is becoming detached.

At the sight of this picture there was a small point of detail which made me think that global warming and the rise of sea levels had gone much further than I thought.

If you look at the rear of the vessel you will see the name Luxembourg.  The Principality is on the River Moselle, a big river, but nowhere near that big. 

So how was it that a formerly land locked state had suddenly become a port for huge sea going vessels?  Reading the item on the Tax Justice blog explained all.  Luxembourg has become a place for choice for the registration of ships.

Apparently, it occurred to Luxembourg that if they offered a cheap deal on this shipping lines would, if not sail, flock to them to get the legal bit done.  It would be a nice little earner for the state in these difficult times.

Once it was a matter of pride for ship owners to register in the ports and countries of their origin.  No longer, it is one of those bureaucratic formalities where cheapest is best, especially if some inconvenient matters can be avoided, like tax and legal liabilities.

It is a pity that ploys of this kind cannot be dealt with by the relevant governing authorities.  For example, if English football clubs could play only in the leagues in the state where the actual ownership of ultimate financial control was lodged it could transform world football.

The issue, however, it becoming serious.  In the developed west two blades of the economic scissors are at work.  One is that more and more assets are owned by others. 

The other is that many of those assets together with those owned theoretically by nationals of western states have ultimate ownership listed in the "off shore" entities we call tax havens, albeit that some, like Luxembourg, Andorra, Switzerland etc. are very much on shore.

In an era when predatory extractive finance has become paramount with increasing returns demanded from both working elements and the gaming sectors of operations the economic stresses require states to keep sloshing funny money into the system to keep it all afloat.

If it does not work then we will all sink together and the ships will have nowhere to go to.  Keep your eye on the Baltic Dry Index, one of the interesting economic markers.  

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Wherefore Art Thou Bootle?





I was brought up to believe that my family were Liverpool born and bred down the generations.  Taken by the sad urge to find the family history, the reality was different. The terrible torturing truth was that Bootle appeared in the records. Others have been prey to this deception in many ways.

One is to give the place name of Waterloo, a posh place on the Southport line and in the past thought to be respectable people of a status in society able to tell the difference between British Sweet Sherry and British Ruby Port.

To understand the nuances and subtle meaning of all this is not easy.  The Land of Scouse has many tribes and distinctions (and deceits) of class, faith, football, and fancy cakes.  I have no doubt that Cherie Booth, later Blair, said to be of the Waterloo petite bourgeoisie, was brought up on Samples cakes and not plain Co-op. 

One of the sayings about family history is "rags to rags in three generations".  In the case of Euan Blair, son and scion of Cherie and Tony The Traveller, it is Bootle to Bootle. 

His hat is in the ring, or gauntlet thrown down as one of Celebocracy, to have right of ownership of the title to be the Member of Parliament and Lobby Lord of the Manor of Bootle.

Once in a more romantic past there were proud people of Bootle who claimed that while Liverpool was working class it was Bootle men who did the work and referred to the border at Breeze Hill as the Khyber Pass of Merseyside.  But less us move on from all this to the present.

After a long working life of several years sweating at the computer face at the investment bank Morgan (give us your money to lose) Stanley and later the Sarino Russo work agency helping the losers to claim benefits, Euan deserves a well earned retirement at the taxpayers' expense.

Where better than at the Westminster Home For Poor Progeny of Politicians?  There he will have subsidised drinks, cut price cuisine, many home comforts and free interns to do any work.

So long as he keeps his hands to himself and makes sure his personal forensic accountant keeps the books straight he can look forward to a long profitable life.

He will have been prepared for this.  Silvio Berlusconi, the man himself, will have taught him how to distinguish between a decent Tuscan Montepulciano and a Chateauneuf du Pape at Waitrose as well as the difference between a lap dancer and a Labour Party activist.

I do hope that someone will take him to one side first and explain in a kindly way what the "Gladstone" in Gladstone Dock stands for and what goes on in such a place.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Bone Idle





We have this vision of our species being much the same as it has always been, give or take habits of personal hygiene, fashion and personal eccentricities, either single or mutual.

This is not the case it seems.  A longish item in Popular Archaeology tells us that what we were is not what we are.  It depends on what we do.  It related to the bones and they depend on the nature and demands of our activity as well as diet.

When we look at archive film of people of the past they do seem at times to be of a different breed from that which sways and stumbles round shopping malls.  But most people did other forms of work and life was much more physical for almost all people 

A key factor as Michael Pollan reminds us, is diet and not just the content but the cooking, see his RSA talk on Youtube, "How Cooking Can Change Your Life", which is sobering, in more than one way and will put you off Big Mac chips forever.

It is not the only correction to our ideas.  Science Daily tells us that Neanderthals, far from being the kind of parents who would have had Social Services hurrying to remove their children; they were models for that other more feckless breed who were new in the valley and ruining the habitat, to follow.

All this could take up time at the weekend.  Especially if after reading it your shopping and cooking habits have changed.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Pause For Thought And Memory





There are times when events can have connections that give pause for thought.  Today has seen the announcement of the loss of Sue Townsend (Wikipedia etc.), aged 68, and Richard Hoggart (also Wikipedia etc), aged 94.

Sue was a delightful, prolific and entertaining writer who made her name with the Adrian Mole (there is a Wikipedia page) books the first of which was The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 and 3/4. 

Sue was born in 1946 and when she was that age as a girl in Leicester Richard Hoggart was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Leicester in the period 1959 to 1962 before moving on to greater things.  Among a number of works the most famous was "The Uses of Literacy" of 1957 (Wikipedia page).

The University was quite close to the Linwood Girls Secondary Modern School attended by Sue.  They may have been on the same bus at the same time on occasion.  But I doubt that either of them were much to be seen at the Leicester Tigers ground on Welford Road, passed by the bus.

Richard was a very decent man, earnest and energetic in his work and with a dry sense of humour,  His book showed his concern with the loss of the old working class, its community and its culture. 

He told us that a new mass culture was being imposed and that the losses would be very much greater than the gains.  We would all become prisoners of what those who had to power to do so would decide what should be.

Both were of distinctly working class origin and the irony lies in that Sue's fame owed much to the mass entertainment means that Richard warned against, albeit as a comic form.

I hope there is an "Old Horse" as it used to be up there in the sky where they can meet and swap stories and ideas.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Is Another Sub-Prime Surfacing?





While the media, government and the herd are fixated on a limited number of matters that grab the headlines, the world turns. 

The debate about the next "big one" centres at the moment on climate, for a few population and for a small minority geophysics.

If this one is right they could all be wrong.  Because the ground is already being prepared by our politicians for a bust they will not be simply financial it will arise from energy supplies.

If you thought the last one was complicated if such a collapse does happen it will be even more difficult to comprehend, deal with and to try to escape from.

If it occurs when we have not yet fully escaped from the recent difficulties then this will compound matters.  I hope he is wrong and very wrong.

But if the politicians of many places who are scuttling about at present and confusing every issue go on as they have been going on recently, they may prove him right.


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Independence For England?





It appears that Alec Salmond has said that he has no territorial claims in England.  So in 2015 could we have a Radio Cumbria incident to compare with that of Radio Gleiwitz?  Probably, or perhaps possibly, not; there may be other calculations.

If, after the next election, there is a Labour or Labour led coalition this will include a good many Labour MP's from the North.  By reaching out the hand of friendship to them he may hope they will go soft in any negotiations with Scotland.

As there could well be strong differences of view between a largely Conservative south and east and a Labour north the potential for trading off on the back of this division is easy to see.  One good reason is the confusion about what is England.

An extended but clear article on the LSE web site deals with The English Question in the form of a critique about the Liberal Democrat's total lack of ideas, policy or leadership on this question when they are supposed to be Federalist in their overall ambitions and leading and forming the debate.

If the idea of Home Rule For England begins to spread and more people in England see themselves as English rather than British it is possible that Scottish independence could provide the trigger event for that to become a much stronger feeling.

Unless our political parties find a sensible way of addressing the need for some clear policy and ideas on this subject who knows what could be the consequences of this failure?