Saturday, 30 April 2011

Allocating Resources, Who Wins? Who Loses?



Power, economics, politics and the rest, it is argued, all come down to the question of who gets what and who decides and how. In economic terms this is described as “the allocation of resources” and there are libraries full of learned books and documents about all the implications.

The trouble is that most of them, if not nearly all, are conditioned by the information and experience of the past. Our problem is that our perceptions of this can be flawed by ideas of what might and should have been and not actually what was happening.

So we guess the future in terms of what the immediate past suggests might be and worse what we think it ought to be. But reality may not be like that at all. It is all too possible that something might be happening under our noses that we do not see and do not understand.

A question at present is just how far the increasing rates of extraction of the earth’s resources can be continued. There is the ancillary problem that if world population continues to increase at a faster rate and if many of those people are wanting or expecting greater consumer opportunities many or almost all will be getting less rather than more.

The link below is to a 7700 word article called “Time To Wake Up” on the subject. It is long and needs a lot of thinking to take in the complexity of the issues. Clearly, there are many unknowns and variables. One is that if the world suddenly begins to be far more efficient and careful in its use of key resources we may put off the evil day.

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7853#more

The author, Jeremy Grantham, talks about potential efficiency savings and the need for international co-operation and suggest within nations, resource planning. The hitch to this is that with so much of financial governance now well outside national controls a key part is missing.

Another one is persuading those “with” to exercise disciplines that may not be popular in order to help those “without” and for everyone to link in trying to organize it all a lot better.

Again, we need to understand what is happening now. I can recall that during the 1960’s the advent of container shipping and its implications was simply not realized by the great majority of people and especially by those in government, politics and in much of the transport industry.

Certainly, I did not realize it until in the early 1970’s I made some sea journeys and it dawned on me that something was going on that was radically different. Even then the wider implications took some time to appreciate.

This failure occurred at a time when we had governments telling us that national planning was the key to future growth and only the government could know how to plan the allocation of resources It wasn’t just the maritime trade where their perceptions about the future were hopelessly wrong.

To add to our worries, the UK is now a country increasingly amongst the “withouts” in terms of the resources necessary to maintain our lifestyles.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Bats In The Belfry


It was not that we had better things to do it was other things that had to be done. One of those days, so we picked up highlights on the news about the Royal wedding. It seems to have gone quite well and our good wishes to the couple.

There was something that did catch the eye and clicked on to the random memory between the ears. It was the insignia of The Royals, now part of The Blues and Royals but formerly the 1st Royal Dragoons. Prince Harry was wearing the uniform.

A few weeks after Churchill retired as PM I had a row with the then Commanding Officer of the regiment. He was in his Command Ferret Scout Car leading the regiment on the move and I was standing at a cross roads and in the way of his preferred route.

The difficulty was that we were on manoeuvres and the General Officer Commanding had changed the directions at a very late stage because the Divisional Engineers had discovered that a key bridge was not up to the weights expected.

I had been instructed to redirect several of the Army’s finest cavalry regiments, one of which was the 4th Hussars, Churchill’s regiment, contrary to the operation orders that they had been given earlier.

This was going to tax my powers of persuasion. The Royals CO was one of the more difficult. For some reason he found my studied politeness and command of language more annoying than had I tried a stream of obscene abuse. Perhaps it was a class thing.

To add insult to injury for him it was not long after that we played cricket against the regiment and not only did The Royals lose, I bowled him for a duck. Give him his due, he took it like a true sportsmen and even bought me a beer.

I hope the transport arrangements today all went to plan and nobody came up against a bolshie lower rank standing in the middle of the road informing them of changed orders which were not to their liking.

We shall have a bottle of Saumur fizz tonight I think, it is a fine town with a lovely tank museum.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Debt, Spending And Control



The blogosphere at present seems strangely disconnected perhaps reflecting all the uncertainties of our times, the limited amount of reliable information and the clatter of so much confusing spin. That is where they are allowed to talk about something.

Fleet Street Blues came up with a very interesting idea. As so many celebrities of one kind or another and senior people in effect are media dependent for their standing and worth then if one should take out a super injunction limiting what may or may not be said then for the media as a whole they become “unpersons”.

That is the media resolutely refuse to mention anything about them, or if it is difficult to avoid then the barest treatment, for example tacked on at the end of a match report on a football game “name also scored”. The biter bit so to say.

This idea might be taken further. Market Oracle today had an intricate item on the subject of the thesis of Debt Saturation and the Money Illusion. Detailed but the nub of it was that servicing world or a national debt could get to the point when it was impossible to pay down the debt with dire long term economic consequences.

These days there are few households without some form of ongoing debt or another. A good deal of this now is credit card debt driven by the need to consume. Could we all decide to avoid using cards as much as possible and audit our personal spending to avoid debt wherever possible? If we could it would be a marvellous way to punish greedy bankers and incidentally begin to control our own lives.

Further to that, being a nosy person, I am fascinated by the amount of stuff and what it is in other people’s trolleys. Often there is not much in that of many OAP’s for obvious reasons and some others who are clearly a bit short. But there is little doubt that many households are buying and using stuff that costs far too much and often has little real purpose.

Also, I have had a sweaty and unpleasant morning around town being obliged to do the shopping today for our minimal needs. It was difficult to avoid hordes of people evidently buying goods because now shopping is supposed to be recreation. I regard it as one of the inner circles of hell. But to see so many people buying clothes they do not need and which do not last on credit makes me wonder.

If enough people decided simply to get what was a real need and not an advertised or marketed need and to minimise both outlays from income and added debt then we would begin to bring the economy back to its senses.

Unluckily, I think that the media will not stop fawning on the famous, power wielding elites will not stop borrowing money for us to pay back and the ordinary person have the sense to stop propping up those who are managing to extract all we have and more.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Another Accident Waiting To Happen?




The story below has appeared in BBC News about how the number of cash purchases has increased in the housing market. Given the costs of housing today it is unlikely that these purchases are being funded by any ordinary savings.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13116262

Whilst some of the reasons put forward in the article have their logic and in some areas, notably the south west, people moving on retirement who have managed to sell their old homes will be able to afford it, there have to be some questions about the other places.

Notably that in some areas of London it can be up to 80%. Why? London is about the highest priced area in the UK and four out of five are buying in cash? These cannot be ordinary working people or even those in the middling income grades. Also, they are unlikely to be recent graduates or many others who would have to borrow.

This is therefore not a “normal” market for ordinary people. So just who has all this cash? It is possible that a number of footballers and other entertainers on a roll may have enough. Also the bonus boys and girls in some of the major financial companies, but they cannot account for this level between them.

So this must mean either money flooding in from less “safe” places spent by the wealthy anxious to get their money and investments relocated or persons in the illegal economy.

There is another consideration, aptly described in the Cobden Centre articles:

http://www.cobdencentre.org/2011/04/mervyn-king-operation-bernhard/

and:

http://www.cobdencentre.org/2011/04/the-delayed-effect-of-printing-money-via-quantitative-easing/

Given that all these matters are highly complex and we seem to have a government of uncertain men with uncertain ideas there could be some real problems in the making if the market suddenly seizes up without them noticing.

In the USA the first small signs of the property crash began in late 2005 when sales began to stick and the market turned abnormal. Nobody realised then or thought that all the money thrown at it by government agencies and Wall Street would lead to very severe problems indeed.

Mervyn better be right because I believe that the money was that was printed for Operation Bernhard ended up at the bottom of a deep very cold lake.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Brief Encounter



Along with other TV and radio channels Classic FM have blitzed their Easter schedules by carpet bombing one target. In this case it’s annual Hall of Fame, a listing of 300 most favoured bits from a broad range of more or less classical music.

Allowing for the potential for manipulation of polls of this kind, I suspect that this one is relatively free. What is a puzzle is that at the top some items last for so very long. The top one this year, normally one of the first three is the most well known bit from Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

I have no problem with the composer and little with the piece but it is when the reason cited is that its status derives from the 1945 film, “Brief Encounter”. Again, I don’t doubt that it is a classic film and one of the best British films of its time. But how come that sixty six years later it can pull in the votes?

The film does not have a lot of laughs, the body count is zero, nobody gets any serious damage and the love interests barely touch each other. It is all very middle class, the workers are certainly distinct and the upper orders out of sight. Even for fans of the period there is not much to see; you need to be a dedicated train buff to work out what is going on at the station.

One of the great mysteries is of all the stations in the world they had to walk into this one. Carnforth in north Lancashire was chosen. At the time it was both a main line station, although many expresses did not stop and a busy junction for other lines.

The July 1922 timetable will bear this out and it was much the same in 1944/5 when the filming took place. But there were many other’s like it not only on the LMS but all over the country; which is the reason why it may have connected with the audiences. We all knew and had experienced places like it somewhere.

It was only a handful of years after this that I put in my first shift on the railway, heaving mailbags during the Christmas rush. For several years after from time to time I was back at one station or another on the platforms. The refreshment room was very like the one in the film only the rock buns were harder but the toasted bacon sandwiches were very good. They were the haute cuisine of the time.

Looking back the stations then would often have an atmosphere and a character that was totally lost by the 1970’s. Sometimes the departures would be sad, men going off for military service, others who would not be seeing loved ones for a very long time. Sometimes they would be joyful.

The wedding parties used to be quite cheery, happy people seeing the couple off on their honeymoon to begin the great journey of life. There were times when the station staff would add to the occasion.

One time a couple of lady cleaners had come up from the carriage shed to sort out a return special and were waiting for the end of their shift when a wedding party was by a train. Doll, four foot eight and who had led an interesting life watched as the bride was helped onto the train and when the whistle blew cried out her advice to her.

“She’ll get more than brown ale tonight” rang down the station.

Air terminals are just not the same.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Taking A Holiday?



The present pattern of UK bank and other holidays is a mish mash of old traditions, religious and otherwise with a limited number of “extra’s” bolted on as a result of employment legislation of the past. Often this results in some being quite close to each other making their placing in the year uneven and sometimes disruptive.

So when I rang a shop a few days ago about an item I was given a warning about ordering and delivery for around a fortnight with subsequent delays for a few days after. This is one thing when it about a consumer good, it is another if you are trying to arrange a funeral or need critical surgery. I recall the long Millennium holiday with the dearly departed being stacked in freezer trucks.

If you are in business and face critical deadlines it can be a costly business, especially if other hindrances arise, such as a motorway closure. On the other hand if you are just a couch potato then you are faced with endless repeats and mind numbing ancient programmes.

Many of the holidays were established before modern employment legislation with all its legal requirements for protection, pay and specified hours. They were also the only days when most people did not work. Today, in the 24/7 culture they are becoming more optional and in activities such as tourism and retailing almost eliminated.

The difficulty is that it is one of those political issues that no government wants to touch because all any reform would do might upset a lot of people and interests with little political gain to show for it.

If required holidays were to be set without links to religious festivals this would upset many and could trigger demands from other believers for their holy days. Worse still, if the Football Association and it’s supervising body, Sky Sports did not like it then there would be real trouble from News International.

It is possible that we could do without the traditional “bank holidays” completely and simply specify that all people should have a minimum number of paid days off in their employment contracts. How any company, organisation or service arranged things would be up to them.

Then we could have the 24/7 systems made necessary by the globalised economy without all the occasional hindrances and delay to our deliveries from the courier companies and container ship timetables.

An alternative would be to go back to something like either the old Scottish Term Days (or New) or the Quarter and Cross Quarter days of other parts of the Atlantic Isles. Perhaps they could be set around the Solstices and the Equinoxes and other celestial movements to avoid religious and other interests.

However there is the possibility that on the latest demographic and employment trends only a minority of the population will be in paid work in the near future and they will all have to work so hard to pay the taxes necessary that they will not be able to take holidays.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Return Of The Smog




There is smog again in London and said to be bad. One report suggests that this might increase the number of deaths by 700 or so. There will be no figures available for those affected to one degree or another whose damage may be permanent. This one is another problem that has been coming for some time but off the agenda of any recent government.

Last year in an item I did about a visit to London I commented that the air quality was as bad as anything I had experienced when young. For anyone growing up in industrial towns in the early to mid parts of the 20th Century smog was a regular hazard. In some places, notably like Sheffield, the air was literally filthy.

The one that does feature in the history books is the Great Smog of London in the first week or so in December 1952. Although traffic levels were not as high as at present the dependence on coal burning for almost all domestic and industrial activity as well as a great deal railway movement put a huge amount of stuff into the air which polluted everything.

It was in the last week of December 1952 that I was in London for a handful of days over the New Year. Although the smog had dispersed by then the place still stank and was filthy. Moreover, many still seemed to be shocked by it.

There are figures given for the recorded deaths but these are disputed because there may have been many suffering serious complaints who were just finished off and recorded under those. Again those left damaged were uncounted. It is my view that over the next two to three decades it is likely that this left its effect on the expectation of life figures.

Today, London does not have anything like the industry it did then and there are no steam trains other than the very occasional heritage ones a few days a year. Also, Clean Air Acts, cheap oil and gas of the last quarter of the 20th Century means that the coal smoke has gone.

So what is replacing it? When it comes to measuring Air Quality finding out about it is a question. Typically, it is possible to discover exactly what Queensland in Oz is up to but to work out what the Met Office does, that trading arm of the Ministry of Defence, involves a tortuous journey through an official web site that leaves you little wiser than when you started.

Essentially, the quality measuring is looking at Nitrogen Dioxide, Sulphur Dioxide, Ozone and Particulate Matters of certain sizes, largely reflecting dust and pollen for the larger and fuel combustion for the smaller. From this a scale is given telling us how bad it is, but in urban areas it is rarely good.

There are now some things missing from the equations. Over the last decade or two there has been extensive use of air conditioning systems in buildings all pumping out bad air and heat from inside to outside. Also, the requirements for kitchens etc. in the hugely increased number of eating places means extensive venting in the streets and air generally.

Within these buildings it is typical now for many products to be in use where recent fine particle technology has been applied and these are present in quantity, often in the air conditioning systems. These particulates will be very much smaller than the minimum levels presently tested for and substantially derived from petro-chemicals with other potentially toxic chemicals in addition.

So while the fuel pollution levels of the past are measured these are not. But what we do not know is how far this fine particle technology is now applied in the production of fuel for vehicles to enhance performance and capability. The catalytic converters may deal with some particles but not these. So the fuel combustion measures may now be inadequate.

The air quality measures etc. in use were arrived at largely during the 1990’s and whilst under review have not had serious attention in relation to the new situation that has developed over the last decade. The situation is changing rapidly and the scientists in the UK have just not caught up with it.

But, what is important is the bottom line trading figures the Met’ Office produces for the Ministry of Defence.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Super And Hyper Injunctions



The use of judge made injunctions being made out of court on the representations of one party is again getting an airing in the media and amongst the bloggers. They are designed to stop any publicity or comment on a subject in a way that would either identify particular the persons or lead to discussion or comment on their conduct.

On Saturday 3rd October 2009 in “Libel Laws, Financial Losses, Life and Liberty” I have already said something that time largely political on the run in to the impending election. My real concern this time round is not with the privacy of sportsmen, famous entertainers or the “celebrities” that are making use of them.

Given a national media that gives so much attention to them because they provide the filling for their advertising sheets and programmes that may or may not provide news or real discussion it is easy to see why the injunctions matter to them.

There are other serious issues beyond the lives and habits of this class. One is that much of our political class is now enmeshed with them and becoming reliant on their endorsements to gain coverage or interest in the media. There are now “hyper” ones giving “contra mundum” that is anything anywhere by anybody.

As our politicians ask us to give them power on the basis of their trustworthiness and capability a legal system that deprives us of crucial information that would enable us to take a more informed view of this is a disaster.

If an MP person A claims to be in favour of promoting or enforcing something and it turns out that they are major shareholders in a network of companies based in another regime whose banking facilities are obscure and making vast profits untaxed we might reconsider voting for them.

At present all person A has to do is to pick up the phone to the brief who then picks up the phone and talks to a friendly judge. You and I will not know a thing. Also politicians who parade their families in front of the cameras and allow planted stories of the wonders of their family life can stop stories about them owning knocking shops in Mayfair, playing away or their children freeloading or misbehaving.

This is bad, but there is worse. There is the story of an academic mathematician with an interest in the financial sector. It seems he examined complex formulae used as a basis for trading activity by Hedge Funds and found them wanting. There was no suggestion of fraud or malpractice of knowing misleading by the Funds. It was just that they blindly followed a flawed system.

His findings were stopped from publication by a Hedge Fund on the grounds of its reputation and consequential liability to civil suits for negligence. The same applies to many scientists and others in the UK who have qualms or serious doubts about certain products widely marketed. Some of them have already inflicted death and serious damage.

But it is impossible to publicise these doubts because those making them will be ruined and so will their employers be damaged even if they turn out to be right in court. It might explain the deep reluctance of many bodies, scientists and others to either give an honest opinion or even seek to have public discussion.

What is even more disturbing is the increasing attempt by official bodies to put their affairs and actions beyond any form of criticism, examination, discussion or even the attention of other courts and Parliament.

This is not liberty, equality, fraternity or any form of democracy. It is the unchecked rule of a new autocracy backed by a handful of judges. But what exactly do we know about those judges?

Thursday, 21 April 2011

All The Idle Weeds That Grow




Checking out Some Assembly Required today, Thursday 21st, saw an item on Rusts Belt innocently thinking it was about the end of American industry. It wasn’t but was a link to the site Physorg, a science and nature collation of academic studies.

It concerned the crop disease “wheat rust” that has now developed more aggressive strains which have badly affected crops in a number of countries, mostly poorer or less developed without the science and administrative structures to deal with them.

The Physorg article is here:

http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-04-international-scientists-threat-wheat-rust.html

Also, just to add a little joy to the holiday weekend there is this one:

http://www.zerohedge.com/article/20-signs-horrific-global-food-crisis-coming-0

A great deal also hinges on how far fuel prices may or may not rise given that in the developed world the bulk of crop growing is highly energy dependent.

Many of the troubles elsewhere arise from the pressures on incomes of the poorer and increasingly the middling classes.

From the USA also we learn that in the last couple of decades the wealth held by the top 0.1, not 1.0, but I repeat 0.1 of the population has increased to 12% plus of the total.

In the UK the media have other things to talk about.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Zombie Economics - The Past Destroying The Future



Satyajit Das in “Naked Capitalism” has an item about what economics is supposed to be and what is actually going on at present.

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/04/satyajit-das-dead-hand-of-economics.html

He refers to John Quiggin’s view of “Zombie Economics – How Dead Ideas Still Walk Amongst Us” that suggests that most of our troubles have been the consequence of following theories of the past, not only from economists long dead but some still living.

The other two authors also are trying to rearrange their mindsets as to what is going on at the moment. The three of them are said to be towards the “Left” although what we have had that we thought was “Left” was anything but that.

In the Grauniad today, Lynsey Hanley argues that Labour must shed its need to see itself as a UK working class party and rise above such a grubby and compromised past to be a party of vision. Metropolitan Liberalism rules OK and to hell with the workers.

Personally, I have argued already about the need for us all to ditch all the old “isms” and notions from the past such as “Left” or “Right” because the world has changed so much all they do is clutter up our thinking and lead to poor decisions and poorer policies.

A major issue is that so many of the published economists and their followers today are paid hirelings of one established body or another and obliged to march to the tune played by their sponsors. They are even less reliable than any of the UK Big Four accountancy firms who are long on theory and short on arithmetic.

Anyone for tennis?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Digging For Gold In The Streets



In this weeks “Private Eye”, the “In The City” section on page 31 under the heading of “Digging For Gold” the article begins “Tax. Offshore jurisdictions. Tory party donations. That is a heady mix at a time of drastic cuts in public spending when supposedly “we are all in this together”.” It goes on to deal with the foreign affairs of the allegedly True Brit company JCB.

Meanwhile, many of our government ministers, notably the Prime Minister, are rushing around talking to groups here and there about their concerns and trying to make it clear that the cuts are not really cuts and spending is still going up. What it means is that all the expectations of many people will have to be restrained, some more than others.

Many are the photo opportunities being created to give a vision of a caring talking sharing administration who want to listen and to learn. However all this is very selective and with an eye on the main chance in terms of popular interest. There are parts that the brew does not reach.

One is Eric Pickles domain as Secretary of State of Communities and Local Government. His underling, Grant Shapps, Minister of State for Housing and Planning and his sidekick Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Baroness Joan Hanham formerly Tenant In Chief aka Leader of Kensington and Chelsea either have chosen to ignore the message or have developed severe hearing problems when it comes to communities, housing and related matters.

They are determined not to talk, engage with or listen to the concerns of Carlex, the Campaign Against Leasehold Exploitation who represent thousands of concerned leaseholders in a sector where there are three million units of housing stock with the relevant incomes streams and opportunities (words are easy). There are now serious issues arising from the way a number of companies providing management and related services conduct their business.

However, if like some people already identified in this sector, I were to chip in many tens of thousands or more to the Conservative Party funds there would be times when I could go along for canap├ęs and middling wines and the chance to talk to whichever minister I chose about whatever concerned me. So those who own and run those companies can earwig the ministers as and when they like.

It is not much good going to my local MP. Too many of them are already embroiled in complex property arrangements related to the companies themselves or if they do take up the interests of their constituents will be told firmly by Grant and Joan that all is well and to go away and stop being a nuisance.

In their performance to date, Eric, Grant and Joan are looking more and more like the old music hall turn, Wilson, Keppel and Betty, good for a laugh but not a lot else. What they do not understand is the scale and nature of the gathering crisis in the leasehold sector as a whole and that it is already going critical in some parts.

On 17th March, I posted on “Cameron’s Marconi Scandal” which touches on some of it. This is a large and complex field and there is a lot to go wrong and it is going wrong. The way things are working out is that there are many people not only shut out from property purchase for reasons of mortgages etc. but increasing numbers who cannot afford to rent or the conditions.

What they are being faced with can be guessed from a look at the Charter Quay Residents Association, cqra dot org. This is far from being a typical development being very much top market but it does have some heavy hitters and professionals who know what they are doing. What will apply to them will apply to many more at the far poorer end of the scale.

One has been tracking the nature and scale of the property giant structure that has been controlling a great deal of the sector. So the old lady in the retirement flat up the road who is very short of money and living a marginal existence now has her flat and development managed under several layers of complex organisation and financial management which are interwoven, shape changing, speculative and controlled from off shore.

It is crazy to the point of lunacy. Even crazier is a politician who can somehow imagine that this is the way bog standard properties at the cheap end should be managed and controlled. What is disgusting is the way that legal rights can be avoided by these organisations and the treatment of their clients.

Perhaps, Cameron, Eric, Grant and Joan should first try talking to each other and then to representative samples of people at the wrong end of what is happening. They could do a lot worse than talking to Carlex, a genuinely voluntary body and to Tax Justice Network.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Ventimiglia - The Numbers Game



Looking at the news item filmed at a railway station on the Franco-Italian border of the refugees from Libya seeking entry to France the station name Ventimiglia came into view. It is a long while since we were there.

It was a day trip across the Italian border to take a look and coming down the road into the town we stopped at a viewpoint. It was much later that I discovered it had been the point at which Claude Monet had painted his view of the place.

When Monet was born it was not a border town it was well within the Kingdom of Piedmont which had also embraced Sardinia during the many and various wars of earlier centuries.

Piedmont was forced to give up the territories of Nice and Savoy to France at the time of the Reunification of Italy in 1859-1861 as a consequence of one of Emperor Louis Napoleon’s grubbier deals, essentially “I help you control Italy you give me lands without conquest”.

In 1940 Benito Mussolini made the catastrophic decision to go to war in support of Hitler on 10th June. Had he kept his wits about him declared for World Peace and sought out help to broker a peace deal, notably with Joseph Kennedy Senior, USA Ambassador to Britain who had a good many Italian voters in his home base in Massachusetts, the world might be a different place.

Who knows, could Italy have been able to force the return of Nice and Savoy? After the war, Italy shorn of its Empire and key trading links had to start all over again. One arrangement made by the winners was to stitch together Cyrenaica and Tripolitania into a new place called Libya. Now the bills are coming in.

On that brief visit we made to Ventimiglia Italy was going through one of its occasional economic and currency crises. We went into some shops and all the noughts strained my limited powers of mental arithmetic, luckily the children were with us. Worse was that there was no small change to be had nor small value notes.

Currency exchange had been intricate the year before when we went along some of Wellington’s lines of march in The Peninsula. In both Spain and Portugal just after the death of Franco and the Fall of Salazar there was a lot of negotiation to be done. With the pound sterling rapidly falling in real value in the UK just what a cost was took some working out.

But I had an American Express Card that soothed a number of nerves and even the banks were happy to have me use it. Even although I was British the notion that dollars might be involved gave them a degree of confidence.

The Euro, of course, was supposed to end all that coupled with the integration of sensible policies and wise financial management of governments supported by banks who had a wider range of instruments to enable market fluidity and being international in scope could check and control any burgeoning crisis.

The theory was nice but the practice fell prey to all the old human weaknesses. Now regimes are beginning to collapse or at least change radically. All those migrant workers in many places want to go somewhere else and are joined by many of the locals who are being bombed, displaced or subject to ethnic or religious prejudices.

In Ventimiglia the Italians are trying to pass on to France large numbers, mainly young unemployed men, who have left Libya and who neither want to or are willing to go back to wherever they started from. Italy itself is poised for a major crisis. Had not so many French, German and other banks taken its debt it may well have defaulted.

If Italy goes the way of Portugal, can the Euro survive?

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Universities - Quo Vadis?


Looking through the text on BBC News for the regions in that for London saw a report about the London Metropolitan University (LMU) that is considering a major reorganisation. It was the words they used to describe their purpose and how they hoped to achieve it that were illuminating.

The phrase that lurched into my mind was the Dr. Spock quote from Star Trek (no I am not a trekky but in the days of three channels if the kids wanted it I had to have it) which runs “Its life, Jim, but not as we know it”. Clearly, the world of university and higher education has moved on in the last decade.

I quote from the LMU , “financial sustainability”, “much more competitive environment”, “consolidate its portfolio”, all in relation to the proposals to reduce the number of course from 557 to around 160. The unions looking at the impact on staff are saying that this is “unprecedented and unjustifiable”.

Their view is understandable being at the wrong end of the P45’s but things like this have happened before, sometimes violent, sometimes not. The Dissolution of the Monasteries is one but there were many others.

In the 1970’s the old Colleges of Education for the training of teachers were dealt with, some becoming departments of other institutions, some becoming part of a base for other higher education and some shut down altogether. A great many of their academic staff found themselves being moved on if they were lucky or with busted careers if they were not.

All the cuts and shuffles and expansions of the past though regarded higher education as an entity in itself in relation to the worth and usefulness of the various fields of study. As so many UK ones depended on state funding directly or indirectly they were at the mercy of the shifting views of often shifty politicians.

Within this was the view that as in the mid 20th Century so many people had taken courses and studies that were demanding and led on to work that needed qualified and able staffing this should be recognised as graduate in the later part of that century.

Certainly, many I knew with then non-graduate qualifications had studied at a high level and then succeeded in demanding and highly competitive examinations. It would have been wrong to think any the lesser of them because their calling had not entailed a degree in the process.

By the turn of the century, however, the mark of a university became the right to award a degree for its courses but the courses need not have the “universality” that had once been the defining character. At the same time it was decreed that up to half the age cohort should be “entitled” to university and hence a degree.

The statistical problem of ensuring that 50% of a student population could all eventually have above average incomes did not occur to the politicians. Also, the idea that all these people could go away to study, then be guaranteed jobs and would find the experience of being in mass education huge institutions great fun also had drawbacks.

One was cost and another employment implications. To remove half the labour force in the age range say 18-22 and insist almost all the others being in training until 18 meant taking out very many potential workers. Necessarily, they had to be found from somewhere and be people who were reconciled to being the future bottom 50%. It was all going to be very costly.

So the government and our new elite came to the conclusion was that in company with the rest of the economy and public service, destined to take many of these new graduates, the whole lot should be debt driven within the context of establishments which operated on the basis of all the latest management dogmas.

This had the benefit of taking a lot of it off balance sheet and shifting the burden to the unseen masses as well as deferring the real costs into long term debt.

So whatever a university is or might be meant to do, a degree is a commodity, a product to be sold and bought. The late Fred Halliday, sometime Professor at LSE put the issues very clearly in 1998 as Open Democracy has referred to in the last few days. He and his ilk were ignored.

Now we have the usual mess of the second decade of this century. It is an academic mess, it is a functioning mess and the whole business of access and purpose bears no relation to social or economic functions. In the meantime scientific research has been distorted to fulfil purely commercial ends.

Let us hope that there may be some places left who can escape the curse of modern management techniques in higher education that might in the future provide the seed bed for a saner and better reality.

But I am not hopeful.

Friday, 15 April 2011

AV But Are The Wheels Coming Off?



Changing the type of voting procedure in future general elections to determine in each constituency who will be elected is a little like putting a new bottom of the market set of tyres on an old banger.

This vehicle has a transmission with a serious whine, the big end has gone, the steering is unreliable, the brakes are badly worn, the electrics work only when they want to and the exhaust has rotted giving out a lot of noise with toxic emissions.

Meanwhile, Cable thinks that putting more passengers in the back seat will correct the steering and Clegg in the front passenger seat is using a sat nav that he bought from second hand shop but which is set for Brussels directions. The other passengers are fighting in the back over who should have most of the stuff they nicked from the car park.

This is a short description of the state of the British Constitution now. It always has been a creaky and idiosyncratic vehicle in which to go places but whilst just about or barely serviceable in the past is now destined for the scrapyard of history.

Unluckily, it is not just the politicians that are affected. The rest of us bundled into the trailer behind, recently refitted by New Labour with different wheels are having a bad time. This is because the wheels are square and cost more than a new Ferrari.

Today, on BBC News a pundit, whose name I did not catch, talking about Libya was asked what he thought our strategy was. He said the problem was that there was no strategy. More or less wherever you go now in the UK system of government you may find many fine words and incredible management speak but absolutely nobody who understands what “strategy” entails and what means are necessary to fulfil the ways.

We no longer have a “British Constitution” only a collection of theories, devices and departments which bear less and less relation to each other and seem to connect only to other bodies in other places. “Strategy” is now a set of knee jerk reaction to events and the demands of others elsewhere whether politically or economically.

The voting issue applies only to the Second Chamber, the House of Commons, if you can afford to pay the price of entry. The Upper Chamber, the House of Lords, has membership arrangements that would have disgraced the court of Nero and is about as useful as Caligula’s horse in dealing with our current problems.

So back to the voting system, the talk is that somehow the “first past the post” system is enshrined in our history. But the reality of the methods of putting people into the Second Chamber has changed down the ages. The present set up is fairly recent. What has happened is that this is a serious distortion of an already flawed system.

We have a Parliament now which is neither representative nor can discharge the basic functions of government. The changes needed are more radical than most can imagine for both chambers. It entails either a boldness of vision and the ability to carry through the changes on the part of one party or another or a revolution. If we do not get the first there is the inherent risk of the second occurring.

This has happened in the past and if our vehicle does go into the scrapyard and we do not have the money to buy a new one then we will be dependent on the transport that others will determine. So, either we have to find a new model fast or take on a decent second hand one. As I discovered long ago the one pictured above, alas, will no longer take the family or the luggage.

The AV business is a botch job and our car is at the point when we have already had one too many.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Water Water Nowhere



At the farm shop today there was asparagus, two weeks early to the surprise of the farmers. This was a crop grown just along the road and its early appearance has been due to the recent warm and dry weather in this area. But this might not be all good news.

While our attention is distracted by so many things, not least the knockabout politics going on ahead of elections in the UK in May we are not aware of disruptions in other places that could have wider effects.

One is the ongoing drought in Cuba and the Caribbean which is now severe. There are also water shortages elsewhere in the America’s that might have long term effects. Just how long this will continue and what the consequences might be is difficult to predict.

Again, to lurch back into distant history, it is argued that major long lasting droughts were the cause of not simply economic difficulties but the collapse of civilisations and catastrophic demographic events. If people think that this cannot happen then they ought to think again.

If dry conditions now arise in many places and cause severe problems it is not enough to argue about the potential causes. Whether it is global warming or cooling in the long term we may not know. What we do know is that if large areas with a high water demand and need do not have it then there will be trouble.

1976 cannot be remembered by around half the UK population and of the other half most have probably forgotten how close run the water supply situation became. The potential now is worse is because we have a larger population with wasteful habits many of whom are unused to the disciplines of shortage conditions.

Personally, it would suit me if we had the traditional British summer, two fine days and then a thunderstorm followed by a brisk westerly with showers for a while. I am aware that such a notion would cause the media weather forecasters to tear their hair and rend their clothes.

Under our present complex legislative system I might even be arrested and cast into gaol for causing alarm and despondency.

If so, at least it is likely that I would one of the few guaranteed a bath and access to safe drinking water.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Shrinking The Economy



This originated with Bill Shrink and came via Financial Armageddon and was titled "Middle Class Meltdown, Sink or Swim Time".  Essentially, it illustrates the collapse of the USA middle class and the widening gap between rich and poor.  A lot of it is to do with property, formerly the basis of the American Dream.

Where they go there go we, sooner or later.

Enjoy it while you can.



Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Railway Mania



Apparently BAA have dumped the project to provide rail links from Heathrow to Reading, Guildford and London Waterloo because there are issues with three level crossings in Richmond and there is a lack of money. The figure suggested was £650 million.

The Reading connection would have allowed access to the Great Western main line and to other destinations, notably Oxford and beyond to the West Midlands via Banbury, Leamington Spa and Coventry to Birmingham.

Also, Chiltern Railways have announced a significant speeding up on trains across its network, notably from Birmingham and other West Midland destinations to London Marylebone. There has been a good deal of work done on improvements and newer trains are planned. More would improve matters further.

Meanwhile, Virgin Rail continues to run its services with a good degree of frequency between Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Coventry and London Euston. With a few added track and station improvements here and there some speeding up is possible.

In short it was feasible to have put in place rail services from Birmingham and area to three different termini in London with one going via Heathrow.

It does not end there. Because it would have been possible to start a train at Manchester Airport, run it south via Crewe to Birmingham Airport through Birmingham New Street and then on to Heathrow finishing at the vacant old Eurostar platforms at Waterloo.

Other stops could include Stafford, Coventry, Leamington Spa and/or Banbury, Oxford and Reading as connecting points.

But oh dear me no, this would be a boring old bits and pieces series of projects that would not grab the media headlines. Has any of the media paid any attention to the way the development of the Chiltern Lines has improved communications in the South Midlands?

It would not be the whizzbang prestige thing. It would not be big toys for the big boys. Above all it would not be big money for the financial world.

It would be about actual real transport needs for the ordinary persons on ordinary incomes who just want to get from one place to another at reasonable time and cost with options for wider use. It would mean real choices not only from Birmingham but from the several parts of the West Midlands.

It is difficult to see the BAA decision as anything other than as an early casualty of the HST2 project. There are going to be a lot of other casualties across the network and added costs and worsening services for everyone else if the HST2 goes ahead. The collateral damage could be extensive.

Does nobody in government understand that real growth that can be sustained does not come from throwing huge sums at limited prestige projects on a basis where the only growth appears in the accounts of investment banks but from detailed hard work across the economy in general in an array of smaller and more profitable efforts?

Monday, 11 April 2011

Banks For The Memory



The UK and Netherlands governments are to sue the 250,000 Icelanders for the odd billion or two it cost them to compensate savers in their countries after banks based in Iceland went down the volcano crater in the financial meltdown.

Also, experts opining on the Vickers report are saying that as banking is now global and entirely international we need to help and protect them because they are so important. What this means is having huge mega banks basing their headquarters in London whose money flows may exceed those of our government.

Does this mean therefore that if they mess up again we shall be liable for all the losses of all the savers around the wide world?

There seems to be something here that our politicians, leading bankers and the Bank of England do not quite grasp. This is not surprising. Gordon Brown has told some Americans that he was not aware when he reorganised banking regulation that the failure of one bank could lead to others.

Consequently, the Financial Services Authority understood that monitoring systemic risk was not in its remit. It assumed that the Bank of England would be doing it. Meanwhile the Bank of England was not doing it because nobody had told them to.

Possibly, the Treasury under Gordon Brown had not got around to it or the minutes of the relevant meeting had been lost or the person clerking the meeting had gone to get the tea when that item was discussed (been there done that).

More likely is that The Treasury did not really know what systemic risk was and thought it was something to do with Health and Safety, someone else’s job. In any case someone at the LSE told them that a student called Gaddafi had assured them that there was “no problem”.

Where pray was Ed Balls when they all needed him? Perhaps he thought that systemic risk was something you caught on a group holiday abroad or maybe along the road in Castleford during a meeting with the locals.

Out there were some fussy people who did not get the big picture who believe or not had read history books going back as far as the 1930’s and some even further back in time.

They had the idiot idea that crashes could happen again, one could lead to others and they simply did not understand that New Labour had changed the world. So it was their fault when the crash happened because they undermined confidence.

By the start of the 14th Century, the Knights Templar had become a large scale organisation who had created a proto form of international banking and finance. They also made loans to Kings at market rates, which in those days were high.

King Philip IV of France was so far in debt that his government and ambitions were crippled and in essence his actions and policies were at the beck and call of the Templars. Also, by this time the Pope and leading Churchmen were worried that the Templars could be in a dominant position.

Well, we know what happened to The Templars. The crucial matter is here is not that King Philip was not a nice man nor that Pope Clement and the Cardinals were a shifty lot. It is that neither of them wanted to be controlled by The Templars.

There was little new in this kind of thing, in 1290 King Edward I issued the Edict on the Expulsion of the Jews for much the same reasons. In 1320 in France the Crusade of the Shepherds, again expelling Jews began under King Louis X fully supported by Pope John XXII in Avignon.

History affords us many examples of such expulsions and events. It is quite a simple business. When a financial grouping establishes effective control over a host government then sooner or later there will be a nasty reaction if this results in excessive burdens of tax and laws or effective serfdom.

This is more likely when things go financially wrong or many come to believe that the money men are enslaving them. If the financial group in effect are bigger and better connected than the host government and moreover apparently foreign then anything can happen.  I do not think that the Coalition has much idea about the nature of risk and are much too close to the financial interests involved.

One thing that has happened is that the Icelanders voted to tell the foreigners that they are not going to pay.

Returning to systemic risk, this time about the geophysics of the Earth. Iceland sits on top of some twitchy volcanic vents. It is entirely possible that as in the past one or more may go pop leaving very few Icelanders to clear up the mess.

Elsewhere, one of the major debtor nations, Japan, has suffered catastrophic events in the last month. Its seismologists have now issued early warnings that the effects may impact on one or other of the twenty volcanoes in the country.

More worrying is that further north along the Kamchatka and Aleutian ranges there are a number of volcanoes, some of which are very big. There is a debate about how the Little Ice Age beginning in the early 14th Century began. There is a theory that volcanic eruptions in series in South America may have impacted on world climatic conditions.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Kennedy Family



Having seen that there had been a debate about the TV mini series on “The Kennedy’s”, thought I would see how it went. It is certainly a glossy effort with high production values. Also its measured filming avoids the messiness and difficulties of a great many other series and has some subtle touches that may miss a great many viewers.

But there is a dark secret behind the Kennedy story, a shame that cannot be admitted and something which would astonish many people. It is that the families earlier origins are probably lower middle class in the context of their time.

How many amongst us today are prepared to admit that we too have family and forebears who can be defined as lower middle class?

My first twitch was when I picked up that in 1849 when Patrick Kennedy, great grandfather to President Kennedy, sailed from Liverpool to Boston he was on the steam packet “Washington Irving”. This was not a “coffin ship” or one of the ordinary kind.

A near cousin who researched Liverpool shipping, specifically those of the early steam period and who knew her grand aunt born in 1842 to a maritime family would have had little doubt that this passage, even in steerage, was better than most.

A basic source for looking at Irish families in the period 1830 to 1870 is the Griffiths Valuations of the taxable lands of each county. It is not a simple business to track down the actual holdings of many individuals and especially extended families.

Even then to judge the actual worth of particular families and relevant status in a parish or small town needs a good deal of experience and care.

When Patrick was over in Massachusetts he was soon farming and then when he died young in 1858 his widow was able to move into East Boston as a storekeeper. This was not riches or high status but it was not the labouring class.

There was a category difference between immigrants who landed with a modest amount of family money (or dowry) in their pockets and those who had little or nothing.

Patrick and Bridget Kennedy may not have had much by modern standards but if they had at least “starter funds” it would make a critical difference. This suggests that whilst the families they left may not have been rich there may have been just enough to give them a start.

Additionally, the education that her son, Patrick junior, and grandson, Joseph had was of a high order, enabled them to progress rapidly and because of their intelligence and ambition led them on to wealth and power.

This in turn led them to be amongst the Irish Catholic community that set up a rival elite to that of the old Protestant Yankee’s. From that base came the capture of political power in Boston.

The Kennedy’s were in place during the period 1870-1900 when the USA was expanding and rapidly industrialising. Wealth was both found in gold and silver strikes and on the basis of cheap labour. It was a good place for the City of London to invest and the returns were higher than in many parts of The Empire.

The Civil War had hit the prosperous trading ports and small industries of The South so the economic and financial future was with the North and those who had the money, education, network of contacts and preparedness to take risks inside and outside the law to achieve their ambitions.

It is intriguing that many of the people who were around in Liverpool in 1849 were of the same type of Irish background and from the same district as the Kennedy’s, tradesmen, shop keepers skilled men in supervisory jobs.

They all had a bit of education and the ability to see their children through elementary school but did not seem to have either the opportunities or the avenues for the same kind of progress in higher forms of education.

The crucial differences were the education that could be had, how far it might take you and the access to credit and to a functioning network of established people on the way up themselves.

That this did not happen to the Irish in the towns of England tells you a lot about the education and social structure.

It will be interesting to see how the series works out as a whole.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Clegg Unto The Breach



Nick Clegg and his loyal band within the Liberal Democrat party at present are taking heavy fire from all sides and it seems that some may be lost to political history. He and they are beginning to look like The Forlorn Hope of old military engagements, a group of men sent in first or to undertake some exceptionally dangerous duty.

My problem with the Liberal Democrat’s is that as whole hearted supporters of the EU this is wholly inconsistent with any reasonable definition of “democracy” and their passion for intervention, regulation and general nannying is anything but “liberal”.

To put my prejudices to one side, their situation is that after the election last year they were given an ugly choice. One was to join Brown and his bully boys and girls in their quest to destroy the life, culture and prosperity of the UK in the pursuit of personal gain.

The other was to join a bunch of smoothies who already had cash in hand in a new (well, not quite new) vision of a nation made for freeloaders. The hope was that they would be able to put enough bits of their own policy into the new administration to maintain their popular support in the hope of future gains.

We have forgotten that having help to cause the world financial crisis, New Labour, when it realised that in 2010 it would be out of power then concentrated their efforts at handing over the functions of government to agencies headed up by their own people, wild spending plans and legislation designed to booby trap and damage any real policy initiative or progress of their successors.

So the difficulties of the Lib Dem’s at present are not down so much as to their own actions and policies nor to the inevitable errors made by a new government or a civil service rebuilt on the New Labour model, that is incompetent, over complicated and designed to spend rather than manage. Anything will do and it must be good if the figures are big enough.

A major problem is that things are not getting any better in the world outside and beginning to impact adversely. The government, still hamstrung by the past, is struggling to make progress and not helped by the Prime Minster’s ducking and diving. Worse, is that the complexity and sheer scale of the problems has begun to defeat them.

As for any serious debate about most of the issues it is no good looking to the media or to any “expert” group. The former has retreated into “story of the day” to the exclusion of everything else. The latter are still working on dogmas, data and detail that is out of date and wholly misleading. Nobody seems to have a grasp of the overall picture and few can say anything sensible.

During the summer Parliament will be absent more than it is present and will have little to say or do when it does meet. We seem to be in a position when the breach in the wall that we are attacking will need to be taken and the government do not seem to know how to do it. Neither Clegg’s Forlorn Hope nor the Tory Lightweight Infantry behind them seem to be up to the job.

Apparently the French equivalent for a Forlorn Hope was known as Les Enfants Perdus, The Lost Children.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Cameron And The End Of Empire



Whatever the problems around the world today in which members of the political elites of the past based in the United Kingdom played a part quite why I should have to fork out money when I had nothing to do with any of it is beyond me. Certainly, I was alive in 1947 when Pakistan was detached from India and the issue of Kashmir arose but what was going on there was rather beyond any of my doing.

It is my generation who had to live with and sort out the mess that the Empire became after World War 2 and following. It was then a period of high taxation beginning with a long period of austerity.

Our parents had no say in the matter or much that went on. For many of my age it is likely that not all of our grandparents had the vote at any time and for many none of the great grandparents. That they may have been taken in by the propaganda of Empire or not does not matter, they had little or no say.

So quite why all the sins of Empire and the rest should now appear on our bills to satisfy the government’s political whims is something of an insult. Additionally, it may have escaped the notice of Mr. Cameron that many of the present population and their recent family have come from other shores and from the Empire.

Quite why all these recent arrivals should be dunned for the collateral costs is another issue. What does add injury to insult is that so many of our present political elite and their associates who are running around doing the “bleeding heart” act themselves go in for a good deal of tax avoidance and possibly some tax evasion. So they aren’t paying, we of the lower orders are.

It is a fine irony that a nurse of West Indian origins who is paying a good slap of tax is being told to pay towards the errors of politicians, civil servants and others made during the time of her grandparents and earlier generations by the descendants of those people who have escaped the tax net.

There is the other matter of those towards the bottom of the heap in the UK whose British and Irish forebears were also numbered amongst those who did not do well out of all the wars and in fact did rather badly. “Empire” in its pomp was also about Free Trade. This was sold as cheap food for the masses but came at its own price.

It was about the Economics of Extraction practised in other lands. It enabled low wages and in the country the Great Agricultural Depression with even lower wages and the eventual destruction of rural life and culture. Go out into the fields and the villages and see how many lower income true Brit’s are to be found.

Perhaps Cameron might find time to study the levels of industrial deaths, accidents and disease that abounded in the past and not least some of the horrors of child and female labour. There are many today who see the Welfare State as some sort of compensation for what happened in previous generations.

Essentially, it was the then political class in London with their City financial and wealthy provincial supporters that got us into Empire and demanded its relentless expansion. This went to the point, as in all booms, where the growth was unsustainable, incurring heavy costs to the UK population and its management became impossible.

Then it went up in flames and our forebears paid the price in major wars. So the latest London elite’s demand that we should continue paying for the gross errors made by their earlier families is another of the injustices of Empire.

In the meantime our governments carry on bombing.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Unfair To Neanderthals



A declaration of interest, there might be a Rooney in the loft. In 1859 in Liverpool a Catherine Rooney witnessed the baptism of one of great grandma’s younger sisters and looks to have married one of the family.

In the Daily Mail, David Jones suggests that the ructions attending Mr. Wayne Rooney’s expressions of discontent are “Neanderthal”. Mr. Jones it seems met Mr. and Mrs. Rooney in an airport in the Gulf and they discussed an article that Mr. Jones had written which was critical of aspects of their lifestyle.

It is alleged that the discussion was vigorous and used colloquial language that may be common on BBC TV drama, during banker’s exchanges on how to deal with customers and in many school rooms today but which some old fashioned and simple people regard as being impolite.

Coincidentally, there have been a number of reports recently to the effect that more powerful and in depth genetic analysis may have revealed traces of Neanderthal DNA amongst many, maybe most, perhaps all of we humans.

Also, more extensive research and detailed scientific analysis suggests that the conventional view of Neanderthals as ugly primitives operating at a lower functional level than us may be very badly mistaken. There are traces of social civility and kindness to be found.

It is claimed that a typical Neanderthal, dressed in ordinary clothes could amble down Oxford Street in London without being noticed or regarded as different. Perhaps Oxford Street is not the best example as a basis for intelligent human comparisons.

It is all very complicated but it appears the Neanderthals had bigger brains than us, were physically very strong, but more limited in their capability to deal with climate changes and in terms of dietary needs. Moreover, it may be that their body density meant they could not swim.

Then there is my own thesis that after a period of severe change long ago the few surviving humans developed violent predatory habits which with certain mental traits, a combination of subservience with greed and the need for domination meant that other humanoid species were wiped out.

This perhaps was compounded by the Mount Toba event of 75,000 years ago which reduced the humans to a small number and the later ice age which encouraged the development of both their best and worst features.

What does seem clear that humans who have a very limited and unnatural upbringing and whose social and intellectual horizons are both narrow and given to extremes develop characteristics that can represent the worst rather than the best.

However, it could be even worse. Mr. Rooney may have grown up in the political class rather than the football industry but I think that the scale of their faults would have been beyond him. As for journalism……

Monday, 4 April 2011

Wedding Bulls



The public rapture at the news of the wedding, no not that one, the other, that of Edward and Justine, is set to be the biggest alternative event of the kind since the marriage of Edward and Wallis on June 3rd 1937.

Alas, I was not invited to that one, perhaps my mistake with the gin and orange at Aunt Ethel’s was too widely known and am unlikely to be asked to any of this year’s.

Amongst the many and various reasons attributed to the couple’s decision have been the mean minded ones that it might be about political gain. Personally, I doubt that this may have made much difference. It might just be that they have been with each other for enough time and have children to make the effort worth it.

There are more cogent reasons, however, bearing in mind that the lady is a lawyer. There is, I believe, a Miliband family trust set up by that Apostle of the Left, father Ralph to ensure that the full weight of inheritance and related taxes did not impede his family’s life work for the equality of the masses.

The detail of this is not known, like most of our current politician’s personal financial arrangements they are shrouded in secrecy. But should marriage be needed to comply with certain terms and conditions then perhaps it is high time that Edward sorted out his end of the matter.

Beyond that there are reports that Edward has set up a personal company into which a variety of sundry payments may be made for work and effort on his part. It is a common device, widely used and well known.

It enables people with complicated sources of income to pay tax at company rates which are much lower than the higher tax rates on ordinary personal earned income. The higher rate of personal income tax was introduced by the previous, Labour, government with the full support of Edward.

When the sources of income become more various and complicated and the related expenses more intricate then it is often necessary to create a web of such companies and move money around them in various ways to minimise tax liabilities. There are other politicians who are adept at this, Tony Blair for one, another with a lawyer lady wife.

Where some of the companies and often connected trusts are moved off shore then the tax liabilities may simply evaporate. Quite where David fits into this is not clear. Possibly he will have his own arrangements that may have little connection with those of Edward, save for their joint interest in the Miliband Trust.

It is all very distracting and takes time away from the politics but then it does take a lot of effort to manage all that money in their quest to destroy capitalism. Perhaps they should refresh their reading on Peter Kropotkin, the class system he grew up with is strangely similar to the one they are trying to create.

He too liked to keep his personal life to himself. When in England in 1891 and 1911 he does not appear to have filled in his Census Returns. What, I wonder is in those of the Milibands?

Perhaps he too disliked the attentions of the tax collector.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Mine Was A Pint But Not Now



Amongst the bits and pieces this week was not only the Dave Clark Five song on BBC4 from April 1964 that made number one in the charts but an item on Punch Taverns also a high rated business performer until recently. It contrasted the wealth gained by those at the top from their highly leveraged operations in the pub sector with the fate of many of the publicans they have left behind.

As with other areas of activity the essence of the operation is not selling beer and food. It is about marketing a brand, extracting the maximum returns, aka “rent seeking” the first principle of economic activity for our government and its friends, and when the opportunities arise take advantage of the idea of the pub trade as a portfolio of property opportunities rather than as anything else.

There have been other things that have had a major impact on the pubs, the drink driving restrictions, the smoking bans, the deliberate changing of their customer base to family rather than adult in the blissful notion that we would all go continental in our social habits and all the employment laws that have more or less put many pubs now on agency based staffing.

In the district where I now live and the places where I lived before it is difficult to find a pub that has changed little in the last couple of decades. Also, they are now much more expensive places to go to and finding food that does not come out of a box or packet very difficult. Once it was routine to visit one now it is a rare event, indeed it much be over a year since the last time.

This is the effect of “rent seeking” or the Economics of Extraction. So long as you can maximise what you can and then get out with your money it does not matter if you leave behind the wreckage of a system or service and which carries a huge burden of debt into the future. Much as Punch is alleged to be leaving behind some £2 billion resting on the shoulders of the publicans and managers of the pubs and places that are left.

There have been other examples of this recently and in the public sector there are the equivalents in the many and various PFI deals. Those who were in at the start cash in when it is time to go and leave the consequences and the debts to others to sort out. It is a process which will take decades and which will impair and in some cases destroy what we have had in the past.

For those with an eye on economic and political history the empires of the past have often been other versions of “rent seeking” financial operations. In our arrogance in recent decades we assumed that because of ability of the City to do this across the world to the profit of London that this would earn us our keep, along with North Sea Oil.

What we did not reckon on was that this would turn against ourselves as finance became global and the companies escaped the restrictions of the states they were based in. Now we are the ones at the wrong of end of all this “creative destruction” in the name of gain and across our cities and towns and almost all across rural areas we are looking at the increasing scale of the damage.

And it will all have to be paid for and we shall have little to pay with.

 
 

Friday, 1 April 2011

Bye Bye Barclays



According to Reuters, Mayor Bloomberg of New York has said that Barclays Bank head offices would be very welcome there and would fit in with the local financial culture.

This brings to mind the Martin Scorsese film of 2002 on the subject of new and recent arrivals in that fair city.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gangs_of_New_York


Perhaps all those top people in Barclays on vast pay and extras could progress there in a fine ocean cruise ship all together?

Does anyone know where I can hire a submarine?

Black Swans



The idea of "Black Swan" events is something I have mentioned before, the original idea being from Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  Simply, it is something out there which you did not think could happen.  Now, in finance and economics they seem to be coming in flocks from cobdencentre dot org - Articles - Andy Duncan 29 March on the title below.

MIKE HAYWOOD’S BANKING CRISIS DIGEST


Independent weekly compilation of current internet articles and blogs relating to Global Banking Crisis

You may not have time to read all the articles. To help you be selective, those articles which I consider an important read or viewing, I have prefixed with X

• Global Debt Clock


Overview Articles


• XXXXX US Petroleum Usage, New House Sales, and the Alleged Recovery


• XXXXX The Utter Failure Of Macroeconomic Theory


• Mauldin: Unintended Consequences (PDF)


Global Banking crisis, economy and systemic risk


• XXXXX Britain’s leaders should come clean on the true depth of the fiscal crisis


• XXXXX IMF Prepares For “Threat To International Monetary System”


• XX Blame Brown, Balls and Miliband for policies that led to the banking crisis


• XX U.S. debt situation at tipping point


• XXX Britain’s £200bn time bomb of debt interest


• X Ireland wants bank bondholders to share the pain


• Is this the endgame for the US dollar?


• America is going broke! Federal Reserve official’s fear as Libya missiles cost $100 million in just ONE day


• Portugal sees further property price falls and lack of confidence in market


• Federal Reserve and the opaque banking syndicate


• 3 Euro Debt Crisis Scenarios


• Looks Like a Double Dip, Smells Like a Double Dip, Must be a Double Dip


• Truck Tonnage Slows in February


• Spectator: Folding money – When politicians devalue the currency, hard assets are the answer


• The Dominoes Are Lining Up, Again


• Euro’s Collapse Is Not Unthinkable: Warren Buffett


• GDP Growth Doesn’t Mean We’re On The Right Road


• Dutch bankers’ bonuses axed by people power


• Ireland’s Hayes Irish Banking Crisis a ‘European-Wide Problem’


• How Germany can avoid a two-speed Europe


• Rethinking Iceland’s Recovery


• Lessons Learned in the Aftermath of the Banking Crisis


• The Japanese Currency Intervention


• Portugal 2010 Budget Deficit Could Be Revised Upward


• A Nation Of Dropouts Shakes Europe


• Eurozone bail-out deal is agreed


• Spain pledges economic reforms


• ECB close to liquidity deal for troubled banks


• Ireland: No easy fix for banking crisis, warns regulator


• French Fin Min: Public Finances Couldn’t Deal With New Banking Crisis


• Land of the Setting Sun


• Ireland 10-year bond spread hits record


• Sovereign debt joins the wall of worry


• Ireland holds talks on bank crisis with ECB


• Big players are no stranger to crises on own doorsteps


Oil and interconnectivity with Global economy


• XXXXX Oil Will Be Gone in 50 Years: HSBC


• Japan Nuclear Plans Derailed, Fossil Fuel Use To Stay High For Years


US Property slump


• XX Sales of new US homes tumble 16.9% to record low


• XX Housing raises US recession alert


• House Prices Will Drop Another 20%


• The Next Leg Down in House Prices


• New house sales are at lowest level in almost 50 years


• America’s Property Market: On A Losing Streak


• Commercial Real Estate on Borrowed Time?


• US house prices fall to 9 year low


US Foreclosure and Mortgage Fraud


• Foreclosure vote could rock the banks


UK Property Market


• XX House Cuts send chill through UK house market


• House prices down 11% since summer


• House prices drop by £45,000 since start of credit crisis


Global Pension “time bomb” and aging population


• X BBC pension deficit is ‘just over £1.5bn’


• South Carolina financial oversight board refuses to accept pension system


• Anglo to stop cost of living increases for pension scheme


• In US Public pension crisis threatens your wallet


• Brendan Keenan: Getting pensions right for posterity


The affect of Austerity measures


• Sign of the times: 200 join queue in Salford precinct – for the opening of a charity shop


Deflation or inflation?


• Cookie Inflation and The End of Quantitative Easing


• The Cost Of Living Just Goes Up And Up


US recessionary trends


• X Massive enrollment cuts at California State University expected


• U.S. Durable Goods Orders Unexpectedly Fell in February


• Rural Oregon counties face bankruptcy without state help


US Unemployment


• X US Real Unemployment Rate 10.2%, Underemployment at 20%


• Unemployment rises in nearly all metro areas


• Why Is US Unemployment So High?


• Current decade of job losses vs. Great Depression


• Most US States Post Unemployment Decline


Eureka articles which challenge the status quo


• X Centralization of power and control by elites in financial markets


• Rich vs Poor: 14 Funny Statistics And 14 Not So Funny Statistics About This “Economic Recovery”


Alternative Currencies, changing the Banking System


• X The Origin of Central Banking and Possible Alternatives


• Federal Reserve and the opaque banking syndicate


• New revelations how the Federal Reserve shrugged off housing crash warnings