Saturday, 31 March 2012

Voting By Numbers

There is a great deal around the media about the Bradford by-election and the return of the Scottish-London East Ender George Galloway to the House of Commons.  A number have commented that looking down the years it is not so exceptional a result.  There have been by-elections of the past that have had a “shock” effect.

Apparently, George won just over half the votes cast.  Tellingly this was said to be a “good” turnout of just over half the electors.  So George is essentially elected by a minority of the electorate and it is not the “massive” victory that is claimed.

A rag bag of reasons have been given for this, TV comments have mentioned that he is “charismatic” and “knows what people want”.  One wonders how many dictators, also elected essentially on a minority vote owed their rise to exactly these qualities.

My view is that these by-election and “surprise” results very often occur when a local electorate does reflect a wider view of the state of affairs.  Also, what is critical is when an electorate is baffled, uncertain as to who stands for what at the centre and has begun to dislike what has been happening to it.

My memory of one by-election which fits this bill is that of Orpington on 15 March 1962 when Eric Lubbock, a local Liberal councillor and last minute choice turned over a large Conservative majority and shut out the Labour party. 

This was before the 1963 Profumo Scandal broke and the campaign was essentially about economic policy and the way we were being governed.  Harold Macmillan had managed to revive the Conservative Party to win the General Election in 1959 but did so by ramping up public spending.

By late 1961 the vultures were coming home to roost and picking over what was left of the Conservative economic policy.  A wage freeze on public sector workers had just been announced in 1962 and it was the effect on nurses; then paid poor wages, that commanded the media attention along with teachers.

Also, during the period 1960 to May 1963 National Service in the military was being wound down.  This impacted on employment in many ways.  There were large numbers of officers whose careers were seriously affected and left to look for anything in “management” that would take them.  With the difficulties in what was left of an Empire in rapid contraction there were the many returning personnel at all levels, also seeking comparable employment. 

Whilst many still held on to visions of British greatness and all that, my feeling is that amongst the former rankers there were very many who felt that the sooner we were out of it all the better and wanted just work, housing and a decent education for the kids, thank you very much.

Whilst Conservative support during 1961 declined the Labour Party had its own problems.  Gaitskell had been defeated in 1959 because he and his supporters had failed to convince enough voters and supporters and he was still struggling into 1963 to move the Party forward. 

Between unions with a strong distaste for change but a huge appetite for State support of major declining industries, increasing and substantial foreign competition, no clear way forward for a changing and more aware population and clear disarray in the government  neither party could control either the course of events or the direction of policy. 

The electorate were faced with choices that simply seemed unworkable and irrational.  Also, the attempt to go into Europe had been blocked and other avenues for progress or success did not seem to be available.

Had the Liberal Party in 1962 had the organisation and structure to mount a serious national assault on the traditional parties with policies more adapted to the future than the past, the Lubbock result might have triggered a revival. 

They did manage some successes under Jo Grimond who did have a vision for the future but not one that the electorate as a whole felt comfortable with. 

In any case the changes of leadership bringing Wilson to Labour on the death of Gaitskell and firstly Home and then Heath to put some backbone into the Conservatives meant that the Liberals continued to struggle for the critical share of the vote that might have meant access to power.

There is a familiar ring to all this.  For the present what happens next will be what happens next.  At least in 1966 we did win the World Cup.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Sumer Is Icumen In

As the nation busies itself transferring the reserves of petrol into its car tanks and jerrycans which ought to kept the Fire Service’s very busy in the next few weeks there are other things to look forward to.

Here in our town we have a circulatory traffic system designed to enable traffic to move through.  This is because there is far too much trying to get through because down the years relieving roads and bridge projects have been abandoned.

As it is the system easily clogs and traffic backs up for miles.  Because of complaining residents most of the available alternatives and “rat runs” have been closed off over most of the district.  In any case many of the country roads are narrow and unable to cope with large vehicles.

Now at a key point in the system the Gas lot are going to do a Big Dig.  Let us hope they do not discover any real archaeology but as there has been traffic problems ever since Vespasian visited with the Legio II Augusta Legion back in 43 A.D. who knows?

This will not be for a few days, all the work involved is going to take months.  It will paralyse the immediate community and spread serious problems for miles around.  Anyone headed for the Channel Ports this summer better make a lot more time available for the journey.

It does not help that our town managers and others are claiming with ill suppressed glee that the jams and consequential disruption promises to set records.  Is there, I wonder, a set of targets to be met and EU requirements to reward the biggest and worst blockages achievable?

Looking around the County there are many other places where it takes very little to cause chaos.  In almost all of them there has been compromise traffic systems designed to make the best of a bad job.  There is barely anywhere which has a well designed and built road system to cope with ordinary needs.

Much the same is true across the nation, bodge, bungle and blather have been the way we have dealt with our road planning and traffic management.  If anything, a petrol supply fiasco may well come as a relief and help.

Then there is energy.  It seems that the German companies who may have joined in with the development of new nuclear power plants have cried off.  With all the closures, demand issues and existing difficulties of supply we could run out of energy at the same time we run out of road.

There is always the rail alternative.  But the National Audit now tells us that the HS1 project has not delivered even with the vast subsidy it had.  Perhaps all those people who suggested a radical network of improvements to existing lines might have been cheaper, better and more useful seem to have been right, at least financially.

So what is the government to do?  It is to build an HS2 project far more expensive and resource consuming than the HS1 that will lock up much of the development and “growth” money.  Could someone explain how you can have “growth” when you are making a thumping loss on capital projects as well as incurring vast debt?

Also, it looks as though if we want to drown our sorrows we need to be careful with the water we may have with it, if there is any to be had.  Water shortages have been on the cards now for some time because of all the development without matching provision for water supplies.   Perhaps there could be a bootleg market round here in imported water.

If you could get it through the traffic.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

More May Mean Less

Sometimes there are links to an article that is long and difficult just for the hell of it.  Especially if it is one that goes against the grain of general assumptions and leaves you with the feeling that you now know less than you did.

The one flagged below is about productive capacity in the UK and the puzzling business that we assume with all this high tech’, management theory and application, increased knowledge and far more education that the capability and therefore the productivity of our economy will relentlessly improve.

Except it does not appear to do.  If anything it could be on a gentle downward slope.  The trouble is that all our expectations, increasing government debt and notions about what improves economic growth have this built in feature of endlessly improving productivity.

To his credit the writer, Simon Wren-Lewis, admits it is a puzzle to which he is struggling to find the answer.  Also, that an infinite number of questions could be begged in search of the statistics and facts that might lead to an answer.

But what if we are truly entering an era where the age of more, more, more is no more and it is all going to be less, less less.  We may well have more population and want to do more for them but the chances are there is not going to be the energy, the real money or the capacity to do it.

In short the economic world we have been living in for the last two to three hundred years is slowly evaporating in the same way that other human worlds may have done in the past.  In the UK when all those henges were built what happened next?

As the machines in the sky photograph our world in ever increasing detail one of the things that is showing up is the vast numbers of one form of human habitation or another down the centuries that have gone and been forgotten.

Normally, this blog like to go for a really splendid catastrophe causing chaos.  It is torn between geophysical events or the impact of collapse dynamics on global financial systems.  Indeed a nasty bug or two could do the trick as well.

Others argue about climate change, whether we shall all roast or freeze.  But the terrible thought that the next cataclysm in human population could be just a gentle decline in resource availability and consequential reducing productive capacity is something of a let down.

On the other hand slow cooking is said to be a lot more tasty.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Which Fork Do I Use?

With the nation’s attention tuned in to the eating habits and arrangements of our Prime Minister, his Lady and friends the mind turns to other grub ups here and there.  From the look of the lists they seem a grim bunch but perhaps they are able to lift their eyes above the bottom line to higher things, although quite what can be only a wild guess.

One dinner party that comes to mind is the one hosted by Richard Brinsley Sheridan when he was living in Hertford StreetSheridan was going through one of his periods of being financially challenged and his creditors had sent in the bailiffs to take what they could get.  This included all the decent silver cutlery and tableware.

Unluckily, Sheridan was due to give an informal dinner party for the great and good of the land.  So a deal was struck.  Sheridan could borrow his own property back on condition that the bailiffs acted as the waiters to ensure their return to the creditors at the end of it all.

This reflects the financial condition of the nation at the time as well as the standing of many of the politicians.  Things are much the same today, a more or less bankrupt couple of parties contesting to govern a more or less bankrupt nation.

Later flicking around the channels we settled for a while on the back end of The Books Show on Sky Arts, where at the end the three authors were invited to pick out a dinner party from fiction which they may have preferred to avoid.

One selected from Proust’s “The Guermantes Way” Volume Three of his major work the “Remembrance of Time Past” the 140 pages given to describing a dinner party hosted by the Duchess of Guermantes.  It was not a good party and the conversation was worse, apparently. 

However, perhaps the nearest example to service at Chez Cameron could be the Tea Party given by the Mad Hatter as performed by the Royal Ballet in their production of “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland”, picture above.  We saw this on Saturday and it is certainly very good.

Philosophers may criticise the lack of reference or attempt to convey mathematical logic or the deductive method in the handling of the original book, but you can’t have everything.  It’s a ballet, you just have to dance.

The Tea Party is done exceptionally well, with the Mad Hatter doing manic tap routines in the general mayhem.  One could see George Osborne as a fine Dormouse and Ed Balls as a March Hare, if a little large for the role.  Teresa May would be fine as Queen of Hearts but I think that Yvette Cooper would struggle as The Duchess.

In a European context, Sarkozy is a gift for the Mad Hatter, Rompey as the Dormouse, Berlusconi for the March Hare, Merkel for the Queen of Hearts and Ashton as the Duchess.  Take your pick the casting potential is unlimited.

We should not criticise poor Cameron too much for his choice of dinner table companions, after all beggars cannot be choosers and our Prime Ministers these days have to do a lot of begging.  In any case, if you went down the dining lists of HM The Queen in her sixty years you would find a rare collection of the world’s worst rulers.

Then there was the Edward Heath government of 1970-1974.  Anthony Barber, the Chancellor of the Exchequer lived just across the fields from John Poulson, the architect involved in the famous corruption scandal. 

Reginald Maudling also got too close to him because Poulson became involved in bank rolling Maudling’s wife’s ambition to make East Grinstead the capital of world ballet.  It was alleged at one time that Heath dined with Poulson amongst others.

As for Harold Wilson’s dining companions, oh dear, oh dear. As Cameron looks around the table he might wonder which of companions is going to cause him the most embarrassment in the near future.

Perhaps the ballet “Alice” makes more sense than any of it.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Return Of Tuberculosis

If you had a cough that went more than usual, the Head of the Elementary School I attended would haul you into her office and take swabs from your mouth.  If she did not like what she saw she made one of her very rare phone calls. 

A nurse or even a doctor would then arrive to take a look for themselves.  If they did not like what they saw they called the ambulance and off you went to hospital.  If the hospital found their worst fears were justified you stayed there for a very long while or in a similar institution or died.

The reason for all this was Tuberculosis (TB), a virulent and dangerous disease that killed many and ruined the lives of far more.  The stigma attached to it for the individual and family was serious. 

After the discovery and introduction of antibiotics TB was brought under control and confined to rare cases that were almost all contained and cured.  The huge demands on hospitals, nursing care and resources in the NHS were massively reduced making them available for other needs.

TB is now back again and it has been known for a little time that it has begun to spread and our foolish and wasteful use of antibiotics has led to drug resistance and mutations of the disease that cannot be cured.

Raedwald picked up on a story from The Observer to illustrate one of the many implications:

The Observer link is:

There is a great deal out there on the web about the history of TB and its dire effects on communities and people.  But I have a personal memory.

Early in the 1940’s a loved and respected uncle died young aged 33.  He had been ill for a while, living with his widowed mother at first before going into hospital.  But he had visited relations including ourselves for a few days on occasion.

His death was said to be the complications following a motor cycle accident.  What the rest of his family, including close brothers and sisters did not know, was that it was TB and only his mother and one sister knew the truth, it was TB, diagnosed late and severe.  The story and the death certificate emerged only fifty years later.

Had it been widely known, it is likely that I would have been quarantined, ending my chances of any secondary education or decent job.  My parents may well have both lost their jobs and left with finding any employer who would take them.  There would have been many in the family in the same situation, the stigma was so great.

My parents and every other parent lived in terror of their child picking up TB at school or anywhere else, the havoc it caused reached across families and neighbours.

Now it seems, it is back and worse than ever before.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Now Comes The Difficult Part

In the USA the Presidential election is about to become the main event.  Is Obama a shoe in given the Republican disarray?  Or can the Republican candidate, whoever they may be get enough traction or be lucky enough to see the President in trouble because of unforeseen events or sheer bad luck?

The French Presidential election is about to be unpleasant and mud is about to be thrown in large quantities if tradition is any guide.  If Sarkozy does hang on he will have a rough time.  If the Socialists return it will be all bets off as to what might happen.

Wherever you look there are other uncertainties.  In the UK the Coalition is about to enter the awkward mid phase of an administration when they are not sure what, if much, they have done and less sure about what might be done that the next election will soon be marked up on the calendars.

If there is change in Washington DC this means the usual across the board changes of personnel with those exiting priming the booby traps and those entering take a good deal of time to settle and work out how to do what as well as avoiding the problems left for them to clear up.

In France there will be the usual bitter and damaging personal disputes and rivalries to deal with in Paris when internal conflict will take priority over external matters.  This will be difficult to make any sense of when the demands of a wayward global economy will need all the logic and sense they could bring to it.

In the UK, it is likely that the Civil Service under The Treasury will retain control and grind the hapless politicians to dust in the same way that they have been doing for a good two decades now.  George Osborne, according to the cartoonists, has been given a head transplant with the donor being Gordon Brown.  So that’s where he got to.

David Cameron is not quite like Tony Blair.  He is a classier act, can tell the odd joke and does not sound like a revivalist preacher.  But he is prone to skipping about the world and what is left of the UK for any decent photo opportunity and chance for a cheery monologue.  The policy bit seems to be have been lost with the luggage between Asia and the America’s.

Of course the Coalition could collapse and Ed Miliband will walk into 10 Downing Street arm in arm with Nick Clegg, or maybe Vince Cable if it really gets silly.  In that case England will become Never Never Land and the other parts of the Atlantic Isles will have to look out for themselves.

Out there in the real world there is a lot to worry about.  Political troubles are becoming worse and more dangerous.  Leaders of some states are developing overweening ambitions about the exercise of power.  The megabanks and other major corporations, despite the disasters are still active each in its’ own selfish interests.

Last but not least are the money systems of the world, all of which are showing serious strain.  There are the pre-conditions in place for either another systemic collapse or just as bad a continuing damaging and unpredictable series of crises that just go on and on.

So for 2012 what will be the disaster of the year, apart from the traffic chaos in London during the summer for some obscure reason?

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Something Completely Different

Just for light relief from politics and economics and the rest this from Autumn 2009:

So the tickets deal pays off, and the cheque is bulging in my wallet, as I put on the best hat and head for town.  I got enough to spend time at Shanghai Lil's.  OK, the signboard says different, but downtown signboards cover a lot of sins. 

It is a jumble of letters that don’t mean much, but a guy in a bar told me in the old Hittite script in means place of human sacrifice, so things have not changed. 

Sidestepping the charity collectors outside, I get through the doors with all the small change intact and look around the service bars.  There is some real action going on, they are hot on life insurance, promising big money if you live forever.  Subject to conditions of course.

So I stand there a while, just holding on to the cheque and the credit slip, and take in the play.  Suddenly there is a slim blonde by me, even better looking than a footballer's moll.  Then there is a husky tempting voice, "Can I help you in any way?"

I take a long deep breath and consider the choices.  This could get interesting.  "We have a new machine that makes it so easy" she whispers.  This worries me some.  Ever since that experience with the trampoline, I avoid machines in close personal encounters.

She guides me into a small room with not so many people, points and says "Touch that".  It is a bank machine, sadly, you touch the screen and it plays games with you.

So I put in the slip and the cheque and out comes a pretty piece of paper.  I put it away carefully, Big A is keen on the detail.  Mistakes mean cold porridge in the morning and not a welcoming fry up. 

Then I smile at the blonde.  "So how long have you been with us?" she asks.  At Shanghai Lil's they are not so good on the detail these days, which is why I have to spend so long there. 

"8th August 1954", I rap out.  "Since the Army thought I would be better off working somewhere else after the Court Martial."  "Gosh", she says, "Not many people remember the first time."  I think she is still talking about banks.

And that was the end of it.  Quite why she didn't make the big play on life insurance, I do not know, it sort of hurt my feelings.  Outside, the charity collectors had stopped collecting and a lone guy was picking up pieces of paper dropped in their excitement by people leaving Shanghai Lil's. 

I thought this was worth praise.  "Good to see a man working for the community" I says.  He flashed a large collection of gold teeth, "Eet isss moy dutty as a  gud sittyzen" he says with a thick Russian accent.

Back at the ranch, I give Big A the bank chit, and head for the games room.  I am just playing the "Overthrow The Government" game running on the Army web site, when a screaming Big A comes at me hard. 

It’s even worse than when I buy a lottery ticket, and she finds out.  This time it is not me.  This is a great relief.

It is the chit from the machine at Shanghai Lil's.  It has copied the entire credit slip and the cheque in perfect detail, with a lot of other numbers.  Big A tells me anyone getting hold of this would have the story of my life in minutes. 

This is bad news.  My life has been an eventful one.  How many other people have spent a night on the run from the police of five counties?  And only for a couple of large doors. 

OK, they were the West Riding of Yorkshire Police HQ doors with some fancy signs we thought would look nice in the club house, but why the big fuss?

Big A is firmly of the opinion that present banks are bad for people.  So I try my luck and suggest lottery tickets.  OK, it will be cold porridge in the morning.  And I will have to make up for it. 

So tomorrow I go down to town again, and help the well dressed Russian pick up some paper outside Shanghai Lil's. He may know a place where I can find a real bank.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Torf Einaar Rules OK

Well I never, you wait decades for independence movements to come along in the Atlantic Isles and then three come along together.  It may shock some North of the Border but when the idea that the oil money was for the taking got out there might be disagreements about who would get their hands on the loot might attract other interests was forgotten.

The ruckus in Scotland over those from the Orkneys and Shetlands who think there are good historical reasons for asserting their own form of independence which will give them rights over large tracts of Northern waters was all too predictable.

It was John Mortimer, the writer and former barrister who observed that when it came to Probate cases those involved, once thought of as decent people to deal with, suddenly became ravening predators determined to take all or nearly all.

So if the United Kingdom is a dead duck, or rather gannet, then the squabbling over the remains, rights and benefits is not going to be a polite and certain business.  It is all going to get very rough and nasty.

If I was sat in Kirkwall or Lerwick grumbling about my taxes and how little I got from them and how that lot down there were grabbing everything they could get then it might not be easy for me to distinguish London and Liverpool from Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Were some bright young local accountants and lawyers playing darts in the public bar together they might wonder whether they would all be better off and happier making their careers in a Government of the Isles rather than having to go South to endure the idiocies of any of capitals on offer.

After all, in the internet age and with the transformation of international and other travel suddenly a whole lot of things have become much easier to accomplish.  Moreover the government machineries and political parties of the South are alien to the lifestyles and needs of the Islands.

Worse still, the grotesque and wasteful control of monies, the corruption, the contempt for ordinary people and sheer selfishness of the incessant demands of the big urban and rural corporations leave communities such as the Islands poorer and more deprived than they need to be.

So who will be the new Lords of the Isles?

Monday, 19 March 2012

Budget Bull Bluster And Bengal

As we all know there is a Budget due this week and the nation holds its breath, or something.  Amid the flannel and the flatulence there are small nuggets of information. 

These suggest we will be all better off.  Most of us believe that most of us will be worse off.  In a more robust and honest age poems were written about annual budgets. 

The one below by Rudyard Kipling referring to the 1886 re-introduction of Income Tax into India by Auckland Colvin probably makes as much sense about ours now as he did then about being hammered for a two and a half percent hit in the pocket.

The poem is below, for comment and background see:

For information on Auckland Colvin see Wikipedia:


The Rupaiyat of Omar Kal’vin

[Allowing for the difference ’twixt prose
and rhymed exaggeration, this ought to
reproduce the sense of what Sir A—
told the nation sometime ago, when the
Government struck from our incomes two per cent.]

NOW the New Year, reviving last Year’s Debt,
The Thoughtful Fisher casteth wide his Net;
So I with begging Dish and ready Tongue
Assail all Men for all that I can get.

Imports indeed are gone with all their Dues—
Lo! Salt a Lever that I dare not use,
Nor may I ask the Tillers in Bengal
Surely my Kith and Kin will not refuse!

Pay—and I promise by the Dust of Spring,
Retrenchment. If my promises can bring
Comfort, Ye have Them now a thousandfold—
By Allah! I will promise, Anything!

Indeed, indeed, Retrenchment oft before
I swore—but did I mean it when I swore?
And then, and then, We wandered to the Hills,
And so the Little Less became Much More.

Whether at Boileaugunge or Babylon,
I know not how the wretched Thing is done,
The Items of Receipt grow surely small;
The Items of Expense mount one by one.

I cannot help it. What have I to do
With One and Five, or Four, or Three, or Two?
Let Scribes spit Blood and Sulphur as they please,
Or Statesmen call me foolish—Heed not you.

Behold, I promise—Anything You will.
Behold, I greet you with an empty Till—
Ah! Fellow-Sinners, of your Charity
Seek not the Reason of the Dearth but fill.

For if I sinned and fell, where lies the Gain
Of Knowledge? Would it ease you of your Pain
To know the tangled Threads of Revenue,
I ravel deeper in a hopeless Skein?

“Who hath not Prudence”—what was it I said,
Of Her who paints her Eyes and tires Her Head,
And gibes and mocks the People in the Street,
And fawns upon them for Her thriftless Bread?

Accursed is She of Eve’s daughters—She
Hath cast off Prudence, and Her End shall be
Destruction . . . Brethren, of your Bounty grant
Some portion of your daily Bread to ME.


Gordon Brown used to go on about Prudence, or did she transfer her affections to George?

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Up The Garden Path With Economists

This is another easy post and one that returns to basic energy issues and the implications of change.  It has been picked up at the Oil Drum site from Our Finite World.

The original article is quite long and with a lot of charts etc. to support the thesis.  This is that predicting the way things may go and why is far from easy.  One reason is that economists necessarily draw from the past when the future might be quite different.

The conclusions have been copied below for a quick read.


How an Economist Might Be Misled

If an economist views the period between World War II and 1970 as “normal” in terms of what to expect in the future, he/she is likely to be misled. The period of rapid energy growth following World War II is not likely to be repeated. The rapid energy growth allowed much manual work to be performed by machine (for example, using a back hoe instead of digging ditches by hand).

Thus, there appeared to be considerable growth in human efficiency, but such growth is not likely to be repeated in the future. Also, the rate of GDP growth was likely higher than could be expected in the future.

Even the period between 1980 and 2000 may be misleading for predicting future patterns because this period occurred before the huge increase in international trade. Once international trade with less developed nations increases, we can expect these nations will want to increase their energy consumption in any way that is possible, including using more coal.

Another false inference might be that per capita oil consumption has declined in the past (Figure 6), so future declines should not be a problem. For one thing, the past drop in oil availability may very well have contributed to the employment issues noted above during the 2000 to 2010 period in the United States.

For another, oil issues may very well have contributed to the Iraq War and even to World War II. Furthermore, there may be Liebig’s Law of the Minimum issues, because most vehicles use gasoline or diesel for fuel and cannot run without it.

Figure 2 also illustrates that a transition from one fuel to another takes many, many years–we have not at this point transitioned from away coal, and nuclear is still only a small percentage of world energy consumption.

The small amounts of new renewables to date should be of concern to economists if they are counting on these for the future. For one thing, ramping up new renewables to amounts which can be expected to make a significant contribution is likely to take many years. For another, new renewables require fossil fuels for their creation, so they are very much tied to the current system.

The fact that things haven’t fallen apart so far doesn’t give the assurance that things never will fall apart. Individual countries behave very differently. While some countries may continue to grow using coal, other countries will flounder when hit by high oil and natural gas prices.

It is quite possible that some countries will encounter major difficulties in the years ahead, even though they have so far been untouched. The precarious debt situations of a number of countries leave them vulnerable to disruptions.


So economists might be easily misled?  Many of us have realised that.  It is a pity most of the main stream media have not quite cottoned on to the idea.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Muppets On A String

The suggestions that people at Goldman Sachs dealing with clients and those being sold financial products called them “Muppets” comes as no great surprise.  That a former senior executive is talking about the loss of “moral compass” only tells us what many of us have come to expect.

This is the way it has been going for a little time now.  Once “never give a sucker an even break” marked out the shysters and the con men from people trying to do more or less honest business. 

The saying “Caveat Emptor”, or buyer beware has been with us if not since time began then at least since the age of the Roman Empire.  You would certainly not have wanted to buy a used chariot from some of the Emperors.

For those of us who decades ago were used to basic honesty and an attempt to give real service to customers the recent years have given us too many hard lessons about the way things have changed.

Now instead of being able to believe the bills or the information or what the seller said it is a matter of check, check and double check.  Mercifully, the web gives us half a chance in many matters enabling us to call up a great deal of detailed information and comment.

This may not be entirely reliable or as full as we would like but often we do get an insight into what the other side is up to or not.  That complicated bit is that if we are thinking of buying to do this or that then it may well not do that but something else we do not need.

Pensions come to mind so inevitably, the financial sector is by far the worst in this and an arena where the hapless believer in a morality can be torn apart by the predators for the passing amusement of those who have hired the beasts.

Second only to the financial sector are the politicians and they are second because they are being paid off by the money men.  The trouble with this lot is that they actually do the governing part and makes the rules to suit.

In the last year I have had nasty spats with banking, energy and other utilities, never mind agencies involved in property affairs.  At my age I can do without it and for those of any age it is a wearing distressing business when you have to face work and all the daily responsibilities of families and the rest.

In retailing we have been active in hunting for suppliers that have a basic notion of service and honesty.  They are out there and have to be treasured because there are few around, most driven out by the big boys in modern business.

Just how did it get so bad?

Monday, 12 March 2012

Out For The Count

If you think that things are getting any easier, you can probably forget it.  At present I am chasing round in circles, but who isn’t these days?

This one came from one of the family and I hope the FT link works to let you read the article.  It is about the mathematics of trading and computing, which is the way the world works or doesn’t work according to opinion.

It is a long article but you could scroll down to get the drift.

My thesis for a little time now is that hardly anyone in the media or government understands what is happening, or why and where we are going.

There is a Wikipedia article on Bayes’ Theorem, which I confess to having problems with.  Like where do I start and where do I finish? 

Luckily, my family member knows the bloke and can follow some of the squiggles.  He tells me that it is difficult and he finds it complicated.

This is what your future might depend on.  So if the wrong squiggle is in the wrong place or it should not really be a squiggle at all then it all goes wrong.

And we all go back to basics.

Friday, 9 March 2012

My Old Man Said Follow The Van

The Vince Cable idea about a “Mansion Tax” has had some press again and the debate has raged around the usual issues.  But this is a sawn off version of a general property tax which deals only with the obvious high end of the issue. 

This blog has discussed before about property tax on the basis of if a government is unable to raise enough tax through alternative fiscal means then some sort of property tax might have to be imposed if it could be made effective.

Such a tax is not a “cure all” for such problems and has disadvantages of its own.  The prime advantage is that the property exists, can be located is not moveable and assessed accordingly and used as the basis for taxation.

The variation on this which attracts probably wider support is the Land Value Tax again on the basis that the land cannot be moved and can be assessed from a range of existing figures and valuations. 

Notably it would help where public expenditure led to a major increase in property and land values arising from decisions or projects that clearly benefited some districts.  Examples cited are Crossrail and other transport improvements in the South East, and the Northern Line extension to Battersea.

The question of property has been given more urgency following the row over stamp duty payable on transactions now being avoided by many of the very wealthy who can find and put in place types of ownership that pay far less.

A good deal of Inheritance Tax is lost also by the wealthy and others making legal arrangements of one sort or another, such as family trusts or simply handing over ownership at the right time.

We already have a property tax of sorts in the shape of the council tax.  This poses an interesting question.  This tax is tapered in such a way that the middling or poorer sections of the community pay proportionately more than those with high value properties.

But whether the people in the high value properties enjoy more or less value from the actual services provided by councils depends on circumstances.  There is a school of thought that people should pay more for many services as a price rather than through tax and local government provision.

If an attempt is made to “individualise” the burden of local taxes then this becomes a poll tax.  Those around at the time will recall the reaction that Mrs. Thatcher and the Conservative government got when they tried it. 

The big mistake there was to keep the very large education budgets in the poll tax rather than take them out leaving only a much smaller level of poll tax.  This was transformed into the present council tax.  But there is a burgeoning problem with council tax that is just surfacing.

That is that under the present arrangements many of the wealthy can simply avoid paying it and councils can do little or nothing about it.  This is done by ownership taken off shore into untraceable companies or holdings.

It is all yet another legacy from a long history of bungling and short term compromises that is very difficult to sort out with a political media elite who are heavily invested in property.

In the distant past the great majority of people rented and simply moved on when they want to and to properties they could afford.  If they found they could not then they moved on again.

Some without paying their rents, in fact some urban districts were known as “The Land Of The Moonlight Flits” where a family would load a barrow or two with what they had and move to wherever they could find another landlord.

If our present fiscal situation is not sustainable sooner or later land or property will have to become, again, a major feature of raising revenue.  This is not going to be a happy or easy business.

Where can I hire a barrow from?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Reserve The More Weighty Voice

It seems that Engelbert Humperdinck is not the only pensioner on the block.

From the Thoroughly Good blog comes the Russian entry to the Eurovision song contest.  Our Arnold aka Engelbert needs to start counting his votes:

The blogger works for the BBC, so whose side are they on?

I know, I know………….

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Mad As March Hares

Everything seems to be becoming disconnected again and little or nothing is working out as it might or as it should.  Muddling through may be a way of dealing with things if you doing the shopping in a town centre where you know where you are. 

But is not an option if you are being sucked down a hole on the Grimpen Mire with only the Hound Of The Baskerville’s to save you.

Can anyone anywhere make sense of the American Presidential election campaign?  The UK Coalition policies, spending and fiscal plans, projects or the rest?  The EU?  The Euro?  The Greek debacle?  The Spanish problem?  What China will do next?  The international reactions to states in breakdown situations?  Add your own to the list, it is a long one.

Given all this we may assume that it is not just a general situation that is difficult but that the pre-conditions are in place for another crash or upheaval.  If so, then the question is what might be the trigger event? 

Or the “Black Swan”, the concept introduced by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to describe unpredicted events with radical consequences.  According to reports Bank of America have taken a hit for a write off of £100 million on bad loans.  Could this small item push them over the edge?

The obvious one is Greece but there are other bits of the international economy and financial world that are vulnerable never mind all the political miscalculations that might and will be made by one set of national or international leaders or others. 

The advantage of democracy is that you have regular elections to help decide who might be a state’s leaders and government.  The disadvantage is that an election may happen when the last thing you need is uncertainty or inexperience in affairs or dealing with crises. 

Currently there are too many elections going on at the same time in nations that are supposed to be giving a lead.  How do you go forward when you are looking over your shoulder?  Do not look to the main stream media for much informed comment or analysis, they do not seem capable of giving it.

You have to hunt around the specialist sources where some expert information is to hand and weigh up what they are trying to say.  Because they are specialist they can only really deal with their own patch.  Putting it all together to come up with the full picture is impossible and both governments and the major media are no longer up to it.

Add to this because of “global” economics, the extent to which major multi-nationals have achieved dominance and peddle their own agenda’s and the pace of change and the way things move governments generally are well behind the game, dealing with yesterdays problems tomorrow, if ever.

Watching their performance this month is like watching the Mad March Hares trying to settle disputes of their own making and it is all madness.

And there is thick fog over the Grimpen Mire of world money flows.