Thursday 28 February 2013

Going Shopping Or Not

The story about the number of closures of High Street; that is urban centre shops tells us that another feature of our society may be changing forever, never to be reclaimed.  What it means is that there is a radical reshaping of the use of these premises and what they do for us.

Many are in effect quasi shops.  These are many to do with one sort of financial service or another where there is a need for not just an office to handle all the online and telephone matters but some sort of access for personal visits or for passers by.

Another is the many and various eating outlets, in our town the number of adjacent places like this almost amount to a huge canteen with separate parts for differing food tastes and preferences.  Then there are the gambling places, money transfer agents and a few bottom price shops. 

Also, while the old pubs have almost gone the number of “clubs” has mushroomed into the “night time economy”, some in former retailers which has the effect of siphoning large amounts of money out of town and into the accounts of people who are far from local.

What is being lost is the range of shops for all sorts of ordinary needs, such as electrical goods, furnishings, varied clothing needs and basic household requirements.  The consequence is that you either have to ride round the county searching the out of town shopping malls or go online.

Neither of these is really satisfactory if you have distinct or special requirements.  There are limited amounts of stock held and then only with produce that is quick to move and easy to replace.  Anything beyond that and you have to search online hoping to find somewhere in the UK that might supply them.

So in a world of abundance, allegedly, and with at least some cash to afford items at a reasonable price, it has become very hard often either to buy or to purchase exactly what I want.  These will come from “niche” suppliers usually in low cost locations with all the bother of delivery. 

Shops no longer routinely have a few of the less common or particular items for customers who are in a minority especially if it is a small minority.  In other words all this modern efficiency and high technology has done has to remove a great deal of real choice at the point of sale in physical terms. 

It means you have to take your chance with what might arrive in the post.  You can no longer look or handle at the shop.  Even the large shopping malls rarely have the range of small or middle range retailers or varied goods suppliers that was once common in most town centres.

Locally, it has meant that in our town centre the computer age means it is no longer possible to buy one there.  Indeed in the out of town facilities there are two retailers only, then side by side and with the chains both under the same ownership.  You get what you get and on their terms.

Long ago in the streets where I lived there was once a men’s clothing shop with a range of choice of essential items that announced “Why Go Up Town” over the window.  Now if you do go “up town” to the High Street and rest you still cannot find the range of choice that he offered just around the corner in an industrial area.

So much for progress and the consumer revolution; we are now substantially in the hands of the cartels and the monopolists. 

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Banking, Winning And Losing

Again; this is another trawl of the net to evade or avoid the major stories of the day which are commanding attention elsewhere.  The purpose of this is just to remind us all of what else is out there and continuing

Some of it is could be significant if it tells us what others are up to and thinking and what could be in store in the near future.

We know that there are many and various serious problems in the European Banking System which are going to take time and endless trouble to resolve.  It may be that the markets or another complex event series might do if for us, but in ways we do not want or like.

In Brussels however, and among its many supporters, and placemen, the real answer to all these troubles lies with the EU who would embrace and control the European banking network.  One way of persuading those who might not agree is to persuade them that they will be among the winners.

See the article below by Dirk Schoenmaker and Arjen Siegmann in Vox, not a long piece, but again the Conclusion is quoted.


A truly integrated European banking system with supervision and resolution at the European level fosters the stability of the Economic and Monetary Union. Our analysis suggests that the non-Eurozone countries can also benefit from the stability of the banking union.

It is interesting to note that the main non-Eurozone countries that do not wish to join the banking union for political reasons (i.e. the UK and Sweden) would be the largest beneficiaries from the banking union.

Not joining is very costly on the budgetary front. It would be very demanding for the Swedish government to bear the full cost of a possible recapitalisation of Nordea outside the banking union, while only 20% of the benefits accrue to Sweden.

Similarly, the recapitalisation of some of the large UK banks during the great financial crisis put a severe strain on the UK government budget. The UK and Sweden thus preserve the expensive right to do potential rescues of their banks on their own. Political calculus dominates economic calculus.

Within the Eurozone, Spain (with two large banks) and the Netherlands (with three large banks) are the winners of the banking union. To reap these benefits, the second stage of resolution needs to be completed as well. So far, heads of state have focused on the first stage of supervision.


They make it sound so easy, all we need is “integration”, haven’t we heard that one before?

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Should We Leave It In The Ground?

Leaving aside all the current big stories in the media and looking at the longer term, time is passing by and with it our chances of dealing with what needs to be dealt with.  Phil Mullan in the web site “spiked-online” dot com has a substantial two part piece about “Shale, The IT Bubble of the 21st Century”.

In short he argues that the radical change in the economic situation arising from the exploitation of shale oil and gas in the USA may result in “The great economic evasion”, that is that a wide range of fundamental problems may not be dealt with and the consequences only deferred.

It is a long read but an interesting one.  It could apply to the UK as well in the future and we should be aware, because North Sea Oil did the same to us in the recent past, as we know to our cost. 

His concluding paragraphs are as follows:


Given the four-decade track record of the elite in the US in evading addressing the seriousness of its economic challenge, the danger is that the shale energy boom becomes America’s version of the ‘resource curse’.

The belief that things are ‘on the mend’ takes the pressure off addressing the deeper economic challenges. Ironically, the fact that the US is genuinely experiencing an energy renaissance, which could continue for many years, might be a bigger problem than if it were a mirage that soon evaporates.

Just as Britain’s North Sea oil boom in the 1970s and 80s disguised how far the underlying British economy had sunk; so US shale energy could hide from view the pressing need to restructure radically America’s productive base.

Maybe partly influenced by his roots, South African Michael Edwardes, then the chief executive and chairman of Britain’s ailing motor giant, British Leyland, presciently but controversially spoke to the CBI Conference in 1980 about the dangers from Britain’s own resource boom:

‘If the [government] cabinet do not have the wit and imagination to reconcile our industrial needs with the fact of North Sea oil, they would do better to leave the bloody stuff in the ground.’

He was ignored, of course. North Sea oil came and went, and Britain continued its own economic decline.

The American elite could do with remembering that lesson and, instead of hoping for cheap energy to perform miracles on its own, develop the ‘wit and imagination’ to initiate the long overdue restructuring, renewal and revitalisation of the US economy.


Looking down the centuries there are more than enough examples of states who became wealthy and then failed to put in place economic and social arrangements that would outlast its supply. 

Once more it could be déjà vu all over again.

Monday 25 February 2013

The Leaders And The Led

Looking at the stories on the day, all is confusion, error and uncertainty.  One of the features of all the disruptions and stresses around the world are about where are we being led, who should lead and how. 

Our democracies seem to have lost the ability to choose leaders who are honest and know what they are about and the non-democracies, which do not offer choice seem to be no better governed, some are worse and many others rank bad.

The short item below was sent by a member of the family and sets out how easy it is to be saddled with a bad leader in whatever sphere you can think of:

By coincidence on the same day Zero Hedge had a long and discursive item on the subject of inequalities of income and wealth in the modern world.  This, it would appear is where our leaders have taken us and continue to do so:

Another longish item is from Sunday’s Rowans Blog again on his major theme derived from long personal experience.  In this case the closeness of politicians, bankers and the others has produced an exploitative and determined elite of leaders who are little concerned about the extensive damage they have done and are doing:

As an example of all this, today had a short post from The Enlightened Economist on the grip Comcast has on communications in the USA that has had the effect of putting it well down the table of comparisons about the capability and the cost of using the internet and related facilities.

Perhaps the ancient system of choosing the elders or leaders by the simple process of casting lots wasn’t such a bad idea.

The National Lottery could turn the selection of members of the government into an extra feature.  Say, tickets with a premium price of a fiver each?

As things are it could not be much worse.

Saturday 23 February 2013

Back To 1978

The downgrade of UK debt by Moody’s has been on the cards for a while now, so it is not a surprise to many.  How far the markets will twitch we shall see.  If they have been looking at the figures it may already have been priced in.  But we will see some action as the new game plays develop.

The media is saying that the last time such a downgrade happened was 1978 which is a year of many memories.  It was 1978 when Ipswich won the FA Cup at Wembley, beating Arsenal 1-0, the winning goal in a closely contested game of skill being scored by Roger Osborne.

George Osborne, our present Chancellor would have been coming up to his seventh birthday and may not have had a keen interest in the result.  I was there behind the goal but was quiet as it was the Arsenal spectators end.  The ticket had been passed onto me by someone who couldn’t make it. 

The year was one of three Popes, one, John Paul I, dying after only 33 days in the job.  This year will be one of two Popes at least.  The Vatican finances are still open to question.  In the USA Jimmy Carter was President during a time of inflation, recession and an energy crisis, in 1979 he bailed out the Chrysler Corporation.

Princess Margaret decided to have a divorce so the marital arrangements of the Royal Family were hitting the headlines.  Because it was an age before our instant communication facilities quite what was happening on her trip to Mustique was never clear, which perhaps was just as well.

At the BBC the state broadcaster dictated who were to be the celebrities and pop stars of the day, along with ITV.  Jimmy Savile was the Corporations figure head for both popular entertainment and as a guide to modern manners.  His word was almost law.

The Liberal-Labour Coalition of sorts which had lasted since 1974 was under strain.  The former Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe, was mired in court proceedings over unwise relationships and criminal allegations.  The new Liberal leader, David Steel had given notice that the Coalition would end at the election due in 1979.

The Labour Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan, who had brought in the IMF was trying to tell us that the old days of assuming the money would always be there had gone.  To deal with the effects of inflation, recession and the need to pay off the International Monetary Fund loans stringent measures were necessary.

But the Trade Unions were not having anything to do with an incomes policy nor with restraint in public spending.  A good deal of pain was felt in local government as the expansion and growth in spending that had occurred in the reorganisation of 1973 to 1974 had to be cut back. 

London, whose reorganisation had been earlier during the 1960’s had also become a big spending entity.  The Left Wing Militants in London and the industrial areas were firmly against any retrenchment and demanding more spending from a government that was finding it increasingly difficult to borrow.

Their models for the future were the communist governments in the Soviet Union although East Germany was taken as a shining example of how affairs should be managed for the benefit of all.  The communists did not need to bribe our militants.  If Moscow had created associations such as Patrons and Friends of the Lubyanka and The Gulags, the British left wing militants would have rushed to subscribe.

Amongst some of these were groups for whom extremism was good and terrorism often better.  Along with these hard line elements of one sort were others, strangely often allied whose individualism and belief in personal free for alls were regardless of any traditional ideas of morality or indeed the related risks.

The Conservative Opposition were still carrying a lot of the baggage and many of the people who had messed up with Edward Heath and others.  There were divided in a number of ways and now led by someone, Margaret Thatcher, who was regarded as not very good in terms of media relations or sorting out coherent policies.

Despite being as much to blame as the Coalition for the severe problems of 1978 they were managing to keep their vote and make some progress.  The 1979 election was one to be lost rather than one and The Winter of Discontent of 1978 into 1979 did for the Labour Party because of its divisions and loss of support amongst its traditional voters.

But there was one faint hope for whoever won the next election.  It was that North Sea oil and gas might just help to turn the tide and buy a few decades of prosperity.  The new and local source of energy would enable not a rebuilding but a period of real economic change and a move away from the past.

How different it all seems, 1978 from 2013, or perhaps how much the same.

Friday 22 February 2013

Eastleigh By Election Working Up Steam

Among the flurry of news today, the business of the Eastleigh By Election to elect a Member of Parliament in place of Chris Huhne next Thursday has been put on the back burner.  If there are other important matters in train for the next few days there is a risk we might forget about it altogether.

Whether the By Election will be a major event, or a minor event, or just something of a shambles is not clear.  The signs are not good.  There are fourteen candidates, none a clear favourite and anything could happen.

If it is similar to other such by elections we could have a reduced turn out of voters, who are unbalanced by age and a candidate elected without either a convincing share of the vote or any coherent policy.  That is if one of the major party candidates succeeds.

Around some of the media and blogosphere there is a hankering for a real upset, in that one of the “other” eleven beyond the Liberal Democrat, Labour or Conservatives will command enough votes to overturn all the assumptions that have been made.

The obvious one is UKIP as either a real shift in patterns or a protest vote.  But there is one that caught the eye, Colin Bex of the Wessex Regionalist Party.  Their web site is below:

If this one could put together enough votes to either disrupt the other parties or to make a strong point it could be interesting.  If they were actually to sneak enough votes to scrape a win where the other votes were scattered it would at least make a change.

Eastleigh once had a major railway works where some of the old Southern Railways, later Region’s finest steam locomotives were constructed.  Perhaps a success for the Regionalists might work up a head of steam for fundamental reforms.

Is it time to blow the whistle on the major parties?

Thursday 21 February 2013

The Jury Is Out

The failure of the jury at Southwark to come to a decision in the case of Vicky Price is causing some comment around the media.  What is interesting is what is not being said.  Also, interesting in terms of the composition of the jury is who wasn’t there or available for service.

For some time now the business of getting a jury together has become more complicated.  One reason is that so many people who might serve manage to avoid the job.  For anyone in a demanding job taking unpredictable time out can be costly in many ways.

The impression is that those who do serve are those unable to get out of it or for whom it is a better way of spending the time.  These are not the best motives for doing anything let alone sitting in judgement on your fellow men or women.

The quirkiness and unpredictability of juries down the ages is well known, as it their proneness to be impressed less by the evidence or the law than the personalities and the drama involved in the whole business.

The question of whether Hawley Harvey Crippen was innocent or not is a case that continues to rumble on.  It was a major media event at the time and the key to his conviction was the evidence of the later Sir, Bernard Spilsbury (see Wikipedia). 

This pathologist and forensic expert came to dominate many cases down the years and he had a formidable reputation.  This is now increasingly questioned.  In the Crippen case for example it is argued that the remains found in the property were not those of his wife, if female and may even have been male.

But if you were up as a defendant and against Spilsbury you were in deep trouble however good your advocates were.  Because of his reputation, certainty of manner and personal charisma, juries were inclined to believe whatever he said.  If defending counsel questioned his methodology it was almost heresy.

There have been many cases down the years where we now seriously doubt the verdicts, some in cases where the accused hanged.  Again, there were times when the defending counsel questioned police or associated expert evidence. 

This again was a form of heresy and too many judges took both expert and police evidence entirely on trust. In more recent decades it is notorious how difficult it has become to secure a conviction against major celebrities who errors of conduct are palpable but seen by a number of jurors to be acceptable despite evidence and the law.

The recent BBC shambles over Savile and the alleged long history of offences is cited as an example of how certain famous people can avoid action or charges because there is serious doubt whether a jury would convict such a prominent personality.

We do not know what happened in the jury room in the Pryce case.  But there is a basic problem and it has been for a long time, in that if there are jurors with fixed beliefs about human conduct then these will take priority over any ideas about what are facts, what is reasonable and what is evidence.

What astonishes me is that modern technology is now so well advanced that if a trial takes place that is inconclusive it is not difficult to have full transcripts of the trial available quickly.  In that case you may not need a second full court trial.

What might be done is to summon a new jury and let them have all the documentation plus basic guidance in terms of the summing up etc.  Also to hand might be independent advice on any questions arising.

An alternative might be to have such a procedure, but with a group of expert assessors to see if they can arrive at a decision consistent with the evidence.  Again this would be quicker and if properly conducted could serve to arrive at a quick answer and at far less cost.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Roaming In The Gloaming

This morning it was assumed that there was a subject on which to post and the link was tucked away ready to be put into text.  The item was to be a complaint that important matters were left out of consideration by the main media whilst other things of parallel importance were flogged to the bitter end.

But petrol was needed for the car first.  At the garage amongst the newspapers it was evident that the media were discussing this same subject.  A near miss, but it can happen.  The scratching about for another subject found that the one preferred had already been well covered as well.

Then it occurred to me that the subject of The Romanian Invasion might be good for a few words, but there was a problem.  The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg (rhymes with “beg”) announced that the government estimates could not be published because they were essentially “Guesstimates”.

So what’s new, I thought, wondering what that meant.  It may mean another horror story, or something that might just go away or wait for a busy news day.  The other problem with this is that on Saturday we paid money to be in a large room being sung at for two hours by two Romanian opera singers in the principal roles and others. 

They were very good indeed and fully deserved the rapt applause from a full house where not a seat was to spare.  However, on the way to the station it did not stop me side stepping the Romanian sellers of the “Big Issue”, the magazine for the unemployed, and failing to buy a copy.  There may just be a touch of the old double standards at work here.

The matter of the potential for numbers to come to the UK from Romania and Bulgaria is one that is causing debate.  But it would not the first time that Bulgarians were a key political issue.  In the General Election of 1880, William Gladstone in his Midlothian Campaign (see Wikipedia) made them central to his appeals to the electorate.

Then Bulgaria was a province of The Ottoman Empire, ruled over by Turks who did not take kindly to opposition and who took violent action to control them.  The Conservative Government supported the Ottoman’s as a buffer against Russia.  So to appeal for support for fellow Christians was a Liberal vote winner.

Given that at the time there was economic and financial stress, British agriculture was going into steady decline as a result of Liberal Free Trade, impoverishing the countryside and all the Imperial activity, South Africa, Afghanistan, Egypt and a few other places, the Bulgarian Atrocities was something to deflect attention.

In the photograph in the Wikipedia article, Gladstone is shown with members of the high elite of the time, The Rosebery’s, with inevitably one of the leading Rothschild’s in attendance, backing both sides as ever.  Not a lot really changes.

What may happen with the Bulgarians and Romanians is still an open question.  One man who could certainly advise the government is Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and the great grandson of Ali Kemal Bey (see Wikipedia), a Turk prominent in the affairs of the Ottoman Empire a few years later.

This one, like the opera, will run and run.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

When Singularities Become Serious

As a change from short items the link below is a longish and heavy duty post from “Don’t Shoot The Messenger” on Nouriel Roubini’s economonitor dot com site.

It is written by Edward Hugh and Claus Vistesen about Japan and its current economic situation which they judge is about to become more intricate and very difficult. 

They consider whether Japan is on the brink of a fundamental economic change that will inevitably impact seriously on both the international markets and economy.  The theoretical model is that of the effect of singularities in complex analysis.

The article suggests that Japan is not alone with these and related problems.  Reading the article there seem to be aspects that tell us a lot about the developing UK situation and the potential consequences.

As well as this, Japan is embroiled in a nasty row with China as to who has the territorial rights in areas of the South China Sea.  Oil and gas matters are involved as you might expect.  This could get rough and there are long memories of what happened between the late 1920’s to the 1950’s.

Japan is prone also to severe geophysical shocks as are parts of China.  These can be earthquake or volcano or severe weather events and can happen suddenly and with little warning.

One thing that will interest some is that apparently in Japan the old, of whom there are many and increasing in proportion have been largely stripped of their savings by the cheap money policies. 

This means imposing heavier taxes and increasing State burdens on the young to support the old in a declining economy in a shrinking world.

One way or another, this will not have a happy ending.

Monday 18 February 2013

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

The three links below give an outline sketch to the availability of tracking devices around for routine use.

You can add to these a lot of other things, one way or another.

This is one reason why we have reverted to paying cash whenever possible. 

The trouble is that our records will show abnormal withdrawals of cash which may encourage Whoever It Is to step up the surveillance.

At this stage I would like to declare that the reason for higher than average visits to the bathroom is the high fibre diet.

But Them Out There should already know that.

Friday 15 February 2013

Inflation, Pumping And Pimping The Figures

In another age the meteorite strike on Yekaterinburg might have been regarded as a more reliable omen, portent or prediction than most of our earthly calculations.  It is the place where the last Tsar of All The Russia’s was murdered with his family.

Given some of the features of the present Russian economy whilst it should be a robust and promising land of potential plenty there are enough bad things to worry about.  It may not be as stable or as rich as we think with the current scale of criminality and huge capital outflows.

Money out in one direction means money in somewhere else.  Places the money has gone into are many of the off shore locations linked to the City of London around which money has flowed generating putative wealth and the associated London property market. 

The Russian money flows are not the only ones swishing around the back offices of so many financial corporations there are others as well.  Many are to do with oil and major commodities, others official money made unofficial and necessarily large sums of criminal gains from a variety of sources.

Our much maligned bankers are mostly simply innocents at large, like the one time bookie’s runners that used to stand on street corners receiving bets and sometimes even paying out to the winners.  They just accepted the bits of paper with scrawled words with cash and quickly paid them in to the bookie’s. 

What happened then was beyond their understanding and that of few others, notably the punters..  New laws on gambling took the runners off the streets and their children and grand children were forced into menial financial services.

Our Office of National Statistics (ONS) in the UK is tasked with reducing all the economic activity as money flows together will other recorded transmissions.  This, along with many other things, is turned into to some sort of rational collection of figures that is said to tell us what it all might mean. 

Fine minds struggle with the nature of date and its gathering to reduce it all to figures that are easy enough for the media and government to understand.  They make great efforts to tell us what they think.  The devil lurking in the detail is what is known to some as “garbage in garbage out”.

This is nowhere more evident that all the tales told, spin, explanations, calculations etc. on the subject of “Inflation”.  In this we should not forget “Deflation” nor all those contingent sets of figures that support or are necessary to what is defined as this or that.

“Alice In Wonderland” tells us that the more deeply you look into something then the more complicated, unstable and unpredictable it becomes.  The Treasury becomes The Red Queen, the Prime Minister the Mad Hatter and the Chancellor of the Exchequer the Dormouse.  The Governor of the Bank of England is, of course, the Cheshire Cat.

It was considered trying in this item to explain all the necessary complexities of statistics, the gathering of data, the problems of reducing the recent past to sets of figures and the many and various pitfalls of analysing all this to give a reliable picture of the present or the immediate past.

This would be too much for a basic post.  The great issue in reducing the financial economy to a small set of guideline figures is who they are intended for and for what purpose.  If it a government then it is subject to politics and in turn what this is subject to. 

One problem immediately is that the figures should fit the images to be presented and to match up with both conventional wisdom and the expectations of the past. 
If there are complications and some reduction is required this can be forced in one direction or another.

Today, however, this means in the whirlwinds of economic activity which no government can control or hope to control this can mean that the attempt to reduce facts to explanation and target settings can result in convenient fictions set in a framework of conventional thinking.

This is where we are in terms of what we think “Inflation” is at present because of the limitations and restrictions on the content and analysis of the present constituent elements in the relevant indices.  There is a lot out of the figures that bear on the realities of the functioning of the economy.

Quite simply, there are a number of areas of the economy where the UK has had gross inflation in the last decade or more.  In some areas prices have fallen, or at least have not relatively risen much.  There are the cases, notably with technical goods where you get more for your money. 

But the figures are loaded to not take account of many of the rapidly rising elements where costs, prices and charges have risen sharply and there are a lot of them that affect very many people.  These are often the same ones who have taken the bad hits on incomes.

Sooner or later all the fiat, funny and solely financial money was going to begin to impact on the more general economy and then bear on the indices.  These will be slow to respond at first, but if history is a guide upward movement will happen very quickly and in unexpected fields and maybe impossible to control or check.

We are all making bets but the winners will be few and far between and even for those the reality may be that the bookie’s have done a runner with the money.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Blinded By Science

In all the several rows about the meat supply, where it comes from and what it is there are calls for better regulation and the application of advanced scientific techniques to restore confidence.

This, of course, depends on what the scientists are asked to do, who pays them and who are those critical to their career progress.

At present, there is a great deal of disquiet about what is published and what is not as well as the standards of science employed.  In the West governments are mostly in thrall to the big firms with large scale lobbying impacting on decisions.

In the UK, most of the science is governed by the companies who commission it and a government that insists on commercial benefit as a criterion of funding.

In the news it seems that the Aintree Racecourse by Liverpool, home to the Grand National Steeplechase, has a contract with an abattoir that specialises in horsemeat.

This might explain why the supermarkets are busy "mending fences".

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Calling Time On Company Law

When something becomes very large, far more complicated in form and goes well beyond local or even national governance then instead of being beneficial then it might begin to do the opposite with many unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences.

This kind of statement could apply to many and various things at present in the public mind, under scrutiny, causing controversy and where many people think that what has happened or is going on should not have done.

My latest suggestion on matters like this has been sparked by an item in Nick Shaxon’s web site Treasure Islands dot org on Monday 11th February where he refers to Professor Prem Sikka’s article “UK Banking Reform Bill Won’t Curb Reckless Risk Taking” on the theconversation dot edu dot au web site.

Briefly, he suggests that given the way investment banking operates at the present time perhaps the only effective check may be to require Unlimited Liability for this type of financial organisation.  This arises from the way that those responsible for the losses entailed seem to lose little leaving others to pay.

For a while now the thought has been in my mind that the business basis of Limited Liability for shareholders has gone past its effective usefulness and the way it is employed as a device for fraud and malpractice and the distortions are now both damaging and potentially destructive. 

There may be some scope to retain it for a small number of very specific purposes but as a general facility for the conduct of business it has become hopelessly compromised.  The history of Limited Liability is a long and complicated one but there is a short Wikipedia article that gives a summary.

This is not just a matter of banking.  Looking around it occurs at all levels.  It would take a book to attempt to deal with this, or at least a long learned article that casts its net widely.  But what is essential is that while it does serve some as it is supposed to, this is now increasingly a minority element in a dangerous world.

Part of the problem has been how easy it has become to form companies in many places, how they are interwoven and how monies and liabilities are shifted to avoid scrutiny, regulation, tax  or where the activity is illegal, the force of law.

There is a huge amount of information now out there on the web about the large scale problems and the never ending stories of scandals, frauds and manipulation tell us how much has been and is badly wrong in so many sectors from mortgages to meat.

At lower levels, it is all too often that amongst the professions and supposed service sectors there is a lot of activity that enables bad service at too high a price without much in the way of protection for the individual and customer.

Even at the lowest levels the misuse of limited liability can be astonishing.  Companies House has registered hundreds of thousands of companies and a turnover that is increasing.  Many never submit accounts, many are struck off, many are simply devices for both illegal and dishonest activity. 

Yet almost none are investigated.  In many sectors if you look at who owns the shares and for what purpose it is increasingly rarely the ordinary single person and the norm is other companies or agencies looking to pure financial gain without bothering much about true accounting or the rules.

It is time now to recast our ideas about shares, company ownership, and the way it is may be working for some but not for either the many or society in general.

In its present form and in reality largely beyond regulation or the law it is time for Limited Liability to go and be replaced by a better and more transparent system.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

But One Receiveth The Prize

Over the weekend our media has been in a tizzy about the BAFTA Awards,  The recent change of date for the BAFTA’s it is said has allowed it to gain a greater prominence, partly as a precursor to the Hollywood Oscars.  At the same time there have been the Grammies to excite us.

The BAFTA’s took place at Covent Garden at the Royal Opera House.  We can confidently claim to have washed our hands in the same basins as the stars, assuming that they do wash their hands.  As for the other facilities, it would be wrong to be bogged down in details.

A few months ago we had The Olympics, this is essentially another means for people to win awards, although on a different basis, unlike some media and arts awards there are many competing but few succeeding.  Between sports, the arts, literature and the rest our lives are awash with awards of one sort or another.

One of the major objectives of many, if not most, governments is to host a major sporting or other occasion and in the modern media world any group of potential prize or award winners can guarantee to have political leaders and heads of state anxious to make their acquaintance.

When any such thing is envisaged; whatever the state of the economy or the crises unfolding they have an imperative that transcends any other consideration.  For a choice example of this see the way the Winter Olympics of 2014 is being dealt with in Russia.

This brings me to the conclusion that the social and economic theories we have inherited from the past are essentially wrong.  We have been trying to rationalise and make sense of behaviour and impulses as grand designs on which to base our government and social behaviour.

In fact all it has been about is the winning of awards, prizes, praise and public adulation for whatever has been won, and by definition lost, in the great games of life. 

As the Earl of Birkenhead, formerly F.E. Smith put it in his Rectorial Address to Glasgow University in 1923 “The world continues to offer glittering prizes to those who have stout hearts and sharp swords.”

If it is the case that are economies and societies are based essentially on striving for and winning awards perhaps there should be a fundamental reshaping of policy to set out for the UK to become the international leader in this field.  Given our history in relation to this kind of thing it could be ours for the taking.

To begin with our honours systems and the structure of the peerage and gentry; there are possibly rich treasures to be found by exploiting these to the full.  A little tinkering, a few readjustments and a sensitive number of innovations and we could have the world’s rich and mighty forking out their billions for recognition.

At the lower levels we could institute facilities for the provision of honours, perhaps allowing trading in strictly regulated way.  Supporting all this, we should seek to construct and to monopolise systems and methods for awards and prizes across a wide field of modern activities.

Internally, this could be applied to many and various forms of community awards, using them as templates for equivalents that might be marketed elsewhere.  If financial incentives were made available through the UK’s network of tax beneficial off offshore territories it would create large inflows of capital.

If the government could persuade the Foreign Office etc. and Department of Culture, Media and Sport to come up to the mark there could be powerful central impetus given to a policy of creating UK power in the awards and honours fields, almost a Second British Empire.

We have much of our financial activity already built around the bonus culture and the biggest numbers.  Essentially, much of our management is centred on winning and losing in the shape of target setting and awarding what is defined as success.  Inevitably there are losers, but that arises from necessity.

Translating all these into a thorough going policy for the future would be a great deal easier and more readily achieved than all the plans for capital and other spending current.  It would be more easily measured and administered and would be and would be a self fulfilling control system to which we would all be bound.

The UK is already half way there in many respects; can it grasp all the prizes to be had?  Imagine, a 365 and 24/7 Awards Economy?  Do I get an award for suggesting it?  

Say one named after John Arthur Maundy Gregory (see Wikipedia)?

Sunday 10 February 2013

Marriage, An Unholy Muddle

Perhaps this is not the best place to discuss marriage, having had only one ceremony and that over five decades ago in another world.  It was a village Church ceremony, to avoid the need for conveyances and a journey into town for the Registrar.  It was the second of the day and almost closer in time never mind in form to the one pictured above. 

This enabled our congregation to enjoy the splendid flower arrangements made for the previous couple.  They wished to get it over early as they were off to an exotic location in Devon by first class rail, we were headed for somewhere closer and less costly.  Begin as you mean to go on.

In those days, despite all the assiduous romantic propaganda of the media of the time, as well as writers and necessarily the commercial interests involved it was common for people marrying to have a strong practical outlook on the business.  But time has moved on.

The essential problem in all the recent howling and raging in Parliament and the media is words and their meanings.  Clearly, what people see as marriage and the purpose of it differs between groups and too often there is a lack of clear understanding of what it means, never mind the history.

The original intention was to try to give a longish outline about what marriage has been and what it meant down the ages in the various elements of our society and how it worked in practice.  This would have taken a full scale essay so the point is made simply that the past may not have been what we think or assume from much of what we read in books.

The detail matters and having trawled around a very large number of families of all classes and different faiths, later census returns and the rest and with both social and economic structures in mind of the periods in question, the past is not what it is claimed to be and we should not assume too much from it.

What is striking and this has been mentioned before is that there two distinct elements, that relating to law and that to religion.  To be certain in law there had to be a contract or settlement, signed, sealed and delivered.  Then to fulfil the higher purpose and sanctity there was a religious ceremony. 

Unluckily, given ordinary human frailties, there was a lot went wrong which led eventually to State intervention with rules and regulation to ensure State law was complied with and to provide a common structure. 

All this proceeded on the basic assumption that “marriage” was between an adult male and an adult female and was likely to involve producing children.  As well as social laws bearing on this a great deal of probate law related to it as well.

Those concerned still had to proceed with care.  Once you were in you were in and it was made hard to get out.  If you had other arrangements then you were not covered in law or by the state.  During the 20th Century all this began to change.

By definition this form of “marriage” was restricted and then never intended to apply to other types of partnership or personal arrangements of any kind.  There might be some of these where those concerned regarded themselves as good as married for practical purposes but they were still outside its scope and legal applications.

What has now happened is that we have a muddled set of compromises where “marriage” now legally assumes that it is the ceremony that matters in defining arrangements that are normally sexually based no matter who is involved.

The effect of this has been further discrimination in that all the other pairings of people living together, for whatever reason and in whatever form, are excluded from the legal benefits and advantages allowed to legal marriage, however socially useful or personally beneficial they are to the people involved.

To raise the question of “care in the community”, we have the strange situation that if this kind of care is carried out by State or private agencies there are ways and means of supporting it.  But if two relatives or friends come together for some form of support they can be excluded and in fact discriminated against at the present time.

Essentially, this is a complete nonsense.  What is needed if “marriage” is no longer confined to the earlier form of male plus female life or long term co-habitation or partnership is a wholly new basis of contract.  This would allow all forms of these to be State registered and acknowledged as part of our essential social and contractual personal arrangements.

So what is needed is something like a Mutual Arrangement Long Term (MALT) that adheres to an agreed form and meets certain simple but defined criteria.  A MALT might be a life contract or for a set period or related to set circumstances.

This can be between anyone, including all those adult categories at present excluded from marriage.  It would have particular advantages where care might be needed or in many small business arrangements. 

A traditional form of ceremony might be an additional extra option.  The basic duty of the Registrar would be to make sure the MALT was correct and the people involved knew what they were signing up for.  If a complicated contract was involved then legal advice should be involved.

As for religion, if a pairing was consistent with whatever faith group, denomination, religion, chapel, church or meeting hall they might belong to, that would be entirely up to those involved in relation to the ceremony to be held.  If such a group had its own definitions as to what “marriage” might be that is up to them.

Now, to check the diary, the anniversary must be soon.  This year we hope to be at a performance of “Alice In Wonderland”. 

At least it will have more logic than what is going on in Parliament.