Left Outside

Stiff upper lip chaps!

It could be worse, couldn’t it?

Oh, no sorry, my bad. In fact, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Filed under: Economics, Politics, , , ,

Sortition

Replace the House of Lords with a massive jury with a universal ballot (with an opt out) for all people on the electoral role.

People, at random, telling politicians they are talking crap. Sign me up.

Filed under: Politics

Austerity…

… is more than spending cuts. Contra Alex here discussing the spending of the US and UK state.

Government spending puts money and demand into people’s pockets; tax takes demand out. With regard to spending versus taxes, Adam Posen, for it is he, estimated that the US fiscal stance has contributed about 3 percent mroe to GDP growth compared to the UK’s fiscal stance. Posen’s techniques and figures are entirely uncontroversial.

This is in large part because the coalition decided a large VAT increase would be the best way to close the deficit despite lots of evidence on how damaging tax increases were during downturns.

Government may continue to buy boondoggles for people, if that’s how you want to look at it, but the Government has acted in an austere manner from a macroeconomic perspective.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, , , , ,

Living on a Dollar a Day Swindon Style.

A friend of mine has started blogging at I’m Goin’ Hungry about her attempt to feed herself on a pound a day for five days.

As part of Living Below the Line, Caroline Napier will be raising money for Christian Aid, but there are loads of other charities and NGOs supporting this campaign (see bel0w).

Caroline won’t be shitting in a mud hole, walking miles for dirty water and will know where her food is coming from. But she will be working in an office while doing this, and nobody in absolute poverty has to put up with that sort of monotony, so we’ll call it a tie with regard to the non-food budget elements of poverty.

I jest, but only because the horror of absolute poverty is so far removed from day to day life. Any steps an individual can take to bring poverty to people’s attention are a step towards eliminating it.

So give her your money, or sign up yourself and follow her blog [rss]. Also, look out for her in Swindon’s local papers and radio.

PS  Owen Barder is good on development, the IMF’s official blog is a bit dry, but covers a lot of ground and the Guardian’s Global Developmetn is a bit more case study orientated but also covers a great deal. All good places to start with some good blogrolls to browse round.

Christian Aid UK Malaria No More UK Restless Development UK Results UK Salvation Army UK UNICEF UK  Article 25 ChildHope Giving Africa Global Poverty Project Health Poverty Action International Service Leaders' Quest MADE in Europe  Mike Campbell Foundation  Peace Direct  Positive Women S.A.F.E.SCI Skillshare Think Global VSO

Filed under: Foreign Affairs, Society, , , , , ,

Paging Adam Posen

Look Adam, we have had high inflation, but we’ve also had low (and negative) growth, nominal expenditures just aren’t accelerating in a dangerous way. The UK’s real GDP is a long way from peak because its nominal GDP is a long way from peak, and your job is to take charge of nominal GDP.

So please restate your commitment to a more expansionary monetary policy or we’re all screwed.

Signed,

Everyone.

Filed under: Economics, , , ,

Drought

We’re in one.

Foreigners, welcome to England.

Filed under: Society, ,

Sucky Economy Still Sucky

Just in case any of you thought things were going well, they officially aren’t. Double dip recession over 2011 Q4 and 2012 Q1.

Oh, and with any sub 0.2% GDP growth, we’re actually getting poorer as the population grows.

Can we sack them yet?

Filed under: Economics

In Defence of Secular Morality

I posit that if a person is offered a credible chance of either eternal joy or eternal torment and they choose to act in a way which they think guarantees eternal joy they have not acted morally.

That statement is in danger of begging the question, that morality is in part defined by making a sacrifice. But I think the idea that morality incurs a cost is inherent to it. Otherwise a moral code wouldn’t be required.

This, for me, places my rather self indulgent, but basically decent, behaviour on a higher plateau morally than do gooding religionists. Many of them probably make the word a better place in terms of utility, think Sally Army Soup Kitchens, than I do, but these may be swamped by those for whom religion commands them to be cruel.

Even if you ignore utility my good behaviour is more moral than that of the saintly, because they have rewards in huge excess of their behaviour. The only reward for I receive for my behaviour to me is the behaviour itself.

As a irreligious hedonist, an argument for secular morality is important to me. I feel that doing something should be determined by whether doing that something is morally right. That seems a fairly uniquely human worry, but I have to admit that I’ve never seen any advantage in theist answers to this question. Leave aside the dodgy provenance of the Torah, Bible, Koran etc. [1], I think theistic moralisers have a deeper problem.

Karl and others have been discussing secular morality, with Ross Douthat denying it can make any strong moral claims at all and Karl himself saying…

…a coherent secular morality is a tricky problem in and of itself. One that makes absolute claims even more so, and one that makes absolute claims absolutely seems well beyond our grasp. And, I say this as a secularist who is very much concerned with ethics or what, to make the point, I have often been forced to call the-ethics-game…

Intending no disrespect to the underlying issue, the argument seems to devolve into “na-na na-na boo-boo.” Which is to say, simply refusing to accept the denial as valid.

Karl doubles down in a later post saying that Daniel Keuhn pro-pluralist defence of secular morality isn’t anything more than a weak affirmation that “some things are just wrong.” Saying “some things are just wrong” does not pass muster logically.

My primary defence of secular morality would be that only a non-theist morality can really counts as morality at all. Theist morality  is just cost/benefit analysis with better PR.

____

[1] Abrahamicentrism alert. Sue me, I’ve not much knowledge of eastern [2] religions other than they are mental, at least as mental as our own.

[2] Eurocentricism too.

Filed under: Politics

Don’t let idiots run things

Is the Argentine government good at running things? Not really. Then it is probably a bad for them to run things.

Filed under: History, Politics, , , ,

Who’s responsible? You fucking are!

I see the press are doing their best to make mass murder look like an even better way of getting publicity than a contract with Saatchi and Saatchi.

Filed under: Politics, Society, The Media

The Eurozone as a Country

I think this data from WolframAlpha is worth thinking about with reference to thinking about the Eurozone as a country.

1 | Luxembourg | $107000 per person per year
2 | Netherlands | $48300 per person per year
3 | Ireland | $47600 per person per year
4 | Austria | $45900 per person per year
5 | Belgium | $43800 per person per year
6 | Finland | $43700 per person per year
7 | Germany | $41500 per person per year
8 | France | $41200 per person per year
9 | Italy | $35100 per person per year
10 | Spain | $32400 per person per year
11 | Greece | $29400 per person per year
12 | Cyprus | $28300 per person per year
13 | Slovenia | $24300 per person per year
14 | Portugal | $21700 per person per year
15 | Malta | $20300 per person per year
16 | Slovakia | $18200 per person per year
17 | Estonia | $14400 per person per year

Some thoughts. The most successful currency union I can think of is the United States. The Eurozone is very different from the US is some very important ways normally the negative are emphasised, but some of these differences are positive.

Potted History: The South and the North had different institutions up to the 1960s, what with the South being very, very racist. Unsurprisingly this left the South much poorer. After much brouhaha, the North won, finally completed the South’s reconstruction and the South began to converge on the living standards of the North. The South went from about half as wealthy, they were even still picking about half their cotton by hand, to about as wealthy. There is about a three to one difference between the poorest parts of Europe and the richest (ignore Luxembourg). That convergence took basically the whole history of the United States until very recently, this does not bode well for Europe, disparities can exist for a very long time.

But, despite larger inequality with respect to income, nowhere in the Eurozone is as much of a basket case as was the US South in terms of institutions. This means that it should see faster convergence on wealthy living standards which is one thing which makes the current crisis such a tragedy. There are no fiscal transfers within the Eurozone analogous to those within the US but neither does Europe have the terrible legacy the poorer parts of the US had. So there are (limited) reasons to be cheerful.

UPDATE: As Innocent Bystander points out in the topics, I’ve just provided a list of numbers without context. As you’re all not psychic let me say they refer to Gross Domestic Product Per Capita.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, History, , , , , , , , , ,

The Tories at least used to be competent

Why couldn’t it have been this lot to have taken on the miners? Scargill would have eaten them for breakfast. Mind you, the Argies would have as well.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, ordered the rearrest and deportation of the extremist cleric on Tuesday morning, believing a time limit in which his lawyers could appeal against his removal had elapsed.

But yesterday, to the surprise of the Government, officials at the European Court of Human Rights said the deadline was 24 hours later and that it had received an appeal application from Mr Qatada’s legal team with an hour to spare.

As the situation descended into chaos on the eve of a government-hosted conference in Brighton to reform European human rights laws, the Home Office was accused by Labour of potentially acting illegally by starting the deportation process apparently before the deadline had passed.

Filed under: History, Politics, , ,

Bad News

You know what I was saying yesterday about the Bank of England losing its nerve?

The minutes to the latest Bank of England meeting are out and the big news is that Adam Posen — a well-known dovish member of the board and frequent add advocate of more easing — does not currently support more QE.

The pound just instantly skyrocketed.

chart

Eep. Higher pound, tighter policy. Scarily the Bank didn’t even need to change interest rates to tighten policy, somebody just stopped saying something.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, , , ,

Good news

A former Libyan dissident who was abducted and flown to one of Muammar Gaddafi’s prisons in a so-called rendition operation mounted with the help of MI6 has started legal proceedings against Jack Straw, who was British foreign secretary at the time.

Finally!

Filed under: Foreign Affairs, Politics, , ,

Tom Bursnall, today’s new Worst Person in the World

Via @ByrneToff, we have an ex-Chairman of Conservative Future, ex-Conservative Party Councillor and future UKIP apparatchik who thinks people on unemployment benefits shouldn’t be able to vote.

He’s being so intensely shitty that I think I’ll do him the honour of promoting him above the entire cadre of the heartless US prison service and make him April 17th’s worst person in the world.

Tim, he’s one of yours, a UKIPer, and you really should do the honours, but I can’t help it. Mr Pro-Capitalist, pay attention this is important:

The primary goal of British political evolution has been resistance to arbitrary rule. Starting with Magna Carta the Baron’s received protection from the King, but this protection had roots going back in theory to the Norman Conquest. Many of these privileges were extended and universalised through the Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights in the seventeenth century. Later, when elites tried to use the courts to enrich themselves by seizing land these rights were reinforced by popular resistance to the Black Act by protest and in the courts. These rights were hard won, and hard fought for.

Once again, through the nineteenth century these rights and protections, chief among them the right to vote, were reinforced again  and again by Great Reform Acts, perhaps finally the Suffragettes completed this process in 1928, by getting political rights extended to all, so that everyone could protect themselves from arbitrary rule…Jesus, about a thousand years of history on one theme you seemed to have missed… politics is there to keep people safe from arbitrary rule.

To you Tom, Government may be all about redistribution, but hating poor people has completely blinded you to the main purpose of politics, protecting people from autocrats like you. What is more arbitrary than taking the vote away from people at their most vulnerable? I’m not sure I can think of one, it certainly goes against a thousand years of British history.

I’ll tell you something funny. How you’ll laugh Tom.

You are a member of UKIP, a party whose raison d’etre, if you’ll excuse my filthy French, is to maintain the hard won freedoms of one thousand years of British history from preening, authoritarians…that is…to protect this country from…

…you.

UPDATE: I’m not the only one to notice it seems.

Filed under: History, , , , ,

Inflation trends upwards

After abating in the first quarter of the year inflation has edged up to 3.5%.

Inflation was pushed up by increases in the cost of clothing and food. The uptick in inflation has been imported, but with it I worry  came a dose of timidity for the Bank of England. The Bank  has remained tolerant of inflation but has suffered because of it. I’m known for my dovishness about inflation and these numbers do little to change that.

More domestic demand, even if it results in a little more inflation is just what we need in a depressed economy. But these inflation numbers appear to be little influenced by changes in domestic demand and much of these price increases have been imported. This means they may lead us to be poorer in two ways, one direct, one indirect. Higher import costs are like a supply shock, we really are poorer because of it. The indirect effect is that higher costs still look like the Bank of England is stimulating the economy too much and can lead to the bank doing to little or being actively counterproductive. This is the problem with a central bank targeting inflation. It can be a very, very bad idea as we saw in Europe in mid-2008.

Sometimes inflation increases because that is what getting poorer looks like, things get more expensive. A monomaniacal inflation targeting central bank, for example the ECB under the impeccable Trichet, will take this sort of inflation number as a sign that the economy is overheating, that we are not getting poorer but getting rich too quickly and will act to reduce inflation, usually by throwing lots of people into unemployment. Sometimes by throwing a whole continent into chaos (slow hand clap for Trichet).

Today’s inflation numbers mean nothing in isolation. They are provisional, subject to revision and they refer to an arbitrary length of time with little macroeconomic importance. Nevertheless  they have the power, if they become politically salient, to influence the actions of the Bank of England. These numbers already signal we’re all a little poorer, were the Bank to start to tighten policy today’s numbers could help make us all poorer all over again.

Filed under: Economics, , , ,

Behold, Justice!

They have spent 23 hours of every one of the past 14,610 days locked in their single-occupancy 9ft-by-6ft cells. Each cell, Amnesty International records, has a toilet, a mattress, sheets, a blanket, pillow and a small bench attached to the wall. Their contact with the world outside the windowless room is limited to the occasional visit and telephone call, “exercise” three times a week in a caged concrete yard, and letters that are opened and read by prison guards.

America’s prison service, today’s worst people in the world.

In fact, most days worst people in the world. This kind of casual denial of humanity reminds me of this story from a few months ago.

Is the US the only country where more men are raped than women?

That’s the claim in this n+1 piece, which is well worth a read.

In January, prodded in part by outrage over a series of articles in the New York Review of Books, the Justice Department finally released an estimate of the prevalence of sexual abuse in penitentiaries. The reliance on filed complaints appeared to understate the problem. For 2008, for example, the government had previously tallied 935 confirmed instances of sexual abuse. After asking around, and performing some calculations, the Justice Department came up with a new number: 216,000. That’s 216,000 victims, not instances. These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.

Filed under: Foreign Affairs, , , ,

The Government we deserve?

Well.  Is there a point here?  I guess there is, and it’s this – next time we find ourselves wondering how a nation of nice, congenial citizens such as the United Kingdom can elect a series of vicious, contemptuous, mean-as-fuck governments like the ones we’ve had this last three decades, maybe we should re-evaluate our assumptions.

If our governments are vicious and contemptuous, delighting in cracking down on and exploiting our weaknesses then just maybe, they’re a reflection of ourselves.

Hey, if that’s the case, that would mean that we’d deserve to be ruled by mean-as-fuck snobs who hate our guts.

Now, isn’t that a thought?

More here from the ever excellent Flying Rodent.

Filed under: Blogging

You can be a well cultured despot you know

Noah and Scott‘s argument about China’s culture is going nowhere. They’ve got bogged down talking about whether culture affects economic potential or not. Long story short, of course it does! Consider these two examples:

Chinese expats around south-east Asia seem more entrepreneurial and they sure as hell are richer than the locals in places like the Malay Peninsula and Thailand. Less fortunately, Black Africans are less trusting than other people and this is just one reason economic growth is more difficult there. Without being able to trust that someone will take your money, disappear into another room and come back with what you want there can be no Argos. And where would you be without Argos? A lot poorer. [1]

The reasons for these cultural traits are complex. I don’t know the Chinese, but Africa’s level of trust appears to still be badly effected by the long defunct institution of slavery; kidnapping was very common for 200 years or so in a way which the rest of the world hasn’t had to deal with. You can be culturally more entrepreneurial. Likewise, you can culturally more or less prone to trust strangers. Both of these have real effects for lots of things, including economics. There, cleared that one up for you.

But whether culture affects wealth given a certain set of economic institutions is irrelevant. What is important is whether culture can influence China’s institutions. China is still deep in the throws of catch up growth, entrepreneurship is of course very important, but not nearly as important as having institutions which allow for the full execution of whatever entrepreneurship occurs. As I said earlier:

No amount of “pragmatism” will make a self-interested elite step aside, the pragmatic thing to do is to expropriate assets and imprison your enemies: to shut down economic activity you’re not involved and to erect barricade between the population and your clients…

Until now, Chinese elites have not been threatened by creative destruction they have been able to harness it to embellish their own power, wealth and status. The true test of Chinese growth will come when China’s central planning runs out of steam and urban elites and rural poor separate from the CCP begin to erode its power, then we will see whether elites will be forced to do what is right.

The only way China’s culture will significantly influence its long run - at least until it reaches say half of rich world income per capita) – growth prospects is by influencing its institutions. An entrepreneurial culture, or pragmatic culture, is completely unrelated to whether China adopts a growth friendly political framework over the next five to ten years. What matters is whether the politically powerful can be convinced/forced to become economic losers. Look at those guys at the top. Do you think they’re culturally inclined to agree to that?

____

[1] Not sure if that translates to my non-British readers. Argos is a shop with a tiny shop front full of catalogues and a big warehouse full of stuff. You order at the front and stuff appears a few minutes later from the back. The flippancy of my reference is of course a little ruined by this extensive footnote.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, History, Politics, , , , , ,

Victorian Lolcats

Awww, via, from the 1870s. I’m in the British Library as we speak. History rocks.

There are more here.

Filed under: Blogging,

When NGDP is Depressed, Employment is Depressed

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