Killing people, like many other crimes, is okay if you are part of the establishment.
PC Simon Harwood has been cleared of the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson, the innocent man he pushed in the back to the floor.
July 19, 2012 • 7:24 pm 0
Killing people, like many other crimes, is okay if you are part of the establishment.
PC Simon Harwood has been cleared of the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson, the innocent man he pushed in the back to the floor.
July 17, 2012 • 8:25 pm 0
I think additives and chemicals in food get a bad name. Everything is a chemical after all.
Which looks more dangerous C6H12O6 or C5H9NO4? I don’t know if you’re familiar with chemical notation so I’ll tell you what each letter means. C is for carbon, H is for Hydrogen, O is for Oxygen and N is for Nitrogen, the numbers refer to the number of atoms present in a molecule.
The first is sugar and the second glutamate and I can tell you there isn’t really anything dangerous about either from a chemists point of view. In fact, naturally occurring glutamate occurs in some of our most yummy foods, from 1200 mg per 100g of Parmesan to 22mg per 100g of breast milk! So think again before turning your nose up at MSG.
Oh yeah, and the chilli was delicious, which seals the deal for me.
July 13, 2012 • 12:17 am 0
When poor people all commit poor people crimes at the same times we punish them harshly. See the riots last summer. When lots of rich people commit rich people crimes at the same time, they expect to get away with it.
I feel this cannot be pointed out enough.
The other thing I feel that has been ignored is that as soon as law enforcement turned up properly the poor people all stopped rioting. When law and order arrives for the rich they all make excuses and continue as before.
July 5, 2012 • 12:11 am 8
As far is my understanding, there were two periods of Libor fixing at Barclay and elsewhere; one prior to 2008 which involved manipulating Libor to boost trading profits indirectly and a second after 2008 where they manipulated Libor to prevent themselves going under.
First of all, disclaimer for Barclays, “they” were all at it, Barclays were just the most thorough in their investigations and the quickest in settling with various regulators. Bob Diamond’s ire is somewhat justified for that.
What Bob Diamond is not justified in doing is conflating the two sorts of Libor fixes in which banks were involved. Briefly, Libor is the London interbank offered rate, this is the average rate at which banks think they will be able to borrow large amounts of money from each other. An individual bank reporting a high Libor individually will raise doubts about its solvency. Trillions of pounds of financial products us the Libor rate as a benchmark rate for their pricing. Manipulating it even a tiny fraction hence has potentially huge ramifications.
As always in banking you have to pay attention. Prior to 2008, in the boom years, Barclays would very occasionally over-reported the rate at which they expected to be able to borrow, so it would push up the profits of their trading division. After 2008 Barclays under-reported the rate at which they expected to be able to borrow because it could have caused them to collapse.
After 2008 banks stopped lending to one another and Libor rates became a little esoteric, it was “the rate at which banks did not lend to each other.” In this period risk was mispriced but with the purpose of helping Barclays and the whole global financial system survive. This I feel is much more acceptable, and even regulatory forbearance of this fraud may be worthwhile given how damaging financial crises are.
What occurred before 2008 however was just awful. But what has to be clear is that this isn’t down to individuals, when you have simultaneous actions across a system you should blame the system. But before 2008 it was out and out fraud and there should be criminal proceedings. After all, we live in a country where you can go to jail for stealing £3.50 worth of water.
In both cases a transfer was involved because risk was being mispriced, but after 2008 there was some public policy justification for doing so. Bob Diamond appears to be using this justification to defend the earlier practices and that I am unimpressed by.
This isn’t a case of bad apples – they were all doing it. The banking culture and system is broken and recruits for and promotes slightly psychopathic tendencies, we shouldn’t act surprised. But angry, I think acting angry is justified.
June 19, 2012 • 10:11 pm 0
Thank you for you letter.
Even though I am no longer your constituent it is nice of you to continue to write to me. Almost exactly two years ago I wrote to you about Refugee and Migrant Justice. I am pleased to know you are still interested in immigration.
I must admit, I was a little, confused by the content of your letter. When I wrote to you I was asking for funding reform for a charity that your government was starving of funds. There were more than 10,000 asylum seekers who could have been affected. They would have effectively been cut off from legal help in navigating the thicket that is UK immigration law. Last year they were abandoned as Refugee and Migrant Justice closed its doors.
Your letter boasts of how mean you have been to immigrants. Shurely shome mishtake?
I once thought of you as a competent Tory, something in short supply, but it turns out I may have been wrong. It is of course very efficient of you to have a list dedicated to people with “concerns” about immigrations. I do find it slightly amazing you don’t have a separate list for people whose “concerns” regard the conduct of your government.
Turing to your letter, your first point about capping the numbers of non-EU workers allowed to enter the UK interested me a lot. I am happy to see you are proud the Tories have generated such an anaemic recovery that nobody wants to live here. I still do, just, but your letter is certainly giving me pause to consider that too.
Allow me to thank you for letting me know you have “reformed the student visa system.” It is good to know who to blame when my friends are forced out of the country. I’ve just finished my studies at LSE, so like last year it is my friends you will be forcing out. The deportation of people more diligent and intelligent than I is something of which you should be so proud.
I am pleased to hear that your Government is taking steps to cripple one of the UK’s most competitive export industries. Your government’s own Department for Business, Innovation and Skills estimates Higher Education contributes around £8 billion a year. Congratulations on making me poorer in friends and money.
I am impressed by your measure to punish skilled workers who earn less than £35,000 a year by deporting them. It is certainly a tremendous way to extend your government’s programme to punish people who dare to be working class beyond this country’s shores. How it is to make me better off I am not sure.
Of course merely punishing working class people is not enough, some of those working class people want to breed. Punishing poor people in love by preventing poor people bringing their spouse to the UK is a lovely touch. Again, I am unsure how this is to make me better off.
I don’t want much from an MP. Effectively labelled spreadsheets is pretty low down the list. Not relishing the opportunity to punish people for being poor, in love, or freshly graduated and intelligent are even more fundamental. Perhaps what I find most offputting is that you presume I share your Party’s enthusiasm. More evidence of the Tory Party’s natural arrogance.
I am pleased to say you are no longer my MP Richard, but I do hope this letter finds you well.
June 16, 2012 • 1:34 pm 2
I just want to inform all my international readers that there are no institutional problems with the UK adopting NGDP level targeting. Failure is a choice.
First of all, for those keeping score, we’re still doomed. Secondly, the coalition can still, at any time, prevent doom, by changing the Bank of England’s mandate to target nominal gdp and to ease policy until it returns to trend.
If NGDP level targeting can be adopted quickly somewhere it is here. If somewhere needs to lead by example, I would recommend the UK too. NGDP is below trend, our banking system is weak, we are closely tied to the Eurozone, inflation expectation are falling and all anyone needs to do is to convince David Cameron’s cabal that this policy would get them elected. Conservatives *love* getting elected.
Britain has a parliamentary system with a lot of power vested in the executive. This is normally very good for getting things done. Sadly it also means you get bad legislation passed “when something needs to be done.” Something needs to be done and for a change it would be nice were the Government to do the right thing.
June 7, 2012 • 12:46 pm 6
The Monarchy is such good value I’m told because we get to keep all the revenues from the Crown Estate. This, publicly owned and operated estate, was stolen from the people of Britain through the thousand years since the Norman conquest and is valued at a £1 billion.
The wealth owned by most members of the Royal Family is simply theft legitimised by history. When exactly was this land and wealth earned? When they were rampaging psychopaths or after we had removed all formal power from them? They should be stripped of all land and private property, they haven’t earned it. If they want to be continue to be Royalty they can draw a wage for their job like the rest of us. Don’t even get me started on the Duchy of Cornwall!
June 5, 2012 • 4:35 pm 11
I like Laurie Penny’s writing, but its not subtle. Laurie’s recent review of a Game of Thrones was so poor that it has driven me to write a review of her review. Necessarily, here be Spoliers, beware. Superficially Game of Thrones appears like a normal, goodies versus baddies fantasy adventure. Were it my job to write about it though, I might bother to gain more than a superficial understanding of the stories plots and themes. This is over a thousand words of take down, which is relevant to hardly anyone, so I’m putting the rest below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »
May 2, 2012 • 5:31 pm 10
Targeting the path of Nominal Gross Domestic Product (NGDP) is probably the most “fashionable” solution proposed for dragging the developed world’s economies out of depression. This post will refer to the UK, but lots more work has been done on the US from this perspective, particularly by Scott Sumner and David Beckworth. Britmouse has blogged about NGDP from a UK perspective.
Real GDP is a proxy for our incomes adjusted for inflation, how well off we are. Nominal GDP is the same but refers to our incomes in cash terms. This nominal measure deviating from trend has been what has driven the wild swings in employment and production the developed world has seen since 2007.
NGDP matters because wages and debt are sticky.
Wages: NGDP can decrease if all other prices decrease with it, the relative prices between them will not change and apart from updating some menus nothing will have really changed. But it is incredibly hard to cut wages, look at the clustering of wage changes around zero in the below graph (via Paul Krugman). This means a decrease in NGDP relative to wages will throw people out of work as employers become unwilling to employ them at the prevailing nominal wage.
Debt: We care about what real resources we can consume but all our contracts are written in nominal terms. If I owe someone £10,000 then at some point I have to hand over some bits of paper, or packages of electrons, to someone for that amount. But, if NGDP grows below trend the total nominal size of the economy will be smaller than expected when I took out the debt, but the size of my debt will not. The real cost of my debt will have increased and this will work to depress the economy because this dynamic will affect a number of people.
If NGDP sinks below trend there are then at least two mechanisms which can act to depress an economy.  Has it sunk below trend? Yes it has.
Is off trend NGDP growth associated with weak real GDP growth? Yes it is.
Are changes from trend NGDP correlated with changes in employment? Yes they are.
Let me tell you a story with a different ending to the one you know. The year 2007 began with NGDP growing to trend, and employment decreasing against the backdrop of international inflationary pressures and financial distress. NGDP reversed course and began to decline during the second quarter of 2007 as did employment, crucially this was before the Lehmann Brother’s bankruptcy and the ohmygodwereallgoingtodie stage of the financial crisis. Unemployment had already increased by nearly 200,000 after NGDP began declining but before the financial crisis began in earnest.
This doesn’t exhonerate any bankers, they put the Bank and Treasury in this position after all. But it does imply different priority for actions. Occupy Threadneedle Street, my friends, not the London Stock Exchange.
Looking at the third graph you can see NGDP decline, recovery and stagnation correlating closely with decline, (mild) recovery and stagnation in UK employment. The Bank of England controls the country’s printing presses and hence the nominal economy and responsibility for this depression lies with the Monetary Policy Committee for doing too little to avert it and with the Treasury for doing so little to force them to do more.
In the UK and US the last couple of decades have seen NGDP grow at about 5% a year, and this nominal growth has been split between price increases and economic growth. In 2008 NGDP collapsed and we saw deflation, disinflation, and recession. To date NGDP has not yet recovered to trend, in fact it remains over 10% below trend – and this is our main problem.
Increase NGDP and employment, incomes and taxes would increase, many intractable problems would vanish (though many would not). There are risks and there are methodological problems, but there huge gains for everyone if they right policy is adopted and I want to do my part to try and make sure the right policy is adopted.
 Data from here, I’ve used basic prices to strip out the effect of VAT jumping up and down
April 26, 2012 • 6:48 pm 0
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.
April 20, 2012 • 7:43 pm 0
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.
April 4, 2012 • 12:17 pm 1
Prime Minister David Cameron has said “gaps” in national security must be plugged but there was “still time” to meet civil liberties concerns.
Time was when governments wanted to take away our freedoms we would at least get some rhetoric about how dangerous our enemy was, you know, imminent nuclear annihilation by an ideological enemy.
We had to fight the creators of brutal gulags, fight to free people were held in violation of habeas corpus. We had to liberate people from repressive police states where the criminal justice bureaucracy lobbied for more people to be locked up just to keep the money rolling in. The enemy was the snooping Stasi who pretended to need ever more powers. That’s not to mention the prevalence of secret trials and overseas, secret, detention and torture.
Of course, facing all those things we the citizens of the free world needed to take action… so now what do we do?
March 27, 2012 • 10:17 pm 0
Chris Brunk, an all-too-loyal MR reader, writes to me:
I developed a thought experiment that I wanted to share with you. I call it “The Grand Gameshow”.
In this thought experiment you are a contestant on a gameshow. The host of the gameshow (let’s call him Alex) has a notecard that says whether or not god exists and to what extent he is involved in the affairs of mankind. You start with $1,000,000 that you must allocate across five possible categories:
- Category 1 – Scriptural literalism. Bet into this category if you believe that one of the religious texts is precisely accurate.
- Category 2 – God is omnipresent. Bet into this category if you believe that god is everywhere and intimately involved in our lives.
- Category 3 – God as a guide. Bet into this category if you believe that god is only there for the major turning points in life and/or when we reach out in prayer.
- Category 4 – God as a watchmaker. Bet into this category if you believe that god set the universe in motion but is no longer around.
- Category 5 – Atheism. Bet into this category if you believe that god does not exist.
You can distribute the money however you like (e.g. all $1,000,000 in one category or $200,000 in each). After you’ve allocated your $1,000,000 Alex flips over the notecard and reveals which of the five categories is correct. You keep any money that you’ve allocated into the correct category.
Some footnotes. For the purposes of playing this gameshow assume that your financial situation is that of a farmhand in Mexico. You earn about $4,000 per year and have no substantial savings or degrees. I classify simulism as being category 4.
I would be very interested to hear how you’d allocate your funds versus say, Russ Roberts or Robin Hanson.
What about Thor? Or Taoism? Or Buddhism? Or multitheism?
Privileging Judeo-Christian traditions just makes you look silly to me. Any teleology makes you look stupid; one which implies that world religions reached some sort of apogee in one particular messianic jewish cult which happened to be adopted by one particular medium sized, medium-duration empire of premodern Eurasia makes me just plain sad.
March 23, 2012 • 5:32 pm 4
Minimum alcohol pricing – bloody arseholes – and I say that in a professional and personal capacity.
The pricing of alcohol at 40p a unit, given modern booze taxes (about £1.90 on a bottle of wine), amounts to a ban on loss leaders. In other words, it solves a coordination problem for supermarkets. This is one reasons Tesco supports minimum pricing; they no longer have to sacrifice margin to attract customers from Sainsbury’s etc.
So, what we have is a transfer of wealth from most people who drink, but especially from heavy and thrifty drinkers, to supermarkets’ bosses and shareholders. Interestingly, given supermarkets’ size and prominence, this means it is a transfer of wealth to people with private pensions which will tend to be at least somewhat invested in supermarket stock.
Slow hand clap for the Tories – combining socialism for the rich; innovation stunting regulation and the shittiest part of Scandinavia since their post-war embrace of eugenics.
March 14, 2012 • 8:00 am 1
This is an example of what I was talking about here. What should I write about the NHS?
At the moment, Tories and Lib Dems have legislated to destroy large, geographically located primary care trusts and to replace them with small, non-geographically based GP consortia. These will register and treat patients but will have the option to have a large degree of administration carried out by private sector contractors. More details are not forthcoming in the maelstrom of amendments the Liberal Democrats are sticking over the Bill.
My priors tell me that:
Finally, there is other things militate against my adoption of Conservative and Liberal Democrat and reforms.
So with respect to yesterday’s post, I still find myself in stage two, struggling to understand what is going on in the world, aware of my own ignorance merely sketching out ideas. I hope that these sketches are illuminating to my readers.
To sum up, my primary worry is that any long term benefits of the reform – assuming it leads to a productivity miracle which is widely shared and not merely a cover for privatisation – is swamped by the short term disruption such as the cost and waste of GPs spending four out of five days setting up Consortia rather than treating patients. In the long run the reforms may destroy the NHS, but it can be rebuilt – in the short run, these reforms are going to kill people, and those lives cannot later be rebuilt.
 Confused? Good. That sentence was an allegory for the confusing nature of the reforms. Don’t say you don’t get more than one level of meaning from this blog.
March 13, 2012 • 12:01 am 2
Treat enough people like scum and people will act like scum. Plan B’s new record about last year’s riots is well worth a listen on its merits and as social commentary.
Creating or reinforcing a positive or negative stereotype about someone will cause them to live up or down to that stereotype. Chris points us towards the Oak School experiments that showed pupils arbitrarily deemed to have high IQ subsequently did better at school. Other examples, again cribbed from Chris, show that American blacks (pdf) or low-caste Indians can be primed to live down to their negative stereotypes.
So in answer to Plan B‘s question: Why do some kids not care if they get criminal records? Why risk an easy life for some new trainers? To a degree, this is because they’ve been told that people just like them don’t care if they get a criminal record and that all they care about is a new pair of trainers (preferable hooky). Constantly demonise the working class as chavs and you will end up with part of the working class acting like demons.
March 6, 2012 • 10:58 pm 0
One of the advantages of being a reactionary is being able to resort to “common sense” to defend your positions. A radical proposal, even if it is a good idea – like a Land Value Tax – or supported by tons of empirical evidence – like tackling climate change – can be stymied by appeals to “common sense.”
What you rarely hear are sophisticated arguments attempting to philosophically undermine either position. You don’t hear people claiming often that value is so intrinsically effemerable that no taxation of it is possible, they just moan about old ladies being forced out of their homes because they are asset rich but cash poor.  If anything resorting to sophistry is a sign that the reactionary bigots know they’re losing an argument.
And so we turn to Cardinal O’Brien who has recently said that 1) gay marriage is on a par with slavery 2) marriage is an immutable platonic ideal and so timeless and pure it cannot and must not be reformed by governments and that finally 3) defining gay marriage as real marriage would violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No. Really. All of this nonsense was said by a real person.
Controlling what counts as common sense gives you an enormous amount of power to not only silence critics but to determine the overton window within which debate occurs. For a long time homophobes helped define what common sense was, but demographics and logic has shifted common sense and majority opinion in a more liberal or accepting direction. Losing control of common sense is thus a major blow and can only really be dealt with through attempts to recapture it, capitulation, or reaching for resentiment.
O’Brien’s sort of sophistry is introduced as a sort of resentiment, focusing internal fears of losing control onto the misbehaviour of governments, or gays, or society in general. There is no choice here for O’Brien, because the reactionary can no longer appeal to “common sense” because about half of Brits think gay marriage should be fine.
So he cannot recapture it, and neither can he capitulate to it because that would be more or less impossible to reconcile with Catholicism and he knows it. So look out for shifts from “common sense” and empirics to sophistry, because it is a sure sign you’re winning whatever argument you’re having and the other person knows it.
 Look, you fuck-wits, liquidity transformation is what finance is for. If we implement a Land Value Tax, a bank, building society or whatever will help people turn their illiquid assets into liquid cash, that is one of the core purposes of finance. At the moment releasing equity in a property is quite expensive, but were a million extra customers to appear then the extent of the market would quickly increase entrants and push down costs. I could write the contract myself:
“We will pay your tax for you, but on exit from the property or your death we shall demand payment of amount paid plus seven percent for each year we paid your tax. This can be met out of sale of your property or if possible and if as your last will and testament specifies from the remainder of your estate.”
Anyway, I got sidetracked…back to the top you go.
February 24, 2012 • 7:44 pm 0
Spiegel: Great Wall this week became the first Chinese automobile manufacturer to open an automobile assembly plant inside the European Union…
…Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest country, is attractive as a labor market because it is an oasis of cheap wages and low taxes. Workers are considered well educated and the country is ideal as the site for a company like Great Wall to launch. Given that wages for factory workers have risen considerably in China in recent years, assembly sites abroad have become increasingly attractive for some manufacturers.
(H/T). Some thoughts:
February 24, 2012 • 7:12 pm 9
On abortion, no, just no:
On the one side, it’s not a human, just a blob, entirely up to the woman what she wants to do with it.
On the other it’s one of God’s chosen creatures and so deserving of the same protections the rest of us get.
You can think a foetus is a person and that a woman is allowed to abort it.
If a woman’s body is her own – and it is – then even if someone is reliant on her for life she has the right to refuse that support. A foetus’s right to life does not involve the right to use someone else’s body…
You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. [If he is unplugged from you now, he will die; but] in nine months he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.
So the argument should not be sidetracked by debates on whether a foetus is alive or not. The real crux of the matter is whether a woman’s body is her own or that of society.
You could say that the woman chose to have sex and that implies an obligation to the consequence of that. But that just underlines the real reason most religious people are against abortion; babies are punishment sluts for having sex.
Consider for example, if you really, actually, honestly thought life began at conception then you would be in constant mourning. At least half of all fertilised eggs fail to implant. That means that for every person born at least one has already died, the attrition rate makes abortion seem trivial. There is basically no better way to spend money to save lives than working to improve that statistic. Yet anti-choicers spend money
punishing sluts campaigning to lower the termination limit on abortions.
Call it revealed preferences, anti-choicers like punishing women, but not working to improve embryonic implantation rates. Makes you question their motivations, no?