Left Outside

How not to report on trans* people/How political correctness continues to be awesome

“I am Chelsea Manning. I am female,” the Army private wrote in a statement read on TODAY Thursday. “Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.”

This article starts off okay, then goes downhill in a cavalcade of what is, at my charitable best, oblivious awfulness.

“I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility),” he continued in the statement. “I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.”

The alternative to oblivious awfulness is that Scott Stump of Today is an asshat. Scott is just a journalist, he isn’t meant to know about pronouns. The New York Times’ copyeditor on the other hand is definitely just an asshat. Via Wonkette:


I don’t think the politics of trans* has to be at the top everyone’s priorities. It probably should be if you’re any sort of utilitarian, but I’m not going to go into that now. The point is that you just shouldn’t be a dick. This is a simple life rule that is somehow not succinctly included in any major religious work. But its certainly my philosophy.

If someone asks you to call them a woman you have no reason not to. It costs you nothing and it makes them happy (or at least less miserable in Chelsea Manning’s case). That’s a pareto improvement, we take all the pareto improvements we can get thankyouverymuch.

What to do? Luckily political correctness is to the rescue.

Margaret Sullivan begins her article letting us know of Chelsea Manning: “he identifies as a woman” but explains that the Times cannot just assume everyone will keep up if they switch from he to she immediately. But she ends her article, most meta-ly, saying that “given Ms. Manning’s preference, it may be best to quickly change to the feminine and to explain that — rather than the other way around.”

Likewise, Scott Stump above has had a change of heart and the article has been updated. He no longer refers to Chelsea Manning as “he.” Of course, Scott doesn’t use “she” either, instead he uses an ungendered “Manning” repeatedly. Perhaps he worries saying “she” or “Chelsea” he might be admitting defeat through polite behaviour.

That’s political correctness though. People feeling awkward and bullied into being less awful asshats. And it’s worked. You can’t be openly racist without shocking people and looking like an asshat. Likewise homophobic insults are on their way out. Trans* insults aren’t nearly there yet, but it seems they’re on their way.

Another thing to be grateful to Chelsea Manning for.

In case you were wondering, here’s some good reporting on trans* people discussing some other terrible reporting of trans* people. You will notice that none of this is complicated.

Filed under: Foreign Affairs, Society

Cameron and Miranda: this doesn’t have to go all the way to the top

Andrew Sullivan says that David Cameron is proving Greenwald right. I don’t know why people always presume the authoritarianism of the state are the fault of the guy at the top. That’s the fundamental attribution bias again.

The security state needs no official clearance to harass and torment people. We’ve already given them that power through acts of parliament. It’s more likely that Cameron heard about Miranda’s detention and thought “well this is a PR clusterfuck” as he thought “let’s detain and intimidate this foreign national on a Guardian funded trip to Berlin.” He’s a shit PR man, but he’s not an idiot. Okay, I’m being charitable, but you get what I mean.

This reminds me of the crackdowns on Occupy last year. Some people were incredulous that the US drive to break the movement wasn’t centralised. Local governments and police forces were quite capable of targeting Occupy protests without central direction. They were local villains with human faces. But they were part of a security bureaucracy and had internalised and exercised its will. Systems determine outcomes, not individuals.

We’ve created a massive, rich, powerful bureaucracy of security forces with legally enforceable secrecy and immunity from prosecution. A PR man in Westminster is nominally in charge, but given he is the one who’ll take the heat first, I think they’re quite capable of intimidating their enemies without his say so. It’s kinda sweet that anyone thinks the spooks care what Cameron thinks.

And another thing. The people who thought the unions were up to no good in the 70s are worrying silent about an actual enemy within.

Filed under: Blogging, Foreign Affairs, Society

Something on #Slanegirl

So someone sucked off a few people and someone else has photos. This is, apparently, news. Actually lots of people have photos and it looks like this young girl is about to have a really, really awful time. This article kinda sums up my views on the matter probably better than I could, so I’ll just link and extract:

For those not on twitter 24/7 a girl at Slane Festival didn’t just enjoy Eminem but gave at least two men blow jobs, and was photographed doing it. As is the way with such things the photographs have gone viral.

[S]o many of the seemingly supportive tweets for slanegirl are, in many ways, as problematic as the outright misogynistic slutshaming ones. Many people are saying we all make mistakes, that the boys should be ashamed of themselves as much as she is, asking why no one is shaming the young men involved. Newsflash folks, people have sex at festivals, people like receiving blow jobs, and amazingly lots of women like giving them.


The issue with slanegirl is not what she did, with who, or how many times, but with the instant rush to condemn any female who dares exhibit any form of sexuality that does not pass patriarchal approval.  That so many women, and those who describe themselves as feminists are the strongest supporters of this denial of female desire is a sad feature of twenty-first century life. An equally sad feature is that teenagers can not experiment and explore without camera phones spreading their explorations all over the internet.

Although I hope nothing comes of it (I wouldn’t wish prison or the sex offenders’ register on anyone unless it’s absolutely necessary), the final note on that post give me some hope that some very horrible people might have shudder of fear run down their spine. Even if their horribleness is entirely conventional:

The pictures being linked too may be illegal due to her age under UK and Irish law, even retweeting them (which since she hasn’t given her consent is a pretty low thing to do) is illegal.

Filed under: Blogging, Society

Republicanism is about checks and balances

The British monarchy, though it is flawed, generally has a sense of historical mission and loyalty to tradition that means they have psychological checks and balances which avoid the abuse of power. But it won’t always be this way, not when Charles gets in.

Presuming for a moment that the Queen didn’t kill Diana, the Royals largely stay out of politics. Their realm is ceremonial and constitutional. They are a useful fiction to hang power on and a focus for nationalism and patriotism. I’ve nothing too much against any of that. Not really “my bag”, but whatever gets your constitution though the night, eh?

The main problem with politics is checks the power of those in charge. This is why I think people supporting the coup in Egypt are fucking idiots. Most politics in developing countries is unimportant in the long run, what matters is getting that first democratic handover of power over. The more coups you have the further away from safety and wealth everyone is. It matters because it demonstrates that power can be checked.

In the UK there’s almost no chance of a democratic government not ceding power. Even Brown’s unsuccessful attempt to broker a totally constitutionally acceptable alliance with the Lib Dems was met with unease in Labour and without. The Royals similarly have largely avoided exercising what power they have despite few formal barriers to them doing so.

Not any longer, Charles has been using cash left intestate for his own charitable endeavours, showing a disregard for what he should do relative to what he is allowed to. Worse than that, his aides have been working within government exercising power that should be completely beyond the reach of an independent head of state.

Only a constitutional crisis really unseats a monarch, and people like to avoid these. The problem with monarchy is when the (currently effective) moral and cultural limits on royal power are gone there’s few formal ones to deploy. Formal checks are better than intermittent crises.

Filed under: Foreign Affairs, Politics, Society

Why @saveoursavers are doomed

Aziz and Frances have a nice posts which complement mine on why savers can’t have nice things. It’s still supply, demand and time travel, stupid.

Both take issue with the idea that savers are being stolen from via low rates. Both point out that the world doesn’t owe you a positive return and that positive returns are quite hard to find at the moment for everyone. Your cash isn’t getting much of a return and neither is my human capital. Ce la vie, I’m afraid, in the absence of reflationary policies.

As you’ll all be aware, I think in graphs, so I wanted to try to visually represent this. Unfortunately the legend reads SAVINGS/GSP/S500 which is a bit scary. But allow me to explain. Here’s the graph from FRED. It’s for the US because their data portal is easier to use than the damn ONS website and represents savings as a proportion of GDP relative to the current stock market valuation.


Why does this mean savers can’t have nice things? I’ll put a break in here if you want to guess in the comments.  Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Society

Asshat of an ex-diplomat

What a lovely fellow.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, Politics, Society

Why savers can’t have nice things: It’s all about time travel

604Whiny is the word that comes to mind when I think of savers. But that’s unfair. They can’t have nice things and that’s not nice. None of us can have nice things and the reason savers can’t have nice things are similar to the reason I can’t. It’s all about time travel.

Frances’ newsnight debut yesterday [watch it! This cuts straight to the panel] was all about savers. Savers are, understandably, annoyed. For a couple of decades they have been able to save cash in banks, they money has been perfectly safe and they’ve got a healthy return.

All that changed 5 years ago. First everyone thought they might lose everything. This gave well to a slow realisation that they were going to lose something, just less dramatically, slowly through inflation.

This has led to faintly ridiculous complaints from people like Save our Savers and others that savers are being “punished for a recession they didn’t create” or expropriated or swindled or denied a risk-free return by the malfeasance of central banks.

I want to make three points.

First, this is another example of those hard done by, but not the worst off getting the press and attention. If you’re sparing a thought for savers then you’ve a spare thought too many. Nobody likes to think of the pensioner having their savings eaten away, but lots of pensioners haven’t even got any savings.

Second, in no sense are savers being punished by central banks. They’re being helped as much as the rest of us (which is still not enough, of course). There is a scenario where savers get a large positive return following a depression. It’s called use, decay and obsolescence,

Without central bank support savers would get a bigger return…eventually. After banks collapse, firms go bust, machinery rusts and hands lie idle eventually we’ll begin to need to replace and rebuild. Once we hit rock bottom savers will receive a very handsome return. It’s just they might not have much of their savings left by the time we get there.

My third point is the most important.

The framing of saving is all wrong at the moment. Money allows us to move purchasing power through space. I make a coffee, you give me money which I use to buy a haircut. That all happens almost simultaneously. What if I want to make a coffee now and have a hair cut in 5 years? Well then I’d have to save up. Saving allows us to move purchasing power through time.

But saving isn’t just a thing you hold like money, it’s a process, and this is where the framing of saving needs to change. To move purchasing power through time you have to buy something now which will be worth something in the future which you can sell. It might look like the same £10 I end up spending on a future haircut, but it’s not.

Most saving ends up invested in structures, but some of it could be in intellectual property, a private business, or anything tangible. Cash doesn’t cut it. If you’re saving cash, you’re really lending money to a bank who then goes out and buys something with it. If you’re holding physical cash then someone else is doing this for you and you’re riding on their coattails.

You cannot escape the fact that you are buying something now, to sell in the future (minus some financial frictions)[1], this is the physical process behind financial saving. At most times, because we are getting richer we can buy durable stuff now and expect it to be worth more in the future. But that doesn’t hold during a depression or steep recession.

When times are hard we cannot expect people to get a good return. This is because more people want to buy safe assets now which pushes up their value, because the value of assets in the future becomes more uncertain (and hence less valuable) and because financial intermediation becomes less efficient at times of economic stress.

If we could travel through time this problem wouldn’t exist. I could make a coffee now and get my haircut in the future. Our alien barber from the year 3000 could come back, because coffee has been rendered extinct by global warming and we wouldn’t need to worry about saving or structures as above. But we can’t travel through time so we do need to think about how we physically save.

There’s no way savers can get a good return at the moment because the process which physically enables it is blocked. The best for everyone is for a reflationary central bank to boost demand and return to normality. We are the 99% and we have a shared interest in full employment.


[1] It’s this phrasing of saving and financial intermediation that eventually led me to stop being an obsequious leftie and to take FIRE seriously.

Filed under: Blogging, Economics, Politics, Society

Another North/South Divide in the UK

BRIp_kuCcAAJg3vVia Mark Eaton, via Rick, here is the population growth I linked to earlier. Two things stand out. Growth in the dark blue bits are being driven by immigration (apart from Norn Iron where they’re just very fecund). There’s a massive north/south divide.

You’ll hear a lot more about the first than the second, but the second is a lot more interesting and a lot more worrying.


Filed under: Foreign Affairs, Migration, Society

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Plain planning to fail is worse.

Yesterday Mark Carney presented his first Inflation Report as the new Governor of the Bank of England. This was significantly more important than anything else that happened yesterday. It was also significantly more disappointing. Mark Carney presented his vision for forward guidance. His vision is for unemployment staying above 7% for another 3 years.

The Bank of England, as I’ve argued repeatedly, is responsible for our slow recovery. I was hopeful that the appointment of Mark might help accelerate the recovery, but I was wrong. The Big Idea, touted for some time, was “forward guidance.” This is the explanation of the internal workings of the Bank of England and what they predicted would happen.

Because the Bank of England controls interest rates and the nominal economy they in large part control their predictions. They are steering the ship, and their predictions tell us where they want it to go.  What have we learned? Mark and Co will set policy in such a way that…

  • Unemployment will stay above 7% until the second half of 2016.
  • Interest rates will stay at 0.5% until the second half of 2016.
  • QE will either stay the same time or increase the second half of 2016.


  • If we hit 7% unemployment early they’ll start thinking about raising rates, even though the economy stays depressed.
  • If inflation is predicted to be above 2.5% they’ll start thinking about raising rates, even though the economy stays depressed.
  • If the financial sector becomes too exuberant they’ll start thinking about raising rates, even though the economy stays depressed.  [1]

I hope I’ve done a good job spelling out why that’s not good enough. Just in case, it’s fan chart time!

Fan chart of doom

If you’re not au fait with fan charts, then lucky you, you’ve been out enjoying the sun. The Dark blue is the central 30% prediction, the lighter hue the other 30%, the lightest the another 30% and then the last 10% is elsewhere. What you’re seeing is a prediction of failure. High unemployment out to the end of their 3 year window.

Make no mistake, Mark Carney acknowledges that the economy is in the dumps and that tools exist to do more. That’s why he was hired. He’s just decided not to do more. He’s looked at NGDP targeting, which I and many others favour, and decided it is a bad idea (largely it seems, because they don’t want to understand it). He’s had the option of targeting lower unemployment more rapidly, but hasn’t.

In his letter to George Osborne (which I recommend you read) he claims his policy is “not a monetary loosening” because policy is already “exceptionally accommodative.” I agree it is not a monetary loosening, but exceptionally accommodative? Haha. The markets agree. The FTSE 100 is 1.4% down and sterling rose somewhat, implying slightly tighter money.

Both are still healthier than when Mervyn King was in charge, but an extra million or so are still unemployed than 5 years ago and there is little sign of abatement for the next 5 years. I got some heat on twitter yesterday for suggesting feminists’, well everyone’s, priorities were wrong. Can you blame me? The central projection is for a lost decade.


[1] Nothing brings calm to financial markets like a nice growth slowdown.

Filed under: Economics, History, Society

Goldman Sachs versus MillerCoors: No, they can’t both lose, because we’ve already lost

Coors Light

Prettywar-stl’s photo used under creative commons license via Flikr.

Over the last few days it has slowly emerged that banks have been taking advantage of distortions in the aluminium market to squeeze billions of dollars out of consumers. Rather than being held accountable by working people, another corporate monolith is taking them to task.

Like the devil in Good Omens who causes an hour long tailback on the M25 and sends more souls to hell than any of his colleagues tempting priests, a tiny evil to everyone has much worse consequences than a great on an individual.  Everyone was affected, but one rich man took the stand because he was annoyed. There’s something wrong with that picture.

One problem with holding banks to account for their misdeeds is that they’re so damn complicated. This FT Alphaville piece is required reading on the Goldman Sachs’ aluminium fandango. I’ve only made it through twice, and neither time in one sitting. And I’m still not sure I can tell my contango from my backwardation.

In summary, it became more profitable to warehouse vast quantities of aluminium than to use it. So banks sat on the aluminium and prices remained elevated (although down from their pre-crisis highs) and as supply became less secure, the risk of bankruptcy and the redundancy increased.

I mention this not for it’s inherent interestingness (are you still here? Well done. Have some porn, while you still can – NSFW obviously), but because it helps illustrate what’s wrong with politics. Watching the Senate Banking Committee‘s hearing on the aluminium market manipulation, Matt Yglesias approvingly mentions that it is taking a brewery to bring a bank to account.

The thing that jumps right out at you is that up on the dais you have Timothy Weiner, global risk manager for MillerCoors LLC, talking about how he would never question the free market but the banks are out of control in this instance.

Yglesias points out that politics consists of powerful vested interests holding one another to account and preventing excess. He also points to the success retailers have had versus the banks in reducing the charges they incurred whenever someone paid by card. Sadly Matt paints too rosy a picture.

James Kwak discussed this presciently two weeks ago. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, mensches both, published this article discussing something I’ve discussed lots and lots. Economic power produces political power and power determines policy. It’s a self-referential loop. Wealth is power, power wealth.

Despite this being head-interface-with-desk obvious there has been a tendency to ignore this stubborn fact. Reducing market distortions and improving efficiency was treated as a good even if it resulted in a concentration of power. This is where Goldman Sachs, aluminium, beer cans and MillerCoors come in.

Kwak, Acemoglu and Robinson all point out that even if the destruction of unions was “worth it” it still involved removing a powerful counterweight to the wealthy. In their phraseology unions help create and sustain inclusive political and economic institutions. Without this counterweight a concentration of wealth leads to a concentration of power even if that wasn’t the intention.

Rather there being a powerful institutional group standing up for our rights, like unions, we are protected ineffectually by the wealthy. But only when they want to and when it’s in their interest to rock the boat. The wealthy have an interest in maintaining their class privilege and it takes a pretty severe threat for someone to break ranks. As evidence, I submit the last forever.

I’m under no illusions about the reality of unions. They did look out for their members and they did retard innovation and they often left behind those truly most vulnerable…and yet they coexisted with the great post-war prosperity and liberal revolution. Whatever the flaws of the union movement they make a better people’s champion than MillerCoors. Eurgh.

For a long time, we’ve moved towards more efficient institutional arrangements and it’s paid off to a degree. But this has a cost. Yesterday we saw a beer company moan a bit to powerful people. As a result it is today more likely that banks will receive suitable regulatory oversight. Welcome to postmodern politics.

Filed under: Blogging, Economics, Politics, Society

Is this OK?


Of course it’s not. But then I think this goes someway towards underlining the extent to which patriarchal societal norms are vigorously enforced by women for other women.

I haven’t read inside (pbuh), but I’m going to presume that OK’s focus is purely physical. There are many, severe mental health problems associated with childbirth. Many are covered here by NICE and they aren’t discussed enough.

So I thought I’d break my baby based silence to comment briefly on those two things.

Filed under: Society, The Media

If you thought I was angry last night…

Are you fucking kidding me?

As Sunny says, the government are now using dated National Front slogans to harass people. This is part of a trend, remember. Only two weeks ago (a lifetime on twitter) we had this evil tweet:

The UK has long assisted illegal immigrants in returning home. Not just in the shove you in an airplane, whoops you’re dead way. But in the way advertised by this van, providing documents and assistance travelling to those who want to leave. The van is a stunt. A vile, nasty stunt.

Overlooking the Conservative Party’s historical animus [1] to immigrants, they’re clearly getting nervous about their reelection chances. When the conservatives get nervous about an election, like in 2001 they reach for the base. No, base instincts, not party base, although come to mention it there is an overlap.

The Tories are stuck between growing support for UKIP and Labour’s structural electoral advantage. To win outright the Tories need a uniform swing of 7%, while Labour only require 1%. Presumably these strategically placed vans (I understand they’re only visiting some areas) are designed to drum up the “right” sort of support without cementing the “nasty party” image.

I thought I’d find it hard to start blogging again, but once again the Tories are making it too fucking easy.


[1] If any fucker thinks they’re being clever by pointing out that Enoch Powell once recruited Jamaican nurses for the NHS they’ll be banned from the comments forever.

Filed under: Politics, Society

Equal marriage? Hahaha, yeah right

Created by Tom Freeman who is a much funnier person and better blogger than me.

Created by Tom Freeman who is a much funnier person and better blogger than I am.

So there we go. People are no longer banned from marrying a man to a man or a woman to a woman. Which is nice. I’m usually against banning things. But people aren’t just not gay or gay, are they? What about everyone else?

I saw this piece on Liberal Conspiracy titled “To be technically correct, the Queen did not approve Equal Marriage” and I thought “good, something about trans people getting fucked over.” But the piece was about parliamentary procedure. Which is so boring I can’t even be bothered to think of a simile. Wood, sometimes people drill holes in wood. Something like that, but more dull.

Do many of my readers think about trans people? Probably not, but you should because if you care about injustice or human suffering and you’re a good Rawlsian (and who isn’t a little) then you should be interested in helping the worst off. That, sadly, usually means trans people, but you might not do that because they’re so often erased from more or less everything.

Now, because nothing says empathy like dry statistics:

  • 79% of trans people have experienced some form of harassment in public.
  • 26% of trans people in Brighton and Hove are unemployed according to a Count Me In Too survey, and with a further 60% earn less than £10,000 per year (via).
  • 41% of trans people in the US have attempted suicide.
  • And so on ad infinitum…

So if you care about the least fortunate, then you should care about trans people and if you don’t you probably have to think about why and how you can fix that. But before you can help anyone or understand why trans people were thrown under the bus by the equal marriage bill, you’ll need a little context.

Via Sarah Brown (via stavvers) here’s a potted history of what happened. I apologise for anything I get wrong here. In 1971 a judge prevented trans people from claiming the rights associated with their new gender, leaving them in limbo without the rights of the gender they started off with, nor the ones from where they ended up.

This was only partially reversed in 2004 with the Gender Recognition Act 2004 which created Gender Recognition Certificates which got you a new birth certificate, and the other protections in law that you lost by transitioning (e.g. employment nondiscrimination rights).

Various onerous and excessive caveats and time-determined limits were added to the bill because fuck you that’s why (that’s a summary which I hope I’ve paraphrased correctly). The worst of which was that you weren’t eligible for a GRC if you were married.  What the act did let you do was get a marriage annulment, apply to get your gender reassigned then apply for a civil partnership. Because fuck you that’s why (again I paraphrase).

Trans people campaigned hard to get this injustice fixed within the Equal Marriage bill and failed. They’ve ended up with a “spousal veto.” You can now have your gender reassigned while married but your marriage only continues only with your spouse’s permission. I guess this is to prevent people from accidentally ending up gay married which is all icky and stuff.

The government are of course attempting to balance the rights of trans people and their spouses. The best place to balance this is on the backs of trans people because fuck you that’s why. Is it really so important to justice and fairness that people who have been fucked over again and again get fucked over some more. Yes, it seems.

Look, I won’t be churlish (well no more than usual), I’m happy this law reduces the number of things which are banned. It actually sounds like it does improve the position of trans people. But, c’mon, Equal Marriage? It’s a cute bit of branding but it’s still bullshit.


PS Of course there’s also the polyamorous. They aren’t allowed to marry who they want because there might be more than one of them. But then they don’t tend to like marriage anyway.

PPS Oh yeah, there’s people who don’t want to marry at all. Is a world where everyone can marry everyone else one are people who don’t marry really likely to be treated equally?

PPPS There’s also straight civil partnerships to consider. But I haven’t really written about them because shut up, shut up, shut up, stop whining.

Filed under: Politics, Society

War as a shit rescue effort

Quelle surprise:

More than 60 percent of Afghan diplomats decide to remain abroad, a trend that has been increasing steadily, according to Omar Samad, a former ambassador to Paris.

By the time we leave the war will have  cost the UK of something like £40bn, and what we’ve got? A clusterfuck of a nation where misogyny and violence are so endemic people are are still taking refuge in western Pakistan.

What could £40bn buy you? Well, the first year of the war was all about destroying an Al Qaeda stronghold. While I would have prefered something more minimal, I’ll generously concede the first year of the war as a legitimate war so let’s knock this down to a round £35bn for the UK. Now what else?

Black n Yellow Bugatti Veyron

CC image courtesy of Axion23 on Flickr

Okay, so I don’t need thirty five thousand Bugatti Veyron. I’ll have one. S0 we’re at say £34.999bn. I’ll take a million for myself and my mum too. So we’re on £34.997bn. Gee. Spending this amount of money is hard! We must have got something worthwhile…

Oh right.

So, anyway, after the clearing away Al Qaeda and sending me and my mum on a road trip, what can we think of a better way of helping the people of Afghanistan?

Ooooh! I’ve got it! How about we actually rescue some people by rescuing them rather than sending death from above?

I know I’m labouring the point here but everyone out there looks at me like I’m insane when I suggest immigration as an alternative to war. At least people on the internet hear me out. Is my plan really so crazy? With £34.999bn we could evacuate 10% of afghanistan to the UK and set aside £10,000 for each of them to avoid them being a strain on services and things and whatever it is UKIP worry about. Or every single person with £1,000 each.

Given that there is very little evidence immigrants have any net negative effect, I’d just let the Afghans in and give the money to the poor. But then I’m silly like that. Helping people in danger by bringing them to safety and helping poor people by making them less poor.

The benefits of any of the iterations of my plan are endless.

First of all, nobody dies. Secondly there’s no net change in the state’s fiscal stance. We’re just spending money on providing for foreigners rather than killing them. Nobody could object to that could they (irony translation service: they could). Thirdly, because Afghanistan is so young it would be a huge demographic boon to the UK and our pension problems and dearth of investment  opportunities would vanish. Millions of people are lifted out of rural idiocy and poverty. Also, did I mention that nobody dies?

I wish these madcap schemes that make everyone better off without anyone having to die were more politically feasible. I can’t even begin to write up this idea sensibly, it’s so far out the Overton Window. This makes me sad.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, Politics, Society

Something that makes me happy


CC image courtesy of Elad Rahmin on Flickr

One of the few things I’ve written about here which I’m actually proud of is the death of Gabrielle Price. Covering the death of a child is difficult and I don’t really want to do it again because it made me sad. The ECB makes me angry, and has caused more harm than I can comprehend, but it doesn’t make me sad in the same way as a politicised death of a child.

If you’ve heard of Gabrielle Price, and you probably haven’t, anywhere other than this blog then it is likely you think she died at a party after taking mephedrone (or meow meow as nobody outside Fleet Street called it) . I started covering the drug and her death because it seemed a moral panic was in the offing and I wanted to document one develop.

Mephedrone did actually kill some people, but far less than reported – the weasel word “linked” does a lot of work in the literature. But that was enough for the then Labour government to discuss making it illegal as part of a job creation scheme for the underworld.

Gabrielle Price didn’t die from taking the then legal high, it was  broncho-pneumonia following a streptococcal A infection that killed her. You can follow the sad tale hereherehere and here. Hopefully one of the uses of  this blog is that people googling her name might know she died boringly, normally, of a lung infection not from a drug with a funny name.

Anyway, the drug which didn’t kill her and which didn’t kill many people was banned and promptly stayed available, decreased in purity, modestly increased in price. I’ve never been in favour of banning drugs, quit the opposite, and I found the linking of her death to the drug  depressing and enraging.

Yesterday, I found out today that New Zealand are taking a completely different approach and will test, monitor and regulate legal highs like mephedrone:

It’s the first nation to take a dramatically different approach to psychoactive substances like party pills and synthetic marijuana… [that] go by names like bath salts, spice or meow-meow.

In a 119-to-1 vote on Thursday, the country’s parliament passed the Psychoactive Substances Bill, establishing a framework for testing, manufacturing and selling such recreational drugs. (via)

Anyway, this made me think about the “Gabrielle Price” google alert I set up at the end of 2009. It returned depressingly misleadiong results about her for a long, long time after her death. But I realised I can’t have received one in years now. And that makes me happy.

Filed under: Foreign Affairs, History, Politics, Science, Society

HIV up 200%, Malaria flaring up in Greece

Greece is borked, but because of the incompetence or malice of those at the ECB it is significantly more borked than it needs to be. It such a bad state are Greece’s finances because the ECB has sat idly by as it languishes in depression that they’ve cut major public health programmes leading to

“Greece is an example of perhaps the worst case of austerity leading to public health disasters,” Mr. Stuckler explained in a telephone interview.

“After mosquito spraying programs were cut, we’ve seen a return of malaria, which the country has kept under control for the past four decades. New HIV infections have jumped more than 200 percent,” he noted.

Via. This is just an addendum to yesterday’s post trying to personalise it a little.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, Politics, Society

Short on outrage? Hate nuclear power? Like immigrants? Left wing?

Sellafield, the country’s premier nuclear waste dump (where they in fact do a lot of hard work clearing up the dangerous legacy waste from seven decades of research, generation and weapons making) have a new megacontract out:

The £1.1bn Sellafield Infrastructure Strategic Alliance (ISA) was signed in December 2012 and awarded to a joint venture between engineering, design and consultancy firm Arup and construction and regeneration group Morgan Sindall. Delivery of the contract begins in May 2013…The main contractors in this case operate on the basis of three renewable five-year terms.

That’s some serious money. Justifying spending that must require a pretty nuanced communications strategy, eh, Sellafield spokesman Karl Connor?

“The chances are [a firm on a two-year short term contract will] come in and build it, using migrant workers, and then leave when it’s built.  However, if they have a 15 year contract to help us across a wide range of similar pieces of work, they would be more likely to set up an office locally and invest in training local apprentices.”

I’m being a little unfair to Karl, but only a little. I think it’s pretty reprehensible to use anti-migrant sentiment in this way. It’s a cheap shot even if Sellafield are intimately tied to the people living in West Cumbria. It’s also a bit fucking rich considering its a US/British/French consortia running the show at Sellafield.

Filed under: Economics, Migration, Society, , ,

The Nature of the Farm: Exploding pig shit

It isn’t often I get to write such a profane title which references Ronald Coase. Today is a good day for blogpost titles [1] and a bad day for farm workers. As with most factories with simple inputs and outputs pig farming scales very well. This means that they can get very big before they start seeing diseconomies of scale but once they do they’re pretty unique diseconomies of scale.

In a paper which makes me miss my Athens’ subscription, Alex Coads highlights that profit isn’t a very good predictor of firm growth. [3] In fact firm growth is a little random. But something which definitely prevents firm growth are diseconomies of scale.

Normally these refer to limits on staff monitoring, communication costs, duplications of effort and office politics. None of these are particularly relevant  for pig farms (pigs actually don’t collude, sadly for them), so they’ve just kept getting bigger and becoming more profitable to the point where they are discovering industry specific diseconomies of scale:

The problem is menacing: As manure breaks down, it emits toxic gases like hydrogen sulfide and flammable ones like methane, and trapping these noxious fumes under a layer of foam can lead to sudden, disastrous releases and even explosions. According to a 2012 report from the University of Minnesota, by September 2011, the foam had “caused about a half-dozen explosions in the upper Midwest…one explosion destroyed a barn on a farm in northern Iowa, killing 1,500 pigs and severely burning the worker involved.”

Apparently this just did not happen before 2009. Factory farming has helped us to feed the world. Intensively farmed pigs [2] have allowed for more protein to be produced at a great cost in terms of animal suffering and at little costs in terms of money. Negative externalities where they have existed have been more diffuse, like water pollution, such severe diseconomies of scale at the farm level are relatively new.

What we are seeing is a limit to farm size. There aren’t many firms that are limited in size by the quantity of waste produced, but it appears we’ve found one. I think it is safe to say Coase couldn’t have seen this one coming in 1937.


[1] Is this the sort of post I should be writing if I want this job? I presume so.

[2] Writing this post makes me want Mario at Brindisa to cut me some Iberico jamon. From organically farmed, acorn fed pigs, that stuff though. And very expensive: Tesco value ham is £0.41/100g while Iberico jamon is more than ten times that, those prices tell a story.

[3] Do I really have to keep writing via Chris?

Filed under: Economics, Science, Society

Angelina Jolie is a Mensch

Kudos for her actions and for writing this.

MY MOTHER fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56. She held out long enough to meet the first of her grandchildren and to hold them in her arms. But my other children will never have the chance to know her and experience how loving and gracious she was.

We often speak of “Mommy’s mommy,” and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us. They have asked if the same could happen to me. I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman.

Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation. Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average.

Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.

As everyone is saying, hopefully this will be taboo busting, raise awareness, lots more women will take mastectomies seriously as the correct medical intervention and an appropriate number of women will get screening as required. Won’t be enough because patriarchy. But it’s a tap, tap, tap that works against it.

Filed under: Society

A post about anything other than Thatcher 3: Limits to Coase

In the course of the day job I was speaking to someone in BA’s senior management. They were lamenting that Heathrow needs another runway, that everyone in the industry knows that Heathrow needs another runway, but that Heathrow was not going to get another runway because local opposition was too fierce.

“Why don’t you just bribe them” I asked, channelling Coase.

“We offer sound proofing of course, but its not enough,” came the despondent response.

“What about actually bribing them, you know, with money?” I asked a little incredulously.

I’d summarise the response as “splutter, gurgle, haha,” but it could have been bluer.

In real life, as loathe as I am to use the phrase, people don’t get bribed and people don’t bargain because doing so is weird.

Coase’s brilliant essay “The Problem of Social Cost” describes how mutually beneficial bargaining can help to eliminate the problems caused by externalities.

Imagine an airport which produces noise pollution. Now imagine that it has been built in a densely populated and wealthy part of the country. Seems fanciful I know, but bear with me. This airport wants to expand, and could expand very profitably, but locals, fearing an increase in noise and disruption don’t want it too.

The airport wants to produce an externality, noise. You can think of other people as owning a right not to be disturbed. To expand, the airport should compensate those who it will disturb. That’s only fair. You could have government tax and redistribute the airports profits but that’s messy and inefficient. There’s a simpler solution: bargain, split the profits, and everyone can be a winner. A cheque in the post every month for everyone in TW6.

In Coase’s world the limiting factor is transaction costs. Transaction costs are the costs of doing business, they include the cost of bargaining, of contracting, of working out who’s involved and many other things. Bargaining occurs when it is profitable so long as it is not too difficult to find the people involved and draft an agreement between all the parties involved. But this has not happened.

What’s interesting is that the failure to bargain has not happened in a way predicted by Coase.

The interested parties are well known and an extensive dialogue has been ongoing for some time. Legal settlements have already been reached. Transaction costs are low. But instead of offering locals a simple bribe, they  have been offered a more complicated solution involved sound proofing and vague promises of employment.

According to Coase this shouldn’t happen. Everyone involved has been working to increase transaction costs and has been moving further away from a settlement. A simple solution is right: there take the damn money! But people are leaving that money on the table.

The Overton Window is a concept which describes the range of ideas which are politically acceptable. Bribery has a long record of being clandestine and immoral and is well towards the unthinkable end of the Overton Window as far as policy is concerned. However, we can also think of a bribe as a payment for a service. In this case a bribe should be offered for the service of not raising legal or political complaints about noise. But people don’t like bribes, and that appears to be the end of that.

The Coase Theorem is a beautiful idea, but a great deal more prevents mutually beneficial exchange than transaction costs. The ideas which are fashionable will shape and distort the way people bargain and the deals people accept. It appears that Britain is a country uniquely adverse to bribery, at least if Tim Worstall can be believed. This might be a good thing overall, but it appears this aversion can also make us all poorer too.

Filed under: Economics, Society

When NGDP is Depressed, Employment is Depressed

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