Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Off on hols!

Oh this year i'm off to Sunny Spain, Y Viva Espana*


Yes, I'm off on holiday again. So there'll be no posts until Monday evening at the earliest. Last time I went away my six readers managed to get into a nasty comments fight, so we'll have less of that this time please.

* Remarkably an internet site turns up some more of the lyrics of this 1970s classic. This verse is a particular classic...

"When they first arrive the girls are pink and pasty/but oh so tasty as soon as they go brown/I guess they know ev'ry fellow will be queuing/to do the wooing his girlfriend won't allow/but every dog must have his lucky day/that's why i've learnt the way to shout ole"




More economy stuff

The IMF seems to have revised its Purchashing Power Parity data for national economies, with the consequence that on that measure the UK has not been the 4th largest economy in the world in the last 30 years. However (particularly given the huge margin for error in these statistics) it does essentially have an economy the same size as France, something it didn't have in the 1980s.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

France is getting the food parcels!

Politicians of all political persuasions see Foreign Direct Investment as a litmus test of an economy's success. There isn't really much reason for this, but there you go.

Anyway the OECD has released updated figures for 2003.

China $53bn
France $47bn
US $40bn
Belgium $31bn
Spain $26bn
UK $14bn
Germany $13bn

(Note: Luxembourg had over $70bn but this is considered to be a statistical illusion)

Prepare yourself for these reactions.

First, Michael Howard or the Shadow Chancellor will say it is government 'red tape' that has brought Britain down from the top of this 'league table' (or thereabouts).
Second, Britain in Europe will say the decline is an inevitable consequence of our not joining the euro.
Third, people who have harped on about FDI being a litmus test of an economy's strength will go all quiet, or decide that it is the 'type' of FDI that matters, not its total.

Update: Actually a google search for 'foreign investment' and 'Michael Howard' turns up hundreds of entries. The man is obsessed with it, and in at least one speech said the fact that it was steady shows the government's obsession with euro entry was wrong. Oh dear.

More National Review does economics

David Frum doesn't understand how to apply percentages to numbers.

Monday, June 28, 2004

British sporting events

Watching Henman beat Mark Philippoussis on TV reminds one that it's not just British football fans who can be yobbish. Philippoussis is a former Wimbledon finalist, and deserves better than the moronic yelling of a British crowd. Watching it, even the inanity of 'People who live near SW19' Sunday doesn't seem so bad.

ps I should add that Philippoussis should perhaps be a bit more relaxed about line calls.

Martin Amis on England in Euro 2004

He calls the penalty shoot-out a 'lottery', albeit a 'tawdry' one (and adds 'but any kind of win, for England, would have been a tawdry lottery') which won't endear him to Mr Barlow, but otherwise I quite enjoyed Martin Amis's article in today's Guardian on England's failed Euro 2004 campaign. Here's two snippets:

The days when an England player's first touch could often be mistaken for an attempted clearance or a wild shot on goal - those days are over. The deficit is not in individual skill, it is in collective skill; it is in the apparently cultural indifference to possession . In 2004, football is no longer a dribbling game, still less a long-ball game (and how many balls did we float to our two haring midgets up front?); it is a possession game. The "clearance", as practised by England, is simply an anachronism. When an international defender heads it away, he heads it to a teammate. When we "clear" it, we just clear it, for two or three seconds.


It granted us the ritual of losing the shootout. Beckham "bravely" (ie vaingloriously) went first, and inspired his team by ballooning the kick without falling on his arse - which is what he did in Istanbul last October. (This time he blamed the penalty miss on the penalty spot, as, with infinite inanity, did Eriksson: "I complained personally to the Uefa official responsible about the penalty spot.")

Weekend points

Two things of note in the weekend papers.

First, in an article about the decline of M&S (incidentally it's a relative decline, M&S's sales per square foot are still double their nearest competitor) a City retail experts notes that:

M&S gives only 'rough design ideas' to its suppliers; they do everything else. He believes it needs to give them exact specifications and to control the process much more closely


Now isn't this exactly what Gordon Brown has been doing with the NHS? And don't we always hear from the Right that the NHS should be run more like private companies, because 'you don't have to wait to buy things on the high street'?

Second, Nick Cohen -- the new favourite of Peter Cuthbertson -- declares that this is a crucial week for American democracy. He notes

There is a possibility that a majority of the judges on the Supreme Court will this week say what the Prime Minister should have said and declare that Guantanamo can't continue as it is. The leak to the Guardian last week of a belated appeal from Blair to Bush to release the four remaining British detainees suggests that Whitehall suspects that the court will do that.

If it doesn't, of course, you can give up on American democracy

Saturday, June 26, 2004

The Sun newspaper

Today has some interesting stories on the home page of its website (and presumably in the print edition too)

"SWISS BANKER apologises to Sven" (you can guess that one)
"REF cheated with blonde" (that one's not hard either)
"TIME is up for clocks -- the SUN urges readers to boycott all things Swiss"
"The SUN SAYS - Idiot Swiss Ref"

Their voxpop box adds a 29yr old moron asking, “Why a Swiss ref? Surely there were referees from countries that we hadn’t beaten.”

In other news, 'WE feared mob would kill' we learn more details on yesterday's horrifying attack by 'fans' on a pub merely because it contained Portuese nationals.

"TERRIFIED Portuguese soccer fans told yesterday of their fear as a pub was besieged by a hate-filled mob of 300 hooligans.

Sixty people, including women and children, barricaded themselves inside the Red Lion pub in Thetford, Norfolk as violence flared within minutes of England’s defeat.

The pub was bombarded with bricks, rocks and bottles and several Portuguese had their faces and hands cut by flying glass.

Fifteen people had been arrested yesterday. One Portuguese said: “We thought we were going to be killed.”

One of the pub’s Portuguese managers, Leonel Cunca, 38, added: “What happened was terrible — but we are not going to go away because of it.”"

Euro 2004

Nick has an interesting post up on Fistful on why smaller teams may be doing better these days in international touraments. Basically he suggests that aside from fatigue, it may be down to the greater diversity of league experience smaller clubs have (i.e. almost all English/German/Spanish/Italian players play for their own national leagues, whilst smaller nations' players play all around Europe). It's a good argument, and I'll try to provide some statistical evidence (thought the time period might be too short); however one thing I've noticed is that most of the Greece squad (perhaps not the team) do play in Greece.

Update: On similar grounds is this letter to the FT in 2000.

Friday, June 25, 2004

The National Review does Economics

"What the senators and media don't get is the basic equation that defines the role of government deficits in the economy: The federal government deficit = non-government savings (of net financial assets). That's fact, not theory, a.k.a. an "accounting identity." Non-government savings include that of both residents of the U.S. and foreigners. If the federal budget deficit of $450 billion about equals the current account deficit, it means that all the net financial assets added by the deficit are being saved by foreigners, who desire to hold all those dollar-denominated U.S. financial assets and are willing to net export to us in order to get them.

This data indicates is that the federal deficit is too small for the U.S. domestic sector to save anything! Domestic savings are low because the budget deficit is too low."

I haven't made this up. It's here (via Matt Yglesias).

Let's repeat their argument very slowly. The US domestic sector has no savings because the US government's deficit is too small. Oh my.

Standing up for Britain to the Europeans

Elsewhere, scores of Portuguese fans - including children - were escorted to safety by police after being besieged inside a pub by England supporters for more than two hours.

Missiles, including bottles, were thrown at the pub in Thetford, Norfolk, which is managed by a group of Portuguese businessmen, following the dramatic game.

Seven people were arrested for public order offences and several police officers were injured.

They were taken to Thetford and Kings Lynn police stations and will be interviewed on Friday, a police spokesman said.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Pollard

I have little to add to Bobbie and Nick's posts on the stupidity of Stephen Pollard's latest 'will this do' piece except to note in a long rant about Glastonbury he doesn't once mention the word 'music'.

As an aside I've been to many English summer 'season' events, such as Wimbledon, Henley, Ascot etc and almost all of them are drug-fuelled too. The main difference is the drug is Verve Cliquot, or at least was after that company's expensive advertising campaign in the late 1990s.

Abu Ghraib

While we cannot fully discount the possibility that Hitchens is only telling us what the Iranian Secret Services want us to know, this Slate column of his on June 14th is pretty damning over the coalition behaviour at Abu Ghraib.

"The graphic videos and photographs that have so far been shown only to Congress are, I have been persuaded by someone who has seen them, not likely to remain secret for very long. And, if you wonder why formerly gung-ho rightist congressmen like James Inhofe ("I'm outraged more by the outrage") have gone so quiet, it is because they have seen the stuff and you have not. There will probably be a slight difficulty about showing these scenes in prime time, but they will emerge, never fear. We may have to start using blunt words like murder and rape to describe what we see. And one linguistic reform is in any case already much overdue. The silly word "abuse" will have to be dropped. No law or treaty forbids "abuse," but many conventions and statutes, including our own and the ones we have urged other nations to sign, do punish torture—which is what we are talking about here at a bare minimum."

As Backword Dave noted however, then Hitchens goes off into his own favourite brand of non-sequiters and strawmen.

Wimbledon

I went to Wimbledon on Monday. Here's a tiny picture of Andy Roddick playing on Centre Court.



Sadly due to rain we only got to see one set of the Roddick game, but whoah can that man serve. There's a handy mph gauge in the corner of the court, and I'd say most of his serves were over 125 mph, with every so often a 145 mph serve. This is fast, and one would think makes him unbeatable on grass.

9Things that are better value than the Queen - Part One

Let's accept, despite it almost certainly not taking into account many of the true costs, the Royal Family's own estimation of the cost to each taxpayer of the Queen.

61p.

Is that good or bad value for money? Let's look at other products of similar price.

One can of diet coke from Pret a Manger (60p) - BETTER VALUE.
The Independent newspaper (60p) - BETTER VALUE
One minute video call on the Three phone network (50p) - BETTER VALUE
1/5th of a pint of beer in average London pub (60p) - BETTER VALUE
10 minutes parking on Kensington Park Road (60p) - WORSE VALUE
One colour print-out on a colour laserwriter (60p) - WORSE VALUE


So I'd put the Queen's value at somewhere above London parking charges, but somewhere below London pub prices.



Spying on or for Iran? That is the choice

If it turns out that the British serviceman captured by the Iranians were in fact spying, is this Tony Blair's 'putting distance' between himself and George Bush that many of us have hoped for?

I would have preferred a less inflamatory method, but you can't deny that there is an obvious split. Bush prefers to pay people to spy for Iran on the United States, whilst our Prime Minister prefers to pay people to spy on Iran, for the United Kingdom. Good only Tony!

Dear old Melanie Phillips

In the Sunday Telegraph on links between Al Qaeda and Saddam:

"Recently, yet more evidence has emerged. The Wall Street Journal reported that captured documents listed one Ahmed Hikmat Shakir as a senior officer in the elite paramilitary Saddam Fedayeen. By an amazing coincidence, an Ahmed Hikmat Shakir was present at the January 2000 al-Qa'eda "summit" in Kuala Lumpur at which the September 11 attacks were planned.

It is of course possible that this was a different Ahmed Hikmat Shakir"

From the Washington Post

"Yesterday, the senior administration official said Lehman [and by association Phillips -- MJT] had probably confused two people who have similar-sounding names.

One of them is Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi, identified as an al Qaeda "fixer" in Malaysia. Officials say he served as an airport greeter for al Qaeda in January 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, at a gathering for members who were to be involved in the attacks on the USS Cole, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Iraqi military documents, found last year, listed a similar name, Lt. Col. Hikmat Shakir Ahmad, on a roster of Hussein's militia, Saddam's Fedayeen. "

So yes, Mel, it almost certainly is a different person. Note also however the shameful way in which she approaches these issues. After saying 'it is of course possible' she added 'However, Hayes reveals subsequent events showed this man was very important indeed to Iraq'.

In other words, it doesn't really matter to her whether it was the same person or not. Saddam was Evil. Saddam was Bad. Thus everything George W Bush does is Right. And Good.

(Original story - Guardian diary)

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Cuthbertson on Pensioners, Europe, Hell-holes

Cuthbertson on British pensioners living abroad:

"it's because people sense that Europe is not going to be a thriving centre of work and industry that many retire there to appreciate the peace and quiet. Britons retire to Europe because of its economic slumber, not because they fail to recognise that setting up a business or attempting to earn a living in France is a bad idea."

Now presumably British pensioners who retire to Europe for the peace and quiet and economic slumber are no different from pensioners who retire elsewhere. Figures are not easy to come by, but using a variety of sources (one of which was this) I have come up with these tentative figures (though obviously annual emigration would be better), which chart GDP growth over the last 5 years with the number of UK pensioners living in the country (or as a % of the population):




As you can see there is no relationship.

Furthermore, as the Economist pointed out last week, from an article by Goldman Sachs (see a few posts down), the Eurozone economies have grown as fast as the United States or UK over the last 10 years if you exclude Germany. This will come as no surprise to most people (but probably to Peter "Well I have to confess I know little about Norway - but Sweden and Holland?! Both of them are degenerate hell-holes" Cuthbertson) but there aren't many British pensioners living in Germany. Thus pensioners don't seem to be living abroad for the reasons that he says.

I also doubt that pensioners live in European countries because they think they are good places to setup a business, or to earn a living. But who is saying that they do? If they were to do this, they wouldn't really be pensioners, but economic migrants, and we know what Cuthbertson thinks about them.

Monday, June 21, 2004

What our MPs say

A great little gizmo via Chris Lightfoot is PITT, which tells you how many times our MPS say various words of phrases. "I was wrong" gets a surprisingly high number of mentions, probably in the 'he should say 'I was wrong'' type though.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Athletics Records

A slight change of topic here. I was wondering why is the woman's marathon record so good? Currently it's held by our own Paula Radcliffe in 2hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds. This is only 108% of the men's record, which is 2 hours 4 minutes and 55 seconds.

Now I'd always assumed this was because women are closer to men in performance over longer distances. But in fact the 100m record is only 107% of the men's.

The reason the marathon record is amazing is that women actually seem to get worse relative to men the longer the race. This chart shows the women's record as a % of men's for all the races from the 100m to the 100,000m. The marathon is shown by the arrow.



Indeed take out the marathon, and the regression line is actually quite a good fit with an r-squared of 75%, and a regression line that says woman's records as a % of men are 103% + the log of 0.01 times the distance in m.



The reasons for this I don't know. One might be that woman very rarely run the other longer distances, and so the records might be 'bad'. However the 5000m is ran often and that is 'worse' than the marathon record.

The other interesting thing is the women's record at the short-end, i.e the 100m and 150m seem 'too good'. These are held by the late Florence Griffith-Joyner, whose records were massively better than any race before (or even since I think). Thus the relative performance of women at the short end might actually be worse than it looks here.

Update There's some interesting comments in the comments section. Having read them I did this chart looks at the 88 best performances in four different races in 2002, again with women as a % of men on the vertical axis, and this time position in 2002 best times on the horizontal. There's all kinds of things wrong with this analysis (I think I should only include each person once?), but at least it shows that the 100m is the closest of them all. This, the more I think about it, might be down to the fact that the start is a major part of the time, and there is less difference in the starting ability of men and women.

It also shows that the 3000m and the marathon are very similar in profile, and that it seems the reason the world record is nearer the men's is down to their being a few very good individual woman who run a few very good times, particularly Paula Radcliffe.

Friday, June 18, 2004

European economic performance

I’ve been promising an article about the relative merits of the US and Eurozone economies for some time now, based on an article by Kevin Daly of Goldman Sachs. However laziness and a preference for making snarky comments have meant I haven’t done anything. Luckily someone at The Economist has, so I’ll paraphrase theirs.

Essentially the argument is well-known generally. US GDP growth, averaging 3.3% p.a in the ten years to 2004 outperformed the Eurozone, which managed 2.1%. However much of this is due to America’s faster population growth. GDP per capita grew at 2.1% in America and 1.8% in the Eurozone.

The US productivity miracle is also less impressive than commonly thought, due to differences in the way statistics are presented. US non-farm output per house grew by 2.6% over the same period, whilst EU GDP per worker managed only 1.5%. But these are different definitions. Comparing like with like and you get 2.0% in the US and 1.7% in the Eurozone. And if you adjust for economic cycles, the Eurozone has had faster productivity grown over the 10 years (though not in the last 5).

What about jobs? In the US they have grown at 1.3% a year between 1994 and 2003, in the Eurozone 1.1%. Return on capital? The same.

Furthermore the official data boosts US growth and minimises that of the Eurozone. A famous example is computer spending – investment in the US and an expense in the Eurozone. One adds to output, the other doesn’t. Also on computers is measures of prices – in the US a doubling of power is seen as a 50% fall in price. Many European countries don’t do this.

Of course European GDP per capita remains substantially lower than in the US, though perhaps for reasons that mean it can never be fully removed. Also most of the discrepancy is due to Europeans working shorter hours, which is good if it reflects a preference for leisure, but bad if it reflects labour- or other-market laws. The Economist suggests there is evidence it is a voluntary choice.

In short therefore European and US economic performance has been similar over the last ten years, and there seems no reason to believe it won’t be similar over the next ten years, particularly given the continuing implementation of labour- and product-market reform. If Europe wants to be an economic superpower going forward it needs to worry about its GDP not just its GDP per capita, which will require greater population growth (whether by birth or immigration). But in terms of increasing living standards the continent is not doing badly; something you wouldn't hear from most UK and US commentators.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Football

As the sensible people argue it out with the racists in the comment section below, I'll note that according to the BBC France only need a draw in their last game to ensure qualification.

Surely they only need to avoid a 2-0 defeat? For basically their competitors for qualification are now Switzerland, who they play in their last game, and whom they have a four goal better goal difference.

For if France win, they win they group. If France draw, then they have five points, and must qualify, for then England can get 6, or Croatia 5, but if they do, Croatia get 2, or England get 3. Switzerland will of course only have 2.

If France lose, then they only have 4 points. But this will be more than one of England or Croatia. Switzerland will have 4 points, but -- unless it's 2-0 -- a worse goal difference.

Or have I made a mistake?

Iraq was not involved in 9/11

My initial reaction to the news that the US commission on 9/11 has found no evidence to link Iraq to 9/11 was similar to Nick Barlow's. We know that. Tell us something we don't.

However on further reflection I realised that this is a news story of great importance. No lesser a figure than the vice-president of the United States is convinced that this is untrue. 20% of Americans believe it to be untrue. Melanie Phillips believes it to be untrue. And so on.

For many of these people that Iraq helped Al Qaeda plan and execute 9/11 is a major reason behind their support for the invasion and occupation of that country. Obviously no-one now believes Iraq had WMD in what I term the 'Robin Cook' capacity, and the startling evidence that the sickening scenes in US prisons in Iraq were ordered from above have perhaps fatally damaged the humanitarian case for the war. Now the Iraq excuse has gone.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The British National Party

Perhaps a little late to affect the election result, I receive a BNP leaflet through the door.

It's much worse than I feared. A few comments:

Is the picture of the Union flag being burnt actually happening in Britain? I would be surprised -- the car is left-hand drive, and the buildings don't look very English.

The linking of ayslum seekers to the Madrid bombing is particularly repugnant. According to the BNP 'asylum is allowing hundreds of 'ayslum bombers' to plan their atrocities in Britain.

Their figures on 97% of ayslum applications being 'bogus' is nonsense. Furthermore the government doesn't let that 97% (if it were 97%) flood into the country.

The asylum flood, the BNP says, has 'helped make Britain a battleground for foreign conflicts'. Eh?

Of course, like some Tories, the BNP wants to bring in a 'Tony Martin' law. Regular readers will remember that this will mean you can kill an old woman who steps on your garden even if you only have a hunch she is about to steal an apple from your garden.

And so. That I haven't listed some of the other madness doesn't mean I agree with it.

Finally, check out this bizarre proposal for financing government spending from the BNP. Debt-free money?!

Monday, June 14, 2004

They're everywhere

As one set of Ukip supporters celebrate "victory", another set react to a defeat.

It would be easy to dismiss the Ukip's relatively strong showing in the Euro elections as an outpouring of tabloid-led ignorant xenophobia made overly important by a small turnout. Nevertheless we must dismiss it as an outpouring of tabloid-led ignorant xenophobia made overly important by a small turnout.

After all in an election in which the Ukip campaigned on a policy of withdrawal from the European Union, vast majorities in every election and in every region voted for parties that are committed to remaining in the European Union.

The government should react to this good news by announcing an immediate date for a referendum on an EU constitution, and announce plans to join the euro.

I'm off to celebrate England's thrashing of France.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

A few hours ago

"It's miles out"
"But..."
"Henri won't score from there. Relax. It's all over"
"But..."
...

"Jesus. How did that happen?"
"Indeed"
"What was that"
"James didn't move"
"No..."

...

"Oh god, we're panicking"
"Gerard!"
"It's a penalty. We've lost"
...
"Jesus"
"Yes, we've realised that Zidane hits the ball hard"

"Well we didn't expect to win"...

I deny I denied that Prince Charles did the thing he denies

so says George Smith, former Royal Valet.

You may recall the story from last year. Smith alleged that the Prince of Wales was caught in a 'compromising' position with another Royal servant, Michael Fawcett.

The allegations, which as far as I am aware have still not been broadcast (though everyone knows what they are), gave us the memorable defence from the creeping Sir Michael Peat, now known as the "Peat Defence"

because the Prince of Wales has told me it's untrue and I believe him implicitly
.

At the time many remarked that the Prince of Wales is a known liar so this was a bit strange but there you go. With George Smith's comments today we now have two know liars. Take your pick.

Are Ukip supporting the French?

Who can forget this piece of forensic Samizdata analysis?:

Basically, it would suit the Conservatives if the England rugby team were to triumph, while many Labour supporters would probably prefer England to make a humiliatingly early exit.


So the question is about tonight's England v France game in the Euro 2004 soccer championships, given an England victory would mean the first 20 pages of the tabloids dominated by sport - do Tory supporters want England to lose, and Labour supporters want England to win?
Or do they both want them to win?

Or -- oh the irony - do Ukip supporters want England to lose!

Pensions

Interesting article by Philip Coggan in the FT on pensions and equities (sadly you have to pay to read it online).

He notes that a common view is that equities are no more risky than bonds over a 20yr time horizon, thus equity prices should be a lot higher (as in they are currently too low, and so offer too high an expected return because investors think they need to be compensated for higher risk). This was (one of) the arguments behind the now legendary "Dow 36,000" book.

It's also the view that has informed much discussion about the benefits of 'defined-contribution' pensions. The argument here was the switch from 'defined-benefit' to 'defined-contribution' may seem to transfer risk from the corporate sector to the individual (Dsquared once had lots of interesting things to say about this), but as long as individuals invested them in equities there would hardly be any risk, and much return (ignore some of the obvious contradictions in this about risk and return -- most pension sellers do).

However one obvious caveat was that most of the analysis was done in the US where equities have always delivered a positive return over 20 year periods since 1900. But since 1900 the US has become the world's dominant political, military and economic power. Clearly investing in it's corporate sector would have been sensible. In Japan there was a period of 50 years without a positive return, France and Italy 70 years. No investor can wait this long.

Furthermore if holding equities over a longer time period was less risky, then the cost of 'insurance', i.e. a put option (the right but not the obligation to sell equities at a given price), would fall the longer for which it was available. This is not the case (of course this might mean put options are mispriced, but the implications of this for financial academics is probably too horrible to contemplate).

Indeed one reason why equities might not outperform now is that they have outperformed in the past. Prices are now much higher than their historical levels for precisely that reason. Expected returns (everywhere except the investment industry) have thus fallen.

Thus back to pensions, equities are clearly an important component of any investment strategy, but are probably too risky given most people tend to want to avoid destitution first and foremost, and enjoy luxury as a secondary consideration.

Coggan argues therefore that what is needed is a portfolio of index-linked bonds that will guarantee a minimum level of funding in retirement. The figures of course make depressing reading -- curently they return 2%, so you need £100,000 of them to get £2,000 a year. An annuity obviously offers more but index-linked ones offer a much lower initial income, which makes them unattractive to most pensioners, at least to begin with. And when you are a pension the 'to begin with' is rather important, particularly if you are actuarially challenged.

Thus Coggan argues, what we need is a low-return but safe investment product which creates 'the essence of final salary pensions without the form'. This sounds to me suspiciously like the State Earnings Related Pension scheme, or at least a better variant.

Indeed given Coggan's argument the state pension must clearly be a contender for returning to centre state as the core of pensioners' income. As we have argued many times on this site, there is no demographic problem that is made worse by having a state pension and indeed in many ways state pension provision is much cheaper efficient and effective. If you haven't already read these two excellent papers (in pdf form), the first (and easier and shorter) by John Eatwell and the second by Nicholas Barr (search google for [pensions barr IMF]; it's the first choice).

Friday, June 11, 2004

Ukip

This site, basing itself on the unholy combination of Johann Hari and the Daily Mail has been at the forefront of defending our nation against the loopy UKIP, or as it seems it's now called, EweKip.

We will not get the European election results until Sunday, but already the party has picked up some seats in the council or local elections and some forecast the party will get 12 or more seats in the European elections.

Now for a moment forgetting about the personalities (hard as it is) let's concentrate on an aspect of their policy that seems to me remarkable.

In their manifesto they note that they are keen on "freedom". They declare they want "freedom" from the EU, from crime, from overcrowding, from bureacratic politicans and from political correctness (bizarrely the last seems to mean the freedom to graffiti buildings but I digress. They also express much of this longing for "freedom" as a wish to leave the EU, the EU that is 'setting our laws in secret', out to 'destroy' our agriculture, attempting to 'tie up' our businesses in 'red tape'.

This is the remarkable thing. For a party that cries out for "freedom" and "independence" for the UK there is nothing anywhere on their website, or in their manifesto, about Britain's relationship with America. Nothing about the US bases on British soil, Britain's membership of Nato (which obliges it to defend foreign countries), its reliance on the US nuclear deterrent, the admission that we cannot fight a war without America, etc etc. But in EweKip world these issues do not affect our "freedom" and "independence". It reminds me of that time when 'libertarians' were getting all worked up over a suggestion by the Council of Europe that a "right to reply" should be allowed on online media. This was proof, they declared, of an EU-led assault on freedom of speech. That it wasn't an EU body, that it wasn't a law, that it wouldn't have been an assult on freedom of speech was irrelevant. At the same time the US had negotiated an extradition treaty with the UK in which US courts could get a suspect without UK courts approval, but oddly in reverse the opposite didn't apply. And not a word from those defenders of freedom. The conclusion, as with EweKip, is that it's simply Europhobia.


Secondly, there is a wider issue here on why people hate the EU so much. When you speak to EweKip supporters, or Conservatives, or even conservatives, at first they will tell you it's to due with the expense of the European parliament, or the fact they're letting Polish people into the country. But scrath a little deeper (to use a Melanism) and their main complaints about the EU (and let's not deny it -- they don't like it) is essentially that is is destroying an image of 'old England' that they believe in. This is the Roger Scruton approach, where the EU is to blame for the removal of the Archers, imperial measurements, the hedgerows, the villages, the sound of larks in the morning, 'the tinkle of the hammer on the anvil in the country smithy', the squirearchy, the aristocracy, the...well you get the picture.

Now clearly there is some truth in this. The EU, through basically making Britain more a part of an integrated continental economy, has wrought major changes to our way of life. But what they fail to realise is that most of the far-reaching changes in Britain -- add in a more relaxed and permissive social sphere -- have only something to do with the EU, and much more to do with global capitalism and Thatcherism. Labour governments up to Callaghan had basically been a bulwark against this, for want of a better word, 'modernism'. It was Thatcher that destroyed "old England", for better or worse, and regardless of the hopes of EweKip and the Tories, it ain't coming back.

Ps: I also think a lot of it is pure ignorance. Remember David Carr, presumably an intelligent man, who was shocked that Brussles had cafes and bars.



Thursday, June 10, 2004

BBC2

Following the Reagan programme is a great programme (That Was the Week We Watched ) in which they just tell you what was on TV in on week (the last in September) of 1986 (or I assume another week in other episodes). This is slap bang in the centre of my childhood (I was 11) and unlike say 'I love 1986' doesn't have Steward Macconey (sp?) pretending to remember bits of TV shows.

Reagan

Excellent programme on Ronald Reagan, narrated by Gavin Esler, on BBC Two. Fair minded, comprehensive and genuinely interesting (albeit with little new).

It also had a clip of the famous Reagan 'I have outlawed Russia - the bombing starts in five minutes' which I had never seen before.

Await the squeals of Biased BBC,

"But it didn't say he single-handedly won the cold war, banned taxes, doubled GNP and hunted foxes!"

Pain

Out this evening with some journalists so I thought I should remind you of a libertarian's view on what he'd like to see journalists who blame terrorism on 'whitey' or 'capitalism' (I'm not making this sick stuff up).

Convulsed even. I’ve been watching Channel 4’s “News”. I know, it’s not the BBC but it’s all part of the same thing: the cancer of bent and twisted journalism. Bastards. I want these people to feel pain. I mean real pain. The sort of thing only a professional torturer can dole out. It’s the only thing I think that will ever wake them up to reality and the responsibilities of their offices.


Answers please to how you reconcile "libertarianism" (even this joke kind) with "professional torture".

An Administration out of control

with a President who thinks he's a King.

"Between me and the ballot box"

Off to the polls we went and in the style of a Respect candidate (who certainly won the 'most people out supporting them' prize) I'm going to give you an exciting photo diary.

Voting was taking place in the local primary school, which seems strange given it isn't half-term anymore.



And here it is (photo digitally altered to remove girlfriend)


Once inside we had lots of fun. First I hanged around after being told how to vote 'so I can tell the girlfriend how to vote' (that always gets some laughs), then I was told off for trying to take a photo of the ballot paper, "it's illegal". I pointed out that no lesser luminary than Peter 'Truth Unvarnished' Cuthbertson has done that, but to no avail. I checked the rules at the end and couldn't see anything about taking photographs, but I assume they're right on the grounds it makes this sort of thing much easier. Finally I was asked who I had voted for, and in the manner of every election I've ever vote in, I said in my best Captain Mainwaring voice "It's between me and the ballot box".

Then we went to here for a coffee.



And then I saw this strange woman in a window, who I imagine is voting Respect.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Losing the war on Terror

Many people and bloggers got overexcited by State Department figures released in May showing global terrorists attacks fell to their lowest levels for 20 years.

Sadly as Kevin Drum notes today, they forgot the first thing most of us have learnt about things told by the Bush Adminstration, it's probably a lie. In fact it seems that terrorists attacks might be at their highest for 20 years. This comes after 20 years of (by and large) falls in their number.

If this report turns out to be true (and of course we met yet learn that the figures are actually an invention of the Iranian secret service) it doesn't bode well for the war on terror. Furthermore one fears that this is an inevitable consequence of George Bush's decision to transfer money, resources, military power and administrative time from the war on terror to invading Iraq. The November election has never seemed more crucial.

More Daily Mail stuff

Yes I went to the gym today.

And wasn't it worth it! Some classic moments from today's madness

* First it exposes the UKIP with the classic headline "Cheer-led by celebrities, supported by countless decent - if frustrated - Britons, few realise that UKIP has worrying racist links and a sleazy Mr Bean look-alive MEP". In the expose -- presumably planted by Conservative Central Office -- we learn that according to estranged founder Alan Sked, MEP Nigel Farage once said "We will never win the nigger vote. The nig-nogs will never vote for us". Also "prospective voters may be interested to hear that he quaffed £100-a-bottle champagne in seedy lap-dancing clubs". It also alleges that he is a drunkard, whose drinking has led him to miss parliamentary votes.

* Second there is the strangest new book by former Tory cabinet minister John Nott, "Growing Old Disgracefully". The title is accurate. Nott is off on a cruise and says 'what really is worrying me is my sex drive....can I control my testosterone for a week'. Sadly all his fellow cruisers are rather unattractive, except for his wife, but despite her glamour she can't provide the excitement of a 'chase after a bit of extra-marital flesh'. His cabin, with two singles, is disappointingly small, but a double would cost £1000 extra, which would 'require the presence of the most expensive tart in history' to make it 'financially worthwhile'. And on and on.

* Third, the most priceless quote in the Financial Mail. It goes, "Even the largest financial firms can make mistakes". No! Say it ain't so!

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Respect?

Sitting having a drink last night and who should pop by but those crazy boys from RESPECT, in what I think was once called a 'battle-bus'. Funnily enough just out of shot on the right of the picture was a large group of London4Ken supporters.

.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Whoops

Via Harry's Place (comments) I saw reference to this startling article by Nick Cohen back in 2002 where he says the claims of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress to left-wing support were more than that of the ANC. It appears therefore not just half of Washington but also our foremost investigative journalist was taken in my Chalabi, who basically it appears was giving US secrets to the Iranians (there are obvious claims and counter-claims about his behaviour, but if you read (say) Josh Marshall you get the idea that most of the main claims are true).

Worse still, if this Nick Cohen (and it might not be, but it's bylined London and Observer) is the same Nick Cohen (who at the time retained a critical eye on the actions of the US government ) who said:

Which makes it very strange is that the US government, in the shape of the State Department, is currently doing all it can to shut down the only reliable pro-Western source of intelligence on Saddam’s dictatorship; the clandestine information collection programme run by the Iraqi National Congress (INC).

I'm back

Some minor comments.

1. Ronald Reagan. I imagine history will think much less of Reagan than it appears now, but on the whole I had rather a soft spot for him. Obviously after 1986 things went downhill, and he probably should have been impeached over Iran-Contra, but until then he managed to avoid making any huge mistakes. On most issuse I, like most Europeans, tend to emphasise too much the President's power and not enought those in Congress, and in the domestic field it's hard to really think of anything particularly bad or good that you can hold Reagan responsible for. Brad De Long suggests his deficits cut growth by a non-neglible amount, but there's too many 'what ifs' to make much of this, I would think.

In foreign policy a President has more power and here is record is decidely mixed. In Lebanon he behaved in exactly the way American conservatives (wrongly) charged the Spanish with behaving in the face of terrorist attacks - he cut and run. In Latin & South America his policies were particularly poor, and over Iran-Contra criminal. That leaves his big moment, which was victory in the cold war. Again this has probably been overstated, with the benefit of hindsight the Soviet Union was always going to be in trouble in the 1980s and 1990s, with its economy grinding to a halt. Nevertheless Reagan deserves some credit for sticking to the simple prescription of freedom vs evil (however flawed that was) and not making a bodge of things when arms control offers were made.

Finally of course no-one can fail to be touched by Nancy Reagan's devotion to her late husband over the last ten years (and before) and one can only hope that once the great sadness of the present has lessened she can now have a fulfilling life in the years remaining to her.

2. The death of a BBC cameraman and the serious injuries sustained by reporter Frank Gardiner in a shooting in Saudi Arabia. This terrible news reminds us again, as we sit typing away in the safety of our homes, the risks that foreign correspondents face just doing their jobs. It also reminds us that though I like to laugh at those on the Right whgo believe journalists should be tortured (professionally IIRC) merely for disagreeing with them over the best way to fight terrorists, it's actually not a laughing matter.

3. Barcelona is possibly my favourite city in Europe (except British ones). The idea of plonking a huge city next to a beach is audacious, and brilliant.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

A message to my readers

Bob, Nick, Dave and Richard (update: and Peter - five, oh yes!),

I'm going off to sunny Spain (British air traffic control permitting) for the weekend so there'll be no posts. Apologies an' all that, but that's just the way it is.

Yours

Matt

I spotted it first

Nick Barlow notes that Matthew Yglesias has finally solved the mysteries of George W Bush:

As in physics, where quantum field theory and general relativity coexist uneasily, we yearn for a grand unified theory of Bushism that would put the two halves of the agenda together. Now, at last, with the revelation that Ahmad Chalabi has been passing intelligence information to the regime in Iran, the opportunity presents itself to construct just such a unified theory. The truth, hard as it is to accept, is that Bush is an Iranian agent.


If this startling news is true, I'd like to note that I deserve a credit in the discovery with my note of Bush's foreign policy if he wins a second term.

Anyway now we know. Nick says that 'for one he welcomes our new Iranian Overlords'; for now I'm still keeping faith with the telepathic parrots.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

What business school taught me

about the Iraq war, according to dsquared.

More Phillips madness

Melanie Phillips, who believes that every educated person in this country who opposed the invasion of Iraq believes it was 'cooked up by the Jews', now explainsthe story of Ahmed Chalabi. Approvingly quoting another website,

'In a way, the Americans and the Iranians used Chalabi for their own purposes. The Iranians used him to screen information from the Americans more than to give false information. The Americans used him to try to convince the Iranians that they had a sufficient degree of control over the situation and that it was in their interests to maintain stability in the Shiite regions. At this point, it is honestly impossible to tell who got the better of whom. But this much is certain. Chalabi, for all his cleverness, is just another used-up spook, trusted by no one, trusting even fewer. Geopolitics trumps conspiracy every time.'


our Melanie concludes:

Unfortunately, the ideologues, fellow travellers and dupes of the anti-war lobby have got this precisely the other way round
.


Ah. Of course. It's the left's fault. In the real world of course, a bit like 'fly-paper' theory (that one was thought up by Andrew Sullivan, IIRC) this is probably as silly as Mel's theory that every educated anti-war people think the war was 'all cooked up by the Jews'. Kevin Drum has the more realistic story.


Cranks civil war

Now the UKIP fight back. Howard is "stop gap" leader and the Conservative party is "tired", with as many "cranks" as the UKIP.

Where will it all end? This dreadful poster? (Note by the way the strange logic -- we are members of the EU, our unemployment is much lower than (a selective) set of EU countries, so we must leave).

.

It's the left's fault II

Another in an occasional series which notes with shock (not!) about how the pro-war types are trying to blame the left for the Iraq debacle.

Today "Phomesy", commenting on a post on Harry's Place:

"Part of the whole problem was that in the lead up to war much needed discussion on the post war reconstruction simply never happened because the argument was about whther to go to war in the goddamn first place. "

Vote UKIP!

Have you heard the latest madness, on a par with banning bananas for being too curved? Victorial plums have to be 38mm in size, unmarked, with a stalk. If they don't meet this, despite being perfectly edible they are 'graded out', and thrown away, a proportion that often accounts for 35% of the total.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Obesity and inequality

Over at Harry's Place, Marcus Laughton takes issue with a recent Polly Toynbee column linking obesity with inequality. In particularly, citing evidence from another blogger, he notes that there appears no relationship between inequality and obesity, with the most unequal societies in Latin America and Africa often the least obese, and with a handy little chart to show this.

Well go figure, but the argument is obviously not about developing countries. Inequality in such countries often means going hungry, so it's not surprisingly the incidence of obesity is somewhat low. The argument, based on (amongst other things) access to cheap junk food, is clearly about rich countries.

Running the data only on what used to be the OECD, and now I think is the "core OECD", things look a little different.

.

The relationship is certainly not perfect, but there does seem to be a weak one. It's somewhat skewed by the extremities, with the most unequal country having the most obese people (America, as Toynbee says) while the least unequal with the least obese people (Japan). The former obviously supports Toynbee's argument, while the latter probably doesn't.

But no-one was saying that there weren't other factors involved, as Japan's position implies. It is worth remembering that inequality data (and I imagine obesity data) is pretty inaccurate. And there has been published academic work which supports and refutes Toynbee's position. But let's deal with the argument, rather than a misrepresented one.

Telegraph doesn't understand housing & markets & politics

Telegraph editorial today criticises John Prescott for saying "we need" half a million new houses, saying that this is socialist planning akin to incomes policies and the three-day week. It notes that Ministers do not say how many cars we should manufacture (did they ever?) but they still feel we should do this with housing.

All fair enough, one might think. Then however it says that the solution is devolution to local communities, where they can weigh up the claims of affordable housing and preey hedgerows.

But of course this is MORE government intervention, just at the local level. What the Telegraph should really be calling for, it if believes its opening paragraph, is for removal of all planning regulations. Currently due to them building land sells for £2.76m per hectare, 300 times more than the value of agricultural land, which fetches a mere £9,122. Remove them and you would see what the market would do with the land, and I can tell you that it might be a somewhat extreme version of what the Telegraph says:

"has been a sudden and irreversible transformation of our landscape, with large parts of Kent, Surrey, Susses, Berkshire and Hertfordshire becoming a more or less continous metropolis"

Clearly there are good reasons not to do this totally, but spare us the lectures on free markets please!

Tory defections to UKIP

I haven't seen a great deal of blog comment on this potentially interesting story. Basically four Tory peers were stripped of the Conservative whip last week for endorsing the UKIP in the forthcoming elections. Add to this the most recent YouGov poll, which showed that surging UKIP support was at the cost of Tory votes, and you have the recipe for a political crisis.

According to today's Telegraph Michael Howard is going to 'halt Tory desertions' by making a more virulenty anti-European speech. Would you ever had believed that from the most principled politician of our generation? Well obviously yes, but to his credit he has started (or his aides have) using the language the rest of us do about the UKIP, as witnessed in Johann Hari's column I linked to last week.