Monday, March 13, 2017

Brexit and all that...

After agitating for nearly 30 years, and writing endless screeds on this 'ere blog, it would be remiss of your humble Devil not to mark the passing of the bill to Trigger Article 50 through the House of Lords.

So, hooray!

However, I have always (at least in my more sober moments) maintained that Brexit entails considerable risk—and it is important that we keep these risks in mind when negotiating our exit from the EU. To be able to do so, one needs to actually understand what is involved: not only so that we can measure the risks, but also so that we can understand—faced with limited resources—which ones we really need to focus on.

For these kinds of discussions, EU Referendum and Pete North have always been an excellent resources for the ignorant (although, possibly, not the short of fuse!). However, it is for this in-depth, technical knowledge that I asked Pete to contribute to the Kitchen a couple of weeks ago—you can read his perorations here, here, and here (and I would urge you to do so).

Trade in general

Since your humble Devil is unable to match Pete's in-depth knowledge, I would like to summarise how I understand the different strands of the situation and how, therefore, we might proceed with minimal resource and minimal risk. Let me summarise, from my understanding, how this works:

  1. the first thing to understand is that the world of trade actually encompasses a huge web of standards: many of these standards have been initiated unilaterally, but then developed alongside other countries through various trade agreements, treaties, and supra-national efforts. Just think—there are standards for labelling car tyres, let alone medicines, food, etc.;
  2. in order to facilitate trade between companies—whether within the same country or between nations—there needs to be a basic, and agreed, standard of quality (for just about everything). There are essentially two ways to approach this: "harmonisation" (favoured by the EU and in which the standards are defined by the EU, and then imposed on Member States through legislation) or "mutual recognition" (usually bashed out via bilateral treaties, and whereby one country recognises the other country's standard as being broadly equivalent to its own);
  3. these standards are generally a means to protect the general public from dodgy... well, dodgy anything. As such, they tend to be rigorously enforced by the more developed nations in particular.


Many of the trading standards are defined by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), at which most countries have some kind of representation; and it must be understood the the WTO is essentially as technocratic as the EU. Some quick headlines however:

  1. agreements made at the WTO are, in the main, voluntary—not enforced by supra-national law. The downside being, of course, that if you do not agree to abide by the standards defined then no one has to trade your goods;
  2. the other thing to understand is that the UK is a member of the WTO. However, whilst we are part of the European Union, we are obliged to vote for the common EU position—whether we want to or not. In effect, the EU takes our vote by proxy;
  3. and it is because of this that many declare that, the WTO—but not EU—member, Norway has rather more control over their own trade policy than the UK does. And this despite Norway's rather less powerful status in the world as a whole.

Please note (and you will see that this is a constant refrain as we delve into our relationship with the EU) how our vote is co-opted by stealth.

Many Leavers will tell you that the EU does not have a seat at the WTO—that we are only represented by the EU; Remainers, on the other hand, will argue that we do have a seat, and that Leavers are talking bollocks.

It is worth, for a moment, sitting back and admiring the way in which the EU and our own governments have made both statements true—whilst concealing the true state of affairs.

Why do we care?—it's imports that are important...

Well, yes, of course—as good little economists, we understand that.

I cannot make bread (and have not the slightest interest in learning to grow corn, grind the bastard, make bread, etc.), and so I import it. I do this by exporting my labour in exchange for money, and then using that money to buy bread.


However, when you import bread into your home, you want to make sure that it's not cut with rat poison, for instance (this problem is, after all, why illegal drugs do so much damage—they are unregulated and thus cut with all sorts of adulterants that are, in large part, what do the real damage to the body).

And so we have standards—standards that say, amongst other things, that we trust that your bread is not cut with rat poison. And part of the reason that we trust that it is not cut with rat poison is because your government has already certified that you meet the standard for non-poisoned bread.

Great—80% of the UK's trade and commerce is internal to this nation. Fantastico!

Imports sorted!

But we've had a shit harvest, and we'd like to import some bread from Holland.

"I know—we'll tell Holland what our non-poisoned bread standards are, insist that they should meet them, they disagree and say that our standards aren't good enough, we negotiate around that, have a few junkets, and then...

"Oh, fuck—everyone has starved to death for lack of bread. And now we politicians have no one's tax to live off. Shit."

Sorting it all out beforehand...

Luckily, we create treaties and agreements between nations in order to stop this kind of problem (and remember that, currently, some 30% of our food comes from the EU).

And we have been doing this in concert with the European Union for nearly 50 years now. This is the essence of the Single Market and, indeed, the Customs Union.

Because the EU sets the standards and forces the EU Member States to enforce these standards into law (and enforce those laws. Ideally—we all remember the horse-meat problem, right?), we are able to trade goods pretty freely across the EU.

So why leave?

Well, the problem is that all of these things are very slow-moving: and with the EU setting standards, there is an inevitable stifling of new technologies and processes. I think that the potential for change—across the entire political sphere—is a massive opportunity (which I shall more about later).

In one of his recent blogs at the Kitchen, Pete North stated that...
... we need to make the distinction between government and governance...
... and I would consider the maintenance and agreement of these standards to be part of that. At present, this is the most dangerous part. (I shall deal with the "government" in subsequent posts.)

Again, to quote Pete...
The fact is we are not simply ending membership of a golf club where we settle the bill and part company. We are disengaging from a network of agreements, long standing policies and institutions. This cannot be done at the stroke of a pen. There is no ripping up treaties and starting over. For starters that would destroy our credit rating and our international standing, and it would end all of the market access we presently enjoy. Moreover, it would ruin our chances of securing a replacement agreement in the future.
This is going to be difficult. But the best way to face the problems that we are going to have is to understand them, break them down, and to design solutions to them.

None of this will be easy—our supply chains work on "just in time fulfilment", and we need to have software and processes ready. Given the vast volume of transactions that we are talking about—from the point of view of politics, practicality, software, customs checks, etc.—this is going to be a huge endeavour.

Will it be worth it? I believe it will, but time will tell.

Am I glad that we are taking this step? Yes—absolutely.

Why? I shall return to let you know...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

There is no "walk away" option

Due to the lack of a proper threading system, it is difficult to reply to comments adequately. There is one comment on the previous post though that demands a response - with particular regard to what happens if we leave the EU without an agreement...
What you don't get is the WTO rules. Tariffs and barriers ratchet down. Countries that agree to no barriers or tariffs cannot reintroduce them unless both sides agree. The countries are to use the jargon, "bound". So the EU needs the UK's agreement to change the UK's access to the single market post Brexit.

Why would the UK do that when if the EU imposes barriers, it goes to the WTO and gets penalties on the EU countries involved? Remember, the WTO and the EU are separate parallel agreements. Both have to be adhered too. Leaving the EU, the EU countries and the UK still have to adhere to the WTO rules [or leave]
This is the same misapprehension we see in David Davis and John Redwood et al. Our commenter has misunderstood the concept of reciprocity. The EU, under WTO rules cannot impose barriers on us that it does not apply to anyone else. What gives us preferential access is membership of the EU or a specific comprehensive trade agreement.

The crucial point on this issue, is that when we leave, the EU will be applying existing "third country" rules and controls to UK exports. The same ones it applies as a default to all countries which do not presently have some kind of deal with the EU. Contrary to the assertions of Brexit zealots, it will not be erecting barriers against us. They already exist. We are voluntarily moving outside the castle walls.

We are told by Brexiteers that we can trade on WTO terms citing the USA as an example. Except that there are many different kinds of trade agreements. The USA may not have a deep and comprehensive agreement with the EU but it does have dozens of cooperation agreements and customs accords (as illustrated above). In fact, there are only nine countries presently trading with the EU without an agreement of some kind. Most of the world has some sort of agreement, be it only a basic one.

Leaving without an agreement means ending our EU relationship in entirety without anything to replace it. That means an immediate end to free movement of goods and services along with passenger rights, chemicals registrations, pharmaceutical certifications etc. Tariffs are neither here nor there. The EU is a complex system of government developed over forty years and without an agreement our exports are dead in the water.

In this, we cannot retaliate since, under WTO rules, we cannot apply a new set of barriers to the EU without extending them to everyone else. Since imposing import controls would effectively disrupt supply chains, that would lead to empty shelves within days. Do we stop supermarket shelves being restocked just so that we can retaliate against the EU? And what do we tell people when they go hungry?

The fact is we are not simply ending membership of a golf club where we settle the bill and part company. We are disengaging from a network of agreements, long standing policies and institutions. This cannot be done at the stroke of a pen. There is no ripping up treaties and starting over. For starters that would destroy our credit rating and our international standing, and it would end all of the market access we presently enjoy. Moreover, it would ruin our chances of securing a replacement agreement in the future.

Like any other Brexiteer, I would like to see us out of the EU as soon as possible but there are no magic wand solutions - and whether we like it or not, the EU will continue to exist for a time to come. We need an amicable and measured departure and where possible we should seek to minimise disruption to the normal flow of goods. That is not going to happen without compromise and it is not going to happen overnight.

For decades, leavers have been screaming from the rooftops that the EU is more than just a trade bloc. This is something of an understatement. It is a supreme government for Europe - and one we had no business joining. But since we did join, the damage will take considerable work to undo - and it will take a very long time. Leaving without an agreement would be an act of self harm and it would make the process far more costly than it ever needed to be. The WTO option is not a realistic proposition much though I wish it were otherwise. It's time that Brexiteers grew up and accepted that leaving the EU has consequences.

Leaving the EU is only half the job

Speaking with The Devil last night, he asked me to pen five basic points as to how we make a success of Brexit. And that is half the problem with Brexit. Everyone concerned wants the inherently complicated made easy. We have a political class which not only doesn't want to be troubled with detail, they will actively avoid any new information that complicates or disturbs narratives.

I could list five broad principles or the five most pressing objectives but that would not do justice to it. Broad principles would likely be motherhood and apple pie stuff we can all agree on but where does that get us? And though there clearly are priority objectives such as the free movement of goods across borders, that doesn't even begin to touch on the wider issues.

More to the point, it's a little late to try and steer the process. Before the end of this month we will likely see Article 50 invoked and the balloon goes up. It's out of our hands. The process is now entirely in the hands of the Tories who think it's a simple case of hammering out an agreement on tariffs and giving the French a swift handbagging over the final bill.

The intel I'm getting is that ministers really do believe their own rhetoric. What you see is what you get, compounded by the most extraordinary ignorance. They will go to Brussels imbued with the idea that "they need us more than we need them" and completely screw it up.

You can't tell these people anything. The only way to be heard inside the bubble is to tell them exactly what they want to hear. Had I spent the last three years making the case that we don't need to pay anything and that WTO rules were perfectly viable and that we can have a bonfire of regulations I expect I would be very popular in the Brexit bubble. Now, with the debate now being so hopelessly polarised, anybody contesting that woefully simplistic view is written off as a remoaner.

But then there is something very familiar about all this isn't there? This is the exact mirror image of the hubris that took us into the EU in the first place. A government so intoxicated with its own rehtoric it will steam ahead, listening to nobody and disregarding any and all words of caution.

Richard Dawkins on Newsnight this week said: "We have no right to condemn future generations to abide, irrevocably, to the transient whims of the present". I quite agree. This is exactly why Lisbon should never have been ratified. But in they went, conniving to dodge democracy and signed us up to this booby trap.

This to me suggests that as much as the EU is a problem, it is only half of the problem and Brexit alone doesn't get close to resolving anything. At the heart of this is a Westminster establishment, which, no matter who is in charge, is accountable to nobody.

And herein lies the hypocrisy of Brexiteers who have been vocal in denouncing "the establishment" only to roll over when that same establishment is singing their tune. Unless we are serious about pressing home meaningful democratic reform then we haven't resolved anything. As soon as the left inevitably take their turn to rule they will abuse the levers of power in exactly the same way.

From Brexiteers we have heard much about "returning powers to Westminster" but it should not be forgotten who it was who handed over powers to Brussels to begin with. More to the point, many of those powers were confiscated from local authorities by Westminster. Consequently the return of powers to Westminster will mean all of the power is in the hands of an entitled born-to-rule political class.

I've been around the block a few times now and I have seen how the system works. If you want influence you need to play the game and suck up to the right people, telling them what they want to hear - and even if you go into Westminster with the best of intentions, the system soon turns you native.

The system is festooned with PPE Oxbridge graduates, fast-tracked know-nothings and LSE policy wonks having done the right unpaid internship, none of whom have any exposure to real life and have never worked what you are I would call a real job. The same dynamic extends to the media where hacks are interchangeable between the Guardian and the Telegraph, each climbing the greasy pole, learning nothing as they go.

The politico-media bubble is an oral culture whereby information is traded over dinner in the form of factoids, where MPs have ever more stresses on their attention to the point where they agree with whoever it was they last spoke to. Trying to affect change at this level is pointless.

It is a culture that prizes conformity over knowledge and loyalty over substance. The system rewards obedience with money and prestige. It's a time honoured means of silencing dissent. The incorruptible, however, are simply unpersoned, bullied and skilfully marginalised.

This is how we end up with a disconnect between the politicians and the people and it is how politics becomes deeply London-centric, self-absorbed and insular - and consequently incapable of engaging in serious politics. Their feeble grasp of Brexit issues is all the proof you need.

And it is so telling that the referendum result was an inchoate howl of rage. Look where it comes from. It's the regions giving London the two fingered salute. Economically, culturally, politically, London is divergent in every conceivable way.

This is ultimately why Brexit needs to happen. The referendum has not divided the country. The country is already fractured. All Brexit has done has exposed the fault lines. And so when it comes to Brexit, we just have to let them get on and make a pig's ear of it because that is all we can do. It is the reckoning that comes after that should concern us.

My own studies lead me to believe that, thanks to the Tory approach to leaving the EU, we are going to be considerably worse off and we will lose a substantial amount of trade with the EU and, by proxy, with the rest of the world as well. This will not be EU obstinacy. This will purely be an act of self-harm, going into talks with unrealistic demands with no functioning knowledge of the EU.

When that happens there is an opportunity afoot. Free of the EU there are no longer any excuses. The buck stops with Westminster. The establishment must now take responsibility for its own failings. If we collectively roll over and make excuses for the Tories (by blaming the EU) then we will squander a once in a generation opportunity to correct a long standing problem. Brexit is a chance to dismantle the ossified structure of Westminster; a system designed before the internet and when MPs faced several days on horseback to meet in the Commons.

The task before is to heal the many rifts that make the UK so fundamentally divided. To that end, Brexit could very well be a window of revolutionary opportunity - to revise, modernise and decentralise government - and break it away from the sordid den of virtue signalling prostitutes in Westminster.

I had hoped to avoid Brexitgeddon, but my hopes fade with every utterance from David Davis and the Brexiteer back-benchers. Success seems unlikely because the ingredients for success are not there. Sceptical voices have been silenced and purged and replaced by soothsaying charlatans seeking consultancy fees, aided and abetted by dogmatic zealots. I think we have lost the capacity to make a success of it.

If however, the outcome of Brexit is a serious examination of how and why Westminster is failing so badly then it is more than just a mere consolation prize. I would value a reunited Britain and a rejuvenated politics over this buccaneering free trade paradise we are promised.

To bring that about we must start a national debate about how we want government to be shaped in the wake of Brexit. We must ensure that the Tories are exposed and brought to account for their hubris and we must mobilise to present new ideas. Unless we make good of this opportunity then we will have wasted the once chance we had for lasting reform. Brexit will have been a total waste of time.

The EU is not so much the cause of our problems. Rather it is a symptom of a deeper malaise, where government wants all of the power but is happy to deflect the responsibility and the blame to the EU. Our EU membership underpins that dynamic - and that is why nothing was ever going to change unless we voted to leave. Now that we have, it would be a travesty to leave the job unfinished. Brexit is a starter for ten, but the real work is only just beginning.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Quote of the Day: ASI on Ayn Rand

Regardless of any criticisms of her prose style, reading Ayn Rand's books inspire me. It seems that this applies to those at the Adam Smith Institute too...
Though she died in 1982, huge numbers of people still come to Ayn Rand through her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged – and their lives are changed as a result. No wonder. These novels assert the nobility of using your mind to reach your full potential. They make self-belief cool.

Rand’s heroes are individualists who live by their own creative talents—existing for no one else, nor asking others to exist for them. They are rebels against the establishment and its ways. They do not conform to social norms, but stand by their own vision and truth: a vision built on their own values and a truth built on fact and reason, not on the false authority of others. They are the creative minds who discover new knowledge, who innovate, drive progress and consequently benefit all humanity.

But minds cannot be forced to think. Creativity, and therefore human progress, depends on people being free to think and act in pursuit of their own values. That is a powerful case for liberty, values, mind, reason, creativity, entrepreneurship, capitalism, achievement, heroism, happiness, self-esteem and pride. And against the life-destroying consequences of coercion, extortion, regulation, self-sacrifice, altruism, wishful thinking and refusing to use one’s mind.
Ayn Rand made the abrogation of one's mental facilities shameful—and shameful because it is a waste of your own potential, not because others might think less of you. If only more people read her works...

Friday, March 03, 2017

Taking back control

Those readers who know my name (Pete North) will most likely dislike me intensely. Or at least I hope so. The Devil has asked me to contribute to this website for reasons best explained by him. That, though, is a subject for another time.

If you know me from my blog, you will know that I specialise in giving Ukippers, libertarians and Brexiteers a hard time. In fact, I have gone out of my way not to make any friends in those circles.

Probably like you and our host, I believe that government should be as small as possible and interfere with our lives as little as possible. Where we differ is that, having examined why much of our glorious bureaucracy exists, I happen to think that even the minimum level of government will necessarily need to be quite large. Check this out...

When an American Airlines plane smashed into a Colombian mountainside, outlaw salvagers didn't even wait for all 159 victims' bodies to be collected before they moved in. "Using sophisticated tools, they extracted engine thrust reversers, cockpit avionics and other valuable components from the shattered Boeing 757 and then used helicopters to fly the parts off the steep ridge, U.S. and Colombian sources say. The parts were offered for sale in Miami, a hub of the thriving black market in recycled, stolen and counterfeit aircraft parts. "They wanted to sell the whole lot, including the landing gear," a law enforcement source said, speaking on condition of anonymity."

Parts illegally salvaged from crashes, counterfeit parts and other substandard components regularly find their way into the world's air fleets, sold at bargain prices, often with falsified documents about their origin or composition. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized $4 Million worth of counterfeit electronic components in Fiscal Year 2009. According to a 2001 publication produced by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, “as much as $2 billion in unapproved parts are now sitting on the shelves of parts distributors, airline, and repair stations".

When I started looking at the scale and size of counterfeiting and fraud I realised that the libertarian "caveat emptor" approach was every bit as deluded as socialism. There are many examples of industrial scale manipulation of supply chains. A food fraud scandal came to light in 2008, when over 20 companies were found to have added melamine, a flame retardant plastic, to baby formula in order to fool tests designed to ensure adequate protein content. Around 300,000 babies became ill in China, with tainted formula being linked to 54,000 hospitalisations and 6 deaths from kidney damage and malnutrition.

Additionally, the product category Herbs and Spices is listed as number four in the ranking of most frequent product alerts in the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). About 75% of these reports are due to improper composition or contamination, both of which can affect the health of the consumer, as well as damage the brands of those involved in the supply chain. In 2005 over 600 finished food products were recalled in Europe and the US due to the presence of the carcinogenic red industrial floor dye "Sudan", which had been added to chilli powder to disguise its ageing.

When it comes to governance, I defer the the authority on this subject. The TV sitcom, Scrubs. Most political isms assume people have a hard outer shell, but inside have a creamy centre. I'm with Dr. Perry Cox: "People aren't chocolates. Do you know what they are mostly? Bastards. Bastard coated bastards with bastard filling". We need systems that bet against basic human decency because the bastards always win.

And then we come to the EU. For decades we eurosceptics have complained that our political elites have imposed upon us an economic and political system without our consent. That is reason enough to rail against it. The problem we have though, save for the egregious stupidity of monetary union, the system they have sought to impose on us is actually quite good.

That makes us Brexiteers look like right proper dickheads railing against progress. For sure we have seen the PIP breast implant scandal and the horse-meat scandal but the only way that ever became public knowledge is with an EU wide public health surveillance system.

The truth of the mater is that much of the government that rules our everyday lives is wholly invisible and under-appreciated. It means that we can buy in confidence and that our rights are upheld. As a pragmatic libertarian I take the view that there are positive and negative liberties whereby the externalities of other peoples freedoms must not impinge on my own. And on a small and densely populated island such as this, that is all the more likely to happen. As much as there are no atheists in a foxhole, there are no libertarians when the neighbours dog is barking at 3am.

So now is the time for a real debate about technocracy vs democracy. We may very well wish to "take back control" but we must ask what we are taking control of and to what ends? Is it really worth unplugging from all EU market surveillance systems just so we have ultimate sovereignty over aubergine marketing standards?

After three years of writing about technical governance, I can see from my hits that the vast majority of people are not remotely interested in the details of governance. The more technical I get the fewer readers I have. They would much rather I wrote a rabble rousing polemic about that Milo chap and some other moral outrage. We say we want to take back control but evidence suggests that most are more than happy to leave the details to the experts. So the dilemma of our generation is where the lines are drawn between technocracy and democracy and how much we are willing to cede to the bureaucrats.

To be truthful, I do not have any real answers. Somewhere along the line things got a bit more complex than normal political narratives can accommodate. There is every advantage in international and scientific cooperation on standards and practices, and regulation has a clear role to play. But how do we make it transparent, democratic and accountable, and beyond the reach of the NGOcracy and the climate change zombies? In this we need to make the distinction between government and governance and ask how we the people ensure that we are not just passengers in the grander schemes of the globalist left. I am all for "taking back control" but increasingly we bump into the questions of what, why and how?

The alternative Devil Budget

It's time to throw in an alternative policy initiative for the UK. My ministers will do so presently...

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Shared European views

Via the letters page of Private Eye Nº 1488, your humble Devil notes that neo-fascist Sir Oswald Mosley—father of ex-fascist, bobby-puncherparty animal and would-be respected scourge of the press, Max Mosley—decided to start a magazine to raise awareness of his Europe A Nation philosophy...
The European was a privately circulated far-right cultural and political magazine that was published between 1953 and 1959. During this tenure, it was edited by fascist supporter and politician Diana Mosley. The magazine was published by 'Euphorion Books', a publishing company formed by Mosley and her husband, Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists.
Since the Brexit referendum, a new publication has sprung forth, boldly claiming that "we are the 48%", and its roster of contributors includes such trusted luminaries as Tony "Chuckles" Blair, Alastair "Tucker" Campbell, and convicted fraud and thief Denis "Fake Invoices" Macshane.

The name of this illustrious organ? Why...

... The New European, of course!

Your humble Devil should make it clear that he does not believe that the staff of The New European are fascists, neo-fascists or even neo-neo-fascists; neither is he accusing them of sharing the Mosleys' fascist views.

No, the only similarity between 1953's The European and The New European is a certain similarity of name and, it would seem, a shared belief in the desirability of about a united European government...

... and a bigger base of support, apparently: after all, Mosley never claimed that 48% of the country agreed with his views...

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Addressing the housing crisis

Your humble Devil decided to reply to this Jonn Elledge article in the Grauniad, since I've been working with housing associations (HA) for nearly nine years, and we share offices with a private housebuilder (who also builds homes for HAs).

  1. most HAs exist because councils cannot borrow money (and usually only for CapEx projects);
  2. councils let their housing fall into disrepair, and could not borrow to bring their homes up to a decent standard (partially set by the EU);
  3. the HA sector is (technically speaking) mortgaged to the hilt (they "owe" the government around £45 billion across the sector);
  4. the biggest HAs are lobbying the government to be allowed to pay off these debts, so that they can be released from their social obligations, i.e. be more like private builders;
  5. like any other company, an HA has to be able to make a profit (although most are "not for profit" organisations): however, they too must be able to sell or rent their new builds at a profit;
  6. they employ instruments such as Shared Ownership and Help to Buy to get people into these houses.
The real problem is the planning permission: there really is no shortage of actual land in this country (we have built over about 2.27% of it)—there is a shortage of land that is allowed to be built on. So...
  1. when anyone objects to a development, the house builder must come up with an answer, re-survey, etc.;
  2. councils are quite adept at shaking down house builders, e.g. "you want to build ten houses there? Well, if any of the residents use cars then they might use this bridge over here: and, wouldn't you know it, it looking a wee bit shaky and we think that you paying to re-build the entire thing would be really nice...";
  3. the above had, for instance, in the case of one development, resulted in our office-mates having spent over £2 million trying to obtain planning permission (and still hadn't got it, last time I spoke to them).
HAs tend to get their planning permissions through only very slightly more easily—so they face, essentially, the same issue as private house builders. Also, most HAs don't actually build the houses themselves—they hire private builders to do it. And round we go again.

The issue is not a shortage of capital (HAs are have been pretty innovative about this, e.g. bond sales, etc.), nor really a shortage of land: it is a shortage of permission to build on land.

So, why not majorly reform planning law (as the Coalition promised)? After all, the best way to remove the so-called "housing crisis" would be to repeal the Town and Country Planning Acts.

Well, politically it is difficult: doing so would (if it were actually effective reform) lead to a huge increase in houses—which means a decrease in house prices. And which political party is going to find that popular with their voters? Labour won't—and the Tories most certainly will not.

So, our politicians will continue to skirt the issue—using demand-raising ideas such as Help to Buy, and Shared Ownership to try to feed buyers in at the bottom—and hope that they are not holding the parcel when the whole housing market finally grinds to a halt.

Because here is the point—if no one can afford to buy their first home, then no one can sell their first home. So no one can move to their second home; and second home owners cannot move to their third, etc.

The entire housing market will grind to a halt. We will then face an economic slump that will make the 2008 banking crisis look like a mere bagatelle (although the reasons—a lack of liquidity—will be similar).

And so the government will introduce an exciting new demend-raising initiative such as the Help to Buy ISA, the music starts and the parcel gets passed again. But at some point the music is going to stop...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Burn the unions

Given the recent (for most—some of us have been enduring this for nearly a year) travel disruptions in London, Simon Jenkins has written as reasonable article on the topic...
Industrial relations lore holds that the right to strike is sacred...
No, it isn't. Or, rather, the right to strike may well sacred: the right not to be sacked when you do so should not be.
Ordinary citizens have no unions to protect them. They can claim no compensation as victims of the deliberate actions of others.

The law should be changed, as I have stated previously, to force the Unions to show—in court—that those affected by strikes have direct power to change the conditions being objected to.

In this case, any court of law would show that commuters have no such power. In these cases, the Unions and their members would be directly liable for compensation claims made upon them.

I want to see these Union bosses, and their members, bankrupted. I want to read stories about ASLEF, TSSA and RMT members losing their houses, their families thrown onto the streets; I want Mick Cash to be dragged through the bankruptcy courts to recover the, no doubt, cheap little cuff-links that he wears.

Honestly, nothing is too bad for these bastards—the law should be changed to make them personally liable for their actions, and then we will see who has the power here.

Right now, Theresa May's piss-poor government has done precisely fuck-all. Alright, Theresa—you want to introduce the "shared society", with yet more government interference in our lives? Why don't you address this crucial issue, you dried up old stick, and then we'll talk. OK?

Until then you should shut your horrible, dog's-arse mouth, you illiberal old witch.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Brexit as identity politics?

Our very favourite Lefty ex-banker economist has had a revelation...
Are we Remainers making a simple mistake about Brexit?

What I mean is that we think of Brexit in consequentialist terms – its effects upon trade, productivity and growth. But many Brexiters instead regard Brexit as an intrinsic good, something desirable in itself in which consequences are of secondary importance.
Well... duh.

I believe that's the sort of phrase that the kids are using these days.

But yes, Chris, that is pretty much correct. Many of us who try to think about such things would prefer that Brexit has as little consequences as possible but, yes, we do view Brexit as a good thing in and of itself. We tend to believe that the European Union should not exist at all but, given that it does, the UK should not be part of it.

From my point of view, this is largely because I want to sack our shitty governments—rather than have the same shit carry on because, actually, our government has no real power to change anything. This is, I'll admit, a very high level view because I simply cannot be arsed to write a detailed response—other than the myriad of posts currently on this blog.

So, yes. Well done.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Gove's legacy?

Michael Gove has, quite honourably, said that it was right for Theresa may to sack him as a minister...
"I had six years when I was a government minister. I had a chance to make a difference - I hope that I did."
The reforms that Michael Gove made in his time as Education Secretary will come to be seen as the most significant improvements to the British education system since the late 1800s—particularly in the introduction of Free Schools.

Gove made a difference—and his contribution should never be forgotten.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Emily Thornberry

Guido asks the big question today...
Finally we of course must confront the wider philosophical question raised by the Shadow Foreign Secretary’s PMQs stint: namely whether or not she is the worst person in the known universe or if in fact there are others more worthy of the title.
No, there aren't—Emily Thornberry is the worst person in the known universe.

UPDATE: having said that, Anna the birthday girl would definitely give Emily a run for her money...