Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Toynbee Files, Part the 64 Millionth

Some people have commented on my lack of reaction to any recent Toynbee articles. I am unsure why this should be so but it may be that, like someone living with some seriously irritating and mildly unpleasant disease—psoriasis, perhaps, or cold sores—one simply learns to cope and, although there is the occasional flare up, it becomes a little less surprising and a little less debilitating as time passes. Polly Toynbee as oral herpes: yes, I like that comparison.

However, after perusing some of my old pieces—via the poor, little Greek boy's old Swearblogger Roundups—it has occurred to me that I have become somewhat lazy of late, and someone who generally inspired some consistent and inventively vile writing was La Toynbee.

Perhaps we are, in fact, linked in some terrible symbiotic conflict—Toynbee and The Devil doomed to lock horns and horniness until one or other of us should die (whether literally or metaphorically). It is an unsettling and unpleasant thought, not least because it is far from certain who would win such a sordid struggle: Toynbee has the advantage of being paid an obscene amount of money to write her tripe, I have little but the truth to drive me on.

No matter: if I have been assigned this fight, then I have little option but to turn my face away from the light and grapple once more with the logical fallacies, turgid writing, statistical inaccurancy and rancid philosophy of a woman who may well be assigned as my nemesis, by some higher power.

And so, after much soul-searching, we come to Polly's latest encomium to socialist jealousy.
'Hammer the rich!' At last a political leader has the nerve to say what pollsters find most people think. Good for Menzies Campbell.

Most people have their own definition of what rich is. Ming, of course, has decided that what he earns is, conveniently, below the line at which he defines rich. Which is, I think you'll agree, very convenient.

The only bonus to this lunatic idea is, I think you'll agree, that Polly will have to pay of her ill-gotten gains over to her Gobblin' lover.
Were those words so hard to utter when the polls have said for years that top pay is "obscene"? But you won't catch Gordon Brown or his chancellor even whispering the thought in the dead of night.

We know who you really what Gordo to whisper to in the dead of night, don't we, Pol? Eh? Eh?
It may be seen later as one of Labour's great derelictions.

There are so many of them, I barely think that this really makes any difference.
What better day for Campbell to break the spell.

Well, one might argue that Ming should have announced this measure—this "wealth tax", if you like—some time ago? How about on, say, back in April at about the same time that Sweden finally came to its senses, realised that it was losing massive amounts of cash (as well as it's brightest talent) and abolished their wealth tax?

Oh, and Polly's response when I emailed her for her opinion? Very simple.
How depressing. This is what conservatives do. It will make inequality
soar, and it probably won't bring back those who want to avoid high income
tax anyway.

So, as Polly herself admits, once you drive these people away, they are unlikely to come back. Implicit in her reply is an acknowledgement of what we all actually know: that the very rich, far from being hammered will, in fact, simply go elsewhere; in this way, the Treasury loses the entirety of their receipts.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... Polly Toynbee: financial genius! Not.
The queues snaking out of every Northern Rock branch look like grainy pictures from the 1929 Wall Street crash. The only bank run we've ever seen is in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, but where is James Stewart to rush out and beg the savings and loans customers not to destroy their own mutual lifeline?

Well, actually the staff of Northern Rock—some of them quite senior—were indeed doing precisely that. That many people were simply too stupid to understand what they were doing is just too bad.
Alas, Adam Applegarth, Northern Rock's chief executive, is no James Stewart. He did not hurry to give hard-hit shareholders back any of his pay: if he took 10 times less, he'd still be left with £140,000 - and that's not counting his pension.

I imagine that a lot of his pay will be in stock options: thus, I severely doubt that his pay package is at the same level as his last reported renumeration. After all, back in May, Northern Rock shares were topping £12: they closed today at £2.57.
The trouble is there's no escape from a bubble, even when every pundit agrees these pyramids of debt were not sustainable.

Well, we seem to be escaping from it. Not in the best way, but we are.
Group-think eclipses common sense because any fund manager who gets out of a risky market too soon is fired just as surely as when he stays in too long.

I'm not entirely sure that that's true, actually. Are you seriously saying, Polly, that a fund manager who manages to sell a few weeks before he loses his clients' shirts is going to be as likely to lose his job as the guy who holds on that bit too long? I doubt it: one will, you see, probably still turn a profit and the other... well... probably won't.
The madness of the private equity bonanza let Boots be bought on impossible debt: that debt has already been sold on at a loss.

Then the shareholders of that company lose: what fucking business is it of yours, Pol? Are you suggesting that we should just nationalise every fucking company that you happen to like? Don't be such a fucking chimp.
British airports were sold to a company that borrowed £11bn, leaving no money to invest so now our airports are a worldwide synonym for the hell of flying.

Again, that is a private deal. See above.
Infinite debt's airy magic is fuelled in part by the mystique of City wizards' awe-inspiring pay.

How precisely?
So the Liberal Democrats have struck a blow for sanity.

Tell that to the Swedish government, Polly.
Strong gestures matter in politics, and this chimes with the mood of the moment. Hammer the rich, shut loopholes for tax exiles and cut the basic rate of income tax for all by 4p sounds good.

Fuck you, Toynbee. As I've said in regard to Neil Harding before, if you actually gave two shits about the poor, you would support a much higher Personal Tax Allowance, to take the poor out of the tax system entirely.

Unfortunately, you don't: what you support is continued taxation of the poor, so that they have to beg for some of their money back to scrape a living. And the sole reason for continuing to support such a policy? So that you fucking Gobblin' King might continue to hold onto power.

You really are a disgusting individual, Polly.
So does cutting the huge pension tax reliefs for the rich, long overdue, yielding as much as £7.5bn.

Oh, yes, that'll be fantastic! Yet more complication in taxes; yet more assessment and, as though Gordo hadn't done enough, yet another raid on pension funds. For fuck's sake...
Dead right to axe the inexplicable relief on capital gains for private equity, which would bring in another £6bn.

I don't know the exact nature of this relief, although I suspect that it is not actually a relief but instead an acknowledgement that private equity companies should only pay tax on their profits (which are, unsurprisingly, less any debt repayments). However, here we are, in a credit squeeze, with some companies looking very ropey, and Polly wants to increase that squeeze? How many companies do you want to send under, Polly, you moron?
All these the chancellor of the exchequer should steal wholesale for his next budget: think what he could do with £13.5bn in a very tight spending round.

Piss it up the wall, just as he has with the vast majority of the rest of the money that he has extorted from the electorate over the last decade that he has been in power.
He won't, of course, do anything as brave - people who work private equity are rattling his cage with threats that touching their perks will lead to "meltdown".

Awwww, Pol: are you criticising your Norse Warrior? Has he turned you down again, or did he just not buy you any flowers this week?
Tax and spending defines a political party: apart from war, other policies are marginal. The Lib Dems have planted a good banner on turf Labour long ago vacated. Sadly, they no longer promise a 50p tax rate for earnings over £100,000, but they remain the only party to do any hammering at all.

This is just pure jealousy, Polly. And it also exposes you for the tedious, bitchy little cow that you are. What is the point of tax, Pol: is it to provide services, or is it to indulge in social engineering, in redistribution because you happen to believe in it?

Well, we know that you do. But your caravan analogy has a basic flaw. {Emphasis added.]
As the others have observed, Polly spouted a good deal of rubbish; it all hung off her favourite society as caravan analogy. The idea is that society is like a caravan travelling through the desert, and its contituent parts move at slightly different speeds: those at the front will move faster than those at the back. However, if there is too much of a differential then the ones at the back will eventually lag so far behind that they cease to be part of the caravan. Which is a very pretty analogy.

Unfortunately, so bitter and warped is Polly that she concentrates entirely on those in the front and wants them to travel more slowly. The trouble is that if this happens, the whole caravan takes far longer to get where it is going than it would otherwise do.

The idea is to ensure that the back of the caravan moves faster, not to force the head to move slower.
However, a party's identity lies not just in where the money comes from, but where it goes. Here Labour scores higher on social justice.

Reeeeeaaaally. Um, if that is their goal, then they haven't been very good at it. Mr Eugenides found this chart, from the ONS, which shows that the distribution of wealth has not really changed since 1996. Or, indeed, 1976.

So, Labour have been utterly ineffective: but we knew that anyway.
The Lib Dems always have a tendency to want to collect more from the rich, but to redistribute it more to the middle. Remember their commitment to free care for the middle-class elderly, and free tuition to mainly middle-class students.

What? What are you talking about? Do working class elderly not need free healthcare? Do working class people not need free university tuition? Or are you saying that, in the main, they already do have this, and that the LibDems want to extend it to those who have paid taxes all of their lives and been merely foolish enough to believe the promises of scum-sucking politicians?
Lib Dems prefer universal benefits that please middle England, so they promise £5 extra child benefit for all. But Labour has been singleminded in targeting tax credits on the poorest children.

Really? So all those stories of households earning £50k and above were... what? Untrue?
Here are the Lib Dem changes: they would cut income tax by 4p and at the same time abolish council tax and replace it with to an average 3.5% extra local income tax (some would lose on council tax benefit).

Diddums. As per, of course, we see no proposals to raise the PTA at all: why not?
They would end child tax credits on above average earnings, but add £5 child benefit for all. They would tax flying and driving more, affecting the better off.

Only the better off drive? I don't think so, sunshine.
Here's what you end up with, according to their calculations: someone on £150,000 loses £2,000, a lot less than under a top 50% band. A professional couple with no children earning £50,000 each would be £1,700 worse off. But winners would be a couple with two children on £25,000, who would be £700 better off. A single mother with two children with an income of £8,000 would be £550 better off. Needless to say, Labour disputes this. They say that cutting the basic rate gives the top 10% of tax payers 50 times more than it delivers to the bottom 10%, so just to compensate for that, you need a big tax credit bonus.

No, no, No, NO! Stop taking people's money off them in the first place, for fuck's sake! All that you are doing is paying administrators to extort poor people's money through taxes, making those people beg for it back (using a series of immensely complicated forms which cost them more money in lost time) and then paying more administrators to calculate which inadequate gobbets of their own money the poor should get back (and be suitably grateful for, of course).

Why not go with UKIP's plans: introduce a £7k PTA and then bring in a Flat Tax (NICs and income tax merged) of 33%? It has been costed, and all taxpayers are better off, most by about £1,100 a year; and all you are doing is allowing people to keep more of their own money, for fuck's sake. Or why not put the PTA to £12k per annum and take those on the Minimum Wage out of the tax system altogether?

Isn't that fairer? It is certainly more efficient.
Nor is it all hammer blows for the wealthy. Lib Dems would raise the inheritance tax threshold to £500,000, costing the Treasury £1.5bn, and raise the threshold for stamp duty on properties over £500,000. Both these make the wealth gap worse - homeowners are already undertaxed on their vast capital gains, unshared by those who will never be able to afford to buy.

Tough. Buying a house is not necessary for living, Polly. But, when it comes to it, I am sure that you will be more than happy to sell your fucking great mansion for well below the market rate, just so some people can afford it.

Pol? Polly? Hello...?
So what does all that say about the true identity of the Lib Dems? They have a natural tendency towards class blindness which gives them less commitment to the poorest than Labour. True, they are hammering the rich, but they are also stroking them a bit, too. True, the green taxes are a good in themselves, tougher than the others on gas guzzlers and flying, to invest more in trains.

You'll all know how I feel about Green Taxes, so I won't even bother to comment, except to say that taxes on flying (based on Stern's somewhat high level of CO2 taxation ($80 per tonne), are pretty much at the right level and that not only are taxes of cars already too high but the LibDem taxes, e.g. £2 showroom tax, do not even punish consumption.
But most disappointing is their boast that these tax plans are revenue neutral. Why on earth? In the comprehensive spending review, however Labour tries to hide it, there will be very little more money, yet everywhere you look the need is great. Children's opportunities need more, for the under-fives, for schools and youth projects.

Because, you silly bitch, this government already takes almost half of everything we earn and what have they to show for it? Wealth distribution is mostly the same, social mobility has declined, education is a mess, the health service is not delivering what it should and the only people that anything has really got better for is the fucking fat cat politicos and their equally corrupt cronies.

By almost any measure that you care to name, and despite the vast increase in spending (in real terms), the state has failed to achieve any of the outsomes that you desire. So why the fuck should we allow them to take even more of our hard-earned wealth, just so that they can award themselves massive pay rises and then piss the rest of it up the fucking wall?

I mean, seriously, Pol, do you really think that handing over yet more money to the state is a sensible, or moral, use of the toil of everyone in this country, both rich and poor? Seriously?
Despite promises, there is far too little money to help more people buy their own home, and this cheap mortgage collapse will make it worse.

Well, yes, that is true. But as you said earlier in your article, "these pyramids of debt were not sustainable". And your "solutions" for helping people to "buy" their own houses were fucking insane and utterly unthought-through.
Polly also tried to expand on a theme: wouldn't it be nice if the 30% of the population who aren't homeowners became homeowners? Well, yes, but it would also be nice if I had a million pounds. But, believe it or not, she was serious!

She proposed that everyone in "social housing" should be allowed to take possession of their house after, say, ten years of paying rent; in this way, they would have something to borrow on, etc. Do you see any flaws here? I did so I asked her whether that was fair to those who rented privately and were not in social housing, a question that she brushed aside with "oh, we'd have to sort that out". It was an answer that I found rather ominous: was she proposing that I be sent to live in some god-awful, shithole sink estate social housing whether I wanted to or not? Alas, no further explanation was forthcoming.

As for everyone owning a house, given that our population growth is not even at replacement rate currently, can anyone see a problem with that? Yes, that's right, there would be no market for houses. Those people who had bought a small house and then wanted to move to a bigger house wouldn't be able to because there would be no one to buy their starter home off them. Whoops!

But our Pol strode gamely on; they wouldn't really own their houses, it would be a mere paper transaction, but they would then be able to borrow on it. Er... Doesn't this fundamentally undermine the concept of ownership? And, if they don't really own their house, they cannot therefore sell that house and so they wouldn't be able to raise capital on it because it would, effectively, have no sale value.

For fuck's sake.

Never mind, what else does Polly think that we need more money for?
Money plundered from the arts for the Olympics needs replacing before the collapse of many arts programmes. So if the Lib Dems show how to raise £13.5bn from top perks, why not use it well? It's doctrinaire to cling to the idea that the tax take itself must never rise.

I've explained above: if you have pumped increasing amounts of money into something that isn't doing the job, you don't keep pumping more and more and more in. That's just lunacy.
We are a low-tax nation.

Fuck off. We might have lower tax than many, but that is not the same as being low-tax. And we do not get value for money, as Wat Tyler points out.
The people queuing outside Northern Rock were in absolutely no doubt—if a politician or commissar tells you anything, it's best to believe the opposite. From money, to public services, to law and order, to foreign policy, they're not just incompetent buffoons, they're also compulsive liars.

So how come we still tolerate them spending 43% of our income? How come we still let them run our public services? How come we give them free rein over virtually every aspect of our lives?

Good question. But Polly knows what should happen...
Labour's silence on gross excess...

Including their own...
... is partly why left of centre voters vacillate between two parties whose supporters are pretty much the same. Yet the Lib Dems endlessly seek out unique selling points, while Labour just as futilely digs for artificial reasons to trash them. What's needed is a blending of both and an end to this century-long split. If only the two friends, Gordon Brown and Menzies Campbell, could make that happen, they would transform the future of British politics. Never mind tea with Mrs T, it's time to end the narcissism of small difference between these two parties.

Fuck me, Polly; why not just blend the Tories in there too and we can live in peace and harmony in our (effectively) one party state. That would be a utopia for you, wouldn't it, you evil old harridan.

After a decade of utterly crap, spectacularly mendacious, barely thwarted, big government, what is really needed is for voters to have even fewer choices, isn't it?

I hate you so, so much.

UPDATE: EU Referendum eloquently lays out yet more reasons why we should not allow these fuckers to take yet more of our money.
No one sensible would trust either politicians or governments and to expect promises to be kept is naïve in the extreme.

What seems to be going on is something different and very much more profound. It is not so much that Brown has not kept his government's promise – it is the contemptuous indifference he is displaying in so blatantly disregarding the promise. There is neither regret nor any attempt to disguise the fact that the people are of no consequence. Mr Brown knows he has the power, and he intends to use it.

The prime minister's attitude is very much "of the moment". Increasingly, we see examples of it in public life – the police picking up drivers for the most minor of infractions, yet evading speeding charges – and worse – when they get caught out.

We see a government enmeshed in the latest foot and mouth crisis, indifferent to the very real economic stress caused by one of its own institutions, and the failure of its own regulatory system. Nothing by way of offers of compensation have been forthcoming and it is unlikely that the many thousands who have suffered real losses will see any recompense.

Whether it be the health service, costing more and delivering less, the education system – ditto – the road system, public transport, pensions, immigration, prisons, crime, taxation … everywhere one gets a sense of decay and inefficiency, yet there is no balancing sense that the "government" or any of the political classes have a grip on any of the issues, or even really care.

That it is not a matter of "trust" would seem to be borne out by the lacklustre performance of the Conservatives in the polls and, more interestingly, the apparent increase in the "don't knows" and those who declare an intention not to vote or refuse to support any of the established parties.

It is not disillusionment either – we are past that. I sense that, more than ever, we look upon the political classes as alien beings, a species apart that exists on this planet but has nothing to do with the affairs of ordinary people. In other words, the government is no longer "our" government, for better or worse. It is populated by "them" and we are "us".

Now, do we have enough lamp posts, I wonder, to hang every last man-jack of them...?

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Oh yeah? So what has happened for the last ten years, exactly?

Over at the ASI, they are posting some of the winning entries of the Young Writers on Liberty. One does not want to put such keen minds off,...