29 January 2014

Hillary and me

It's no big deal.  The Guardian reports:
"One of the regrets I have about my public life is that I can't drive any more,"Hillary Clinton told a car dealers' conference on Monday. Among her most painful memories, you suspect this doesn't rank all that high. Yet the remark is a reminder of how wealth and power tend to separate people from normal life, and how they don't always like it. Clinton has not driven a car since 1996, on the instructions of the secret service, and it is something that her husband pines for too. "Whenever I'm on the golf course I always make them let me drive the golf cart," Bill Clinton has said.
I know the feeling.  I sold my last car in 2001 when I took a job in Brussels.  Both there and subsequently back in Edinburgh, I lived close enough to my office to walk to work.  After retirement, I never felt the need for a car, particularly in view of parking restrictions.  Besides, a car seemed like a bottomless pit into which to throw money, given depreciation, insurance and petrol costs.  Accordingly, it did not seem worthwhile to renew my driving licence when it expired.

So, unlike Hillary, I have no regrets,

17 January 2014

On yer bike!

Some of us pedestrians would argue that far too many cyclists are already using the pavement.  Not all of us are as mobile as we used to be.  But this transport minister has no obvious qualms about putting us in danger:

Cyclists should be free to go on to a pavement to avoid hazardous stretches of road, Transport Minister Robert Goodwill has told police.
Mr Goodwill said that the police should use their discretion “where a cyclist is using the pavement alongside a dangerous section of road out of fear of the traffic”, The Daily Telegraph reported.
However he also said cyclists must “be mindful to not put pedestrians at risk”.
If cyclists want to use the pavement, let them get off their bikes and wheel them along.

15 January 2014

Does he know what he is doing?

The Guardian reports:
George Osborne will today deliver a stark warning to Britain's European partners that the UK will leave the EU unless it embarks on whole-scale economic and political reform.
The chancellor's comments come as the Tory leadership tries to regain the initiative on Europe, after 95 MPs signed a letter calling for the dismantling of the core principles of the EU.
If I were Angie Merkel, I would be sorely tempted to reply "Here's your hat, Georgie boy.  The exit door is over there."

A Parisian fairy tale

Frankie and Val have been shacked up together for three or four years.  But Frankie has been a naughty boy, sneaking off to have a thing with Jools.  Apparently, Val never noticed when, after dinner, Frankie would take his toothbrush and disappear for the night, not re-appearing until after breakfast the next day.  But Val found out last week about Frankie and Jools and went off the deep end.  She was so stressed out (or perhaps she was mentally exhausted, or maybe just a case of the blues) that she had to go into hospital where she remains to this day.

Meanwhile Frankie is saying nuffink.  He does not deny that one of his pals took him to his nights of passion on a scooter, nor that the same pal would bring the couple croissants in the morning.  

Incidentally, Frankie is in the habit of dying his hair, if rather unconvincingly.

Where will it all end?  Probably in tears on the part of both Val and Jools.  On the other hand, they will certainly be better off without serial love-rat Frankie.

10 January 2014

Stick or twist?

There is an economic argument going on in the background.

Some pundits cannot wait to plunge us into trouble.  Like this one:
The Bank should be putting up rates now, in a gentle and gradual manner. The money supply is growing at a reasonable rate; nominal GDP is expanding  nicely; employment is soaring; wages of some professions (including brickies and architects) are shooting up; there are already some skill shortages; and the current account deficit is huge, suggesting that aggregate demand is too large compared to supply. Monetary policy should be forward-looking: decisions today have an effect with long and variable lags, so waiting until there is a problem is always too late. Sure, the UK economy remains smaller than at peak; but that will change before the year is up. It is a mistake to look merely at the macro effect of interest rates: the impact on big aggregates such as consumer prices, output or employment. The micro effect also matters hugely – the allocation of credit, capital and labour between different companies and all the myriad decisions that make up an economy are being hugely distorted by artificially low official interest rates. The economy is normalising – monetary policy must follow suit.
On the other hand, some take what appears to me to be a more sensible line:
Chris Giles at the Financial Times has argued that the Bank of England will have to raise rates soon, because recent job growth has been accompanied by low productivity -- a situation that could produce inflation unless the bank acts. The informal Shadow Monetary Policy Committee, which meets at a free-market think tank, has been calling for an interest-rate increase since February last year, when there was no recovery in sight.
What the policy hawks fail to recognize is how damaging a premature tightening could be. As Oxford Professor Simon Wren Lewis has noted, debt-service payments still occupy a large portion of households' budgets. In the absence of an adequate increase in income, even a small increase in interest rates could trigger defaults and foreclosures on a grand scale. Why would anyone intentionally precipitate such a crisis unless coerced by the prospect of rampant inflation?
Why indeed?


There once was a period of time, perhaps a brief period of time, but nevertheless there was indeed a time when a Minister of the Crown took responsibility for the actions of his department whether or not he was personally involved in those actions.  In the Crichel Down affair, Sir Thomas Dugdale resigned when the Ministry of Agriculture made a mess.

It is unlikely to happen nowadays, least of all as a result of the incompetence of the Department of Work and Pensions:
Thousands of people have been wrongly identified as liable for the bedroom tax, including some who now face eviction or have been forced to move to a smaller property, as a result of an error by Department of Work and Pensions.
Housing experts believe as many as 40,000 people could be affected by the mistake. The DWP says it believes only a "small number" of tenants are affected, which it estimates number 5,000.
All could be eligible for refunds worth on average at least £640 per claimant and millions in aggregate.
The error affects working age tenants in social housing who have occupied the same home continuously since 1996. An oversight by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) when drafting the legislation means that the housing benefit regulations dating from 1996 were not updated when the coalition legislated for the bedroom tax.
And so, another scandal sticks to the wall, with nobody accepting responsibility.

08 January 2014

How not to do it

The Government's development of the universal credit system will become a case study to be examined in future decades as a classic example of systems development getting deeper and deeper into the mire, while its project sponsors maintain a wilful blindness to the absence of progress.  The Guardian charts the latest inanity:
Despite a scathing NAO report in September, Duncan Smith has been insistent that the project remained on time and on budget. In December he revealed a new plan for delivering the project.
Sources indicate that tensions between government departments spiked after Duncan Smith refused to restart the embattled project afresh – a move that would have incurred massive write-off costs and political embarrassment.
Duncan Smith is understood to have insisted on a "twin track" approach – keeping current universal credit development going to prove that claimants could use the service before the 2015 election – while ordering money and time to be ploughed into a web-based system that did not rely heavily on jobcentre staff to fill in claimant benefit details.
According to the newly approved plans, hundreds of thousands of benefit claimants will then be transferred from one design of universal credit programme to the other once the digital design is ready some time after the general election.
Plan A won't work, Plan B won't work, and transferring data from Plan A to Plan B will be nightmarish.  It would be laughable if it were not so serious.


05 January 2014

On the one hand ...

The size of the state pension will be maintained:
The prime minister has vowed to guarantee annual increases in the state pension until 2020, and marked them out as the only welfare spending to be exempt from the forthcoming cap if the Conservatives win the next election.
On the other hand, don't expect any cheer on other old age benefits:
David Cameron's pledge aims to reassure older voters that their payouts will continue to rise in line with inflation despite a squeeze on other benefits such as winter fuel payments, TV licences, and free bus passes and prescriptions.
Somehow, I don't believe that pensioners will be terribly pleased ...

02 January 2014

In memory of John Fortune

It's far from cheap to feed your habit

Here are the Colorado prices for the newly legalised sale of pot:
Below are some of the options provided by licensed sellers (all prices are subject to an additional 21% sales tax).
• Pre-rolled joints, $10 each. A typical joint contains less than 1 gramme of marijuana.
• 1 oz Indica or Sativa buds: “best”, $179; “better”, $169; “good”, $159.
• Glass pipes: $15-$30.
• Marijuana-infused pomegranate “elixir” drink (75mg): $14.
• Marijuana spearmint dew drops (100mg): $20.
• Marijuana truffles (50mg): $10.
• Marijuana chai mints (100mg): $11.
• Marijuana massage oil (100mg): $14
• Marijuana pain relief lotion (100mg): $18.
• Marijuana bath soak (100mg): $18.

    (And no, you cannot get them by mail order.)

Power corrupts

I do not know if the Labour Party is correct when it argues that the energy companies are over-charging consumers.  The miasma engendered by claim and counter-claim makes it difficult to see what is going on,  The Guardian reports:
Households may have paid £150 over the odds for their electricity over the past three years because energy companies bought their power for almost £4bn more than the average market rate, Labour has claimed.
In a new analysis of official figures, the Labour party, which has pledged to freeze prices for 20 months if it wins the general election in 2015, said the big six energy suppliers appear either to be inflating their prices to make extra profits for their own power plants, or striking very expensive deals to the detriment of consumers.
Caroline Flint, the shadow energy secretary, said she could demonstrate that the energy giants – which supply 98% of households in Britain – have been buying electricity at a far higher price than they could get on the open market. This amounts to about £50 a year per household for the last three years for which data is available, she said.
But at least the Labour Party is questioning the practice of the energy companies.  Does anyone believe that the Government would have done anything if Miliband had not raised the matter of a price freeze last autumn?  And would it be unfair to ask what Ofgem, the supposed regulator, has been doing?