Friday 29 February 2008

Alex Smiles

It's time for my wee survey again. Here's the last one.

My contention is that the UK's government is centralised way beyond what's typical in similar countries. That in turn means that most of the top private sector jobs are in the South East, not because of market forces but as an inevitable response to where big government is located. From that follows our inability to sort out transport and urban sprawl. The figures are from the current issue of Chartered Secretary.

London: population share 12.2%; job share 56.7%
Southeast: population share 13.6%; job share 24.4%
East: population share 9.2%; job share 3.3%
Southwest: population share 8.4%; job share 1.1%
West Midlands: population share 9%; job share 1.1%
East Midlands: population share 7.1%; job share 4.5%
Wales: population share 4.9%; job share NIL
Yorkshire: population share 8.4%; job share 1.1%
Northwest: population share 11.4%; job share NIL
Northeast: population share 4.3%; job share 3.3%
Scotland: population share 8.6%; job share 4.5%
Northern Ireland: population share 2.9%; job share NIL

So London and the Southeast with 25.8% of the UK's population have 81% of these pretty high-powered jobs.

As I wrote back in 2002:

If we want to see a more economically balanced Britain we can either reduce government expenditure to, say, 10% of GDP, or we can spread government more evenly throughout the country. I support the first option. I suspect that neither will be implemented.
No wonder Alex Salmond is smiling.

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Just near here...

This is in the same street as my doctor:
A building in Edinburgh has been cordoned off after several suspected radioactive packages were found inside, the fire service said.

Emergency services placed a cordon around the Regent Language Training School in Chester Street after the discovery of the three small packages.

It is believed the packages may contain radioactive material.

Granny Muggers

They're at it again:
Bank of England deputy governor Rachel Lomax yesterday signalled a willingness to cut UK interest rates further to try to counter a painful slowdown in economic growth, but only if people's expectations of future inflation remained anchored.
What on earth does she mean by "anchored"?

Let's see:

"... a temporary spike in inflation did not necessarily mean that members of the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee needed "to tolerate a significant weakening in demand"
Temporary! Who does she think she's kidding? Money supply growth is out of control, and not only in the UK.

And now there are rumours about another bank:

Jitters return to the banking sectors amid rumours of an emergency Bank of England meeting with one of the clearing banks in trouble
Enough of this fiat money nonsense. Why should imprudent borrowers be bailed out by stealing from your granny's savings? We need a commodity based monetary system and we need it now.

Sunday 17 February 2008

The people's Rock is deepest red

And this sums the whole thing up:
If you have a Northern Rock mortgage and a Labour MP with a narrow majority then paying the mortgage is now optional. Watch the "payment holidays" go through the roof.
And just who is my MP? Yep, a Labour one whose own coat is on a very shoogly nail. None other than Alistair Darling himself! And, like a mug, I've already paid off the mortgage. Perhaps he'll give me one of those inflation-linked government pensions as compensation...

Friday 15 February 2008

BoJo to Scotland: Drop Dead!

OK, so Boris Johnson's a clever chappie. And he's a lot more fun on the TV than most politicians. If I still lived in London I suppose that I'd vote for Boris as a way of removing Ken Livingstone from the mayoral suite. I've even had a go at Ken myself in the old days.

But for those of us living in Scotland Boris is a menace:

"Domestic flights in this country are a crime, they are a sin. You will not find, under a Johnson mayoralty, 381 officials taking flights within this country. That's absolutely criminal" - Boris
So, if Boris gets his way, we can say goodbye to Edinburgh's financial sector. It depends on all those "criminal" domestic flights. The idea that the Scottish business community could rely on the existing train service is a joke.

Don't get me wrong - I prefer to travel by train. But the current service isn't good enough. Scotland needs those flights.

There is an alternative of course.

Move the UK capital to Scotland and we wouldn't need to fly up and down.

Stop crime. End sin. Boris for Lord Provost!

Wednesday 13 February 2008

A foggy day in Jedburgh

Originally uploaded by David Farrer

More photos from Sunday are here.

Tuesday 12 February 2008

The Berwick question

Fellow bloggers have been covering this story:
English politicians have vowed to repel a cross-border raid to take Berwick-upon-Tweed back into Scotland. Calls to redraw the border and return the town to Edinburgh control would cause major upheaval and require "massive negotiation", it was warned.

Nationalist MSP Christine Grahame has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for Berwick to return to "Scottish nationhood".

It calls on Scottish ministers to begin negotiations with Westminster to secure Berwick-upon-Tweed's "restoration" as part of Scotland.

I think that people are missing something here.

First, it's clear from the view from the East Coast Mainline as one enters Berwick that the town looks as if it is in Scotland. The architecture is Scottish and the river is the natural boundary.

But there's something far more significant.

Look at the map. If the River Tweed became the boundary a huge chunk of the North Sea and its oil reserves would become Scottish...

Monday 11 February 2008

Who's been a naughty boy then?

Yours truly.

Let me explain.

When we lived in London I drove an Alfa 75. Why? Because the company I worked for had the Alfa advertising account. It was cleaned very regularly.

After moving to Edinburgh I became responsible for the servicing bills, and boy, did they rise...

When one bill came to over £1,000 and the insurance went up to over £600 pa I called it a day. I bought a Hyundai.

Yes, I know, boring and not nearly as flash as an Alfa - and I do miss that purring sound. But it cost £6k or thereabouts and included a five year guarantee and three years' free servicing. Insurance went down to £230 and the mpg is low. The problem is that I hardly ever drive nowadays. Princes Street is a ten-minute walk away and one can't easily park downtown anyway. Taxi fares back here are reasonable.

Wrongly I'd ignored the gradual build up of tree-gunge, bird droppings and all the rest of the strange stuff that is accumulated on a city centre car and which was seemingly impossible to remove.

After yesterday's trip down to the Borders I'd had enough.

But there's always Google. And through them I found these guys.

When I arrived I noticed several taxis in the washing queue. A good sign: the authorities insist on their cleanliness. When I returned a couple of hours later and the car was like new. I was told that I'd been under quoted, such was the de-gungeification required, but they stuck to the deal. That's the real spirit of capitalism. Needless-to-say I'll be going back regularly despite the horrific tram preparation work on Leith Walk. No more Mr "naughty boy".

"Social" housing in Glasgow

Here's a sad tale:
RESIDENTS at a plush riverside development have been sacked by their factor - because so few of them are paying for communal areas to be maintained.

Glasgow-based factor Life Property Management says it was forced to pull out of Kingston Quay, Tradeston, at the end of last month because only a small number of owners are paying for shared services such as electricity, water and repairs.

The rest are absentee landlords who rent out their flats and don't bother paying factors bills - leaving the development more than £110,000 in debt.

Of the 370 flats only around 100 owners pay up. And more than 70 flats are in the process of being repossessed.

Things sound pretty bad:
"The lifts have been broken for two years, there's no security entry, the communal parts are filthy and there's holes in the walls.

"People feel afraid for the safety of their children. Neds drink in the communal corridors and last year a drug addict overdosed in the doorway.

So what's really going on here?

One of the commenters writes:

I once viewed an apartment here when the development was still very new - two different estate agents told me to avoid it as the Buy To Let flats had been taken over by anti-social tenants who had been evicted from elsewhere, drug dealers or were being used as brothels - at the time (about 3 years ago) there were apparently at least 3 on the go.
It seems to me that there is no market failure here despite the anti-capitalist statements one reads. The problem is those "anti-social tenants" who are housed in these "plush" flats courtesy of the taxpayer, including the residents who do pay their factoring charges. In other words, we have the antithesis of a market, and the decent folks are getting it in the teeth.

God damn the Scottish Labour party.

Thursday 7 February 2008

Druid's Law

Unsurprisingly the comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury have caused outrage across the blogosphere:
The adoption of some aspects of Islamic Sharia law in Britain "seems unavoidable", the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
I'd be spending the rest of the week were I to link to all of those websites that are up in arms about this.

But here's Matt Wardman with another angle:

Reading those three paragraphs, one can conclude that the ABC is proposing that Sharia Law as it operates in (for example) Saudi Arabia will trump British Law. He isn’t. He is saying something closer to the fourth paragraph:

For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court.

Let's look at this from a libertarian perspective.

Libertarians fall into two camps. The consequentialists essentially say that liberty works and is therefore to be defended. Natural rights libertarians support liberty on principle. I fall into the latter camp - perhaps because the first libertarians I met were natural rightists but sometimes I think that it was the result of being educated in the old fashioned, pre ZaNu-Labour, Scottish education system. Needless-to-say, we natural rights folk happily note that libertarianism works anyway.

So what about the law?

Natural rights libertarianism is based on the non-aggression principle: no one should initiate force or fraud against anyone else. Some think that justifies a state, but only so long as it exists solely to defend us against those who do initiate force or fraud. That means limiting the state to providing a military (to defend us against foreign aggressors), a police force (to defend us against domestic aggressors) and a system of courts to decide on guilt or innocence and to impose any necessary restitution.

It seems quite clear to me that the British state (assuming that it exists) should be based on our traditional legal principles. That's to say Scots Law plus other forms of law commonly used in the more benighted parts of the Kingdom...

Sharia Law is surely incompatible with the continuance of the British state.

Ah, but not all libertarians support the very existence of the state. Anarcho-capitalists believe that the state is not necessary at all. Defence, police and law services can be provided by the market. And what would that mean for the Sharia question?

Let's see. Suppose that the territory now known as Bradford had been discovered ab initio and homesteaded by a Muslim. Anarcho-capitalism surely implies that the founder would be entitled to apply his own legal system to those voluntarily living in his territory. Note the "voluntarily". Interactions between residents of Bradfordistan and, say, a Kirkcaldy legitimately controlled by the descendants of Adam Smith, would have to be on mutually agreed terms.

But note some other factors. The robust residents of Kirkcaldy would be free not to interact with the Bradfordistanians - for any reason whatsoever, no matter how politically "incorrect". These decisions would not be limited to economic matters. And the same would apply to the rest of the anarcho-capitalist island of Britain.

It seems to me, then, that even under anarcho-capitalism, a Sharia law Bradford would probably find it extremely difficult to co-exist with the rest of this island and would almost certainly languish in poverty.

So I contend that Sharia law is compatible with libertarianism but only if its supporters legitimately "own" the territory in which it is to be applied (not Bradford, as it happens), only if it has no claim to financial or other support from the rest of the community and only if it interacts peacefully with those neighbours who reject its tenets.

Saturday 2 February 2008

Citibank's rope

Lenin once said "The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them."

I rarely agree with Lenin, but he was right about the rope market.

Consider this:

Credit cards are to be withdrawn from 161,000 Egg customers who it believes pose an unacceptably "high risk".
OK, fair enough for Egg to cancel the credit cards of its risky customers - subject to the contractual arrangements of course.

But what Egg (owned by Citibank) is saying isn't the whole story. Read some of the comments. This is typical:

I received the letter yesterday. What angered me most was the suggestion that the decision may have been the result of some detrimental entry to my credit report, causing me to fear that I may have been the victim of identity theft. This put me to the needless expense of obtaining a copy of my credit report, which of course is fine. The letter from Egg consisted of a tissue of lies which were merely a smoke-screen for the real reason behind the decision which I suspect is that I don't use the card enough. Why couldn't they just be honest and say that - but then I suppose the two words "honest" and "banking" don't sit well together these days do they! Chris O'Shea, Woking, Surrey
Another one:
After receiving my letter yesterday, I checked my credit rating. It's one of the highest possible. I told egg and they agreed that I was a "perfect customer" but they will not reverse their decision. There is no information on how to appeal in their letter. Kirsty, London
I have no problem at all with a credit card company that said honestly that those who pay off their balances in full each month are unprofitable and should pay some sort of fee but that's not what Citibank's doing. This is precisely the sort of behaviour that gives capitalism a bad name. Not that socialism is any better of course.

If Citibank turns out to be one of the coming casualties it'll serve them right. With or without the rope.

(SCRAMBLED EGG UPDATE: It's looking like one of the great customer relations disasters of all time.)

Les Frogs are in town

And, for the record, they seem to be supporting Italy today. Is it something to do with this?

The locals are supporting Ireland.