onsdag 24 december 2008

Is Polly Toybee a Jesuit invention?

Should I believe in Polly Toybee? I have never met her. I know her only through what she has written in the Guardian. The opinions she expresses are consistent, usually almost to the point of being predictably stereotypical. Occasionally she comes out with something especially perceptive and sometimes there are touches of brilliance. More usually I find her irritating.

But for all I know she could be a nom-de-plume for a group of journalists who take turns to write the pieces. Or even a textbot. I have no evidence to the contrary, even though I have seen advertisements announcing meetings to be addressed by someone purporting to be a "Polly Toynbee".

On Sundays I go to church. It is a Catholic church and I am expected to believe that when the priest carries out certain actions and pronounces certain words, ordinary bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, that is, God.

Her Christmas message, in the Guardian on 23 December, is "There's probably no God". Speaking out of personal experience, I have more evidence for the existence of God than "Polly Tonybee", so I am agnostic on the subject of the latter.

"Her" arguments for agnosticsm ("she" doesn't seem to do full-blooded atheism) as so poor that they sound like "straw man" stuff. My parish priest can do better than that. I am wondering if "Polly Toynbee" is not just a Jesuit plot, devised with the aim of making atheism seem ridiculous.

fredag 12 december 2008

What free markets?

The concept of the fee market is coming under continued attack. But neither its attackers or its defenders seem to grasp the fundamental point that "The market" does not exist in the abstract - it is conducted within a particular framework of property rights, in particular land rights. Within the present framework, periodic boombusts have turned out to be inevitable. Within other frameworks, there would be other outcomes.

The principal and fatal defect with our present system of property rights is that land is held almost free of obligations. This situation arose gradually, gaining its full force in the UK during the Enclosure period from 1760 to 1840. One result is that land titles are traded increasingly feverishly, using borrowed money, as economic cycles proceed. Another is that moneylenders have undue power. Another is that everyone who is not a land owner is obliged to pay rent or work for wages. Most damagingly of all, this system of land tenure ensures that some people will become ever richer whilst the majority become ever poorer, with only a welfare state between them and destitution. That is not a sustainable position as it has led to welfare dependency and ever-increasing taxes on earnings.

The problem needs to be tackled at source, ideally at a Europe-wide level but individual countries should not be forced to go at the pace of the slowest - which most probably would be the UK where landowning interests are most entrenched and refractory. What has to be done is technically simple - to reform tax systems so that governments derive most of their revenue from the rental value of land, which is what they did a millenium ago. Once they do that, then the need for welfare states and further market intervention will dwindle.

British political parties short of funds

There area reports that the main political parties are running short of funds again. People will not contribute. I wonder why?

The collapse of the present political parties could be the best thing that could happen in British politics. Good riddance to them.

The people who get to lead the parties are those who are least suited to do so - at their higher levels they are a magnet for the ambitious and unflective. The disastrous handling of the economy by Labour throughout its period in office and the inadequate critiques of government economic policy by the opposition parties appear to be an inevitable outcome of the system.

A curious feature of the British party political alignments is that they do not reflect genuine economic or social interests. The Conservatives are an uncomfortable alliance of landowning and business interests which are inherently in a state of mutual opposition - most businesses are rent payers and get screwed by their landlords. Labour is an uncomfortable alliance of intellectuals and what remains of the working classes, when the latter can be characterised by attitudes which would be regarded as right wing and authoritarian, especially as regards issues such as immigration and the law.

There is no party representing the interests of employed middle class people, nor is there one representing the underclass or the retired. This must surely be one reason why the parties are constantly looking over their shoulders and weighing up their chances at the polls, which is fatal to effective political leadership and policy making.

The country is, however, fertile ground for a populist party of the extreme right.

torsdag 11 december 2008

Turning the British into morons

The editors of the Oxford Junior Dictionary have brought it up to date by leaving out words relating to the natural world, Christianity, and even some common foods and things you can see in the local park. Supposedly this is meant to reflect the multicultural nature of British society but I can't help suspecting that it is part of the agenda to turn the British into a race of morons, an enterprise at which those responsible are achieving complete success.

The words missed out are

Carol, cracker, holly, ivy, mistletoe
Dwarf, elf, goblin
Abbey, aisle, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, minister, monastery, monk, nun, nunnery, parish, pew, psalm, pulpit, saint, sin, devil, vicar
Coronation, duchess, duke, emperor, empire, monarch, decade
adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren.
Acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry, blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran, bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip, crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender, leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow

Wrong sort of train

Humvees and Clouds
Originally uploaded by Jayel Aheram

I saw a train parked at Didcot the other day, loaded with vehicles something like the ones in the picture, in desert sand colour. This made me very angry. This stretch of railway is one of the busiest in Europe yet it is still not electrified. The right sort of train I would want to here is the one loaded with cables and other gear for putting up the long-overdue electrification.

£ slides relentlessly

The relentless slide of the UK pound continues. Commentators try to explain it away by suggesting that it will make exports cheaper but our manufacturing capacity is a shadow of what it was. Britain's biggest "industry" of recent years - making money by moving it around - is no longer an effective means of livelihood. And with most of the world in a similar mess, though not, seemingly, to such an extend, there is not going to be a rush of visitors coming to spend all their money in Britain.

The economic "experts" assure us that there is a danger of deflation, but the falling exchange rate will soon enough translate into higher prices in the shops, and the growing body of government debt will unleash a tidal wave of inflation around 2011.

The interest rate cuts are proving useless except as a means of driving down the value of the £, whilst hitting the thrifty and provident, and since the recession will continue for at least three years longer than the Chancellor has confidently assured us it will end, the government debt will be about three times more than it is counting on, which means that inflation will continue until 2015 or so, probably at the same rate as in the later 1970s.

The whole unfolding disaster is a monument to the incompetence of British politicians and the people who advise them, bankers, and, behind them, the entire body of "professional" economists. In more barbaric times, those responsible would have lost their heads.

onsdag 3 december 2008

What free markets?

There never was a free market. A free market cannot exist if land is enclosed and monopolised, which has been the case since the early nineteenth century. In that situation the landowner is always bargaining from a position of strength vis a vis both the capitalist and the labourer.

Governments must collect the rent of land and use it as public revenue instead of taxes on wealth production. Otherwise there will be another boombust around 2025.

There is no free bargaining when potential tenants have the option of starving or coughing up whatever was asked. So the right sort of land reform is key. In Zimbawe, we have a classic example of the wrong sort of land reform. Mugabe identified that there was a genuine problem and then did exactly the opposite of what was required and the country ended up with land monopolised by his cronies instead of former colonialists.

What Mugabe ought to have done was to leave the white farmers free to continue on their land but to introduce a tax on the rental value of land, and get rid of any other taxes such as income tax. The efficient farmers would have carried on as usual, the inefficient ones would have retired and others would have taken over the land, so long as they were competent farmers able to pay the land value tax - just as an inefficient farmer would not take on a farm tenancy. That would have been a colourblind policy which would have worked to everyone's benefit and Zimbabweans would all have become wealthy.

Some people argue that such a policy would discourage people from working - they say that people need to own their land. But in practice very few people actually own the land on which they both work and live. Most pay rent and work for wages. It does not stop them working hard as long as they are properly rewarded for their efforts. Since land value taxation is a replacement for existing taxes, it means that people receive 100% of their wages instead of being robbed by the government which is what happens now. Even under a minimal system, governments need a lot of resources and they have got to be paid for somehow. Either it comes from the rent of land or it comes from robbery of people's wages or savings, through debasement of the currency.

It is strange how people who claim to be in favour of markets and economic freedom are happy to tolerate the theft of the fruits of people's labour. Yet at the same time they are happy to allow people to keep what they have not produced ie the rental value of land. There is an odd contradiction here.

The flaw in the Libertarian argument.

There is just one flaw in the libertarian argument but it is fatal. It fails on the question of land rights. Nozick, one of the prophets of modern libertarianism, skirts over this key issue. There is a powerful critique of the position by Hillel Steiner, who wrote a piece called "The Libertarian Dilemma"

It can be illustrated by a couple of parables. A boatload of people lands on a fertile island. In the middle of the island is a chest containing the title deeds to all the land on the island. They share it out equally between them. A few minutes later another boatload arrives. Now that all the land is owned, there is nowhere they can go. Those who came on the first boat approach the newcomers with labour contracts. The latter have no option but to accept whatever terms are offered.

In the second parable, four people sit down and play Monopoly. When all the squares have been bought by one or other of the players, a fifth player joins the game and is given an allocation of money. But he quickly finds his money is disappearing. He complains to the other players that the game is unfair as he never had the opportunity to purchase any of the sites, and wherever he lands, he has to pay rent.

Therein lies the kernel of the fallacy of free markets. If land is enclosed and there is no free land available, there can be no free markets.

If on the other hand, all the rent of land was collected and distributed, the market would probably work quite well, because landowners would enjoy no special privileges. How this might be acheived in practice is explained.

It is unfortunate that "progressive" politics have rarely taken this policy on board, preferring to go for revolution, often violent, which in the end has achieved nothing.

Here is a counter argument...
Let's imagine the first settlers of the Fantasy Island hoarding all of the land for themselves, after which the second wave of settlers are reduced to the level of serfs. The problem with this thought experiment is that it assumes that the "serfs" are unable to save their money, start a small business (in rented premises of course), expand that business, accumulate capital and then purchase a piece of land for themselves from its original owner. On the fictional island, economic mobility is barred. In fact, in a libertarian society, the conditions for economic mobility - freedom - are abundant.

These thought experiments are very much a true model of reality. In the USA, the libertarian model held for just so long as there was land freely available - hence the exhortation "Go west, young man". Once the last state, Oklahoma, was distributed, there was no more new land and the island model was a true reflection of the situation.In practice, when land is fully enclosed, it is extraordinarily difficult for anyone to accumulate capital and savings because everyone is bidding up the rent against everyone else, so that earnings are driven down to bare subsistence. It is only exceptionally skilled operators that can climb out of the swamp filled with alligators snapping at their heels, which is what happens when market forces operate in an situation of 100% land enclosure.

The rent of land is a stream of wealth which owes nothing to the efforts of the land owners, since it is derived from the actions and presence of the community. Surely that is the community's entitlement?

In the UK situation, the most valuable land in the capital is owned by a handful of families whose estates were alienated from the monarch through fraud or other dubious processes. The US government just handed out land which had not previously been owned. This would be unproblematic so long as there was an infinite supply, but once the supply of land ran out, the stage was set for creating haves and have-nots due to inequality of opportunity.Furthermore, by handing out land free of obligations, the government was then obliged to fund its activities by robbing people, through the taxation of wages, of the fruits of their labour, something which I would have thought was contrary to the whole notion of libertarianism.Libertarianism is not about equality of outcome, but it is surely in favour of the notion that effort should be rewarded, idleness should go unrewarded and these demand equality of opportunity, so far as it is realistic to achieve this.

Time to tackle US poverty?

It is being suggested that President-Elect Obama should appoint a "Poverty Czar". But the root cause of poverty is lack of access to land. Those who do not have it are forced to pay rent and work for wages. Rents rise to the maximum that people can afford and it is only the exceptional individuals who can get out of that trap. If everyone is educated or works harder, the effect is merely to raise the levels of rent. It is as simple as that. The Law of Rent is an iron law of economics. It was described by, amongst others, David Ricardo, whose name it bears. Unfortunately, modern economic theory ignores the role of land and rent, with the result that the cause of poverty is nearly always thought to be something else, and the problem is never solved.

Where land has been freely available, there is no poverty, since people have the option of working their own land. This was the situation on the western side of the USA in the mid nineteeth century. This was noted by a San Francisco man, Henry George, who developed a new theory of economics to account for it. But when he had finished his work he found that he had only re-stated the ideas formulated a century before by the French Physiocrats, though in an updated form. George also gave the most convincing explanation to date of the land-based cyclic boombusts such as the one we are currently experiencing. You can read his book online here.

Although a poverty czar (or perhaps czarina!) in itself will achieve nothing, the situation is not hopeless. The solution is to read George's book and apply the proposed remedy. But since it will take political courage to face-down vested interests, the czar(ina) will need to be strong.

Human Rights

The concept of "rights" worries me because in practice they are not delivered when the need is greatest. It seems to me that rights are best achieved when it is duties that are defined, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. eg my right to walk down the street freely depends on everyone observing their duty not to molest me or arrest me without due cause.

Amongst key duties which are not being observed at present are the duty not to kill another human (something itself in need of definition), the duty to care for one's children, and the duty of the state to ensure that everyone has the means of earning a livelihood.

lördag 29 november 2008

Comment is free - but not always

Following the Mumbai bombing, there have been discussions on the Guardian's "Comment is Free".

Someone asked why a Jewish centre had been attacked and a rabbi and his wife killed. I replied with the suggestion that the following passage might have had something to do with it.
“The Jews and the Christians are perverts; fight them.” Koran 9:30

Both the original question and my reply were deleted by moderators. How free is comment?

söndag 16 november 2008

Parable of the Talents made strange reading

It is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third is one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out. The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents came forward bringing five more. "Sir," he said "you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made." His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master's happiness". Next the man with the two talents came forward. "Sir," he said "you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made." His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master's happiness". Last came forward the man who had the one talent. "Sir," said he "I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back." But his master answered him, "You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest. So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth."

Today's reading (above, Matthew 25:14-30) sounded odd in the light of current events. How did the servant who was given five talents turn it into ten? The story seems to encourage the idea that money can be made my moving it hither and thither. And what of the servant who buried his talent in the ground? Since usury is forbidden, would it not have been a sin to deposit it with a banker? What if he had deposited his talent with an Icelandic banker? What would his fate have been then?

lördag 15 november 2008

Twenty-first century steam

60163 Tornado on its first day of public service
Originally uploaded by Alastair Wood

The locomotive in the top picture is Tornado, based on a 1946 design and the first high speed steam locomotive to be built in the world since the 1950s. It is now being commissioned and when this is complete will be able to run at speeds of up to 90mph. It has taken over 15 years to complete.

This is a tremendous achievement. It is a pity that it was not possible to incorporate most of the technical developments which have taken place since the 1960s and have improved the power and efficiency of steam locomotives by about one-third; perhaps some of these can be retro-fitted in the future. The reason, I understand, was that the design, if modified, would have had to go through the costly rail vehicles approval process. In the circumstances, I think it was the right decision to go ahead with building the original design.

There are various other projects to construct new steam locomotives of types which were not preserved. But there is little need for steam locomotives for hauling express passenger trains, which is what most of these schemes are. On the other hand, the operators of tourist railways are short of powerful, efficient and easy to maintain locomotives suitable for the kind of trains they actually run. The lower picture is of a newly designed locomotive for exactly this purpose. Sadly, the manufacturer, DLM of Winterthur, has so far failed to attract any orders. If an order for 20 or more could be put together, they could be offered at an attractive price and could well find purchasers for more than tourist railways, since they would be competitive with the kind of modern diesel trains used on secondary lines which are not electrified.

torsdag 30 oktober 2008

Parliament should move here

Royal Albert Hall
Originally uploaded by Aubrey Stoll

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about the shape of British politics. Because the MPs sit opposite each other, debates becomes a shouting match with a lot of smoke and no light. There is literally no space for for views other than those held by the two protagonists, who connive in agreeing on their terms of discussion. Perhaps the Government should should move out of Westminster, which could become a tourist attraction and hotel. Where would they go?

How about the Albert Hall? It has a circular seating plan. It would be interesting to see what would happen if they tried it. It could transform British politics.

onsdag 29 oktober 2008

God probably does not exist

So goes the notorious poster which has aroused lots of attention.

I was convinced God did not exist. Till I met him. This was worrying. I thought at first I was having some kind of mental breakdown or suffering from delusional symptoms. But strangely I felt perfectly OK, better than ever before, and well disposed towards the world and everyone and everything in it. Then I met others who had had the same experience, and they all seemed more than averagely balanced, sensible and pleasant and generous individuals, well able to cope with their lives and the ups-and-downs they encountered.

This is a widely reported experience, which has nothing to do with indoctrination or brainwashing. If I and they were all suffering from delusions, then whatever those delusions were could not be be regarded as a pathological condition. A benign condition, perhaps. So to my astonishment, starting from my atheistic position, God turned out to be not a spaghetti eating monster in the sky, but a external reality that can be found at the core of the individual's being. Being a determined atheist simply restricts the individual's access to that reality.

So perhaps the poster should have read "God probably does not exist, but don't worry if you happen to meet him"

There have been masses of comments on the subject in the Guardian's "Comment is Free". Having read through these, I am left wondering how many of the contributors are sufficiently conversant with science to have taken the study of one of the hard sciences (chemistry, physics, maths, engineering, biology or other closely related disciplines) to degree level or higher. Not very many, I suspect, to judge by the quality of the argument. The quality of the arguments against God isn't up to much either - in fact my parish priest can put up a better case for atheism.

As regards evolution, people have been sent to the gallows on far less evidence than there is to support it. Creationism is nothing more than a silly aberration based on a misguided reading of ancient texts. Religious extremism and terrorism appear to be embedded in one particular religion since they are authorised in its foundational texts. People in authority in other religions have often abused their powers and covered up abuses by those under them, but such abuses have always been in breach of the codes of practice or laws of those religions. The religions themselves cannot be blamed when their claimed adherents breach the rules.

Those who have been suggesting that religion is about belief in a "pixie in the sky" are setting up a classic straw man. The "pixie in the sky" is a straw man because mature religious faith is about a connection with something that is accessed interiorly to the person. If you don't like that idea, there remains the need for a language that can be used as a shorthand for attempting to describe a widespread set of subjective experiences. That those experiences are subjective does not make them unreal or delusional, which is what those who use the term "pixie in the sky" are trying to suggest, whilst not having experienced what is being talked about. It is an arrogant supposition and discourse is futile since it is taking place across a gulf of incomprehension.

The atheist party seeks for proof in reality. But the brain constructs reality out of what people know and expect. Familiar examples of the same thing are the apparent hyper-reality of impressionistic and pixellated pictures, the difficulty of understanding a spoken foreign language when one can already read it quite well, and closer to home, the ability to pick out a conversation in a room where a lot of people are talking, a skill which consumes a large amount of mental processing power.

Science, they believe, is real and solid, in contrast to religion which is abstract. But "abstraction" is precisely what science is about. From the mass of data about the physical world are abstracted apparent regularities from which can be derived laws and provisional theories which describe and account for the behaviour of the entities under consideration, and which can also be used to predict what will happen in tightly specified circumstances.

But the laws of science are only a proxy for reality, limited by the notational systems available at the time.

The terms used by religion are also a notational system used to describe mental or "spiritual" phenomena. The problem seems to be that a lot of people are taking the metaphoric or analogic descriptions literally and others are assuming that they are meant to be taken literally. Hence the references to pixies in the sky.

The different world religions are not equal or merely different ways of saying the same thing, but the convergences between them suggests that they are describing some kinds of mental phenomena which are, and always have been, a widespread human experience. This is not in itself an external reality, but there have been attempts using PET and MRI imaging techniques to study the patterns of brain activity associated, for instance, with meditational states. That is surely objective evidence enough to support the claim that religions are at the very least attempting to interpret real physical occurences. Patterns of neural activity in themselves prove nothing but are subjectively meaningless in the absence of an interpretative framework such as that which religions attempt to provide, and which do in fact point to an external reality.

How to make lots of dosh without working

Last week I went to talk about how to make money. The line was that the only way to do it was to build up a property empire - it couldn't be done by real work. Land is used as an investment, but in reality it just produces an income stream which is roughly linked to inflation and general prosperity. Over lending and over borrowing caused land titles to increase in price to the point that the rate of return dropped and dropped, priming the crash. So it was not such a good investment after all.

The vested interests, who are a handful of landowners and bankers, would make sure that a land tax, the only way to reduce the force of boom-busts, is never discussed. Try and get it raised on, say, Any Answers? They won't touch it. The place of land in economics has been virtually expunged from the theory. Even Ricardo is mentioned only in passing. I wouldn't call it a class war, because if the information got out, the vested interests could be faced down, eg the fact that five families own the most valuable areas of London is scarcely known.

I have no realistic expectation of anything good happening in the UK, it will be one of the most refractory countries in Europe when it comes to implementing change.

torsdag 23 oktober 2008

Depressing state of British politics

I was listening to the broadcast recording of yesterday's parliamentary debate. It was the usual slanging match, conducted in sneering tones, the main objective apparently being to score points off each other. The row concerned the conversations that were alleged to have taken place when George Osborne boarded the yacht belonging to a Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska whilst on holiday in Corfu.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Osborne and Andrew Feldman, the Tory party chief executive, have admitted meeting the billionaire on his yacht off Corfu this summer. Subsequently, financier Nat Rothschild told the two that Mr Deripaska was willing to donate £50,000 to the Conservative Party through Leyland Daf, the UK company he owns. Mr Rothschild said that Mr Osborne initiated the discussion about donations, but the Shadow Chancellor vehemently denies this and said in a statement that he did not ask for the money.

The donation was turned down, but the fact they they were on the yacht at all says something about the Osborne and Feldman - what were they doing on the boat in the first place? At the very least, their presence was bound to cause them the trouble they have now got themselves into, quite unnecessarily. Someone with reasonable prudence and circumspection would have politely declined the invitation. But more worrying is that the atmosphere in which debate is conducted on any subject is absolutely inimical to measured consideration of circumstances and the development of effective policies. Good communication cannot occur, whilst misrepresentation and over-simplification of issues can flourish. One must wonder how the suggestion of land value taxation would fare in an environment so hostile to reasoned and cooperative discussion.

The political options in Britain present a depressing picture, with Labour floundering around, seemingly to no effect despite the tens of billions being thrown at the banks, the Conservatives with nothing plausible on offer and the Liberal Democrats presenting no clear picture of what they are about. It does not help, either, when time is taken up with distractions like this.

Swedish economy

On the tram
Originally uploaded by seadipper

These 1960s trams have just been refurbished for yet another 10 years in service.

tisdag 21 oktober 2008

Usury and the Religious Right

The Religious Right claim to follow the bible, literally. So they will oppose the teaching of evolution, homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, masturbation, &c. It is strange then, that they totally ignore the contents of chapter 25 of the Book of Leviticus, reproduced here in full. The passages printed in red relate to usury and land holding. There is nothing about handing the land over to banks as security for money lent out for interest.

The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying,

2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD.

3 For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits

4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.

5 You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.

6 The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired servant and the sojourner who lives with you,

7 and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.

The Year of Jubilee

8 You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years.

9 Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land.

10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.

11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines.

12 For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.

13 In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property.

14 And if you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another.

15 You shall pay your neighbor according to the number of years after the jubilee, and he shall sell to you according to the number of years for crops.

16 If the years are many, you shall increase the price, and if the years are few, you shall reduce the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you.

17 You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the LORD your God.

18 Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely.

19 The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and dwell in it securely.

20 And if you say, 'What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?'

21 I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years.

22 When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating some of the old crop; you shall eat the old until the ninth year, when its crop arrives.

Redemption of Property

23 The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.

24 And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land.

25 If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold.

26 If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it,

27 let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property.

28 But if he has not sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property.

29 If a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city, he may redeem it within a year of its sale. For a full year he shall have the right of redemption.

30 If it is not redeemed within a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong in perpetuity to the buyer, throughout his generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee.

31 But the houses of the villages that have no wall around them shall be classified with the fields of the land. They may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee.

32 As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites may redeem at any time the houses in the cities they possess.

33 And if one of the Levites exercises his right of redemption, then the house that was sold in a city they possess shall be released in the jubilee. For the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel.

34 But the fields of pastureland belonging to their cities may not be sold, for that is their possession forever.

Kindness for Poor Brothers

35 If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.

36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.

37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.

38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.

39 If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave:

40 he shall be with you as a hired servant and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee.

41 Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers.

42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.

43 You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.

44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you.

45 You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property.

46 You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.

Redeeming a Poor Man

47 If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, 48then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him,

49 or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself.

50 He shall calculate with his buyer from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired servant.

51 If there are still many years left, he shall pay proportionately for his redemption some of his sale price.

52 If there remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall calculate and pay for his redemption in proportion to his years of service.

53 He shall treat him as a servant hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight.

54 And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee.

55 For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

torsdag 16 oktober 2008

What most train passengers prefer

Adelante train interior
Originally uploaded by seadipper

A survey by Passenger Focus has found that 66% of passengers prefer facing seats to airline style. Since they also provide a decent amount of luggage space between seat backs and ought to weigh less, why do most trains have airline layout seats with separate luggage stacks?

måndag 13 oktober 2008

A good time to renationalise the railways?

A good time to renationalise the railways? Transport journalist Christian Wolmar seems to think so. Of course the old nationalised railways did some excellent things but huge and often strategic mistakes were made, with matters being aggravated by political interference. It does not altogether matter how the railways are run if they have incompetent managers, of which there were too many in BR days, and they got in the way of the good ones and morale was often low. How they held down their jobs is a mystery but there was, reputedly, a masonic lodge at the old British Railways Board HQ in Marylebone Road. If this was true, it would explain quite a lot.

The main problem now is that important decisions are being taken by the technically illiterate, but that isn't new either - eg the proliferation of different types of incompatible rolling stock, all under the eye of successive rail regulators, who are the people who would end up running the nationalised railways. Had there been sound technical input, the railways would have developed in a very different way since 1996, but such people cannot be pulled out of a hat. The most experienced front-line BR engineers retired soon after privatisation but they would have gone by now anyway, and privatisation offers the possibility of bringing people in from the continent, where there is not an ingrained attitude we have in Britain, that the most respectable way to make a livelihood is by moving money around. Engineers are regarded as worthy of respect, and the involvement of companies like Deutsche Bahn and Netherlands Railway can only be a good thing.

Just to put things into perspective, a list of BR successes: Mark 1stock in all its variations and permutations, the BR standard steam locomotives, the HST, the mark 3 carriage, 25kV electrification, extension of 750V electrification, class 158 DMU, Sectorisation, the British Rail Technical Centre, the Pandrol clip, Train Protection and Warning System, RETB wireless signalling. Against that there is a horrible catalogue of bungles and waste.

Post privatisation successes have been a fleet of new trains, generally clean trains, refurbishment of trains, more frequent services, disabled access. Against that have been horrible design of many trains, complicated ticketing, engineering closures with poor alternatives laid on, horrendously expensive consultancy, micro-management of franchises by the Department of Transport, proliferation of incompatible and route-specific classes of rolling stock.

Privatisation would not address these faults.

lördag 11 oktober 2008

Lewes Pound

The Lewes pound is a new local currency with a picture of Tom Paine on one side. It demonstrates an important economic principle. The purpose of money is to avoid the inconvenience of barter. Nobody would normally want to swap, say, a sack of potatoes they have grown on their allotment for a pair of trousers. But they might do that because the value of the trousers would not have to be included on their tax return as "income". Sometimes people actually do exchange services in this way to avoid having to pay both income tax and VAT. Such exchange of services by mutual agreement, whilst not immoral, is of dubious legality. The Lewes pound will facilitate this kind of barter, but only until the tax authorities notice what is going on and insist that people declare, on their tax returns, income received as Lewes pounds. As they will of course insist that all tax is paid in ordinary Bank of England pounds, the Lewes pounds will then become pointless. This is one reason why all local exchange trading schemes have ultimately fizzled out. But until the Revenue intervenes, Lewes pounds will have more purchasing power than those with a picture of the Queen on them.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The lesson to be learnt is that the present tax system has a destructive effect on the economy and needs to be reformed.

onsdag 8 oktober 2008

Bank robberies larger and larger still

This evening's news reported the start of a trial for a £53 million bank robbery. Yet there has been no suggestion those responsible for the £multi-billion fraud which has brought the banking system to near-collapse world-wide might have to face trail and possible imprisonment.

The fraud - misrepresentation and obtaining money by false pretences, has been committed by those who devised the so-called securitized debts - mixed bundles of good and bad debt backed by land as collateral, that was worth only a fraction of what was claimed. An analogy would be a dishonest street trader who sold boxes of rotten fruit with a few good ones on the top. It is inconceivable that they have not already fallen foul of existing criminal law for which a lengthy spell in prison would be the correct punishment. If they are going to be allowed to get away with it, what is the point of regulation?

There may also have been actual criminal activity on the part of the bankers who failed to check what they were being sold, as well as borrowers who misrepresented their incomes.

onsdag 1 oktober 2008

Rushing to disaster

The US bank "rescue" plan is supposedly intended to avert a disastrous collapse of the economy, which is threatened by the increasing difficulties in obtaining credit.

The word credit comes from the Latin "credo" which means "I believe". Given what has been happening, it should not be surprising that there has been a collapse in trust. However, the so-called bipartisan approach will lead to inflation and a drop in the value of the dollar, which will hit peoples' savings and lead to industrial unrest as people find the value of their wages is shrinking. And it has been suggested that the cost of the rescue is much higher than the figures currently being quoted. It is shocking that there is agreement across the two US political parties.

It would probably be safer and more effective to let the collapse happen - these were only ever paper values, after all - and introduce land value taxation, which would promote a quick recovery and save the US dollar. Given the extent of dollar balances held outside the US, a sell-off could lead to a rapid collapse - and what will that do for the US economy and for its political influence?

söndag 28 september 2008

50 years of women priests in Sweden and the Society of St Pius X

Svenska Kyrkan is celebrating the 50th anniversary of women priests. As a Catholic, I can only comment from the outside but having women priests has certainly has not helped the church to flourish. As far as I can understand, priests in the Swedish church are comparable to those at the "high" end of the Anglicans - in other words, they regard themselves as priests and not ministers. The status of Anglican orders was clarified in Apostolicae Curae in 1896 by Pope Leo XIII, declaring all Anglican ordinations to be "absolutely null and utterly void". I can find no reference to the status of Svenska Kyrkan's orders. One issue is that the Catholic Church regards Ordination as a Sacrament, which is not the case with the Anglicans, but the principal point is that of authority and recognition of the authority of the successor of Peter, which is an article of the Apostles' Creed - "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church". Anyone who really does believe that should be a member of the Universal Church of Rome - the Catholic Church - or a church in communion with it. I do not understand how people can recite the creed every day or every Sunday and still avoid this conclusion. Of couse the Anglican Church claims that it is both Catholic and Protestant, but that is impossible. The Catholic Church is the Church under the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

There is a parallel here with the status of the Society of St Pius X, which promotes the traditional (Tridentine) Latin mass, which under the new regulations introduced by Pope Benedict, may now be freely celebrated without the need for special permission. The Society's priests perform the liturgy far more care than can be the case with the ordinary Catholic clergy, who, too often make things up as they go along and do not keep to the rubrics. The Society was founded by the French Archbishop Lefebre, and eventually consecrated its own bishops. This latter they had no right to do and consequently the society's priests have been ordained irregularly. Within the physical area of Catholic diocese of Barchester, authority rests with the Bishop of Barchester. You cannot have a another bishop with authority in that location. The same goes for parishes. Priests may come in and say a mass in another parish, but not without the permission of the parish priest. It is a regulation and of course a matter of common courtesy. And for the same reason, people should attend their own parish mass and not some freelance celebration, no matter how beautifully done. It may mean having to put up with a dire liturgy, but that is ultimately the priest's responsibility. If priests do not do their job properly, they will be held to account in the final reckoning.There is of course no objection to attending an authorised Tridentine Mass such as those celebrated by priests belonging to the Sacred Society of St Peter or under the auspices of the Latin Mass Society, which emphasises its loyalty to the Holy See above all.

People hope that the Society of St Pius X will be accepted back into the mainstream body of the Catholic Church. Its priests have a lot to offer. But if this does not happen, the inevitable fate of this movement will be to wander off into a wilderness and ultimate oblivion or worse, which is which what befell the Old Catholic Church which broke away in 1870 on the issue of papal infallibility.

What view does the Catholic Church take on women priests? Simply, that it is not able to ordain them. It is not capable of doing it. They could put women through the training and ritual, but that would still not make them priests. Had Jesus himself considered it possible, there is no doubt that he would have ordained a woman. There was no shortage of women in his entourage and he was not concerned about keeping to the conventions. Women have another function in Christian life - as mothers and contemplatives. To suggest that this demeans women is absurd. On the contrary, it is a recognition that men and women have different spiritual functions just as they have different biological functions. In the Anglican church, where, as mentioned earlier, ordination is not a sacrament, the orders are null and void, but even if they were not, the sacrament would not have been effective and the "ordained " woman would still not be a priest.

fredag 26 september 2008

Catholic UK monarch?

I read today that "Constitutional experts and minority parties yesterday rallied behind proposals to repeal the 300-year bar to Catholics succeeding to the throne and end male precedence in the royal succession."

I feel uncomfortable about the present law but it could cause more problems than it solved as the monarch is de facto head of the Church of England. If the law is abolished, the Church of England is downgraded to the position of being just another sect. It would no longer have the right to have its bishops in the House of Lords. and would leave the British state dangerously vulnerable to takeover by some other religious force in the future. In a strange way, the present law enshrines a Christian identity in Britain, though a Protestant one. Things could be a lot worse and there is no knowing what damage this reform could unleash.

In any case there are more important matters that have to be dealt with.

söndag 21 september 2008

Polly Toynbee in trouble

The Guardian's old stalwart, Polly Toynbee, is another journalist who gets trashed by the commentators both from positions on the left and right. She was an ardent advocate of New Labour, which in retrospect demonstrates a certain lack of perspicacity. Now that the wheels have come off, she has found herself in a position of having to try to defend the indefensible.

Some of the attacks are personal, drawing attention to her privileged background. In the circumstances, and given what she says, such criticism is not unreasonable. Toynbee and her Guardian colleagues are as much a part of the British Establishment as the top level civil servants, the heads of Oxbridge colleges and the editors of the right wing press. Their shared aim is to control what it is permitted to be discussed and what voices must be silenced. With a 99% success rate, by their own standards they are doing very well. But it has got the country enmeshed in a mass of nearly insoluble problems.

Why does the Observer keep Will Hutton on?

Why does the Observer keep on employing Will Hutton? Week after week he writes articles which are pulled to pieces by commentators. His proposals would be disastrous and usually counter-productive. He has been doing it for years. Strange. Why don't they get rid of him and employ one of the better commentators instead. Almost any of them would be better? Read the article here

tisdag 16 september 2008

Liberal Democrats' proposals

Why are the Liberal Democrats talking about what they would do if they became the next government? They are not going to be the next UK government. Paddy Power was giving odds of 100-1 against. This does not mean to say that they are useless, but they ought to take a realistic view. There is a need for a critique of the policies of both of the largest parties but the Liberal Democrats are not presenting the distinctive point of view which is so needed and which they have the potential to do.

Talk of tax cuts indicates the shallowness of their thinking. The trouble with tax is more to do with what is taxed, not how much tax the government collects. What a pity that so few in the party have picked up this idea.

söndag 14 september 2008

Hur mår kvinnor efter aborter/ How do women feel after abortions?

I came across this on Facebook and reproduce it here.

Från 1 januari 1975 och fram tills idag har det utförts drygt
1 100 000 aborter i Sverige. Motsvarande siffra för hela världen är över 1 miljard. Hur förstår man något sådant? Kanske är det nödvändigt att höra berättelser från män och kvinnor som varit med om aborter för att kunna få en inblick i hur hundratusentals män och kvinnor i Sverige mår idag.

From January 1975 to date there have been over a million abortions in Sweden and over a billion worldwide. How can anyone understand such a thing? Perhaps it helps to hear accounts from men and women themselves who have been involved in abortions in order to gain an insight about how hundreds of thousands of people in Britain feel today.

Besök gärna två nya bloggar som startats de senaste månaderna, den ena till och med för bara några dagar sedan. Om du börjar att läsa blogginläggen bakifrån, med det äldsta inlägget först, är det svårt att sluta.

Have a look at two new blogs which have been started in recent months, one of them only a few days ago. If you begin to read the blog entries, starting with the oldest, it is hard to stop.

Bloggen ”En abort” http://enabort.blogg.se/

Den helt nya bloggen ”En abort” startades av en 28-årig kille vars flickvän gjorde abort för bara några dagar sedan. Utdrag ur en bloggartikel:

The blog was started by a 28 year old man whose girlfriend had an abortion just a few days previously. Here is a quotation from it.

”Hej alla läsare. Jag skrev inte igår då vi inte mådde så bra efter det som hände igår, vi var där innan 7 och hon fick sina piller en kvart senare. Hon tyckte det var jobbigt och ville ta sina piller själv, men hon klarade inte det och blev väldigt ledsen. Så hon fick hjälp med att ta sina piller och jag var tvungen att gå ut och vänta medans dom blev klara.”

"Hallo, all readers. I did not write yesterday as we did not feel so good after what happened, it was before 7 o'clock and she received her tablets a quarter of an hour later. She thought it was tough and wanted to take her medication herself, but she did not manage that and become very unhappy. So she needed help with taking the medication and I was forced to go out and wait for it to be done."

* Bloggen ”Om min abort” http://omminabort.blogg.se/

Bloggen ”Om min abort” skrivs av en ung tjej som gjorde en abort i juli 2008, en dag hon beskriver som ”den värsta dagen i mitt liv”.

This blog was written by a young woman who had an abortion in July 2008, a day she writes of as "the worst day in my life."

Utdrag ur hennes blogg: ”Han vet hur dåligt jag mår, och han vet att jag bara behöver 1minut, jag behöver prata med honom efter allt som hänt, jag vill bara avsluta allt. För jag behöver ett avslut. Men inget jag säger eller gör spelar någon roll, han bryr sig bara om sig själv… Jag önskar att jag inte lyssnat på honom och behållit min bebis!”

Extract from her blog: "He knows how dreadful I feel and he knows that I just need a minute, I need to talk with him after all that happened, I just want to resolve things. For I need to bring things to a resolution. But nothing I say or do makes any difference, he only cares about himself... I wish I had not listened to him and had kept my baby."

torsdag 11 september 2008

The high cost of railway vehicles

The cost of railway vehicles is accelerating. I discussed this the other day with an expert, who told me it was just the trend of things that the price of passenger vehicles was rising to the £2.5 million level. Is it inevitable? Could it be that engineering costs have gone out of control because specifications are not being sufficiently questioned?

From the passengers' point of view a modern train actually offers less in some ways than its 1950s predecessor. There is less space, seating is cramped and many of those seats offer no view out of the window. A chronic complaint is shortage of space for luggage. There is a lot of advanced and expensive technology in the background which ought to add to the comfort and convenience of the journey but the obvious things like legroom and luggage space have been squeezed out, partly because the high cost of the modern vehicles means that it is critical that as many people as possible are packed in. Fleet sizes must be pared to a minimum, leaving little spare capacity to cope with peak traffic.

Does anyone know how much extra cost is incurred by successive increments of speed? What is the difference between the cost of a train designed to run at a maximum speed of 100 mph, compared to the 125 and 140 mph train? These differences do not affect only the trains. Track, signalling, even the overall design of the route, must be more highly specified when speeds are higher, leading to a bigger question: what are the overall costs of operation of routes at different train speeds? Isn't this information something that those in charge of transport policy should have in front of them?

Then there is the issue of specifications. Precisely who, if anyone, needs automatic taps and hand-driers in the toilets? Is air conditioning automatically the most cost-effective way of achieving a comfortable passenger environment? What electronic systems are actually essential and does the equipment being fitted provide best value? Could passenger information and computer systems be standard off the peg items and do they need to have, literally, all the bells and whistles? To service all these systems, huge cable looms now run the length of every vehicle. Yet when a public address system was re-fitted to mark 1 stock in the 1980s, the bell circuit was used, avoiding the need for a new cable run.

Seats are another item that have become costly (and heavy). To what extent is this because they are fitted in "airline" or "bus" mode, all facing in the same direction, and therefore requiring substantial and heavy frames to provide stability and crashworthiness? Would it be less costly to arrange seats in back to back mode, with seats designed so that back-to-back pairs formed a single structural unit - thereby saving weight as well as adding comfort. Then there are bodyshells, which, outside the UK, were frequently constructed with corrugated panels, which is structurally efficient, but this a practice seems to have disappeared over the past couple of decades.

Can costs be trimmed in other ways without sacrificing comfort or safety? Do all internal doors need to be power-operated? Do all external doors need to be power-operated, or could the powered function be reduced on operate only for closure? To what extent are are regulatory requirements pushing up costs, with negligible benefit? Are there less expensive way of providing what is essential?

In other words, with costs accelerating, it is not time to go back-to-basics in train design and decide what is really needed to convey people safely and comfortably on services which are affordable and competitive with other modes? One difficulty is that there are too many vested interests in the industry in keeping costs high, which means that the challenge needs to be at top level.

onsdag 10 september 2008

Railway comments update

The latest issue of Rail Professional is of more than usual interest. Amongst the topics examined are...

Rolling stock for the future
Colin Walton, Chairman of Bombardier UK, reveals that the company has a dip in orders around 2011 and would offer "a very good price" for orders placed by the end of the year. Which is why the decision by the Department of Transport to go for a new design of train for Thameslink is wrong. There is an excellent case for just going out and ordering more Electrostars and developing the next generation of electric multiple unit trains to a longer timescale. After all, Transport for London is ordering a version of the Electrostar for London Overground, operating on similar services. With a suitable internal configuration, having plenty of circulation space around the doorways, they are adequate if not ideal. In any case the Department of Transport needs to re-think how the Thameslink service is operated, as there can be no design of rolling stock that is suitable for a railway that is at the same time a long-distance route, a commuter line, an airport link and an inner suburban service. Probably the most effective solution would be to run Thameslink as a service within the TfL area, with the long distance services running to the main London terminals as they used to. On the south side of the river, London Bridge appears to have capacity, but to the north, St Pancras has lost platforms to Eurostar, so there may be problems, but with the redevelopment of the area around King's Cross, it may be possible to find terminal space for trains from the north, or the solution may be to alter the service pattern on the Midland main line.

Inter City Express update
Walton also mentioned, and with scepticism, that only Hitachi has come up with a bid that meets the Department of Transports specification, or more realistically, wish list. He refers to a likely price tag of £3 million per carriage. Given the restrictions of the British loading gauge, this guarantees that the seats will have to be packed in so that passengers will continue to be forced to travel in sardine-can like conditions. There is also the general issue of running trains over lines which are partly electrified and partly not, which would not be a problem but for an refusal to accept the possibility of traction changes en route, which until a few yeas ago was accepted practice and unproblematic.

Rolling stock leasing and the cost of modern trains
The Competition Commision continues to be concerned about the lack of competition between rolling stock leasing companies. One problem, hinted at but not discussed in detail, is that the stock is too closely tied to particular routes. This is partly a consequence of technical decisions. Fixed formation trains are inherently inflexible as they have to be configured for particular services. The class 220 Voyagers and the Pendolinos, for example, proved to be too short, but there is no means of adding extra vehicles apart from constructing them specially. The days are long gone when a couple of extra carriages could be taken from a stock of spares held in a siding and attached to the front of the train if it was busy. There is no reason in principle why that kind of flexibility should not be built into the system but it would have to be specified, for example by insisting on operational compatibility between different classes of rolling stock, as was normal in the 1950s. Of course modern trains have many more systems than the trains of the 1950s but there is still no reason for incompatibility. It would probably mean a return to the use of locomotives and hauled vehicles, but in its nearly exclusive use of fixed formation passenger trains, Britain is unusual amongst European railways, where locomotive traction in push-pull mode is common. It is also necessary to ask why carriages are now costing over £2 million apiece, which, incidentally, is more than the Bombardier TRAXX locomotive which costs about €2.2 million.

Turning to the cost of rolling stock: in 1953, a mark 1 vehicle cost under £6000, a figure which may not have been realistic because accounting systems within the nationalised industry could be suspect. These provided a comfortable seat in a spacious passenger environment, but were of agricultural simplicity. The only services through the train were the braking system, the steam heating system and electricity for the lighting system, which was a low voltage DC installation with dynamo generation and lead-acid battery backup. On the other hand, the vehicles had a high labour input to their construction.

Since 1953, the value of the pound has fallen by a factor of 30, which would price the mark 1 coach at £180,000. Even allowing for the unreliability of the original figure, how come that in real terms, the price has now risen by 11 times? The vehicles have to run faster, which means that components such as bogies and braking systems have to be designed to cope with the different conditions. Adequate crashworthiness is required, though that should not necessarily add significantly to the costs as this is primarily a matter of making sure the structural material is optimally placed, which was not the case with the mark 1 construction with a heavy underframe and lightweight bodyshell. Crashworthiness must also extend to interior components such as seats. Then there are the additional services which are now expected: air-conditioning, power operated doors, retention toilets, public address and visual information displays. And on top, there is a requirement for some kind of fault detection and reporting system. Then there are design and accreditation costs, which now amount to about £4 million, a cost which has to be spread across the build.

Many, though probably not all, of the the additional features should not be particularly costly, as they can be mass-produced items manufactured for other transport modes such as automotive or marine. Obviously, all of this will add to the cost. Triple, perhaps, say £550,000. At the very most, the cost could quadruple, to say, £750,000 for an unpowered vehicle, which is in line with the cost of Electrostars which came in at about £750,000 a vehicle, complete with traction in the years up to 2005. But 11 times the cost? Is this the price of 140 mph running as compared with 100 mph? The whole issue needs to be examined. If it is the cost of speed, then value-for-money decisions are called for.

Paying for Crossrail
Uncertainties remain on Crossrail, which received Royal Assent in July. Who will pay for the £16 billion scheme? Costs are to be shared between the goverment, London businesses and revenue from fares. It is a bad general principle that capital costs should come from fares, which should be set to cover running costs. But it is the amount of the business contribution that is proving contentious, and rightly so. Some of the big businesses that stand to benefit have already agreed to contribute, and there was a proposal for a supplement to the business rate. The arguments begin when trying to decide how much should be paid, for how long, and who should pay it. Business are reluctant to pay if they do not receive a commensurate benefit, and there will be free-loaders who will receive more than they will pay for.

This is not the way to pay for major infrastructure projects. A land value taxation (LVT) system (on the annual rental value of land) needs to be set up, initially as a replacement for all existing property taxes. Enhancements in land value due to the construction of new infrastructure are then automatically be collected without the need for further ad hoc arrangements. It is also the case that the land value information obtained after the LVT system has been operating for a while will provide transport planners with guidance about the external benefits of projects. Personally, I have my doubts as to whether Crossrail in its present form is good value for money. Its primary function is to relieve pressure on the Central Line tube, and I suspect that what is really needed is another tube line, at a fraction of the cost. Crossrail also poses problems similar to those experienced with Thameslink, which does not operate satisfactorily in its present form. It sounds like a bad idea to repeat the mistake.

Uckfield-Lewes reopening
This scheme is also discussed in an article by Paul Clifton. It seems that East Sussex County Council is opposed as it want to build a road on the track bed and would like to see the proposal abandoned once and for all so that it can get on with it. ESCC is a notoriously car-oriented organisation, in a heavily populated area that is gradually turning from rural to suburban. The scheme, allegedly, does not deliver sufficient in the way of external benefits, but of course nobody has estimated the aggregate enhancement to land values.

Potentially, the line could to be upgraded and developed into a new main route from London to the South Coast. But in the process it would open up development opportunities and more rural areas would disappear under bricks and mortar. And without land value taxation, owners would eventually stand to make a killing.

tisdag 9 september 2008

Britain is a class-ridden society

So says Polly Toynbee in the Guardian this morning.

When four "aristocratic" families own the lion's share of Central London what else can one expect but that Britain is riven by class? Aristocratic means their ancestors enjoyed the monarch's favour in the sixteenth century and managed to avoid getting their heads chopped off.

For an explanation, have a look a the web site of the Land Value Taxation Campaign here and download the exhibition brochure which spells it all out, unashamedly.

There are, I suggest, several classes, at least five.
(1) Aristocratic landowners
(2) Government/educational establishment, opinion formers, top managers
(3) Salaried employees, salespeople, tradespeople, small businesspeople.
(4) Unskilled employed and low paid
(5) Unemployed welfare-dependent.

There is a small amount of movement between them. One of the tasks of level 2 people is to make sure nothing is said or done to damage the priviliges enjoyed by people at level 1. If they did, they would lose their position.

Despite all her fine words, Polly Toynbee, in level 2, has never said or proposed anything that would actually deal with the priviliged position of people in level 1. In fact, if she did, things would be said that would destroy her credibility and she would not last much longer as a Guardian columnist.

In the meantime the social fabric of the country is disintegrating.

måndag 8 september 2008

Aid to developing countries is immoral

There are two major objections to aid from first world governments to developing countries. First world tax systems, despite being notionally related to ability to pay, are in practice only so for the poor and not-quite poor, who cannot pay for advice to enable them to exploit the loopholes in their countries' tax systems.

The second objection is that development does not necessarily help the poor in the developing countries, any more than it did in Europe in the period after the industrial revolution. With each successive wave of technical development, from the advent of steam power, railways, internal combustion, electricity, information technology and communications technology, the productive power of labour was increased manyfold. But it did not produce a commensurate increase either in wages or in the return to capital. Wages remained stuck at the minimum that labour would accept.

The end product was a few fat-cat landowners and a mass of poor, a situation which was only alleviated in just a few places, by social democratic governments. Even in the most successful of these, Sweden, the situation is sliding back again with increasing inequalities.

Such a state of affairs was predicted and explained by the neglected economist Henry George. But unless developing countries acknowledge the problem and act on it, aid is a process for soaking the poor in first world countries, to enrich the privileged in the developing world.

lördag 6 september 2008

The Cupboard is bare

The cupboard of ideas, that is. The British economy is going through a bad patch and headed for worse. The essential emptiness of the New Labour project is now revealed. There is talk of the "total destruction" of the Labour Party. The Conservatives have got nothing to offer. Cutting waste and inheritance tax are their big ideas, as though cutting taxes on the dead will do anything for the living. If the Liberal Democrats have anything useful in their cupboard,, it is at the back of the top shelf, and well hidden. The Green Party is too small to matter. They have a few good policies, also on the top shelf and their members do not understand their significance. Some politicians talk about raising the retiring age and making benefit scroungers go back to work, though they do not explain how that is meant to happen with unemployment now above 6%. The party conference season is beginning. I fear it will just reveal the emptiness.

How has this come about? Intellectual laziness, mainly. People will not ask questions but accept what they hear and read. It starts even before school. "Shut up and stop asking questions" is the stock response to naturally curious children. It continues in the classroom, where children are scared to ask questions for fear that they will be made fun of by their classmates or teachers. Instead, they sit and pretend they understand. By the time they are ten, the habit is grained in.

The economics columnists are a high-level example of the malaise. Why they say tends to consist of perceptive observations, faultily analysed to the point that their pieces do not cohere. Often, it would be possible to challenge them with a question or two which would force them to admit that they did not understand what was going on. A famous economist, Professor Wynne Godley, once wrote that "economics is in a state of great confusion... with no accepted body of theory". If I recall, the article was in the Financial Times and it was in the early 1980s, perhaps 1981. At a popular level, the lack of understanding is evident in the on-line comments and letters to the press. And then the whole political debate ends up by being about personalities, which effectively puts a stop to discussion about policies.

I would like to be able to say that the forthcoming party conferences will be interesting. They will undoubtedly be turbulent but they will not be enlightening in the way one would want.

fredag 5 september 2008

Only four weeks to go

It struck me this evening that I will be on the ferry back to Britain in just four weeks time. When I read the news I cannot work up any enthusiasm about the thought. The British goverment has got the economy into a complete mess and made everyone poorer in the process. They have failed in their fundamental duty. The terrifying thought is that the Conservatives would have done no better.

Can anyone be blamed? The politicians? Perhaps. They are only trying to do what people want. So came the rise of the focus group, which turned leaders into followers. What about the experts who advise the politicians? Partly, because economics turned from being a developing science into semi-quackery some time around 1885.

Then again, people have freely fought to get onto the "property ladder", without thinking it was riddled with woodworm. Many imagined they could make a fast buck, as house prices rose by the week. And borrowed more than their houses were worth, or against the rising value of houses that had already been paid for. Then there are the banks, who lent recklessly to people who they must have realised might not be able to pay the money back. And people's fantasy expectations of politicians determine who goes in for politics and who gets elected. The idea of governing by focus group was also corrupting, as policies degenerated into panic measures in response to the last thing to hit the headlines.

So Britain's problems have been mostly brought on by the British as a whole. They have got the economy and politicians and the country they deserve. What an utterly depressing thought. I don't want to feel part of it. I don't want to have anything to do with it.

The locals here might be a bit uptight, but they are sane and usually anxious to please, which makes life so much easier. Must organise my trip back before I leave. I feel more comfortable with a return ticket in my wallet booked and paid for.

torsdag 4 september 2008

Crash bang wallop goes the UK economy

I have been looking back over my previous blogs from a year or so back. At the time, I notice that the main economc concerns were about unaffordable housing and its rising costs. In one of my comments, I suggested that there was a crash imminent. My first on Northern Rock was in mid September, and soon after I noted that it was the harbinger of the major economic collapse that is now under way.

How many of the professionals got that right? The most accurate predictions, as usual, came from people like myself who subscribe to the economic analysis developed by Henry George in the 1870s. It is not a matter of being a genius, but simply of following the most reliable body of theory available. There is no satisfaction in getting predictions like this right. We are all poorer as a result of the British government's reckless policies, as becomes evident when one is exchanging one's UK pounds into petrocurrencies like the Norwegian kronor. The pound was a petrocurrency once, but unlike the Norwegians we squandered the benefits. It is frustrating to have to stand on the sidelines and watch the preventable crash from happening and people getting hurt.

tisdag 2 september 2008

Unlimited toilet paper!

Unlimited toilet paper!
Originally uploaded by Savages911

And so the UK Pound slides down, now against both the Euro and the Dollar too, which was itself in trouble only weeks ago. Since the Euro has lost value against goods and services, so matters are much worse than they seem.

The government does not know what to do. In the short term it cannot do anything. If the interest rate is put up, it will hold the value of the £ but aggravate recession. If it goes down, it will aggravate inflation. The mistake was made a decade ago, when it was decided to use interest rates as the means for achieving price stabiity. Of couse it did not work. There were people who said this at the time. Come the end of the boom cycle and the government finds itself powerless, since all options must fail.

I do not blame the government particularly. A Conservative government would have been in the same predicament. I blame the academics who promote false theories of economics, as they have done since the rise of the Austrian School of economics over a century ago.

There are powerful, though numerically small, vested interests who benefit from the confusion, as they are the ones who gain from governments' inability to deal with the problem.

Many people have an inkling that there is something fundamentally wrong but they cannot pin it down, and there is a reluctance to be honest, so long as people have a chance of making a fast buck out of the misery. This is evident from the comments made on newspaper web sites in response to articles by the economics correspondents. Using the economic theory available to them, the analysis the journalists produce is invariably defective. The comments made by the public often manage to pick out the flaws in the arguments, though without a coherent body of alternative theory, they are unable to articulate their thoughts coherently and seem just to be confused.

But there is a perfectly respectable body of economic theory available which would enable people to make sense of what is happening and come up with alternatives. This theory lies in the direct line of evolution from the classical economists, starting with the Physiocrats and continuing with Adam Smith (who is usually read selectively by conservatives), David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill. Last in the line was Henry George, who put the whole subject together in a coherent analysis. Unfortunately, the implications were that policies were required which would have threatened the powerful vested interests. Instead, the world got the ultimately futile Marxist revolution. The lack of sound economic theory leaves politicians with no more power than doctors had before bacteria and viruses were discovered.

What happened to economics? The Austrian School theories came along at just the right time to cast such a fog of confusion over the study of economics that these psudo-theories were encouraged and became the economics orthodoxy. The result is the confusion that plagues modern economic policy-making, to the extent that most people will admit that they don't know anything about the subject. It is untrue. If they were to begin to think reflectively and honestly on their own economic circumstances, they will be able to cut their way through this confusion.

måndag 1 september 2008

The Shape of British politics

House of Commons interior (parliamentary copyright)

Members of the British House of Commons sit opposite each other in facing rows. The layout was inherited from the middle ages, when the first meetings were held in a chapel with a similar layout. There is a government and an opposition, and the confrontational approach is reinforced by the first-past-the-post electoral system.

In an interview a few weeks ago, one MP praised the system as ensuring that everything gets properly discussed and both sides of every question are aired and thrashed out. He referred to its origin in the arts of debate developed in classical Greece and Rome.

Confrontation is not a good principle and in a fast-changing world it is not serving the country well. There are usually more than two sides to an issue. Confrontation leaves no room for a third point of view. Worse still, such a system absolutely prevents a shifting of the fundamental terms of any argument, since both parties to the debate are sharing the underlying assumptions. It also serves as a bad model for conducting discussion both in the public realm and privately. Institutionalised confrontation is not something to be proud of.

What will the US presidential candidates actually do?

If the Republican McCain gets elected, nothing much will change. But then nothing much is expected. What if Obama wins? He is still committed to the futile action in Afghanistan. He will also inherit the economic problems that have bubbled up. What will he actually do about those? He utters fine words but seems to have no policies that would address the USA's problems. A bit like Tony Blair in 1997, then. Expect nothing from him either.

torsdag 28 augusti 2008

Vad är jordvärdeskatt?

Den här försök till översättningen är baserad på ”What is Land Value Taxation” som kan hittas här. Tyvärr är den felaktig eftersom min Svensk är hemskt dåligt. Om du kan hjälpa med att kontrollera, kan du kontakta mig på henry.bn{at}googlemail.com. Tack.

Jordvärdeskatt är en sätt genom att regeringen får intäkter genom en årlig skatt pǻ årshyrans värde av jord. Jorvärdeskatten ersätter nuvarande skatter. Det är inte en skatt till. Det är en enkel sätt som kan användas för att lätta många stora sociala och ekonomiska problem till exempel transportproblemet, bostadsproblemet, arbetslöshet, fattigdom osv. Hur går det till?

Varje områdes värde ska vara mätas ganska ofta – till exempel en gång om året och åtminstone varje femte år. Skatten måste betalas en gång om året. Summan räknas av en bråkdel av områdens värde. Det beror inte på ytan.

”Jord” betyder bara landområdet, utan bebyggelse. Allt ignoreras: byggnader, vägar och avlopp inom området, grödor och odlade trä. Var det gäller systemet räknas att en tomt i mitten av en rad villor har samma värde som alla andra tomterna som har byggts upp.

Värdet är det aktuella marknadsvärdet som inte är ett godtyckligt antal räknas ut av en funktionär. Värdet inte heller är försäljningspriset. Värdet är årshyran, som beror, givetvis, på vilket byggnadstillstånd det gäller på detta området. Om tillståndet andras, sedan andras värdet alltså. Skatten betalas av ägaren eller delas ut emellan ägaren och hyresgästerna eller arrendatorerna.

Jordvärdskatten måste introduceras småningom. Nuvarande skatterna sänkes och jordvärdeskatten infördes samtidigt.


Alla markar bidrar till regeringen och kommun. Resultatet är att nuvarande skatterna som skadar ekonomi kan sänkas och även avskaffas.

Om människors arbete, tillverkning, byggnader och fabriker taxeras, blir ekonomi hårt straffas. En stor del av arbetsgivares omkostnader består av skatt. Arbetskostnader är höga på grund av skatt även om arbetstagaren är lågavlönade. Det gäller nu även för regeringen som tvingas att skaffa skatt och betala ut skatt samtidigt. En av resultaten är arbetslöshet. Tillverkning flyttas ofta till tredje världsländer för att slippa höga arbetskostnader, även skatten. Framåtanda och duktiga blir modfälld. Under nuvarande skattesystemet, män som gör ingenting betalar ingenting, och män som arbetar bestraffas av skatt. Däremot, om sådana skatter avskaffas, blir ekonomi starkare. Jordvärdeskatten betalas oavsett. Resultatet är att arbetare och affärsmän inte blir straffas av systemet. Arbetslöshet och bidragsberoende minskas och regeringen sparar mycket pengar.

Glesbefolkda område har stora problem med sina ekonomi eftersom alla varor måste transporteras lång bort ifrån. Resultatet är att varor blir ofta dyrare och en stor del av priset består av skatt. Där, kostar det mer att tillverka varor. I sådana område finns det också dåliga vägar, kollektivtrafik, täckning av mobilnätet, osv. Under nuvarande skatter, tillverkare och affärsmän betalar samma skatt som dem i den största städer trots att de får sämre infrastruktur. Resultatet är att i dessa område blir affärer drabbas av skatt. Eftersom finns jordvärden låg i glestbefolkada område, i sådana delar av landet bli jordvärdeskatten alltså låg. Systemet skapar legala skatteparadis precis var de finns störst brist och regeringen förlora ingenting.

Jordvärdeskatten måst betalas oavsett jord användas eller nej. Om ägare inte vill dra nytta av sin jord, måste de sälja eller hyra den ut till någon som har bruk för den för att betala skatten.

Eftersom skatten måste betalas oavsett jord användas eller nej, jordägare i stora städer vill inte hålla värdefulla tomtar, särskilt i centrala lägen. Om det finns byggnadslov, bygges tomterna upp snabbt. Om det finns inte byggnadstillstånd, regeringen förlora pengar, därför har regeringen incitament att vara effektiv med planeringsystemet.

Det nuvarande skattesystem är otroligt komplicerad. Det kostar både regeringen och arbetsgivare mycket en förmogenhet bara att administrera. Skattsystemet själv kostar 5% av Storbritanniens Bruttonationalprodukt. Däremot är jordvärdeskatten extremt enkel. Likadana system som det gamla Britanniska ”rates” systemet kostade bara 0,5% av intäkten. Jordvärdesskatten behöver inga komplicerade blanketter som måste fylles i. Med hjälp av moderna dator-baserade geografiska informationssystem är det lätt att uppdatera värdeslistan och kadaster.

Enligt Skatteverket, år 2007 har beräknats det total skattefelet till 133 miljarder kronor vilket motsvarar ca 5% av BNP eller 10% av den fastställda skatten, varav 66 miljarder av det totala skattefelet står av svartarbetet; det största del av svartarbete ligger på mikroföretag. Det är omöjligt att slippa jordvärdeskatten, eftersom kan jord inte döljas eller flyttas till en skatteparadis, inte heller kan man skicka jord halv vägs runt jordens klotet med ett musknäpp.

Jordspekulation är den viktigaste orsaken till ekonomiska svingar. Uppsvingar börjar när bankar lånar ut för mycket pengar för att köper jord, eftersom bankar tror att jordpriset alltid ska öka. Det själv gör jordpriset öka och en prisbubbla utvecklar sig. Slutligen blir priser omöjligt högt och bubblan brister. Sedan går priser plötsligt ner. Bankerna och jordköparna förlorar förmogenheter, och ekonomi drabbas av lågkonjunktur. Den kan fortsätter några år, innan uppsvingen börjar igen. Om det gäller jorvärdesskatt, sådan jordspekulation är aldrig lönt, alltså är lågkonjunkturer och högkonjunkturer minskad.

Jordvärdeskatten kan inte skickas vidare. Konkurrens betyder att affärsmän kan inte höga priser på grund av jordvärdeskatten. Även nu betalar företag på olika belägenheter olika hyran men de kan inte ber olika priser för samma varor. Hyran är högre i bra belägenheter eftersom mera kunder går förbi och affärer säljer mera varor. Om hyresgästen eller arrendatorn betalar redan den hela marknadsvärds hyran, så kan de inte betalar mer i alla fall.

Systemet är ganska vanligt och gillas särskilt i delar av Australien och USA; där fungerar systemet bra och effektivt. Eftersom systemet är baserad på årshyran, jordvärdeskatten är likadant Brittiska ”Business Rates”, fastän enklare.

Det finns en stor skillnad emellan jord, och tillverkade varor och tjänster. Jord kostar ingenting att tillverka. Givetvis är jord inte allt tillverkad. Om överallt i landet fanns det lika mycket och lika bra jord som alla längtade efter, skulle jord ha noll värde. I verklighet, blir jord begränsad eftersom människor behöver den för boplatser, för att odlar grödor, för arbetsplatser, för affärer, för fritidsaktiviteter och så vidare. Betydelsen är att jordsvärd skapas helt av samhället och inte av individuell ansträngning. Sådant värde tillhör samhället. Däremot tillhör individer alla som produceras av individuell ansträngning. Om jordvärdeskatten ersätter nuvarande skatter kan individer befrias så att de kan spendera sina förtjänster som de helst. Det är en grundläggning av frihet.

Somliga jord är bättre än annat jord på grund av sin plats eller fruktbarhet, alltså får olika jord, olika värde. Kravet för den bäste jord ger den dessa högsta värde; det betyder att man betala högsta hyran för den.

Jordvärdeskatten är baserad på politiska filosofien att bör ha äganderätt till det de själva skapar, men att naturtillgångar, främst jord och mark, tillhör alla människor, eftersom kravet kommer från helt samhället. Jordvärdeskatt är en betalning för tjänster mottagna. Alltså är den rimligt och rättvis.


Link to original English text.

onsdag 27 augusti 2008

European signalling system – ERTMS

Semaphore Signal bracket, Merchants' Quay, Workington
Originally uploaded by russell_w_b

The radio-based European Train Management Sytem should in due course replace traditional railway signals using lights on poles next to the track. Instead, train drivers will refer to a display inside their cab.

The difficulty is that the specification keeps on changing. It is now up to version 2.3.0D, though that is not presently available. A trial system on the Cambrian line is being installed to an earlier version of ERTMS which will now need to be “migrated” to the new one when the trial becomes operational next year.

Virus questions - and the Swedish exception

Is there a link to particular pre-existing conditions, including diabetes, pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome? Is there a link to particu...