söndag 31 december 2017

A golden age of Catholicism

The period of 150 years from the end of the Napoleonic wars can, in retrospect, be seen as a golden age of Catholicism. An unbroken succession of first rate popes, from Pius IX to Pius XII, built on, and consolidated, the work of each and all of his predecessors.

Missionaries spread the faith round the world. Irish immigration brought a wave of Catholicism to America and Great Britain. In Britain, it was boosted by the aftermath of the Oxford Movement, with the conversion of Newman, Manning, Vaughan and many others from the English upper classes. Then came the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850, with the re-establishment of Catholic dioceses. This was followed by a vigorous period of church building, many by notable architects such as A W Pugin and Joseph Aloysius Hansom. Religious orders such as the Benedictines, Sacred Heart Sisters, and Oratorians, set up new communities all over the world. There were six seminaries in England alone, training a steady and ample flow of priests.

A flourishing Catholic intellectual culture developed, with such renowned lay figures as Belloc, Chesterton, Sheed and Ward, the Meynells, J R R Tolkien. Notable Jesuits included Gerald Manley Hopkins, Frederick Copleston, Martin D’Arcy, and Cyril Martindale in Britain. Bishop Fulton Sheen was a famous and popular broadcaster in the USA. Another famous clergyman was Chesterton’s fictitious Fr Brown (modelled on a Roman Catholic friend, Fr John O’Connor, a parish priest). The Catholic church attracted famous converts: in addition to Chesterton, were, amongst many others, Compton Mackenzie, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Hollis, Alec Guinness - it is a large and diverse list.

The period also saw a renewal of Catholic liturgy, grounded in the painstaking restoration of Gregorian Chant by the Solemnes monks from the 1870s onwards, and the publication of the Vatican edition of the Liber Usualis and other chant books. There was new Catholic music too, by composers such as Bruckner, Elgar, Dupre and the organist Olivier Messaien.

The Catholic church did not attract just famous people. In his autobiography, “Goodbye to all that”, Robert Graves describes how the Catholic chaplains would remain with the men at the front in the trenches so that they could be available to hear the confessions of the dying soldiers. As a consequence, Graves explains, many of the men claimed to be Catholics when they were not, so that they could have a chaplain assigned to them. Naturally, this had its effect and drew converts into the Catholic church.

In the 1950s, the Catholic church seemed to have a bright future ahead. The model priest was, perhaps, someone like the one portrayed by Bing Crosby in “Going my way” and “The Bells of St Mary’s”, which came out in 1944 and 1945.

In retrospect, the end came suddenly. It was soon after the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958. The Second Vatican Council ushered in a series of liturgical reforms which left the Catholic church unrecognisable. Religious vocations dwindled to a trickle. Mass attendances slumped. A series of scandals revealed that that there had been ugly things going on beneath the surface. 

From 1978 onwards with the election of Pope John Paul II, it looked as if the changes had gone as far as they were going and that we would see the swing of a pendulum. Since 2013, however, the momentum for further change has gathered once more. Although the unexpected can happen, and the Holy Spirit moves in surprising ways, it is unlikely that the decline will be reversed within the lifetime of most people alive today, if ever. The strongest shoots of Christian growth today are to be seen in Moscow, of all places. Who would have predicted such a thing?

One wonders what the orthodox Catholic intellectuals of 100 years ago would have made of what is happening and how they would have responded to this confusing state of affairs?

lördag 30 december 2017

St Thomas of Canterbury

Today is the feast of St Thomas of Canterbury. He was a martyr in the cause of the independence of the church from state power. That it is a perennial issue we know from the episode of “render unto Caesar”.

At Brighton, during the 1980s, we had a curate, Fr Mark Elvins, who was a descendant of the Four Knights who murdered the Archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170. Fr Mark had acquired a relic of St Thomas whilst on a visit to Rome and brought it back to Brighton. This inspired him to set up a charity in Brighton to provide hostel accommodation for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, under the patronage of St Thomas.

The existence of these relics of St Thomas was against the will of King Henry VIII. All relics of St Thomas were to have been destroyed after the shrine was taken down in 1538, on the King’s orders. Henry demanded that all the bones be ground to dust and shot from a canon. The plan was confounded because long before, relics had been given to the Papal Legate and the King of France when they made a state visit to Canterbury; there was also a relic sent to Hungary.

After leaving Brighton, Fr Mark eventually joined the Franciscans and became head of Greyfriars, Oxford. He died in 2014.

When he was at Brighton Fr Mark used to celebrate a Tridentine Missa Cantata on this day, followed by a pub lunch. It was an event to look forward to in those indeterminate days between Christmas and New Year. I had thought of going to Mass today but it would just have made me unhappy as a reminder of what is, sadly, no more.

fredag 22 december 2017

Who will the next pope be?

A group of us were discussing this question the other evening. These are the odds given at the betting website Paddy Power. It is probably as good a guide as any, unless some new Cardinals are named.
  1. Cardinal Tagle (Phillipines) 4-1
  2. Cardinal Marc Ouellet (Canada) 6-1
  3. Cardinal Peter Turkson (Ghana)  6-1
  4. Cardinal Sean O’Malley (United States) 15-2
  5. Archbishop Angelo Scola (Italy) 15-2
  6. Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (Austria) 9-1
For traditionalists, the dream scenario is Cardinal Sarah (French Guinea) or Cardinal Malcolm Ranjit (Sri Lanka, both 22-1) or Cardinal Francis Arinze (Nigeria, 25-1).

It is claimed that the decision is the Holy Spirit’s, so any result is possible. However, would a “Benedict XVII” fare any better than Benedict XVI in the Vatican? And his successor in turn? Athanasius Schneider as “Benedict XVIII”?

Whether the decision really is the Holy Spirit’s is another question. It all hangs ultimately on a particular interpretation of Matthew 16:18-19. Other interpretations are possible. At one time there were three popes. For centuries the papacy was a trophy that was rotated among aristocratic Roman families ie Roman families with large and valuable land holdings. Extreme privilege, and extreme poverty, are not starts in life which preclude holiness — far from it — but the saints seem mostly to have come from somewhere in between, with a loving and intimate family background.

The text of Mt 16:18-19 is, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Whether the infallibly Papal monarchical model of the church is what was really intended by those words has been endlessly debated and will no doubt continue to be for a long time to come.

onsdag 20 december 2017

Access to markets

When I was a child, and that was a very long time ago, we used to go to Petticoat Lane market several times a year, usually on a Sunday morning; its real name is Wentworth Street. It was a train ride to the long-vanished terminal at Broad Street. The trains were ancient even then, having come into service during the First World War. The seats where covered in shiny horsehair with deep buttoned-in upholstery and above them were framed sepia photographs of places on the London and North Western Railway, such as the Lake District.

In Petticoat Lane, prices were lower, which covered the cost of the train fare. There were all sorts of things that you could not buy anywhere else: unusual vegetables such as petrushka (parsley root), an essential ingredient of chicken soup; bagels; Cohen’s Smoked Salmon; Barnett’s salt beef; Grozdinski’s bread. You could buy schmaltz herrings (Dutch style, pickled in brine), Edam, Gouda, and white cream cheese, white unsalted butter, and olives, which were a rarity elsewhere. There was a shop which sold freshwater fish such as pike and mirror carp, the latter kept live and swimming in a big glass tank above the counter.

There was lots to see and we came home with shopping bags full of interesting things to eat. This was when bread was white or Hovis, cheese meant mousetrap cheddar, fish was cod or haddock, and vegetables were potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower and basic roots. A trip to Petticoat Lane was the alternative to the usual Sunday morning outing, a walk on Hampstead Heath.

Now, much of the arguments about Brexit is focussed on something called, “Access to markets”. In the normal meaning of the term, free access to markets meant that shoppers are free to go and buy what was on sale; Londoners are free to shop in Petticoat Lane market (though these days it is a very different place from what it was seventy years ago).

In Eurospeak, the meaning of “Access to markets” has been inverted. Free access in Eurospeak means that sellers are free to purvey their wares. The other side of this coin is that the withdrawal of free access, eg after Brexit, means that shoppers are restricted from being able to buy the goods on offer. Almost none of the commentators has made this obvious point, yet it is as if the people who lived in Hampstead and Kentish Town had been told by their local councils that they were not allowed to travel to Petticoat Lane and do their shopping, but must only buy from their local shops. Not only would customers have been deprived of the foods that could only be bought in Petticoat Lane; the local shops would have taken advantage of the lack of competition and jacked up their prices. This is the principle behind the EU’s Single Market.

One could envisage a situation where local shopkeepers might have tried to nobble their local councillors to enforce such a rule, but the elected councillors would have had to be extremely corrupt and they would not have been re-elected. However, this is exactly how the EU trade policy operates from Brussels. This is why the EU trade policy on Brexit will harm people and businesses inside the EU at least as much as it will cause trouble for UK manufacturers and providers of services. Consider financial services, for example. European companies employ British consultants not as an act of charity, but because they provide the service the client wants, at a favourable price. There are specific reasons why London has become a centre for financial service suppliers, and if EU clients are unable to continue to use their British consultants, they will be forced to pay more for a worse service, not to mention the cost and trouble of the disruption, which will extend to a loss of knowledge of the clients’ business, built up over many years.

Despite the obviousness of all these, writers, and expert ones at that, persist in referring to “Access to markets” exclusively from the producers’ perspective.
 

fredag 15 december 2017

Non-fake news about the EEC and EU

  • Food mountains, wine lakes etc were not fake news.
  • VAT (you could not think of a worse tax) was not fake news.
  • The sudden disappearance of cheap food from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Argentina and Eastern Europe in 1973 was not fake news.
  • The grubbing up of hedgerows in the late 1970s to make the most of CAP was not fake news.
  • Farmers being paid to leave fields full of weeds under the 2nd version of CAP was not fake news.
  • The grants to country landowners under the 3rd and current incarnation of CAP are not fake news
  • The Single Market tariff barrier is not fake news. 
Now for non-fake concealed-news: as the Single Market rules kick in after Brexit, there will be as many losers in the E27 as in the UK.

Job creation programme from heaven


The unusually early heavy snowfalls have created plenty of work in the past few weeks for people who must get up in the middle of the night to clear it by hand and with snowploughs.

All this extra activity is reflected in the GDP figure and looks like economic growth.  You could think of it as a job creation programme from heaven.

torsdag 14 december 2017

Lord's Prayer changed

“The problem is that the Orthodox Churches will continue with what has been given and the un-Churched will continue with what has always been but the cavalier attitude of the Pope to the explicit teaching of Jesus Christ will wound the Catholic Church for generations and set precedents for further rejection and sidelining of Christ.”

So writes Fr Blake in his latest blog. But surely it is not a problem, rather a useful pointer?

The Journey East #8

THE JOY OF ORTHODOXY
I have so far said little about the joy of Orthodoxy. There are small things about the Orthodox I have noticed for a long time, for example, that those visiting a church stop at the threshold and make the sign of the cross before entering the building.

Our local Franciscans have a library with a well-stocked section with books by Anthony Bloom, Meyendorff, Kontzevich and many others, which I have been reading my way through. One of the most inspiring was “The Unknown Homeland”, an autobiography by a priest from St Petersburg who had been arrested and imprisoned for a year before being sent to a remote village in Siberia, where, his health broken, he died after a few months. Reading these books has been a rewarding exploration in itself.

There is a beautiful church, a re-modelling of a unpromising grey concrete protestant church put up in the 1970s. Obviously, there has been the Divine Liturgy. One can only concur with the emissaries sent by Prince Vladimir of Kiev over 1,000 years ago, who found no beauty in the churches of the Germans, when they came to Constantinople and attended the Divine Liturgy in Hagia Sophia, reported that, “We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth, nor such beauty, and we know not how to tell of it.”

One of the reassuring things about the Liturgy is that it is almost the same every week. One knows pretty much what it will be like. There will be no nasty musical shocks, an important advantage when there is no off-switch in the pews. Then there is the parish priest, Fr. Dragan, who normally celebrates the Divine Liturgy with his son; if there is time, before Liturgy, Fr. Dragan embraces everyone he sees and gives a Holy Kiss.

After Liturgy, there is coffee and a chance to meet. This was difficult at first in the local Serbian/Russian parish because of the language barrier. However, if one is seen a couple of times and recognised, people go out of their way to make one welcome. After a while it turned out that there were quite a few English speakers.

Orthodoxy stands on two legs. There is the beautiful public liturgy. But it is also demanding, since there is a strong emphasis on private actions including fasting and prayer at home.

The spiritual benefits from all of this are quickly perceptible.

måndag 11 december 2017

Bit coin futures trading

The BitCoin mania reminds me of tulip mania. I might be mistaken, since a currency has a value as a medium of exchange as long as enough people have confidence in it. The energy now being consumed in computing to “mine” bit coins is immense. A friend one described his computers as fan heaters which did computing as a side-line. There is a data processing centre in Helsinki which uses the waste for heating an office block. Perhaps BitCoin mining could develop in a similar way.

What, though, is one to make of trading in BitCoin futures? Is it the equivalent of trading tulip bulb futures? Luke 12:13-21 comes to mind. What could possibly go wrong?

lördag 9 december 2017

Balance of payments surplus - good or bad?

A balance of payments deficit indicates that the value of the wealth coming into a country is higher than the value of the wealth going out, which is exactly as it should be. Goods are always worth more to the buyer than to the seller, and worth more in the country to which they are imported than they are in the country where they are exported form. That is why international trade takes place. A balance of payments surplus means that wealth is leaving the country in exchange for claims on wealth flowing back in return ie foreign exchange balances. A country with a balance of payments surplus is experiencing a loss of wealth.

Sterling balances held abroad are the driving force behind UK exports since they create demand for UK goods and services, and generate foreign investment in the UK. Thus a country must import in order to export. That is why the the EU Single Market is so damaging, since it sets up an obstacle against imports from the rest of the world.

This is pretty much the opposite of what is generally believed these days about international trade. The prevailing view is a revival of the mercantilist idea which dominated until it was refuted by the classical economists, starting with the Physiocrats, and then developed by Smith, Ricardo, J S Mill and Henry George. The last named wrote the most accessible work on the subject, “Protection or Free Trade”, published in 1884 and still in print.

The threat to the financial services “industry”

Financial services have concentrated in London not as a result of a conscious decision but for particular reasons which make it the optimal location. By preventing EU businesses from making use of London-based services, it is forcing them to employ consultants operating sub-optimally, which will incur not only the cost of the initial disruption but also ongoing additional costs; such is the foolishness of the EU's trade policies. How things develop remains to be seen. Some of the business may eventually return to London for the very reason it has concentrated there in the first place.

The present over-concentration of financial services in London is unhealthy and leads to a raft of problems. The departure of those businesses leaves premises in London vacant. The owners of the buildings they occupied will want to find tenants and so new opportunities will open up for other commercial users; they could be involved in design or technology-related activities. The important thing is that the owners do not sit on their real estate and leave it vacant for years on end.

From the mid-nineteenth century until the advent of the Nazis, European banking was concentrated in Berlin, Vienna and Paris. That, too, happened for specific reasons which we are not likely to see re-created. You can read the story in "The Hare with the “Amber Eyes” by Edmund de Waal.

Dictator Pope - a book not to read

I will not be reading the book “Dictator Pope”, which has come out under a pseudonym. Were I to do so it would make me angry. That would be bad for my eternal soul, and probably for my heart also, which I need to be careful about. An ECG last week showed that it not altogether as it should be; I seem to have inherited something from my father, though he died at the age of 93 from a different cause altogether.

The problems at Rome did not begin in 2013, or with the Second Vatican Council, or with the First Vatican Council, or even with the schism in 1054. They are a product of Roman Catholic ecclesiology and emerged slowly from around the year 700.

Rather than engage with the Roman problems, I am walking away. I would advise others to do the same. Jesus Christ is the head of the church. His clear instruction was, “Follow Me”.  That is enough of a task. We do not need to concern ourselves with church politics which are plainly the work of the Devil.

fredag 8 december 2017

Min andliga resa till Ortodoxin

Snart kommer jag att bestämma mig. Det finns olika skäl som driver mig i samma riktningen. Det blir till helgen ingen Traditionell Latinsk mässa som sig bör. Inte på grund av brist på präster, utan för att alla andra präster (det finns åtminstone 10 präster i och omkring Göteborg) vägrar att fira mässan i denna uråldriga form.

Detta är bara en liten knuff som driver mig österåt. Jag kan inte ange exakt när resan började men säkerligen var det för många års sedan. Resan tog fart på allvar år 2013 när Påven Franciskus blev vald. Valet stämde inte i sig då den nya påven var jesuit; medlemmar i jesuit orden är efter löfte underställda att lyda påven. Detta i sig borde ha uteslutet en jesuit att kunna bli påve. Man kan sonika inte lyda under sig själv; det är en paradox i sig.

En annan knuff i aktuell riktning var påvens besök till Sverige i oktober 2016 för firandet av 500 års minnet av Reformationen. Gudstjänsten i Lunds domkyrka var minst sagt märklig, samt mässan dagen efter på Malmös fotbolsplan.

Situationen i min lokala city församling är inte heller som den ska vara; vi har en massa musikalisk talang men valet av liturgisk musik skapar nästan aldrig en känsla av katolicitet.

Liturgin var det som i början lockade mig till Ortodoxin, men liturgin i sig räcker inte som skäl att för lämna den Romersk-Katolska Kyrkan, vilken menar sig vara den enda sanna kyrkan.

Vändpunkten kom efter en noggrant omläsning av “Orthodoxy and Catholicity” av John Meyendorff, utgiven år 1965 strax efter det andra Vatikan concilium. Orsakerna är de vanligaste; De påvliga påståenden var/är överdrivna. Visserligen har vi haft många redbara och heliga påvar, men under de senaste 1000 åren blev tjänst som påve en slags belöning från de romerska adelsfamiljerna. Under 1300-talet flyttade påven till Avignon. Under några år fanns det tre påvar samtidigt. Påven Julius II måste betraktas som den högst ansvariga för Reformationen. Historien är inte någonting att känna stolthet över som Latinare.

Den romerska strukturen förlitar sig på en särskild tolkning av Matteus 16:18. Därifrån utmynnar tolkningen om hur kyrkan ska regeras, med påven som en slags kejsare. Olika tolkningar gäller likväl. Ortodoxins syn på biskopar vs kyrkan är att alla i princip är jämställda, eftersom kyrkans huvud inte är någon annat än Jesus Kristus själv. Patriarker och metropoliter betraktas som viktiga då de har ett andligt ansvar för en stor befolking som i fallet Konstantinopel och Alexandria. Strukturen i sig själv är platt/vågrätt istället för vertikal/pyramidformad och alla biskoper håller koll varandra för att den sanna Tro ska bevaras.

Ej att förglömma är det sk Filioque tillägget i vårt universella Credo. Dvs att den Heliga Ande utgår av Fadern och Sonen. Formuleringen motsägs av evangelisten Johannes i kap 15:26 där det står att "Hjälparen kommer som jag skall sända er från Fadern, sanningens ande, som utgår från Fadern." Filioque blev aldrig godkänt av något ekumenisk koncilium och leder till en obalanserad syn på Den Heliga Treeningheten vilket nedgraderar den Helige Ande på ett förunderligt sätt. (om än oavsiktligt från Rom)

Har även funnit att Ortodoxin har rätt i sin teologi/förkastande av ett antal Romersk-katolska post schism dogmer: synderfall, skärselden (gnistan som tände reformationen), den obefläckade avelsen, bruket av osyrat bröd under eukaristin och om det omdömeslösa i transubstantiationsläran - en spekulering runt Eukaristin i vilken den katolska kyrkan nästan verkar omfamna någon slags tro på en kemisk förvandling i Brödet & Vinet.

Jag kommer inte att hasta iväg österut men det verkar i det långa loppet oundvikligt att konvertera till den Ortodoxa Tron. Den slutliga resan dit kommer både att bli obekväm och krävande.

onsdag 6 december 2017

The Journey East #7

I am coming close to making up my mind. There are several factors prompting me in the same direction. This weekend, for example, there will be no Tridentine Mass at my parish, not because of a shortage of priests but because all but one of them (there are at least a dozen in and around the city) refuses to celebrate it. What does that say?

This is, however, only one little push moving me along on a journey which began,  imperceptibly, many years ago but gathered momentum following various events in 2013, including the election of Pope Francis, but also the local situation. The election of Pope Francis struck me as odd from the outset. A Jesuit, having made the special Fourth Vow of Obedience to the Pope, should have ruled himself automatically out of the running since obedience to oneself is meaningless or worse.

Another push was the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation which took place in Sweden on 31st October last year with a strange ecumenical liturgy at Lund Cathedral, followed by an equally strange celebration of Mass at the Malmö football stadium the following day. Then again there is the local liturgical situation where a wealth of musical talent is available but is applied to the production of liturgies that usually turn out as pick-and-mix liturgical concerts, with something for everyone but which add up to nothing coherent. Yet another was the negative response by the Bishops in England and Wales, and then by the Pope himself, to Cardinal Sarah’s appeal last year that priests should celebrate Mass ad orientem.

Although liturgy was my point of entry the consistently good quality of the Orthodox liturgy would be a bad reason for joining the Orthodox church if the Roman claims are true.

What tips the balance comes from a careful re-reading of “Orthodoxy and Catholicity” by John Meyendorff, written in 1965 in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. The reasons are the usual ones. The Papal claims do not stand up. There have been some fine Popes, but for too much of the past millennium, it has not been an illustrious institution; rather, it has been for long periods a trophy for aristocratic Roman families to pass between each other. At one time there were three contestants for the office. Julius 11 was responsible for precipitating the Reformation.

The whole Roman edifice rests on a particular interpretation of Matthew 16:18. From this is developed an entire monarchical ecclesiology which is, arguably, the cause of the present troubles in the Catholic church. There are other possible interpretations. Within Orthodoxy, as Meyendorff explains, there is a “flat” episcopal structure whereby they all keep each other in check and so maintain faith and praxis.

The other big issue is the Filioque clause in the Creed. It is an alteration which is unscriptural and has never been endorsed by an Ecumenical Council. It also gives rise to an imbalance in the Holy Trinity, in which, on the Orthodox view, which is derived directly from scripture, the Son is begotten of the Father before all worlds, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. The end effect of the “double procession” implicit in Filioque is to downgrade the Holy Spirit.

Further points in which the Orthodox appear to be correct are in not defining as dogmas of Original Sin, Purgatory (the spark which ignited the reformation), and the Immaculate Conception, their use of leavened bread, , their understanding of the Real Presence and avoidance of discussion on the mystery of Transubstantiation, as though it were some kind of mystical chemical process.

I am not making any hasty move but it seems inevitable that I must do so eventually, uncomfortable and demanding though it will be.

tisdag 5 december 2017

Mercantilismus redivivus

Seen from a non-mercantilist perspective, ie the view which was held by classical economists from the Physiocrats, via Smith and Ricardo, to Henry George, roughly 1750 to 1890, the picture looks very different from the usual anti-Brexit narrative. EEC/EU trade policy would have been castigated by the classical economists as a revival of the mercantilism which they had worked so hard to refute.

The contemporary return of mercantilism was never based on a rebuttal of the classical view. It is just that the power of sectional producer interests has turned the majority of politicians, commentators and professional economists into mouthpieces for policies which work to their advantage; essentially, it is rent-seeking behaviour.

The interesting thing for future generations to ponder will be how it is that these  producer lobbyists, acting against the well-being of the public at large, succeeded in getting so many members of the intelligentsia to speak for them.

Brexit financial services exodus

An exchange of views in the FT discussion columns got me thinking about the sheer stupidity of the way the EU trade rules have been set up in the first place.

This is really an issue of finding a balance between the interests of producers and consumers - and between different EU member countries.

Producers should be able to look after themselves. They should be aware of what the competition is doing and stay ahead, or step sideways - which is what the UK heavy chemical industry did very successfully.

The policy can be changed as interests evolve. Tough discussions on anti-dumping have been going on for years, and will probably continue (as the United States could tell you). So when the UK leaves the EU, your business may indeed be free to import cheap Chinese steel into the UK. But wait and see whether the EU will allow the UK to export anything made of cheap Chinese steel to the EU. 

So the EU will get in the way of consumers and producers wishing to purchase UK products because they contain Chinese steel? That's insane.

There is something called « rules of origin » which the UK will have to renegotiate from scratch, and there will be quid quo pros for each concession. If at the UK national level, the UK has chosen to favour financial services over anything to do with steel, do you really think that in the forthcoming negotiations with the EU the UK will trade access for financial services against your sector’s desire to import cheap Chinese steel? I would be very surprised if it did.

There are reasons why financial services have concentrated in London. I don't know what those reasons are, and it does not matter. The point is that firms located in London are able to offer the best services ie those that customers chose by preference. So what you are saying is that the EU will force firms in the EU to purchase inferior or more expensive services. That's insane. It may be that alternative locations will prove equally good as London in time, but at heavy costs in disruption and reorganisation. That's insane too.

These are the sorts of realities the UK is going to be faced with over the coming months. Unless you are importing purely for use and resale within the UK, your situation is not likely to much different - and certainly not much better - than it is now.

Economics theory assumes rational behaviour on the part of the actors - ie that all participants will attempt to to what is best for them. Selling goods at less than the cost of production is an example of such behaviour. The EU's economic and trade policies (VAT, CAP and the Single Market) are another. That is the principal reason why neither the UK nor anyone else should be in an organisation which insists on this irrational behaviour on the part of its members. Hopefully the country where I live will quickly follow the UK out of the lunatic asylum, then the EU will have to do without SKF ball bearings and high grade iron ore since it will have to impose tariffs to keep imports out.

It is of course very difficult to deal with people who insist on behaving in ways that are irrational and against their own interests, but it they are the losers and the only option is to exploit the situation in the best way possible. An open door to imports, and low taxes on goods, services, corporations and individuals are the way to go, post Brexit. This leaves the government with no alternative but to raise most of its revenue through the taxation of real estate, but that is in line with OECD recommendations and it gets rid of the avoidance problem at a stroke. EU politicians will huff and puff but there would be nothing to stop them from following suit.

WTO rules and the Irish border

Remainers refuse to accept that the problem over the Irish border is one created by the way the EU Single Market operates and is in principle an EU problem.

When I posted under this Guardian piece that "The Republic don't want goods coming INTO their country from the post-Brexit UK. It's their problem and people in the Republic are the losers. I don't recall any threats from the UK to penalise Kerrygold butter etc and make it more expensive. What would be the point of putting up prices in UK shops unnecessarily? Getting out from under the tariff wall is one of the most important reasons for Brexit. UK consumers should not be forced to pay through the nose for stuff", responses were mostly offensive, or they referred to WTO rules
  • "Absolute bollocks...... complete and utter." 
  • "why don't you look up WTO Trade rules to see what tariff free trade will await you when you hard exit from the EU. Way to shoot yourself in the head uk. Clap, Clap ,Clap."
  • "Under WTO rules if you let in Kerrygold butter tariff free you have to allow in butter from every country in the world tariff free... goodbye british farmer." 
The arrogance and rudeness of so many of those in the remain camp is stupendous, which in itself gives no credence to what they say. If you ask people to quote the relevant WTO regulation, they cannot, so just about all the commentators are barrack-room lawyers. "Goodbye British farmer" is interesting, though, because Minford has said the same thing. It cannot be so. UK farm rents range from £50 to £250 an acre. This is a "cushion" against lower prices. As food prices fall - to the advantage of every household in the land - we need to be clear about who is paying for the present situation - then farm rental values drop. At some point, the poorest land is no longer rent-yielding and drops out of use as farmland. All other rents drop likewise. The tide is a precise analogy for the phenomenon, which is the classic situation as described by Ricardo. It is not a case of "goodbye British farmer".

There is more. If the exchange rate drops, then British farming gets a boost, as home-produce food replaces imports. Exports become attractive. The threat of "chlorinated chicken" and "hormone beef" is also an opportunity for British farmers to bring to market food which they can guarantee is wholesome and free of suspect chemicals. There are no laws against labelling and creating brands based on their quality.

måndag 4 december 2017

The dead loss of trade tariffs

Tariffs always result in an overall economic loss because they distort people's purchasing decisions. That in turn leads to the misdirection of resources. You are good st fishing and your neighbour at growing vegetables, so you swap fish for vegetables. A tariff barrier means that you waste time growing vegetables and your neighbour not only wastes time fishing, but also has to spend money on fishing tackle. The same objection applies in principle to any tax on sales, such as VAT. This is the case however governments spend the money raised.

The chain of economic losses caused by tariffs spreads around the world because almost every country's government is at it.

söndag 3 december 2017

Scary A&E failure in Gothenburg

This evening, I accompanied a friend, whose ankle has suddenly swollen up, to the Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg. This was around 5.00 pm. He was quickly seen by the reception nurse, who told him, however, that it needed to be drained and that there was no-one who could do it. The nurse wrote a report and advised that he should take the report with him to Mölndal Hospital, where a doctor was on duty who could do it.

We arrived at about 6.00 pm, he was promptly registered, and after an hour's wait, he was seen by a nurse who took a sample, and told that he would be treated within three hours.

At around 9.20 he asked the receptionist how much longer the wait would be. He was told that it would be several hours more owing to the number of people in the queue, and there was only one doctor on duty. At which point my friend concluded that he could not wait until, possibly, three in the morning as he had to go to work next day, and so he insisted on leaving.

He was, justifiably, furious, considering that Sweden is the most heavily taxed country on earth. People are willing to pay high taxes so that the services are there when needed. If they are not, then what are they paying for?

lördag 2 december 2017

EU self-punishment

People talk as if the post-Brexit lock-out of exports from the UK will do no harm inside the EU. Import substitution, they say, will quickly solve any problems.

Matters are not so simple. There are many firms in EU countries whose major or sole business is as agents or importers from the UK. Many manufacturers produce items which include UK-made components which are not easily substituted, if at all. Simple things like the positions of holes for mounting bolts may not be in the correct positions. Substantial redesign and re-tooling may be necessary. Then there is the matter of spares and consumables; equipment may need to be scrapped prematurely due to non-availability.

At the consumer level this also affects, for example, the availability of matching items, such as replacements or additions to tableware, a popular import from the UK to Scandinavia, or paints, wallpapers.

There are also popular UK foods and confectionery; import substitution does nor work if you like some particular type of English cheese, such as Blue Stilton. Loss of all of these will lead to costs and frustration within the EU.

More importantly, the EU's approach to Brexit is illustrative of a wider issue relating to its entire philosophy of trade. Trade takes place when something is of more value to one of the parties than to another. An exchange takes place which leaves both parties to the transaction better off and results in a net increase in wealth. It is not an act of charity. Anything which gets in the way of the free exchange of goods and services results in a diminution of wealth. The agent of obstruction is in most situations government.

In constructing a single market inside a tariff wall, the EEC/EU has stymied the production of astronomical amounts of wealth which would otherwise have been enjoyed by the half billion people inside it. Any economist of the classical school, from the Physiocrats, via Smith, Ricardo, J S Mill and Henry George, would have been able to set out a long list of reasons why a tariff wall was a bad idea. The reason why their insights have been ignored is not because they were refuted but because politicians have been in thrall to powerful and vociferous sectional producer interests.

The loss of wealth does not stop inside the EU, but has spread all round the world. I can give a personal example. I cannot trade with my cousin in Australia because of the tariffs costs and paperwork involved; we concluded it would be too much trouble to set up a system to deal with it. Both of us have lost out due to the EU barrier to free trade. That is not the end of the loss. My potential customers lose because they cannot obtain a product they might have wanted. My cousin's suppliers, who are poor indigenous people, are deprived of a market for their produce, which would have given them useful cash income to lift them above their subsistence. So the EU trade rules create a chain of losses stretching from the Australian outback to the affluent connoisseurs in Europe. It is not just bad economics. It is stupid, and indeed wicked.

Thus, the uniting of the peoples of Europe, a noble objective in itself, was long ago highjacked by foolish or corrupt politicians at the behest of the aforesaid sectional producer interests. But then it is we who elect these foolish or corrupt politicians every time.

EU has all the negotiating cards

The EU's trump card is its ability to impose trade sanctions on itself at the cost of those inside the EU. I wonder if the North Koreans realise how lucky they are?

The Irish Border after hard Brexit

If the UK allows Irish produce in without tariffs, it will probably have to do the same for every import from the US, China, Australia, etc. Thus it not quite true to say, as is commonly claimed, that the WTO requires control of inwards movements in all circumstances. I say "probably" because Minford, who advocates free trade, unilaterally if necessary, has had one of his minions at work on the subject and has pointed out that the situation is not precisely as is usually asserted ie that the UK is required to impose border controls if it does not immediately offer unrestricted imports from everywhere.

Minford's advocacy of unilateral free trade is in accord with the conclusions of all the classical economists in the line of evolution from the Physiocrats, through Smith and Ricardo, to J S Mill and Henry George. That conclusion, which was in opposition to the earlier mercantilist theory, has never been refuted. It has just been ignored, together with most of the body of classical economics. But Minford, too, is in error in so far as he appears not to have applied Ricardian theory in his forecasts, which consequently are more pessimistic than would have been the case if he had.

The re-emergence of seventeenth century mercantilist economics has been driven by powerful, sectional producer interests, which cross the conventional political divide. This is a dangerous road; as Bastiat famously did not say, "When goods don't cross borders, armies will." Mercantilism eventually led to the ruin of Spain. In its protectionist guise, it retarded the industrial development of the USA. The abandonment of tariffs was an important factor in the spread of prosperity in Britain in the second half of the nineteenth century, following the abolition of the hated Corn Laws in 1846, (reinstated 1973).

One of the fallacies behind mercantilism is that economic activity is supply-driven, and so everything is looked at from the producers' point of view. Even the term "access to markets" has become perverted. In normal parlance, it means that customers have access to enable them to purchase the things they want or need, not that sellers can purvey their wares.

We all know from personal experience that the economy is demand driven, yet to judge from the post-referendum comments, one would come to the conclusion that people inside the EU were purchasing goods from UK suppliers as an act of charity, not because they want or need them.

It goes both ways. After Brexit, people in the UK will still want their Kerrygold butter. People in Sweden, where I live, will still want to buy their favourite British brands. All that a "trade agreement" does is get governments to agree to remove obstacles to trade that most of their own people do not want and did not ask for, but were forced on them by the sectional producer interests. The bluff needs to be called.

In the meantime, unilateral free trade gives one's own people access to markets (in the normal meaning of the term), and prevents resources from being wasted on producing goods which could be imported at the best price. If foreign governments continue to put obstacles in the way, their own people will suffer and complain, and that will lead to political pressure to put an end to the protectionism. There will also be blow-back, as countries need to import if they want to export.

The confusion over Brexit on both sides, and the EU's reaction is a demonstration of the zombie-like resurgence of economic theories which had been comprehensively refuted by 1800. It is willful ignorance on the part of the best educated. One of the worst offenders has been the Financial Times, a very different thing from what it was forty years ago when people such as the renowned Samuel Brittan presented the free trade case with consistency.

fredag 1 december 2017

EU-UK incompatibility

I received the following comment in a discussion recently about the troubled relationship between the UK and the EU.

"The EU set-up is quite comparable to most European countries that were pushed in the French administration model under Napoleonic rule or transferred to a similar system later."

In other words it is diametrically opposed to the English system (Scottish law is different). English law is based on Common Law principles as developed the case precedent and modified by statute.

In principle, everything is permitted unless it is specifically stated otherwise, on the basis that "The Law is written on men's hearts", a concept absorbed from Anglo-Saxon times and which is derived from scripture, not Napoleon. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Jeremiah 31:33, Romans 2:15, Hebrews 10:18) It is this difference which lies at the root of all the conflict.

Ordinary people understand this, since it has been picked up by osmosis. It is significant that it is precisely the metropolitan intellectuals who have moved away from that position.

The "Four Freedoms" useless without a fifth

The Four Freedoms are a recipe for strife unless they are accompanied by a Fifth Freedom. Land needs to be free, free as air. And freedom to trade should mean what it says. We are not even free, in principle to trade with our next door neighbours.

What a pity that was not understood when the EEC was set up.

Curse of the wicked fairy

Christians should pray for Prince George to be gay, says C of E minister.

Christians should pray for Prince George to be gay to force support for same-sex marriage in the Church of England, a senior Anglican minister and LGBTQ campaigner has said. Very Rev Kevin Holdsworth says C of E will be forced to support same-sex marriage if the ‘Lord blesses George with the love of a fine young gentleman’.

In such an event one would not of course wish on the prince the fate of his antecedent King Edward II, (the actual king, not the locomotive, which is one of the three of the type to survive), but being gay is not something to be wished on anyone.

If William is a good father, loves the boy and spends time with him, and his mother is not over-dominant, it is unlikely that such a thing will happen. So the misguided clergyman is praying the the prince should have bad or incompetent parents.

A former chaplain to the Queen, Rev Gavin Ashenden, has described the comments as “unkind” and “profoundly un-Christian”, and said the prayer is the “theological equivalent of the curse of the wicked fairy in one of the fairy tales”. "Curse of the wicked fairy" sums it up concisely.

måndag 20 november 2017

UK's persistent low productivity

There is talk yet again about the need to improve productivity in the UK. The country's low productivity is curious and apparently persistent, assuming that the figures are not affected by recording errors or other systematic mistake. This problem is not going to be solved until the reasons are discovered. It raises some obvious questions, of which these are just a few:
  • What are people doing when they are at work?
  • How much time are workers actually at their work?
  • How much time is wasted doing nothing, waiting for other people to finish things?
  • How much time is wasted on abortive activities?
  • How much time is wasted in putting right what has been done wrongly?
  • How much time is wasted due to design not made for efficient assembly ie poor production engineering?
  • How many firms are operating inefficiently due to being in unsuitable premises?
  • How many firms are operating inefficiently due to being in an unsuitable location?
  • Are there geographical factors here eg transport costs?
  • How much resources are wasted due to logistical problems eg transport delays?

torsdag 16 november 2017

Super Express - how super?

The new Hitachi bi-mode trains are now coming into service; after the embarrassing maiden trip, it is possible to make a more balanced judgement. It will be a while before I get an opportunity to travel in them, but the verdict seems to be that the underfloor engines are not too bothersome and the main complaints are about the hardness of the  seats. The air conditioning problem on the inaugural run was due to the failure of the pump which removes the condensed water, but one wonders why the system was designed to need one, when previous air conditioning systems relied on gravity to drain away the condensate. What became of the principle of keeping things simple?

Ian Walmsley, writing in Modern Railways, said that the Great Western ones so far running are all right as commuter trains, but not much better than that. The big question mark concerns performance. The engines were supposed to have been de-rated to improve reliability, but this will have a detrimental effect on timekeeping, especially now that so much of the electrification is uncompleted and likely to remain so for a long time to come. There are also unsolved issues such as the bridge over the main line at Steventon; until it is resolved, there will be a break in the electrification. Given the problems with changeover from diesel to electric on the first journey, having to carry out the operation is going to create a long-term risk to reliability. This saga is going to run for a few years yet.

In 1985 I was the co-author of an article that was published in the Railway Magazine, written slightly tongue-in-cheek, suggesting that the Great Western Main Line should be electrified on the third rail system. Perhaps the idea was not so daft.

Tunnel of steel not needed after all


It now turns out that the Great Western Main Line's "Tunnel of Steel" was not necessary after all. It seems, as Roger Ford explains in "Informed Sources", that there were design errors which went unnoticed.

There have indeed been problems with overhead electrification on the East Coast Main line, which was carried out to super-economical standards, but the West Coast route, electrified in the 1970s, has performed reliably even though it passes through some of the most exposed uplands in the country; in comparison, it looks like gossamer.

Useless talking shop



Gothenburg is in chaos this week, with roads closed, tram routes cut and buses being sent on long diversions because the city is the choice of location for an EU talking shop, under the title "Social Summit for fair jobs and Growth"

"Together with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will host a Social Summit in Gothenburg on 17 November 2017, focusing on promoting fair jobs and growth. The Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth will gather heads of state or government, the social partners and other key players to work together on a more social Europe and to promote fair jobs and growth. 

"Well-functioning and fair European labour markets, effective and sustainable social protection systems and the promotion of social dialogue at all levels will be at the heart of the summit agenda."

Given the absence of a coherent theory of how the economy works, this expensive talking shop - with a lunch bill of £60 per head - can amount to little more than an exercise in virtue signalling.

Every EU country runs a tax system where the bulk of public revenue is raised through jobs taxes in one form or another. Sweden is one of the worst of all, with high a tax on income, starting at a negligible threshold, and a hefty payroll tax and value added tax at 25% (VAT - in Sweden, MOMS), with no threshold for registration and no exemption from food or other essentials.

VAT at a minimum rate of 15% is a condition of membership of the EU. It would be difficult to think of a worse tax, since it applies precisely at the point where supply meets demand. It is also subject to evasion and fraud on an industrial scale, as the EU is the first to admit.

One might have thought that EU leaders would be sitting down and discussing how to relieve their half-billion people of the burdens which they have imposed for the past half-century, and which stand in the way of fair jobs and growth.

The conference was a security headache and meant that those attending were effectively prisoners in the hotel compound and the conference area a couple of miles apart from each other. What made the news was a complaint on Twitter by the police on duty, which were handed lunch bags containing baguettes described as "inedible", while the politicians were sitting in the warm and getting lunches at over £60 per head. All of which has done nothing to enhance the image of the EU among the local populace.

The choice of Gothenburg was bizarre, as Sweden has dozens of suitable rural and island locations which would have been easy to secure, and would have given the politicians a chance to relax and enjoy the scenery during their breaks.

onsdag 15 november 2017

Has it worked, or is it the end of the road?

My former Parish Priest at Brighton, has written another depressing blog this week, lamenting the state of the Catholic Church.

The real question is whether the Latin church can recover? Some people point out that it has been through these crises before. But that was before liturgical reforms weakened the sacramental signs to the point of confusing Catholics as to the very meaning of the liturgy, and split the church into language groups so that it was hardly recognisable as catholic (with a small "C").

The problems also raise ancient issues such as the role of the Papacy, post-schism theology and dogma, and even the Filioque clause, which influences people's concept of the Trinity in a fundamental way.

The Latin church might recover. On the other hand, and it is difficult to see major changes of this kind when one is living inside them, it could be coming to the end of the road it has travelled for almost 1000 years.

If I were Chancellor...

I would be thinking along the following lines.
  • All import tariffs to be removed on B-day. The UK should not waste energy on trying to negotiate trade agreements. People abroad do not buy UK goods as an act of charity but because they want them or need them. It is up to them to put pressure on their own governments to get out of the way and stop preventing them from purchasing what they want. 
  • VAT to be phased out in two stages; it may result in no loss at all to the Exchequer. (this is the reason for the surprising conclusion)
  • Corporation tax to be scrapped on B-day. 
  • Additional revenue can be raised if required from the UBR (commercial rents will go through the roof if CT is scrapped, giving the Chancellor a juicy tax base). However, upwards-only rent revision clauses must be banned so that commercial rents can find their market level.
  • A national Council Tax to be raised on top Bands and G and H properties. 
  • Income Tax and NI thresholds to be raised substantially for people living and working in regions with depressed economies - at least £15,000.

tisdag 14 november 2017

Free trade case in a nutshell

That, "Industry and agriculture should be protected, for as long as we need people to have jobs", is a fallacy based on popular/populist economic misconceptions. Trump is following the line. The EEC/EU has followed the same line for sixty years.

The misconception ignores the principle of competitive advantage. You would not fry your own fish and chips if there was a perfectly good fish and chip shop across the road. Human progress has been built on division of tasks so that each does that which they are best at; the big strong guys went out hunting, while the weedy short-sighted ones stayed in the camp and made spear tips and fish hooks. Trade arises through the exchange of skills. Without specialisation, the little group of hunter-gatherers would have blunt spears and the weedy guys would have got eaten while out foraging.

The same principle scales up. A single family of homesteaders has to do everything for themselves. When a few more arrive, they can share out their tasks, take advantage of economy of scale and use their special skills to the advantage of the whole community. These benefits continue to accrue until a network of exchange relationships encompasses the whole of mankind.

Tariffs and trade restrictions get in the way of the development of the network. At the crudest level, they have the same effect as transport costs and are functionally equivalent to sanctions imposed by a hostile power. If trade restrictions were beneficial, one would expect islands, and countries like North Korea, to be more than averagely prosperous. It would also be advantageous to restrict trade between, for example, Oxford and Reading.

But it is worse than that. If you fry your own fish and chips, you have to pay retail prices for your ingredients and clean up the mess afterwards. It is an inefficient use of your time. Thus is it with protected industry. If they are less efficient than the foreign competition, they draw resources from the rest of the economy and make the whole less efficient, and indeed less competitive. Protection draws an economy into a vicious circle of decline. Even worse: if consumers are forced to pay more than necessary for some things, then they have less over to spend into the economy elsewhere, which then suffers from artificially reduced demand. Protection of one sector causes unemployment everywhere less. It is a lose-lose situation.

And that is just at consumer level. Where imports are components or raw materials used by other industries, those industries are forced to pay more than they would otherwise have done and become less competitive. The anti-dumping measures against Chinese steel are a good example. European manufacturers were deprived of access to a low-cost raw material. That did not make the low-cost steel go away. It was bought and used by manufacturers elsewhere, who were then in an advantageous position to out-compete the Europeans.

The rational response would have been to encourage European businesses to purchase and stockpile as much of the cheap steel as the Chinese would let them purchase. It is counter-intuitive, though not so very different from the way we manage our own household affairs.

EU protectionism has a particularly damaging effect at the borders of the tariff wall, as those who will be affected by the situation in Ireland have realised. But this is no different from what has been happening at the eastern boundary of the EU, on both sides. It has a particularly damaging effect in eastern Poland, Latvia, and Slovakia, where a natural trading region with ancient cultural and economic ties has been arbitrarily divided.

The situation with agriculture is slightly different. Foreign competition means lower food prices (again to the benefit of the rest of the economy), and therefore lower farm-gate prices. Marginal farms go out of business and the land is put to other uses. In the case of upland hill farms, this would be advantageous as they need to be managed for, among other things, water retention to prevent regular flooding of urban areas within the catchment zone.

Elsewhere, farmland rents drop and farmers go over to other productions. Given the terror of a wave of chlorinated chicken coming into the country, free entry of imports creates a marketing opportunity for producers of the wholesome alternative.

The idea that agriculture would cease is based on a lack of understanding of a basic principle of land economics.

måndag 13 november 2017

The terror of chlorinated chicken

I came across this in the Guardian comments section today

Will "The terror of American chlorine washed chicken" beat “Britain is stronger, safer and better off in Europe” for first prize in the post-referendum decider?

The most recent study by the Agency showed that 65% of raw shop-bought chicken was contaminated with campylobacter. An estimated 300,000 cases of food poisoning are attributed to the bug every year in England and Wales alone.

The Food Standards Agency, Defra, the UK poultry industry, and major retailers have agreed a new target that will measure efforts to reduce the levels of the food bug campylobacter in chickens. There are three categories of contamination levels and, currently, 27% of birds are in the highest category.

The Agency's proposed action on campylobacter includes:
  • working closely with the UK food industry to trial new intervention measures on the farm, in slaughterhouses and at retail level.
  • setting a new target for reducing the levels of campylobacter on chicken.
  • helping to ensure people can protect themselves from infection with campylobacter by making sure they are aware of the need to avoid cross-contamination when handling raw chicken and to cook chicken thoroughly.
In addition to the fight against campylobacter, the Foodborne Disease Strategy outlines a full five-year programme for the reduction of food poisoning cases from all sources.

In the UK every year, around one million people suffer a foodborne illness, leading to 20,000 needing hospital care and around 500 deaths. Given the inability of so many not to poison themselves should the chicken eaters not be demanding chlorine washed chicken?

http://www.food.gov.uk/science/microbiology/campylobacterevidenceprogramme

fredag 10 november 2017

Irish border headache

One of the disputes that has bubbled up over Brexit is what to do about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

It seems that the UK government has not a clue about what to do over import tariffs. WTO rules mean that it will be difficult to do the really stupid thing and impose them, even if it wants to. The chlorinated chicken will be on the shelves and if people don't want, that is where it will stay until it is sold off as cat food. That means in turn that the Republic would have no problems with getting imports across Great Britain.

It also means that that since the UK government is not proposing retaliatory tariffs so there is no reason why farm produce from the Republic should not enter the UK as now. What would be the point of making people pay more for their Kerrygold?

All the obstructionism is on the EU side as the single market rules kick in. This will cause the same trouble as is already experienced in places close to the EU's eastern border, on both sides; at Kaliningrad, Narva, Daugavpils, Bialystock, Vyborg, Pskov, Minsk, Lviv, etc.

From this point of view, a sensible option for the Republic would be to join Britain in leaving. The Republic's trade is not particularly focussed on the rest of the EU - its exports consist substantially of high value products like pharmaceuticals, which can be sent as air freight.

Fear of what would happen is largely based on a warped view of what the economy is for. Behind nearly all the comments on both sides of the debate is an assumption that the purpose of the economy is to keep people busy, that work is a good thing and as much of it as possible should be created.

We all know from personal experience that the economy exists to provide our wants and needs, whilst doing as little work as possible. There is a disconnection somewhere.  From this follows the received view is that exports are good, that imports are bad, that countries must have balance of payments surpluses and that the economy is a supply-push system.

Thus, on this view, access to markets is a privilege to be negotiated for. All of this is to forget that the worst punishment one country can inflict on another is to prevent imports from getting into that country, by sanctions, blockades and other hostile actions. If the received view were correct, North Korea would be among the world's most flourishing economies.

The reality is that the economy is driven by demand. Smuggling is an indicator of repressed demand. The idea of negotiating "trade deals" is based on a bluff. If the UK government puts a blockage on the import of Kerrygold and all the other Irish dairy produce that fills the shelves of Britain's supermarkets, the public and the trade will start to kick up a fuss.

What would be the effect of unilateral free trade? Sterling deposits would build up in the supplier countries. The value of sterling would drop, making UK goods relatively more attractive, at which point the demand for the UK goods would start to creep up again. If it did not, due to import tariffs, the supplier countries would experience a dwindling demand for their products from UK customers as the value of sterling continued to drop and imports were replaced by home-produced goods. Sooner or later the bluff would be called. The whole silly edifice then starts to fall apart as it is seen for what it is.

torsdag 9 november 2017

Nothing to celebrate

The 1989 Brighton Festival celebrated the bicentenary of the French Revolution, under the theme "A Taste of Freedom". I thought at the time that it was not the sort of thing that anyone should celebrate - mass murder and two decades of war were the consequence.

2017 marks 500 years of the Reformation and 100 years since the Russian Revolution, which took place on 8 November 1917. The first was a catastrophe for Europe, the second for the world. The death tolls in each amounted to millions. The Reformation has been the occasion of "ecumenical" services, consisting mostly of the singing of some Protestant hymns and sermons by representatives of different denominations, such as this one last Sunday at Uppsala; a dreary affair apart from an excellent sermon, by Cardinal Arborelius.

BBC Radio has filled up the week with commemorative programmes of the Russian Revolution, so that is best avoided. The Russians themselves have had more sense, having been on the receiving end of it, the event is being marked, if at all, by memorial services for the victims of Communism. President Putin, who once lamented the dissolution of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” deems the October Revolution itself, the USSR’s foundational event, no cause for celebration.

onsdag 8 november 2017

The Brexit tragedy

Brexit has been described as a "tragedy." That is a limited view. The EU was the tragedy. Brexit is just one of the consequences.

The seeds were sown when the the EEC was founded. Its leaders ignored a founding principle, that of "subsidiarity". Subsidiarity is a principle that first came to public attention in the Catholic Social Teaching encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, issued by Pope Pius XI in 1931. It holds that social and political issues should be dealt with at the most immediate (or local) level that is consistent with their resolution.

Subsidiarity was formulated thus: "It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry." (Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno, 79)

Had this principle been followed, there would have been no Common Agricultural Policy, no tariff wall around the customs union, no requirement to levy VAT as a condition of membership, and no common currency. All of those policies have worked to the advantage of those at the core of the continental land mass, and to the disadvantage of those in the western maritime fringe and the Mediterranean south.
  • The CAP in its original form was against the interests of the population of a country which had traditionally imported much of its food from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US and Argentina, and which was immediately cut off from this source. 
  • The tariff wall was also against the interests of a country which traditionally traded world-wide. 
  • VAT is one of the worst conceivable of all taxes, one its many ill-effects is to amplify regional geographical disadvantage. 
  • A common currency is impractical without political unity; worse still, it is damaging when interest rates are used as the primary means of economic regulation, as there is no interest rate which suits both the core regions with strong economies and the peripheral regions with weak economies.

It was not coincidental that the vote for Brexit was strong in those parts of the country which received most funds under the EU's structural fund under its cohesion policy for peripheral regions. The people in those areas received no perceived benefit. The money ended up the pockets of the large infrastructure companies and their mobile workforces, and enriched landowners in those peripheral regions. There was no trickle-down.

The real tragedy is that the founding principle of subsidiarity was betrayed and that the damage being done is not acknowledged, or even noticed by EU leaders and supporters.

fredag 3 november 2017

Digital barrier will stop terror trucks

An article in today's Metro explains that whilst not much has been done so far to prevent acts of terror with heavy goods vehicles in Sweden's largest cities, next year there are plans to introduce a digital technology which will limit access by HGVs, or restrict their speed.

One is left wondering who might randomly drive vehicles into crowds of people with the intention of killing as many as possible? The Irish Republicans have no quarrel with Sweden. As far as I know there is no radical organisation committed to independence for the Sami, or for Skåne. Nor is there any history of radicalisation among Jehovah's Witnessess or Christian Scientists. The article leaves the readers guessing. Who could the terrorists possibly be?


onsdag 1 november 2017

Let them export jam

Boris Johnson has been endlessly ridiculed for saying that Brexit Britain can live by exporting home-made jam.

I am not sure what his exact words were, but the those who ridicule have missed the point. "Jam" is a shorthand way of referring to specialist, upmarket niche products with a touch of snob appeal. They are something which the UK does very well; many retail products from the UK on sale in Continental Europe fall into this category.

Being in this market segment avoids head-on competition with Germany, where the UK is always at a disadvantage due to the added transport costs, which are a disadvantage of being on an island. Dover and Cheriton are in the extreme bottom right-hand corner of the country, whilst Harwich and Felixtowe, although better placed for Britain's industrial centres, involve a six hour crossing, plus another two or three loading and unloading; the crew of two have to be paid whilst sitting on board the ferry. The German manufacturer can do the delivery in one door-to-door movement.

This is the kind of thing that comes under the heading of "jam", in this shop in Gothenburg. The goods are Spode, Wedgwood, Portmeirion, Royal Doulton, Denby. It is not a trivial business.

Tridentine Mass last night

I went to a Tridentine Mass last night at our local parish. It was the vigil Mass for All Saints and was everything a Mass should be - the Proper sung as in the Liber Usualis, the Ordinary in a polyphonic setting and Credo 1.

I then retired to a pub with a group of friends. The conversation turned, as always in these situations, to the state of the church, and how our local priest has been marginalised and even subjected to harassment for his "conservatism".

He celebrates the Tridentine Mass every Saturday evening, on most feast days and at least one other day a week. That is impressive. However, there is not a single other priest in the locality who will stand in for him when he is away. Requests to other priests meet with a flat refusal; one gave the feeble excuse, that it was "too complicated". Can he warm up a meal in his microwave?

There seems to be a reluctance within groups like my friends to accept that parishes where tradition is holding are tiny islands in the ocean. Movements like the Latin Mass Society have put up a brave and determined effort over many decades. New Oratory congregations have been established in England. Summorum Pontificum was an immensely valuable boost; things were looking good ten years ago.

It now looks like a swansong. If one looks at the composition of the College of Cardinals, it is clear that the islands are eventually going to be submerged by the rising ocean. With the disapproval of the diocesan authorities, Our local priest will, sooner or later, be squeezed out (probably promoted into a situation of toothlessness) and the valuable work he has done will be dismantled.

How are the signs of the times to be read? How should one respond?

Free trade argument continues

If you were able to coherently tell us what your point is then I would be happy to answer.

I have but you cannot see it. It is an example of the head-vase illusion; if you are convinced there are two heads you cannot see the vase.

There is an almost universal habit of considering trade relationships through the wrong end of the telescope. It gave rise to the mercantilist principles which dominated in the seventeenth century, and were rebutted in the second half of the eighteenth, when the principles of free trade were established under the influence of Smith and Ricardo . Free trade took hold strongly in Britain in the nineteenth, the high point being the repeal of the hated Corn Laws in 1846, which were reinstated in 1973. Protection dominated in the US throughout the period; the damage done to the US economy was chronicled by Henry George in "Progress and Poverty".

Post 1945, mercantilism has crept back in the guise of populist/nationalist policies promoted by sloganising such as "Buy Home Produce". The British Empire was at it during the inter-war period, the EEC/EU has always been at it, Trump is at it. It exacerbates international tension, as is summed up in the the quote “When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will”, attributed to the 19th century French Liberal economist Bastiat.

Your beef seems to be the entire notion of a trading block, i.e. it should be open to all and sundry. 

Yes. I am against the entire notion of a trading block. They only happen because of the habit of looking at this the wrong way round. Open to all and sundry implies that importing is inherently a bad thing and must be controlled. That is an interference with a basic human right. People should be free to purchase from whoever they wish, regardless of whether they are on different sides of a national border.

I am afraid they don't work like that. The bull comment was flippant, but I stand by my point - you wilfully ignore the legal framework/current reality.

The current framework is not a divine ordinance. There is nothing to prevent any individual country from opting out of the game and allowing its own people to decide what they want to buy. If it is a good thing to restrict movement of goods across borders, why not have such restrictions around every town in the land, to discourage people in Oxford from bringing in goods from Reading?

And yes for my sins I am a lawyer that works with EU law in their day job.

I am surprised. I would have expected a lawyer of all people to read carefully and ponder what was said. Would you say you are a disinterested party in this debate?

Also you have switched from supply chain parts to seemingly finished products - different arguments. What is your point regarding those specific products? Simply that they are not substitutable? I think cross elasticity of demand would say otherwise given competing products are freely available. 

It is the same problem. Purchasers will have to find alternative sources or adapt to different products. I never said that it was impossible, but there is cost and inconvenience. There is, for instance, a flourishing microbrewing industry in Sweden. The raw materials grown in Kent and Essex need to be handled differently from their German equivalents. The producers will have to spend time fiddling about to get the process to work properly

Never heard of mutual recognition or complying with standards?

Standards exist outside the EU or indeed any particular trading block. Ultimately, trade is driven by demand. Suppliers have a vested interest in keeping their customers satisfied in the long term. The EU's standards are not always guided by sound principles. A few recent examples include the ending of the Esbjerg-Harwich passenger ferry due to fuel regulations which made the service uneconomic, the regulations on electric lamps which created a residue of mercury waste, and railway technical standards which were the reason why further railway electrification in Britain has been cancelled.

Nor are the standards even adequate, which has led to the development of voluntary schemes such as KRAV, Bra Miljöval, covering issues like animal welfare and residues in food.

söndag 29 oktober 2017

Protection = self-imposed sanctions

Sanctions are imposed on a country as a punishment. The ultimate form of sanctions is a military blockade - like the Germans did in the two world wars - submarines, battleships, bombers, mines, to prevent goods reaching Britain and the other Allies. Protection has exactly the same effect. It is astonishing that people find it so difficult to see the similarity.

Chinese protectionism and the sale of goods at below cost is at the cost of the Chinese. If their government is stupid enough to force its people to make stuff and give it away or sell it for less than it costs to produce, then the only rational reaction from the rest of the world is to take it and say, "Thank you very much!"

If someone in your street set up a bakery and insisted on selling the bread at half price, everyone in the neighbourhood would scratch their heads for a while and then take advantage of their stupidity. Nobody else would try to compete directly. Sooner or later the crazy baker would get the idea that customers were taking the mickey, or realise that they could not carry on like that indefinitely, but in the meantime they would make the most of the opportunity.

Economic models assume rational behaviour. When one player, in this case the Chinese, behaves irrationally and effectively gives stuff away for next to nothing, or everyone else has to work round their stupidity until they come to their senses. When and if that happens, they will want the proper price for their products.

What is the economy for, if not to enable people to provide themselves with the goods and services they want and need? It does not exist to keep people busy.

lördag 28 oktober 2017

Free trade deal oxymoron

Free trade means a country's rulers allow goods in tariff free and with minimal other restrictions. It is a unilateral action. It was demonstrated long ago by the classical economists that it is optimal for the importing country.

Other countries can do the best for their own people by following suit. Or they can cause them trouble, expense and inconvenience by imposing protectionist measures, eg the EU, Trump, Peron, etc.

"Free trade deal" is a contradiction in terms.

Trade deals

The classical economists demonstrated that if country A imposes restrictions against country B, then wealth in country B is optimised if it does not impose retaliatory tariffs. Which makes trade deals pointless and irrelevant. Just open the doors.

Obviously we do not want people selling 110 volt appliances when the national supply is 240 volts, and chlorinated chicken should be marked at least with its country of origin, but the general principle holds. A lot of issues with standards can be dealt with by control at the retail end, so that responsibility passes up the supplier chain to the importer (or manufacturer in the UK, for that matter).

The UK's vital interests

Britain's vital interests are that goods and flow freely into the country. Enemy opponents in two world wars were trying to block that flow, with battleships, submarines, mines, etc. North Korea is a potential enemy, which is why the country is under sanctions which prevent the sale of goods TO that country.

As far as I know, there has never been any threat from the EU to refuse to supply the UK with goods, post Brexit, whether it be ball bearings from Sweden, cars and washing machines from Germany, bacon from Denmark or tomatoes from Spain.

So as long as the UK government does nothing silly like imposing retaliatory tariffs, there is no problem on that score. On the contrary, leaving the EU means being free of the burden of tariffs which restrict the flow of goods into the UK and add to their cost.

At the same time, consumers and business inside the EU are faced with the same restrictions on importing goods from the UK as they already have when importing from the rest of the world. That is a burden we are well rid of.

onsdag 25 oktober 2017

Topsy-turvy view of trade

Trade takes place because goods are worth more to the buyer than to the seller. Everyone's idea of a good deal is that one buys things that satisfy their wants and are good value for money. A brand new car at a 20% discount is a good deal, in normal usage.

But in this whole debate over Brexit, the idea of a good deal has been turned inside-out. The "good deal" is that people in the UK are allowed to sell UK produce to people in the EU. It is as if people in the EU were not really buying British goods because they wanted them, but as a favour or act of charity.

The reality is that keeping out British goods is depriving EU people of the opportunity to purchase them. It is exactly the same as if the UK imposed sanctions on the EU and refused to sell its goods. In normal situations sanctions are imposed against a country as a punishment. In this case the EU is imposing the punishment on itself, not particularly because there is any desire to punish the UK but because that is the way the Single Market trade rules operate.

Why are so few people able to see this? Is it because it is too obvious?

lördag 21 oktober 2017

IEP problems - give them a break

The very public failures of the Hitachi IEP on its first run in public service have been the subject of much criticism in the press. I am no fan of this project but the criticism is unfair at this stage. It takes at least a couple of years in public service to get a new design of train working reliably.

British Railways Mark 1 stock is often held up as an example of robust simplicity, but its introduction was plagued with problems. The ride quality of the trains deteriorated rapidly due to the design of the BR1 type double bolster bogie. This led to the setting up of a research programme which eventually resulted in the B4 bogie, but that took almost a decade. In the meantime, the Commonwealth bogie with cast steel frame was adopted as an interim replacement; the ride quality was much improved but it was a heavy piece of equipment.

Ride quality became even more of an issue when the mark 1 stock was adapted as an electric multiple unit design for service on the newly electrified Kent Coast lines in 1959. The standard BR bogie was modified due to the reduced clearances on the route. So bad was the ride quality that the trains became known as the "Rock and Roll Trains". The ride over the motor bogies was even worse.

That was not all. The double glazing seals did not work and the spaces between the panes filled up with water, so the inner panes were removed, with double glazing not being reinstated until the trains were given a mid-life refurbishment in 1981.

Mark 1 stock also suffered badly from corrosion from the inside out, especially around the windows. The window problem was eventually resolved by placing the windows in aluminium frames, but corrosion remains an issue for the preservation movement which relies on these vehicles.

Similar reliability issues affected the locomotives. The flagship express steam locomotive Duke of Gloucester was a notoriously poor performer and was quickly dispatched to the scrapyard. Years later, it was rescued and the original design team brought together with a view to discovering the cause of the problems. These turned out to be a combination of inaccurate construction and bad design decisions arising from office politics. Once most of the faults had been corrected, the performance of the machine was transformed, making it possibly the best of the British express designs. Before that there had been the issues with the Bulleid Pacfics, which were troublesome until they received their major rebuild in the mid-1950s, following a serious accident.

The issues continued with subsequent generations of stock.  Rust affected the earlier Mark 2 stock and the suburban versions of Mark 3; the class 455 stock need a major repairs as the floors dissolved into flakes of rust. Air conditioning was unreliable until about ten years ago. Electrostars were another class which did not settle down for almost five years after they first came into service.

It is possible to build new trains which will run reliably, but they have to be technically conservative. The new locomotive hauled fleet for Northern should go into service without problems, since they will be pulled by locomotives which have been in use for several years and hauled carriages are a simpler affair altogether. But given the complexity of the IEP, and based on historical experience, it is too soon to start criticising. The design is indeed complicated, unnecessarily so, and costs about double what it ought to have done. But those decisions were made by the civil servants and the Department for Transport. Hitachi and its engineers should not be made to take the blame.

onsdag 11 oktober 2017

New Thameslink nasties





The new class 700 Siemens trains are even worse than the class 319 stock which it replaces.
  • There is nowhere to put a cup of coffee apart from balanced on one's lap. Had the designers never heard of "food to go"? Do they even travel in trains?
  • The uncomfortable seats have no spacers in between the pairs so if there is one large person in the window seat, his or her neighbour will be half-way off the seat by the gangway.
  • The skirting level duct cuts into the space to put one's feet so that one is forced to sit twisted round.
  •  The lighting is dim - there is only a strip in the centre of the ceiling.
  • What is the reason for the curved shape of the windows?
Horrible trains, and you can be sitting or standing in them for well over an hour as they are used on the line between Brighton and Bedford.

fredag 1 september 2017

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor

Please pray for the repose of the soul of
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor
Bishop of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton for 23 years
Became Archbishop of Westminster in 2000
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

söndag 20 augusti 2017

The Journey East #5

Catholic Mass obligations
With the Tridentine Masses suspended for the holidays, I could not face the Novus Ordo vernacular Masses with Lutheran hymns which were all that was on offer in the Catholic church locally. I would come out feeling irritated and unsatisfied, if not outright angry at the liturgical vandalism verging on abuse.

The question that arises is this. Catholics have an obligation to go to Mass every Sunday. I have not missed going to Mass every Sunday, but the Masses I have attended have been Orthodox liturgies. Is this a sin that needs to be confessed? Can it even be confessed? Can a priest give absolution? If, at some point in the future I am received into the Orthodox church, what is the situation then?

The following reply came to my response on Fr Blake's blog
Physiocrat, I generally find that when somebody asks if something is a sin which needs to be confessed, they already know the answer - yes.

Our Lord did not invite us to pick up our crosses and follow Him only when the going was easy and edifying. We have to carry on carrying on even when we are wading knee-high in filth. Sometimes that might mean enduring banal, puke-making Masses like the rest of us have to endure on a more-or-less regular basis. You never know, God might give you the opportunity to bring a suffering Novusordo-ite to the knowledge and delight of the traditional Mass.

My response was
You might be correct about the sin in the interim period - that was why I asked, but the real question that arises is that "banal, puke-making Masses like the rest of us have to endure on a more-or-less regular basis" are unworthy as worship and spiritually damaging. Their universality also calls into question the claims of the Catholic church itself to be the one true church founded by Jesus Christ himself. How can we be sure that we are not in a schismatic and heretical church founded in 1054?

I am not sure there is any spiritual merit in putting up with atrocious liturgy. There is a failure here which stems from the top of the hierarchy and passes all the way down. We, the faithful are entitled to a worthy liturgy for our spiritual well being. If the shepherds do not feed the sheep, what should the sheep do?

Then there is the use of the vernacular. Latin is both a sign of Catholicity and a means of maintaining it. Having abandoned the universal language, can the Catholic church claim to be a universal church? This is not a theoretical thing - my own parish is divided into Swedes, Poles, Hungarians, Italians, Spaniards, Slovenians, Slovakians, Croatians, English speakers - all Latin Rite Catholics - who hardly ever get to meet. There is not much universality in a church where the priest struggles to celebrate Mass in a language in which he is not proficient.

The problem originates in the monarchical claims of the Bishop of Rome. If the Papacy had held to the Orthodox view as first among equals, these liturgical changes could never have happened. Once one starts looking at the Orthodox position, other subtle but important points emerge, such as the Filioque clause, both in its substance and the manner in which it was adopted, Transubstantiation, the Immaculate Conception, Purgatory, Original Sin, the use of statues, the design of churches, even the Sign of the Cross.

The Roman changes are all subtly damaging in different ways. The Catholic view of Transubstantiation seems to be that it is necessary only for the words of consecration to be pronounced by a validly ordained priest, whereas the Orthodox seem to take the far more sensible position that Christ becomes really present within the overall action which includes the building in which the liturgy is held, the music, and the Liturgy in its entirety. If the latter view was held, nobody would even have considered messing with the liturgy.

Orthodoxy is not a light and easy option to be followed because of the beauty of the liturgy, where, incidentally, standing is obligatory for most of the time, usually between 1 1/2 and two hours. It is a tough choice. During the fast periods only vegan food is permitted. There are not only the Advent and Lent fasts; there are also the four week fast before the Feast of St Peter and St Paul and a two week fast before the Feast of the Dormition (Assumption). In addition, with a couple of exceptions in the year, Wednesday and Friday in the non-fasting periods are vegan days.

The Orthodox Eucharistic fast begins at midnight and nothing, not even water, may be taken before receiving not just the sacrament but also applies to the antidoron.

If you just want some nice music, there are easier ways of getting it than by going to an Orthodox liturgy. You could stay in bed on a Sunday morning, have a leisurely breakfast and listen to whatever you want in comfort.

Fr Blake's original piece referred to the small numbers attending the EF Mass. It is a tiny minority within the church. The real picture is of a majority accepting the NO Mass but within that group an impending catastrophic decline, for which the 1960s liturgical reforms must bear an important responsibility.

Should employment be subsidised?

With increasing automation, it has been suggested that it will be necessary to subsidise jobs. Is there anything in this idea? There are u...