tisdag 16 juli 2019

Not as green as it looks

There are hundreds of miles of electrified railway in Sweden where there are a handful of trains – one or two an hour, and in some cases just a dozen a day. It is generally considered that a railway is not worth electrifying if there are less than six trains per track per hour. The embodied energy in all the overhead structures and the copper cable is colossal. If you travel in the north of Sweden in the winter, you can see a constant shower of sparks which is a continual waste of energy. These routes – eg Gothenburg-Strömstad – should never have been electrified in the first place, but useful amounts of energy could be saved by recovering the fixed equipment (which could be put into store for re-use) and using diesel locomotives, or even steam locomotives, which can be ‘green’ since they can run on renewable fuels such as waste material from the timber industry.

tisdag 9 juli 2019

Most news coverage of Moslems negative

“The New Statesman, Observer and Guardian were the least likely to portray Muslims (their spelling) in a negative light, according to the analysis of 11,000 articles and news broadcasts during the final months of the year.”

Of course it is the handful of bad eggs who make the news, but since the teachings and practices of Islam are fundamentally at odds with western society based on liberal enlightenment values, as soon as the number of Moslems grows beyond a certain point, conflict is inevitable; members of that community can then expect to be portrayed negatively. It makes matters worse that Islamic teachings also take an extremely negative view of Christians and Jews, although there is scope for common cause there because Christianity and Judaism are also both at odds with contemporary secular values.

There are indeed real issues within the Moslem community, which need to come under public scrutiny: female genital mutilation, the disproportionate number of Moslems in prison, forced marriages, and the levels of physical and mental disability resulting from the widespread practice of marriage between first cousins. The community’s reputation was not enhanced by the Rotherham and Oxford sex abuse cases; this type of thing is obviously not the preserve of Moslems but if you are a member of a minority community, as I am myself, then you need to realise that higher standards are expected and that failure will bring opprobrium on all. That raises a further question, which is that a degree of internal self-policing by community leaders and peers could have been expected, who would have dealt with the miscreants long before they came to the attention of the authorities.

In my previous blog, I referred to the Guardian’s censorship of the slightest criticism of Islam. Since the Guardian and the Observer are the same newspaper, one has to ask who is in charge of its editorial policy?

Guardian censorship - continued

The Guardian makes much of its moral and intellectual superiority. It claims to be open, a supporter of liberal western Enlightenment values, evidence-based claims, and, of course, free speech.

For many years I have been commenting under the name of Physiocrat, mostly about economic policies but on a range of other subjects too. I have carefully avoided being offensive, even when I have received offensive responses from other commentators. The number of topics open for comment has been steadily decreasing in recent years and is mostly confined to topics like the weather and the state of the railways. However, I was surprised to see that the message above has been appearing under the few articles which remain open for comment, and I enquired of the Guardian what was the reason. This was the reply.

“Your account was banned after multiple spells in premoderation. A lot of your comments could be interpreted as Islamophobic.”

The first point is untrue. My comments were pre-moderated on one or possibly two occasions in a period of ten years or more. The second point is more interesting. “Could be interpreted as Islamophobic” sets a very high bar – so high, in fact, that the slightest criticism of Islam would fail the test.

It is evident that Islam is regarded by the Guardian as exempt from any criticism. Given the volume of postings, it is reasonable to assume that there is a well organised campaign to seek out all adverse comments about Islam and report them. Shame on the Guardian for caving in to the pressure. Yet Christianity, and Roman Catholicism in particular, however, and quite rightly, is a free-fire zone. The same applies to Zionism, even though a preoccupation with the wrongdoings of the Israeli government is an indicator of anti-semitism. Never mind that Islam comes with antisemitism built in or that Iran’s enmity with Israel is derived from a theological view that the Mahdi will come when the last Jew must be killed. These things must evidently not be mentioned.

As I discussed a couple of months ago in another blog, Islamophobia is an invented word, and a fundamentally dishonest one; a phobia is an irrational fear. Living in Sweden as I do, I encounter and talk to many people from Moslem lands. Many are non-Moslem refugees who are dismayed to find the people they fled from have followed and are now their neighbours. They are unanimous in relating the difficulties they have experienced, for generations. This is what The Guardian does not want brought into the open. The disproportionate number of Moslems in British prisons is a taboo subject. Concerns about this matters are real fears, not phobias. ‘Islamophobia’ is a term designed to shut down discussion and tar any critic with the racism brush.

Rational fear of Islam has already transformed European politics; the Guardian editorial staff have seemingly not noticed and made the connection. It was a major influence in the Brexit referendum result. It is a major factor in the rise of parties such as Sverigedemokraterna and AfD. It is sad that the Guardian of all newspapers should be blocking off public debate in this way. When the voices of reasoned argument are silenced, holding the lid down will bring about the very thing we most fear. Shutting down public debate is feeding rumour and extremism.
Shame on the Guardian for folding in the face of Islamofascism.

söndag 30 juni 2019

When the flood was over

When the flood was over, Noah told all the animals to go forth and multiply. After a while, Noah found that all the animals had offspring, apart from a pair of snakes.

“What is the problem?” asked Noah.
“We can’t multiply”, answered the snakes. “We’re adders.”

Noah and his sons started to make furniture for themselves, using rough hewn logs for chairs and tables. Next time Noah checked, he found the snakes with a clutch of young.

“I thought you said you couldn’t multiply”, said Noah. “We can’t. We used the log tables”, answered the adders.

lördag 29 juni 2019

Catholic to Orthodox?

I come across a fair number of discontented Catholics these days, who are looking at the Orthodox church as a solution to their dissatisfaction. This is not a decision to be made lightly, or possibly, at all. It is a big commitment. An important reason for not moving are the current scandals within the Catholic church; misbehaviour is a human attribute and will be found in every organisation. However, these are a few things to ponder when approaching the matter.
  • The Roman claim to Papal supremacy is based on an interpretation of Matthew 16:18. From this verse is derived the Roman ecclesiology. You have to be satisfied that Rome is wrong and that the Orthodox are right. The subject has been much discussed and disputed, to put it mildly. No firm conclusion can be drawn.
  • What does the history of the early church tell us? One needs at least a broad picture of developments from Apostolic times to the thirteenth century, by which time the Schism had hardened. Here too, no firm conclusion can be drawn.
  • Pray about it. 
  • Discernment, a practice which was developed to a high level by the founder of the Jesuit order, St Ignatius Loyola.
  • Does the Orthodox liturgy speak to you? Initially it will seem strange and alien, so you would need to attend at least a dozen times before you can begin to grasp what is happening. You also need to study the texts and actions, which are broadly similar to the Roman Catholic liturgy but differ in important respects. It is worth trying the alternative forms in which the Orthodox liturgy is presented. There are at least three main traditions: Arabic, Greek and Slavonic. In addition, Orthodoxy is slowly taking root and become naturalised in that part of the world which became Roman Catholic after the schism, in the Protestant lands and in the former colonial mission territories. Thus can be found Orthodox liturgies in languages such as English and Spanish in the English-speaking countries and South America.
  • What happens after the liturgy? Does the parish demonstrate Christian love?

What is in the burqua?

This extract from The Silver Chair, by C S Lewis comes to mind.

“All the same,” said Puddleglum, “I wish we knew a bit more about her.” “I was going to ask her all about herself,” said Jill. “But how could I when you wouldn’t tell her anything about us?”
“Yes,” said Scrubb. “And why were you so stiff and unpleasant. Didn’t you like them?”
“Them?” said the wiggle. “Who’s them? I only saw one.”
“Didn’t you see the Knight?” asked Jill.
“I saw a suit of armour,” said Puddleglum. “Why didn’t he speak?”
“I expect he was shy,” said Jill. “Or perhaps he just wants to look at her and listen to her lovely voice. I’m sure I would if I was him.”
“I was wondering,” remarked Puddleglum, “what you’d really see if you lifted up the visor of that helmet and looked inside.”
“Hang it all,” said Scrubb. “Think of the shape of the armour! What could be inside it except a man?”
“How about a skeleton?” asked the Marsh-wiggle with ghastly cheerfulness. “Or perhaps,” he added as an afterthought, “nothing at all. I mean, nothing you could see. Someone invisible.”
“Really, Puddleglum,” said Jill with a shudder, “you do have the most horrible ideas. How do you think of them all?”

torsdag 27 juni 2019

The Jews as a moral barometer

Einstein wrote this in 1927

“The position of our scattered Jewish community is a moral barometer for the political world. For what surer index of political morality and respect for justice can there be than the attitude of the nations towards a defenceless minority. The barometer is low at the present moment.”

torsdag 20 juni 2019

Britain’s new inter city trains - could have been better.

Long distance trains in Britain dating from the 1970s and 1990s are being replaced wholesale by the new 800 series trains from Hitachi. They could have been worse, but the designers have not really addressed some of the fundamental problems which go back to the time when mark 3 stock was introduced in the 1970s.
  1. Seats misaligned to windows. This is primarily a matter of getting the bay dimension correct in the first place. If this is 1.90 metres there is sufficient legroom for everyone and all the seats can align.
  2. The luggage space is in the wrong place. People will not use the large luggage areas as they are not secure. The optimum location for luggage is between seat backs but this means that most of the seating should be in facing pairs as in the mark 1 and mark 2 stock. As soon as the seats are arranged in an airline configuration, this useful luggage space is lost. Given that it is too late to change the fundamental design, the large luggage areas should be fitted with some means of securing cases eg with lockable cables and keys with a coin deposit system. Otherwise people are not going to use them.
  3. Space next to the unglazed sliding door pockets should be used for luggage or toilets or equipment cabinets.
  4. The discomfort of the seats is due to insufficient lumbar support. This could easily be remedied by changing the shape of the foam inserts.
  5. The vehicles are too long. The end space cannot be used for seating due to the tapered shape and it cannot be use for entrance vestibules as there would be excessive platform gaps.
  6. The vehicles are difficult to get on and off - indeed, hazardous - due to the design of the steps and the large gaps. Retractable steps should have been fitted. The excessive length of the vehicles is probably a factor.
  7. The overall design of the trains is ugly, with a flat roof with lumps of equipment spread along the top, giving the trains a horrible skyline, rotten aerodynamics and likely problems with snow and rain. These items should have been faired into the roof, as an stock such as Electrostar series.
  8. There is a huge gap between vehicles. This is also terrible both visually and aerodynamically. The space aught to be closed by rubber fairings or extended panels, or the vehicle bodies built out and used for equipment. There is probably quite a lot of equipment which could usefully be relocated here from under the floor or elsewhere.
I would question the wisdom of having a single fleet huge fleet to a single design from a single supplier. Britain’s railways have run the risk of a fault affecting the entire fleet, and then what? It has happened enough times before. The current problem with the Boeing 737 Max is only the latest in a series of such events; the same thing happened with the Merchant Navy class of steam locomotives in the 1950s, when the fleet had to be taken out of service and replacements drafted in from all over the country.

onsdag 29 maj 2019

Place of worship, or arts venue?

Gothic cathedrals have been having a bad time lately, what with the Notre Dame fire, and now Salisbury Cathedral, which currently has a giant Gaia hanging in the nave. It dominates the view as you come in and is there for the annual festival. Its presence proclaims how the Church of England has forgotten what it exists for, and what the cathedral was built for in the first place. Christianity deals not with the earthly realm but with the heavenly one. The Gaia would have been perfectly in place in the Cathedral Close or even in the cloister, only not inside the cathedral itself. There is not even a scriptural text to set it in its context, such as, ‘Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven’, ‘My Kingdom is not of this world’, or ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof’, or ‘Heaven and Earth are full of Thy glory’.

The Bishop, Dean and Chapter need to think more carefully about what is allowed to take place in their cathedral. Its primary purpose is not as an arts venue.

söndag 19 maj 2019

Islamophobia #1

“Islamophobia” is a dishonest neologism which has been used to shut down discussion of Islam and label critics as racist. There has been discussion of the subject recently, in an attempt to define it, perhaps as a prelude to making it a crime. A phobia is an irrational fear. Christians and Jews have had good reason to fear Islam for the past 1400 years. Mohammed himself was responsible for a notorious atrocity against Jews, Banu Qurayza, when 600 men were beheaded on his orders, and the women and children taken into slavery. Since Islam venerates him as the perfect man, fear of Islam is anything but irrational. Christians and Jews have rarely been well-treated under Muslim regimes. The recent experience of Christians under ISIS is not an exception to the general case; 3 million Greek and Armenian Christians were murdered in Islamic genocides in the 20th century alone.

This is not to deny that dislike of Muslims has a racist component, since most Muslims are foreigners with dark skins, and irrational dislike is indeed a phobia. There has been an epidemic of attacks and crude invective against Muslims in Britain. They are being made to suffer for the actions of those responsible for incidents such as the Manchester bombings, and for the utterances of the teenage supporter of ISIS who justified the action. It is understandable, if inexcusable.

This BBC Sunday programme has a balanced debate on the subject, 36 minutes from the start. One of the speakers, herself a Muslim, points out that Muslims are far from being the only victims of racism, and that there is a certain onus on those at the receiving end of public dislike, for whatever reason, to practice some self-reflection. Dislike of Muslims is not entirely unconnected with incidents such as the London and Manchester bombings, the truck attack on Westminster Bridge, the exodus of Jews from Malmö, and the fact that anyone travelling by plane now has to allow an extra hour to pass through security checks ‒ which is not to prevent attacks by radical Methodists.

EU election virtue signalling

The posters for the Swedish election to the European Parliament have produced the usual crop of platitudinous virtue signalling.
  • For democracy, against division and extremism. (Social Democrats)
  • Our grandchildren come first - every country should take responsibility for the climate (Social Democrats)
  • Take a stand for secure jobs, not pay cuts (Social Democrats)
  • Oil lobbyists versus climate activists (Vänster)
  • Our fight against right-wing populism is needed in Europe (Centre Party)
  • Hope instead of hate (Green Party)
  • Yes! Vote out extremists and nationalists (Liberals)
They give the impression that they have been generated by a computer programme.

lördag 4 maj 2019

Silence on Christian persecution due to “trade”

Apparently, the silence on Christian persecution is due to fear of offending trading partners like Saudi Arabia, not political correctness. So says the Guardian’s Religious correspondent, Andrew Brown.

That is an interesting angle. It does not explain why the persecution, which is systematic, is confined to certain countries. There is none in Japan, or Thailand, for example, and there was little in India until recently. Brown manages to avoid naming the principal persecutors and their motivations, which are grounded in their own religious, or stringently non-religious, ideologies.

It is amazing the lengths that some people will go to in order not to state the obvious.

fredag 3 maj 2019

Persecution of Christians by persons unknown

It is amazing how an article in the Guardian, reporting the publication of a study about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, fails to mention the M-word.

Who do they think is responsible for this persecution?

måndag 29 april 2019

Scottish independence problems

The Union originated due to the Scottish having lost a vast amount of money in an ill-fated colonial project. It will not break up unless the money settlement works.

Scotland in the EU, but England outside it would not work. England is the main source of goods imported to Scotland; they would become more expensive as they would be subject to the EU tariff, which would lead to cross border shopping in places like Newcastle and Carlisle. This in turn would lead to long tailbacks down the A1 and M6, as cars and HGVs waited to clear the EU customs barrier that would go up.

There are also issues over who would pay for defence.

The Scots would do better to focus on the highly concentrated pattern of land ownership in the country, and to use the freedom that already exists to apply a land value tax. However, Scottish politicians do not seem to be particularly smart or they would not be operating policies such as higher income taxes in Scotland.

söndag 28 april 2019

Swedish water rights mystery

My friends live in a house overlooking this lake, about 15 km from Gothenburg. The lake is man-made, having being created by the construction of a dam. A few hundred metres downstream from the outlet is the remains of a mill. Further downstream still, there was yet another mill; the present owner retains the rights to the flow of a certain volume of water. These rights were acquired in the 1920s, when the government (foolishly) gave away water rights in exchange for an undertaking to construct electricity generating facilities. However, this particular facility, is, I am informed, barely functioning, and even if it was, it would make little use of the head of water that is potentially available and is consequently inefficient.

In dry weather, as we have had recently, this owner complains of insufficient flow, and water then has to be released from the lake. Prolonged dry weather results in a significant fall in the water level and the exposure of unsightly areas of mud.

Loss of water leads to a deterioration in water quality, which for many decades has been managed by a fishing association which, among other improvements, has reduced the acidity of the water by regular dozing with chalk dust, resulting in a good population of fish including perch and pike.

I do not know if I have been given the full story, but the owner, despite making little or no effective use of this water, wants the local authority to pay 3 million kronor for the extinguishing of the rights to ‘his’ water from this and two other lakes. The obvious response would be to restrict the water outflow in dry weather so as to maintain the water level in the lakes, and wait for the claim for damages. If my information about the virtual non-use of this water is correct, the damages due would be 0,00 kr.

Such an inefficient capture of the energy in the water makes no sense. An efficient system would pipe the water from the upper level, which would create a pressure of 1 bar for every 10 metres drop and could be used efficiently to drive a turbine linked to a generator. Whether the volume of water available is worth the cost of installing such a system is another question, but it might be possible for the owner to have his power without draining down the lake.

There is a further issue also: the valuations of the lakeside properties for tax purposes, which is on the assumption that the lake is an amenity, which it certainly is not if the water level fluctuates, leaving expanses of mud in dry weather.

tisdag 2 april 2019

Rampant mercantilism

I picked this up in an article headed “Would the UK be better off outside the Customs Union.”
A YouGov survey last July found that independent trade policy was voters’ joint fourth Brexit priority, behind control over immigration, and ending EU rules and budget payments.
Trade experts say deals get more contentious once they become real. “It is one of those things that sounds great but when it actually comes down to it trade has always been controversial because people always want something from you,” said David Henig, who was heavily involved in negotiations on an EU-US trade deal. “New Zealand want to sell more lamb and Australia certainly want to sell us more lamb. That’s not going to go down very well in Wales or Scotland.”
Henig’s mercantilism is showing. Cheaper New Zealand and Australian lamb would go down very well with shoppers in Cardiff and Glasgow. Why is there this blindness to the obvious? Should this man be in charge of negotiating trade deals when he evidently has such a limited idea about the purpose of trade?

torsdag 7 mars 2019

Is anti-Zionism Jew hatred?

There is a long article on this subject by a in The Guardian today, not open to comments. Zionism is a philosophy of Jewish nationalism originating at the end of the nineteenth century as a response to widespread persecution in Europe, particularly in the Russian Empire, though it was the Dreyfus trial in France which gave the movement its impetus. It was originally opposed by many, if not the majority of Jews, who had not the slightest interest in trying to set up a Jewish state in a country consisting mostly of sand dunes, swamp, semi-desert, and eroded rocky hillsides. The USA, the Golden State, was the goal.

It was the events of the 1930s and the aftermath of the Second World War which caused Zionism to gather momentum. Even then, the land of the then Palestine was a last choice, or Hobson’s choice, for the majority of those who went to live there. As late as the nineteen-fifties, in countries where Jews felt safe and comfortable, Zionists were regarded by other Jews as slightly cracked. There were also, and still are, religious groups who consider the notion of a Jewish state as contrary to the will of God, and this is in fact an old tradition.

The author of the article, himself a Jew, draws much the same conclusion when he says that to be opposed to Zionism cannot in itself be anti-Semitic. What he neglects to mention is that it has become an obsession among non-Jews  – especially on the left – to the point that they are silent about all the other evils in the word; the most recent example is the imprisonment of a million or two Muslims in Chinese concentration camps. It then has to be concluded that the anti-Zionism is driven by anti-Semitic emotion.

tisdag 5 mars 2019

Hydrogen train hype

Hydrogen powered trains are in the news at the moment. They are being promoted as a means of making railways less dependent on carbon as a fuel. The idea is that the unwanted electricity from wind generation can be electrolysed and used as fuel in fuel cells. The system is being trialled in Germany on a new train, the i-Lint, and in the UK on a converted class 321 multiple unit train dating from the late 1980s.

There are at least four snags.
  • The hydrogen has to be compressed and stored in heavy tanks.
  • Overall energy efficiency is about 27%.
  • Fuel cells have a limited life.
  • Cost.
I have attempted to obtain figures for the power output of these devices but a search reveals nothing on the subject, not even on the website of the manufacturer, Alstom. My guess is that it is around 1000 hp, about the same as diesels such as British Railway class 20, or a class 4 steam locomotive such as the 80xxx class 2‑6‑4 tank class. The latter, burning light oil and with draughting modifications to suit, turn in a thermal efficiency of around 12%. Because steam locomotives have a small number of large parts, they are relatively inexpensive to manufacture using modern CADCAM and 3D printing techniques; given a sensible production run, the cost of a locomotive in the equivalent power category should be of the order of £1 million. Given that the capital cost of rolling stock accounts for about a quarter of the cost of running a railway, when will someone drop their prejudices and have a proper look at this supposedly outdated technology?

As for the unwanted hydrogen, there is a simple solution - feed it into the gas grid. This would have to be in defined areas as combustion requires different air:gas volume ratios than are used for natural gas. The hydrogen can then be used for on-site electricity generation in combined heat and power systems, which results in minimal waste of energy.

torsdag 28 februari 2019

Brexit fiasco a national disgrace

The economic case for Brexit was never put, because of the incompetence of Minford and his associates. Short of full-blown communism, it would be difficult to devise a worse set of policies than those at the heart of the EUʼs trade and economic policies: CAP, VAT, the tariff wall and the Euro. The so-called four freedoms are in reality a way to ensure that skinflint employers and greedy landlords can pay the lowest wages and charge the highest rents. Employment Rights are a fig leaf and do nothing for those on the edge of the labour market.

However, CAP and the tariff wall are a useful source of pocket money for the dukes and lords whose rental income would have been hit. Since the same people are the leading Tory grandees, they were bound to insist on it being replaced by a home grown version of the same thing, which is what has happened. On top of that there is a clueless Chancellor who is taken in by surfaces appearances and does not appreciate how much of the headline yield from VAT disappears in costs and losses. To cap all that, there is a Labour Party which is asleep and dreaming Marxist dreams.

Whilst there is a good case for remaining, the support for remain among the better informed section of the population would not have been anything like as much as it was if the flaws in the EUʼs policies had been appreciated and sensible post-Brexit alternatives thought about.

Without no sensible post-Brexit strategy, the entire point of Brexit disappears, since the egregious EU policies are replaced by home-grown versions of the same thing.

The whole episode is a national disgrace which reflects badly not only on the politicians but on the British public at large, above all, on those who are meant to be the more intelligent and better educated section of the population. Remainers - the Guardian and FT were leading offenders - were too busy arguing for remain to get their heads around the need to ensure that the worst of the EU policies were dropped and sound policies put in their place.

tisdag 26 februari 2019

Brexit is losing its point

I am coming to the conclusion that Brexit is becoming an irrelevancy. After the announcement by Gove - a leading Brexiter - of new UK food tariffs to replace the EUʼs, I am coming to the conclusion that Brexit is becoming an irrelevancy. What is the point of it?

The EU has been running four egregious trade and economic policies from its outset: CAP, VAT, the tariff barrier and the Euro (fortunately the UK avoided the latter, but the fact that it even exists is proof of the incompetence of those responsible for the those policies). It is becoming evident that the leading supporters of Brexit are intent on replacing the EU policies with home-grown versions of the same thing. It is as if a prisoner is told he is free, but remains in his cell, and is then required to pay for his food and lodging in the jail. Such a Brexit is all pain and no gain.

The ERG - this includes J Rees Mogg - and Economists for Brexit, should have raised their voices in protest when Gove announced his proposals for the tariffs, which have not been denied. Labour and the left should have raised voices in protest on the basis of their own principles. Economists for Brexit have not helped the case through their claim that British agriculture and manufacturing would be destroyed.

As regards agriculture, it appears that there has been no rigorous study, ie based on a Ricardian analysis, made on this subject, not by DEFRA, nor by any think tank, nor by any academic institution, nor even the National Farmers Union. Such studies as have been made are inadequate, since, like the ESRC one, rents are regarded as an input cost, or in the case of that by the NFU, rents and imputed rental incomes are rolled up into the category of farm profits. This is astonishing, considering that many universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Newcastle, Reading and Bangor, have departments of agriculture and agricultural economics well equipped to crunch the numbers properly and predict what would happen if cheaper food from outside the EU became available.

If nobody in authority knows what to do with the freedom Brexit gives, and the EUʼs dysfunctional policies are replaced with UK versions of the same, what is the point of it?

måndag 25 februari 2019

Post Brexit agriculture

Uplands farming seems to be most at risk from Brexit. The land will not, of course disappear. The uplands, and, indeed, the landscape as a whole, should be regarded as a national resource which needs to be managed for a variety of objectives.
  • to maintain, and preferably increase, opportunities to earn livelihoods; 
  • to enhance its aesthetic value; 
  • to enhance its biological diversity so as to support native species; 
  • to protect downstream areas from flooding; to make a contribution to the carbon sink; 
  • sustainability. 

This needs to be done is such a way as to ensure that the enhanced rental values resulting from public investment are efficiently recovered for the exchequer. Although the sums of money involved are relatively small, this strengthens the case for land value taxation on agricultural land. However, it should not be forgotten that present taxation gives rise to an artificial margin where land which could support economic activity in the absence of tax cannot do so if such activity is subject to taxation. In these situations, tax is the deal-breaker.

The question that arises is whether DEFRA is up to the task.

söndag 24 februari 2019

Will Brexit destroy British farming?

Will Brexit destroy British farming if it is not protected? Remainers say it. The National FU says it‒but then it would, wouldn’t it? The leading Brexit economist, Minford, has said it. What is the truth of the matter?

Agricultural rents are in the range £50 to £200 per hectare. Faced with a general fall in farm gate prices, the worst land, by definition marginal land, goes out of agricultural use and rents of all other land must fall. The cut-off point comes where rental values drop to zero. This is standard Ricardian theory.

Some agricultural land will obviously go out of its present use, but the questions are how much, and what other uses will replace them? I have not seen any analysis of the problem, neither by Brexiters or Remainers. In the absence of any sound analysis, all there is on both sides is blind speculation.

The apparent dearth of well-publicised and solid information is a mystery. The calculations are not the kind of thing that can be done on the back of an envelope, but many of the country’s think tanks and academic institutions, including both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, as well as the NFU and DEFRA, have the resources to do the work. When making forecasts of impending disaster, there is no excuse for not producing supporting calculations which would give an indication of the extent of the damage.

tisdag 19 februari 2019

Very bad Brexit news

The bad news is that Gove has announced that food tariffs will continue after Brexit. This should not come as a surprise since the National FU has always made sure it has the ear of British politicians. It shows that the battle for sound economic policies is only just beginning. Getting out of the EU was only ever a first stage, since the vested interests still remain to be faced down and put in their place.

There are potential benefits from Brexit because the core EU trade and economic policies are fundamentally unsound. But if the UK government is just going to perpetuate all the same rotten EU policies then the country suffers all the disruption of Brexit but gains nothing.

If the public do not get to see the benefits there will be hell to pay. As for farming, New Zealand showed the way in the 1980s. There was initial disruption but the industry adapted and is, if anything more successful as a consequence.

The difficulty with achieving change in the UK is that the country has no plausible opposition party at the moment, which means that there no institutional means of expressing discontent. The possible centrist independent party merely offers the prospect of more of the same.

fredag 15 februari 2019

EU vacuum cleaner regulations

Now corrected (perhaps), thanks to Dinero who spotted an error in the original source for overall electricity consumption.

Overall annual electricity consumption in the EU is 3 million Gigawatt hours ie 3E6 x 1E9, a total of 3E15 watt hours. Source (the decimal point has been omitted from the graph, hence the earlier mistake)

According to this blog, 19TWh would be saved by the maximum power regulation for vacuum cleaners ie 1.9E13 watt hours. I make that saving about 0.7% of the total EU electricity consumption, but it is easy to go wrong with teras and gigas. However, this came to me from Mark Wadsworth, which suggests that the figure is in the right ball park.

ʻWe use a fair bit of electricity, about 400 kWh a month, my online thingy tells me. Let us assume we spend half an hour a week vacuuming. Our vacuum cleaner is 2,200 watts. 

ʻHalf an hour per week = 1.1 kWh, times 4 and a third = 4.7 kWh per month 
= about 1% of our usage. 

ʻLet us assume that the most efficient cleaner uses half as much electricity for same effectiveness 
= reduces our usage by 0.5% 

ʻHouseholds consume about 40% of all electricity (a guess on my part) 

ʻ0.5% x 40% = 0.2% = one-five hundredth; not one-hundred thousandth. i.e. not absolutely nothing, but a very small something.ʼ

It is so small that one wonders why anyone was bothering about it. In terms of reducing carbon emissions (assuming that to be a worthwhile goal), the biggest and most silent contributor has been appliances steadily getting more energy efficient, whether by market forces or EU diktat.

Is LVT really such a hard sell?

People are more emotional than logical and the process of paying LVT would feel different to some of the other taxes it would replace. People would notice the payment more and object. 

Perhaps, but one of the issues with other taxes is that the INCIDENCE of the tax is not necessarily the person nominally responsible for payment, as taxes are passed along.

The incidence of PAYE Income Tax and NI is on the employer and forms part of labour costs. It is functionally equivalent to a payroll tax. This means that employers are under pressure to reduce labour costs by replacing workers with capital even though it results in a worse service, or no service at all, and is, in reality, uneconomic. Supermarket self-service checkouts are an example. Alternatively, the employee taxes are passed on in higher prices.
It does not stop there, because these taxes cut into employers' profits, resulting in less being collected in other taxes including property taxes (UBR) and Corporation Tax.

It is a similar situation with VAT. Retailers attempt to absorb some of it in order to maintain volumes of sales. That why cuts in VAT, which sometimes occur, are not fully passed on in price cuts.

It is extremely difficult to establish the true incidence of taxes. In the long run, all taxes are passed on to landowners as they cut into rent. This was first noticed by the French Physiocrats but is also a corollary of Ricardo's Law of Rent. The problem this causes is that locations where business would be viable in the absence of tax are incapable of sustaining business activity under the present tax regime. Thus, the taxes amplify regional economic disadvantage and are one reason why regional economic imbalance is so intractable.
LVT would be paid as it is now, by monthly instalments. In the case of leaseholders, the tenants' share could be added to the ground rent and the entire tax paid over by the freeholder. It would no more be noticed than any other regular payment made by standing order.

onsdag 13 februari 2019

Donald Tusk not the greatest theologian the world has ever produced

‘I am not sure that Mr Tusk is the greatest theologian the world has ever produced, and is a little bit confused about the difference between heaven and hell’, was Rees-Mogg’s response to Tusk’s comments on the place in hell for Brexit politicians. Nicely put.

torsdag 7 februari 2019

Independent Scotland in the EU? #2

If it ever came to pass, you could expect lorry queues on the A1 all the way back to Newcastle and on the M6 to well south of Carlisle. But, as one bright spark asked, ‘are Rotterdam, Hamburg, Antwerp (Europe’s biggest ports) really far away? They’re just across the North Sea.’

Harwich to Hook of Holland is 8 hours sailing time. That is the longest practicable distance whilst avoiding having to spend a night on the ship, though ships on this route have sleeping accommodation. Harwich to Esbjerg is 18 hours which leaves 6 hours to service the ship for the return voyage ie a round trip can be made within 48 hours.

Now look at the sailing times from Leith
  • Rotterdam 28 hours 
  • Hamburg 37 hours 
  • Antwerp 32 hours 
  • Leith to Esbjerg (the shortest route) 30 hours, but Esbjerg is out on a limb. 

Whatever the route, then, it is more than ‘just across’. It makes the logistics very expensive and pretty much rules out RoRo. Scotland could barely generate the traffic for a container port the size of Felixtowe or Southampton, which means it would be a feeder. And once goods are in a container and loaded onto a 20,000 box carrier, the cost of distance is trivial.

From which it can be concluded that an independent Scotland in the EU would suffer from serious problems of logistics.

tisdag 5 februari 2019

Brexit makes the plagues of Egypt seem trivial

Polly Toynbee has reached new heights in this piece, with makes the Ten Plagues of Egypt seem like a Sunday School party compared to Brexit. Or is she parodying herself?

torsdag 31 januari 2019

The chemistry of chlorinated chicken

As a graduate in the subject, I am intrigued by the chemistry of chlorinated chicken. Consider phenol, a simple compound consisting of a benzene ring with a single hydroxy group attached. There are three compounds of phenol with a single chlorine atom attached: 2-chlorophenol, 3-chlorophenol and 4-chlorophenol. In the olden days, they were called ortho-, meta- and para-chlorophenol. There are no less than six isomers of dichlorophenol; in all, there are 19 compounds of chlorinated phenol.

When we come to chlorinated chicken, the prospect of an entire discipline open up, with university departments of chlorinated chicken, professors and  research graduates; it could even become a degree subject in its own right.

Who, I wonder will be the first Professor of Chicken Chlorination?

söndag 20 januari 2019

Threatened clergy

The BBC Sunday programme this morning (start of broadcast) had a report about a growing problem of threats and violence against churches and clergy.

‘In the week that up to fifteen Catholic churches received bomb and stabbing threats, we speak to Nick Tolson from National Churchwatch and the Reverend David MacGeoch, about whether enough is being done to protect clergy.’

This is not a new problem. Clergy have long been at risk from mentally ill individuals, drunks and people high on drugs. It is in the nature of the job that clergy should be available, and availability has its risks. However, the report also referred to harassment by groups of youths, and said that the problem was primarily in urban areas described as ‘challenging’, which is obviously something else altogether.

What is going on? Who are these groups? Are they members of other Christian denominations? Chasidic Jews? Hindu or Buddhist extremists? Satanists? Or what?

The programme is silent on this aspect of the phenomenon. This suggests that there is something going on that for policy reasons cannot be discussed openly. Listeners will draw their own conclusion. Do the programme makers not understand that this conspiracy of silence is aggravating the problem the silence is attempting to prevent?

lördag 19 januari 2019

The case of unilateral free trade #1

Consider two countries, Britain, and Sweden, and two sorts of products which are popular in the other. Sweden is good at balls - meat balls, as sold at IKEA, and SKF balls. Britain is good at some fancy cheeses - Blue Stilton, and engineering components, such as those used in the marine sector.

We start off with mutual tariffs. British ball eaters are paying more for their meatballs, or eating inferior balls, and British manufacturers are paying more for their ball bearings, or using inferior balls in their products. Swedish cheese fanciers are paying more for their Stilton or making do with an inferior cheese, and Swedish yacht builders are paying more for their widgets, or using inferior widgets.

If Sweden unilaterally takes down its tariffs, then Swedish cheese fanciers get their cheese of first choice at a lower price, and Swedish yacht builders get the components they really want, at a lower price, which makes them more competitive. In the meantime, the British ball eaters continue to pay more for their meatballs, or eat inferior balls, and British manufacturers continue to pay more for their ball bearings, or use inferior balls in their products.

If, in this situation, the British do not reciprocate, they are the losers. The Swedes are still better off than if they waited for the British to do the deal.

torsdag 17 januari 2019

Independent Scotland in the EU? #1

Does that sound like a good idea? It poses the prospect of lorry tailbacks all the way down the A1 to Newcastle, as goods wait to clear EU customs at Berwick. If there is still an EU that people in Scotland want to join. And the distance from Scotland to an EU port (Rosyth to Esbjerg, 450 miles) is tight for a round trip within 48 hours.

Scotland’s independence will get it nowhere unless it deals with its grotesque concentration of land ownership, through the introduction of an effective land value tax. This has been possible at a local level ever since devolution, and while a lot of noise has been made, and despite a couple of committees of enquiry, nothing has happened. If an independent Scotland joined the EU, it would prevent the application of an effective rate of land value tax, on human rights grounds.

Advocates should also ponder the fact that the EU trade and economic policies work against the interests of all peripheral locations and peripheral countries. VAT, which is a requirement of being in the EU, is a perfectly honed job killer.

Varadkar, the Irish backstop

This is ‘Round the Horne’ territory - Kenneth Williams would have been quick to flaunt his backstop on air.

More Project Fear

Checks on both sides of Irish border ‘mandatory under no-deal Brexit’

So runs a Guardian headline today, which continues ‘Customs expert says extra costs and delays will harm small businesses and WTO rules would kill UK farming’.

The customs expert, described as a world leading expert, turns out to be a Michael Lux, a former head of customs legislation and procedures at the European commission, who said the UK would have to impose customs checks and tariffs on the northern side of the border, despite claims to the contrary by Brexiters.

He would say that, wouldn’t he? If you read on, you will see that this is not the case anyway, as the article explains that, ‘Under WTO rules, the UK could opt for zero tariffs, but it would be obliged to offer this free-trade deal to every other country. This would mean cheap food and dairy products, which currently attract high tariffs, from countries such as Brazil or New Zealand, and might also lead to chlorinated chicken from the US ending up on British supermarket shelves. “It would kill UK farming,” said Lux. He also said Brexiters who claim the UK won’t impose checks in Northern Ireland are naive.’

The bit about chlorinated chicken is obviously the Guardian adding its ha’p’orth to stir up readers’ indignation, which it has to do in its role as cheerleader for Remain.

The UK government might be sufficiently stupid to throw away the benefits of Brexit by imposing tariffs on imported food, and with Hammond as Chancellor, this is a likely outcome, but he will not get away with it without an almighty row.  The notion that cheaper food imports would kill British farming is fallacious. Farming is predicated on fluctuations in the prices of produce. If prices are too low, then some farmland become sub-marginal and the land goes into other uses. Rents on all other farmland fall, and there would be a change in the mix of arable/livestock.

This is the classic Ricardian analysis, but it is evident that Lux does not do Ricardian economics and so comes out with his baseless prediction. (Minford, who should have known better, did the same). There is always a cut-off point, and some farmland will go out of use. The land will not disappear. In the worst case it would be abandoned and revert to wilderness. There is nothing unusual about that. If you visit the Peak District of Derbyshire you will see lots of enclosed fields which were formerly in use but are now sub-marginal.

The article is not open for comment. What a pity.

måndag 14 januari 2019

The tone gets ever shriller

Polly Toynbee on Brexit.

The Guardian and FT have done the country a great disservice by their grotesque and one-sided opposition to Brexit. The Guardian’s journalists and editorial have attempted to find a Brexit angle on every subject under the sun. Most of its old warhorse journalists have no credibility, having been consistently wrong for decades on almost everything they have written about. Polly Toynbee and Will Hutton are the worst offenders. Nick Cohen was a fervent supporter of the war in Iraq. William Keegan remains an unreconstructed Keynesian decades after the theory was set aside. These hacks would have promoted their cause best by staying silent.

That the FT should have taken such a one-sided anti-Brexit stance is surprising, as the EU’s trade and economic policies would have been sharply criticised by the FT journalists of a generation ago. What does not exist is a balanced counter to the extreme Brexiters, and so the issue is presented in black and white.

The economic case for Brexit has hardly been stated, even by its advocates: that it is an opportunity get shot of the EU’s terrible trade and economic policies, though how long it will take a UK government to wake up to the possibilities is another question. Brexit will certainly lead to immediate problems, which will of necessity be quickly sorted out under pressure on politicians from industry. 

Less easily solved are the medium term structural problems, which will persist for five years at least. By that time, if the economic cycle runs to schedule, the recession of 2026 will be about to hit, for which Brexit will be blamed. It will be wrongly blamed, because ever since 2010, monetary and other policies have been committed to stoking up the housing (land price) bubble. It is Ponzi economics and, on the basis of previous experience, can be expected to bust spectacularly, leading to a recession which will continue into the early thirties. One can only speculate what the political fall-out will be.

fredag 11 januari 2019

China and Islam - where are the protests?

Whilst Israel’s alleged ill treatment of its Arab neighbours is condemned as apartheid and has given rise to protests, condemnation and boycotts from ‘progressives’, the rounding-up of Chinese Muslims and their removal to concentration camps raises barely a murmur from the same people. What is happening looks like the prelude to a genocide.


torsdag 10 januari 2019

The EU suits the UK just fine. Actually, no.

‘The EU suits the UK just fine’, argued a commentator in the Guardian. They were just asserting, but no, it does not.

British manufacturers can never compete on equal terms with German manufacturers in sales to continental Europe. They start off with a transport cost penalty of about £100 per cubic metre shipped. That figure rises, the further the producer is from a Channel port with frequent RoRo services. It is a simple fact of geography. Denying that does not change the situation.

Then there is VAT, a condition of being in the EU. It would be difficult to think of a more damaging tax. Like all taxes with the exception of taxes based on property values, it takes no account of the geographical factors which affect ability to pay tax, and consequently amplifies the effect of regional economic disadvantage. Why the EU persists with this terrible tax is a mystery, since the EU itself is aware of the extent of the fraud which it generates. It is not inherent to the EU project, but the fact that its governing bodies take it as an unchangeable given gives no confidence in the organisation.

The same applies to the Single Market's tariff regulations, applied against all outside countries, which UK exporters will now have to face. It is not understood that the main victims of tariffs are consumers in the countries INSIDE the tariff barrier, who have to pay through the nose for everything, and, worse still, manufacturers who have to pay more for components and raw materials, which makes them less competitive.

The overall effect of this is, as intended, to shift the balance of trade to within the EU, which of necessity reduces the proportion of trade with the rest of the world. If people in a country want to export, they have to import in order for the export destinations to have the foreign exchange to purchase that country's exports. The primacy of imports over exports is not understood these days due to the resurgence of the mercantilist thinking which dominated EEC trade and economic policy from its inception, and which is now the driving force behind Trump’s policies, where the losers are all US producers apart from those in the protected sectors. Because of the logistical factors I referred to above, the UK cannot afford the reduction in ROW trade, neither as importers nor as exporters.

It goes on and on. UK and Continental legal systems are based on different principles and are fundamentally incompatible. There are, for example, features of the legal system in Sweden, which anyone familiar with the UK system would find shocking, including the length of time spent remanded in custody, and the lack of a jury system. I know personally of one case of suspected attempted murder which was not even brought to court, but which in a British court would have been thoroughly tested by a prosecution witness before a jury.

If you think the EU structures suit the UK just fine, you need to take a closer look.

Not as green as it looks

There are hundreds of miles of electrified railway in Sweden where there are a handful of trains – one or two an hour, and in some case...