Saturday, 24 March 2018

Today I have been mostly...

... turning three old pallets into this. There's plenty more firewood in piles at the back (from a small tree we chopped down) but I can't be bothered schlepping it all over:

Friday, 23 March 2018

"Kerching!" shouted the Scottish Association of Smoke Alarm Installers

From the BBC:

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said :

"Fires and fatalities from fires are decreasing but even one death is one too many*. Scotland already has rigorous standards for smoke and fire alarms developed over time, with the highest standard currently applied to new-build and private rented housing.

"The tragic events at Grenfell Tower last year emphasised how important building and fire safety is, which is why we brought forward our consultation on this issue. Now everyone will benefit from the same level of protection, whether you own your home, or rent from a social or private landlord."

In practical terms, the law will require private homes to;

* have at least one smoke alarm installed in the room most frequently used
* have at least one smoke alarm in spaces such as hallways and landings
* have at least one heat alarm in every kitchen
* have a carbon monoxide detector

In addition, there will be a 10-year age limit for alarms and all alarms will have to be ceiling-mounted, and should be interlinked.

* While an individual death is a tragedy and burning to death or dying of smoke inhalation is a pretty horrid way to go, there has to be some commonsense here. Last year, 36 people died in fires in their homes in Scotland.

Guesswork: Maybe all the extra alarms will halve the number of deaths, call it 18 lives saved a year. Multiply two million owner-occupied dwellings by £100 for installation = £200 million and amortise over ten years = £20 million a year. Average cost per life saved, over £1 million.

I once read that the UK government has its own arbitrary figure for the value of one life saved, and it was a lot less than £1 million, in other words, if some safety measure saves one life a year and costs £1 million, they wouldn't make it mandatory.

"Peter Thiel gripes about San Francisco rents"

The man is brutal, but brutally honest:

Outspoken venture capitalist Peter Thiel has trouble finding many people who agree with him in the Bay Area these days, but at a speech Thursday at the Economic Club of New York, Thiel may finally have found common ground with the average San Franciscan by railing against skyrocketing rents.

When asked about the future of the tech industry, Thiel speculated that the lure of Silicon Valley may no longer be enough to overcome the pain of punishing housing costs.

“At what point is this a feature and what point is this a bug?” asked Thiel, admitting that “it’s a feature if [...] everyone has to be where everyone is, where all the ideas are, where the capital is” and thus creating an enormous network.

Thiel also asked, “At some point does it just get so expensive that it doesn’t quite work, that you have to very quickly make money just to pay the rents?”

The venture capitalist complained that most of the money he invests in new companies these days goes not into product development but instead “to landlords, to commercial real estate.” He even referred to Silicon Valley landlords as “urban slumlords.”

Correct, that's called "agglomeration effects" which is what drives rental values.

His options are:

1. Relocate somewhere cheaper. Rents will be lower in the middle of nowhere, but he will find it more difficult to do business there. Over time, the economy and population in his chosen middle of nowhere should grow and mature, making it easier to do business but the rents will go up to match. So that doesn't solve his problem.

2. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. If he first buys up the land on which to build Peter Thiel City, he wins on both sides of the equation.

3. Fight the system and campaign to shift taxes from output, employment and profits (and in his case, capital gains) onto land values.
In reply to Lola's comment/question, see here Peter Thiel on Henry George, I think he has mentioned Henry George favourably on a few occasions, but usually as an aside or when prompted.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Lex Luthor bought the houses on the other side of the road...

... but he couldn't get sign off for nuclear weapons from Health and Safety, so engineered a few high tides instead.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

"Brexit boost for consumers short-lived says IFS"

From the BBC:

Consumers could see prices fall by up to 1.2% if Britain were to abolish all tariffs once it has left the European Union, a report says.

But the study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies warns that any gains would be small and were based on "optimistic" assumptions. It also said that consumers had already seen prices rise by 2% since the referendum due to the weaker pound.

Costs linked to new EU trade barriers could also hit consumers, it said.
Those increased costs would "offset" any "rather limited" gains from becoming tariff free in the future, the report from the think tank says.

Agreed. EU tariffs (in £ or % terms) are not particularly high, ergo benefit from removing them not that great either. But that's only one aspect and not the only benefit in leaving the Customs Union.

What is relevant is that

1. The IFS has grudgingly admitted that there might be some benefits.

2. The IFS also now accepts that fall in GBP only led to a 2% increase in prices (it's probably less than that if truth be told). Observation tells us that a 10% change in GBP only leads to a 1% change in domestic prices so all the Brexit could result in high inflation and low growth, warns Mark Carney headlines were just Project Fear.

3. If removing tariffs only leads to a small fall in consumer prices, then why all the horror stories about the UK being forced to impose WTO tariffs and the impact on prices? There's no such thing as WTO tariffs - the WTO stipulates only maximum tariffs, so the UK could trade under WTO rules with zero tariffs - as the IFS now also admits. Even if the UK imposed higher tariffs, the upwards impact on prices would be just as small as the estimated downward impact of being free of EU import tariffs.

4. And so on.

"Totally wild! Bears return to woods 1,000 years on"

This is going to go horribly wrong. From yesterday's Metro:

‘We are literally making history,’ said Nigel Simpson, from the project. ‘We will transport people back in time to when the woodland was inhabited by bears and take people through time showing the effects of woodland loss on our native animals. Bear Wood is about conservation of woodland.’

Five European grey wolves, already at Wild Place Project conservation park in south Gloucestershire, will be moved to the woodland near Cribbs Causeway. It covers seven-and-a-half acres and the wolves will share the fenced-off space with European brown bears.

Bristol Zoological Society, which runs the project, has already received donations from benefactors and sponsors. Christoph Schwitzer, director of conservation at the society, said: ‘We are hoping that people will be really excited and want to support us. For the first time in generations people will be able to see brown bears in their natural habitat.’

1. Seven and a half acres? The average bear or wolf on its own needs a much larger territory than that, cramming them in any tighter means they will have to be fed i.e. domesticated. So it's a glorified zoo rather than natural habitat.

2. Bears are large, strong and resourceful animals (and wolves are no slouches). A fence strong enough to hold in bears is going to be pretty much like a wall, unless they electrify it - and an electric current strong enough to dissuade a bear from having a go is going to be pretty lethal to anything else that touches it (including wolves). Which sorts out the feeding problem, I suppose. The bears and wolves can just traipse along the fence and scavenge what's there. And people can stand on platforms watching them.

3. Heck knows what Health & Safety will have to say, or what their insurance premiums will be. Once one bear has escaped (and sooner or later, it will), that will be pretty much game over.

"Don't worry about insecure tenancies...

... because there's no job security either."

From City AM:

All this has led to a quantum shift in the attitude of young occupiers; faced with the prospect of funding large deposits and huge mortgages at interest rates likely to rise from their current historically low levels, they are resigned to renting for much longer than their predecessors. But are these shallower property roots part of a wider transition?

As an employer, I see a trend among our brightest young talent that, while they are willing and able to put their all into their profession from week to week, it is still their career for the time being and not necessarily what they want to do for the rest of their lives.

Similarly, to “make partner” or become a director of the company can no longer be the assumed ambition, and employers have to be ready to give short-term reward rather than rely on the long-term prospect of promotion for loyalty.

Renting for a year or less fits with the shorter-term and wider view taken by my children’s generation of their working lives, and the political and economic uncertainty in the years ahead means there’s no reason why we should see a reversal of this trend any time soon.

Monday, 19 March 2018

US taxpayer funded health spending vs NHS

I stumbled across this somewhere or other recently, and it is quite chucklesome.

US taxpayer funded healthcare spending per capita $5,078 (about £3,600).

UK taxpayer funded spending (i.e. NHS), about £2,000 per capita.

Talk about shit value for money!

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Round the M25 on a Sunday afternoon.

Two years after having bought myself my 50th birthday present(s), I finally got round to doing the M25 (clockwise) this afternoon to see what it's like.

It was very pleasant all in, ignoring a few arsehole BMW drivers who were weaving through traffic in a thoroughly dangerous fashion, two of them clearly racing.

There was a 60/50/40 mph variable limit out west somewhere, so I hooked in behind a Rover driver who'd set their speed limiter and coasted along behind them for ten or fifteen minutes, with somebody in a white Japanese MPV doing the same behind me (thanks both!), after that, we went our separate ways again. The poor buggers going anti-clockwise were stuck in a jam.

Sub two-hour time no problem.

Faux Libertarianism in a nut shell

The core false assumption underpinning Faux Libertarianism is the assumption that 'land ownership' and 'governments' are two completely separate and unrelated concepts, or even that 'land ownership' is an older concept that pre-existed 'governments'.

It is quite clear to anybody with a vague grasp of history that land ownership in any meaningful sense is impossible outside an (1) organised society, (2) which is at peace, (3) which has a dispute resolution system with popular support that it enforces, and (4) which is capable of defending its external borders. Historically, the whole point of 'governments' was to enable 'land ownership' within its borders, not the other way round.

Take away any of (1) to (4) and land ownership is impossible. The starting position is of course that the land is just there, and was there long before humankind evolved. Nobody 'owned' it. That only happened once items (1) to (4) were in place, and where we are right now, we would call something that exhibits all four characteristics a 'government'.

The Faux Libs will come up with all sorts of supposed counter examples which superficially might not fit the pattern, but they refuse to address the underlying pattern. One Faux Lib tactic is to sub-divide each of (1) to (4) into ever smaller slices, pointing out (for example) that you can't compare governments in modern developed countries with a few thousand Vikings settling on Iceland. You have to judge them by the standards of the time.

Here endeth.