Sunday, December 17, 2017

Thought for the day: inequality

"Scheidel’s book* shows that historically, the only way high inequality has been flattened has been through catastrophe: disease, famine, world war, societal collapse or communist revolution."

- Quoted in "Evonomics":

Is there another way?.

*Walter Scheidel, "The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century", Princeton, January 2017

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (428)

Wiggiatlarge in the comments at Broad Oak Magazine:

"The author of this has been on a mission to implement LVT as the prefered method of tax, he is entitled to his view, but no tax is perfect and many far more qualified than myself have taken apart aspects of LVT on his site, the author also rather spoils his pitch by using phraese like "homies" as a derogatory term for all home owners (1) and feels for some strange reason that anyone who has a garden (2) should bear the sins of mankind (3), all rather strange."

1. That's a deliberate misinterpretation of what the term means. As I have pointed out many a time, "Home-Owner-Ist" does not mean owner-occupier. Not all owner-occupiers are Home-Owner-Ists; indeed not all Home-Owner-Ists are owner-occupiers.

I am an owner-occupier and I guess most Land Value Taxers are. "Home-Owner-Ist" is my catch-all term for:
- people who celebrate high and rising house prices;
- people who think that "land and buildings" is synonymous with "property";
- people who say that income tax or poll tax is fairer than LVT without realising that they are two extremes and that LVT combines the best aspects of those taxes without their worst aspects;
- people who cheerfully say that the value of land is dictated by its location, location, location while denying the existence of the concept of 'community generated land value';
- people who genuinely believe the 2008 recession was caused by Labour government deficit spending and not by the land price/credit bubble bursting
- etc.

2. Anybody who thinks that Land Value Tax is a 'garden tax' has no grasp of reality. It is a charge based on the value of a location. Anybody can look this up for themselves - in the UK, the average value of a flat is approximately equal to the average value of a semi-detached house with a garden. So clearly, the size of your garden barely matters, it all depends where your garden (or home) is.

3. Who said anything about 'bearing all the sins of mankind'? Does he think that people who go to work (and pay income tax) should 'bear all the sins of mankind'?

The value of any bit of land is down to the extra advantages you can enjoy by occupying that location, location, location. There are thousands of factors, but a major one is being within easy commute distance of a decent job or having lots of potential workers and customers within easy commute distance of your business. And what you are paying for is the right to exclude all others from doing your job or taking your workers/customers; so you are placing a burden on them equal and opposite to the value you are enjoying. Sure, people can commute in from further away and do a similar job, but that extra commute time is a burden for the other person; similarly, there are people who live closer to your place of work than you do; they are placing a burden on you.

Therefore, it seems fair and reasonable to me for people to pay compensation (i.e. LVT) accordingly, and for everybody to receive an equal share of the compensation paid by all other land owners (whether that is in terms of public services or a straight cash payout).

There's no point bleating that "I paid for it and it's my land and therefore shouldn't have to pay further compensation", you are still placing a burden on others. What if I move in next door to you and listen to music at top volume all night long? I'm clearly placing a burden on you, and you wouldn't be too happy if I argue that "I've paid for my sound system and CDs and have no duty to minimise or mitigate the burden I place on you".

Friday, December 15, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Nina Simone, by JD

"She earned the moniker ‘High Priestess of Soul’ for she could weave a spell so seductive and hypnotic that the listener lost track of time and space as they became absorbed in the moment. She was who the world would come to know as Nina Simone."

"When Nina Simone died on April 21, 2003, she left a timeless treasure trove of musical magic spanning over four decades from her first hit, the 1959 Top 10 classic “I Loves You Porgy,” to “A Single Woman,” the title cut from her one and only 1993 Elektra album. While thirty-three years separate those recordings, the element of honest emotion is the glue that binds the two together – it is that approach to every piece of work that became Nina’s uncompromising musical trademark."

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

CATALONIA: Art repatriated, Puigdemont loses his marbles, by JD

News from Spain includes a story about the removal of art works from a museum in Lerida and returning them to Huesca in Aragon.* 

Background of the story is towards the end of this Wiki entry- 

Of course Puigdemont is 'outraged' and this was his tweet yesterday- 

Carles Puigdemont@KRLS
Amb nocturnitat i utilitzant una policia militaritzada, com sempre, tot aprofitant un cop d'estat per espoliar Catalunya amb absoluta impunitat. Aquest és el model de país que defensen Ciudadanos, PSC i PP. 
As you can see he is still accusing the Government of a "coup d'etat" against Catalonia. I recall very well a genuine attempt at a "coup d'etat" on 23rd February 1981 which was ended by King Juan Carlos when he appeared on TV, dressed in his army uniform, and ordered the rebels to surrender. This was just four years after the Atocha Massacre and with the end of that 1981 coup attempt the ghost of Franco was well and truly exorcised from Spanish life.

Puigdemont's constant hyperbole diminishes his case and he is too stupid to see it.

I mentioned Puigdemont's name last night in a phone call to a friend in Spain; it is now a name which produces a furious reaction, a mixture of scorn and contempt; not least because he is still hiding in Brussels frightened to come back despite the fact that his Euro Arrest warrant has now been withdrawn. 

*Following a court order a month ago:

- but JD has these observations to make about this link to Catalan News:

The link you added is from Catalan News and is not exactly impartial. The court first ordered the return of the artefacts in 2015 and again in 2016. The suggestion that the Monastery was 'sacked' by Anarchists is disingenuous because they were fighting on the Republican side. The wholesale slaughter of priests and nuns by the Republicans is well documented.

And then there were the 'checas' which were basically Soviet run torture chambers. There is very little information on this in English but this is the background to it -

In Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, the detention and torture centers operated by the Communists were named "checas" after the Soviet organization.[42] Alfonso Laurencic was their promoter, ideologist and builder.[43]

I am not defending or endorsing Franco. He was the lesser of two evils in that conflict. As I have mentioned previously, I visited the abandoned village of Belchite while I was working in Zaragoza. It is a reminder of the stupidity of both sides but, unfortunately, there remain too many stupid politicians who wallow in the false glory of past conflicts and wish to renew them.

"My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori."


London, during the Blitz: Monty Modlyn, Jewish son of a West End tailor, sees misfortune come to a Nazi sympathiser:

"One shopkeeper who lived near us was a supporter of Moseley and an admirer of Hitler. He always hated Churchill. They never interned him, I don't know why. He had a little sweet-shop just over the way.

"At that time there used to be a gigantic soap and candle factory called Field's round the corner, and when it caught fire all the wax in it flowed out in a great river of molten wax down the side of the arches at Waterloo station. This burning river flowed right into his shop and burnt it to pieces, and we said, "That was a blooming good job your mate Hitler did!""

"Pardon My Cheek", Hutchinson (1973), pp. 44-45

So, as the capital city was being bombed by day and night, nobody had put the shopkeeper's windows through, nobody had read a Facebook instruction sheet on "How To Punch A Nazi" and put it into effect, nobody no-platformed him, nobody set the police and courts on him.

And that sort of British tolerance was not new. During the French Revolution (pre-Robespierre), the poet William Blake openly wore a Phrygian cap around London to show his support for the revolutionaries, and was not troubled for doing it.

What a stupid, febrile, mean-spirited people we have become.

By the way, I have the greatest admiration for Monty Modlyn, a man with balls of steel who interviewed Idi Amin shortly after the coup in Uganda and asked questions so frank that his cameraman cringed fearfully in his corner. And came back to Uganda a little while later, when sentiment had turned against the British. And visited Amin's HQ in the dictator's absence, showing photos of himself with Amin to gain admission - at a time when fellow journalists like Sandy Gall were sweating in a Ugandan jail with every prospect of being killed. What a man!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Catalunacy! - by JD

We are less than two weeks away from the regional elections in Cataluña, to be held on 21st December. Time for a further review of the 'crisis' and some clarification of the deep rooted reasons behind the persistent demand for 'independence'.

I have pointed out earlier that the idea of Catalan Nationalism was invented by 'the generation of 98' at the end of the 19th century. This is confirmed in greater detail by Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo:

Further confirmation comes in the following video by the historian Jordi Canal, who is a Catalan, examining and deconstructing a propaganda video by the 'independentistas.' He says quite clearly that it is a mixture of manipulated facts, mythology and outright lies. Everyone in Spain (apart from the Catalans) will tell you that there has never been a Catalan nation. The various fiefdoms within the region were all absorbed into the Kingdom of Aragon in 1137. One of the main reasons for that was to put an end to the 'war lords' fighting each other within the region. Canal says that the current idea that Cataluña is or ought to be a 'nation' is a 19th century invention. This confirms the view of Ortega y Gassett that the idea was promulgated by the 'generation of 98' (as mentioned above) In Canal's words, "There existed neither a Catalan nation nor a democracy - that is for sure."

In a 25 September 2017 letter to The Times, Sir John Elliot, Regius Professor Emeritus of Modern History at the University of Oxford and probably the foremost Hispanist in the Anglo-Saxon world, reacted to letters which had been published in previous days which had called Spain ‘repressive’, ‘intolerant’ and ‘authoritarian’, amongst many other things. He declared that:

“The supporters of independence make much of repressive measures alleged to have been taken by Madrid, but those sympathetic to the holding of a referendum may not be aware of the degree to which the Catalan government has itself for many years been attempting to impose its radical agenda on Catalan society.

“Through its control of the educational system, influence over the media, manipulation of Catalan history for its own purposes, and in some instances, intimidation, it has sought to impress on the population at large its depiction of Catalonia as the victim of malign outside forces.”

Elliott continues that theme in this article (in Spanish) in the newspaper El Mundo:

I have known about the subversion of the education system for a long time but now know that teaching of all subjects is almost 100% in the Catalan 'language' and it has spread to the Balearic Isles and partially into Valencia. 

One of the main tactics employed by the 'separatists' is to continue to suggest that they are somehow the victims of 'repression' by Madrid.

“Having an enemy is important, not just to define our own identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our own system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth, so when there is no enemy, we have to invent one.”

- Umberto Eco, 'Inventing The Enemy':

Underlying all of the above is something far more sinister.

On 14th March 1899, the mayor of Barcelona, Dr Bartolomé Robert gave a conference to an expectant audience in Barcelona. The subject of his talk was “The Catalan Race."

"Surrounded by huge sketches of skulls, Robert began to lay out “the solid proof of the cephalic index of the various races, following their path across Spain,” according to an article that appeared the following day in La Vanguardia newspaper.

Standing by a colored map of the country, the doctor declared that those from Valencia had a more oval shaped skull while in Asturias and Galicia there was a prevalence of rounder craniums similar to those of the “primitive inhabitants” coming to the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa.

In Catalonia, meanwhile, the shape of the skull fell somewhere between these two types, according to Robert, who described as “notable” the skulls of Aragon, “where the anthropological difference appears to be more distinct on both sides of the border.” The article added that Dr Robert would be leaving the characteristics of the Catalan race to another conference to be held at a later date."

The inference is clear: Catalans are a different and superior 'race' as compared to the 'Africans' who lived elsewhere in Spain.

Dr Robert's theory was immediately condemned by his former colleague, neuroscientist and Nobel Prize winner Santiago Ramón y Cajal, who spent five years as a professor at Barcelona University’s medical faculty. 
In his writings, Ramón y Cajal suggests that some of the Catalan population were later “poisoned” by prominent figures peddling pseudoscientific lies. “The rise of Catalan [separatist] politics was also reflected in attempts to establish the particularity of the Catalan physique,” writes Lluís Calvo in the Anthropological History of Catalonia, published in 1997.

The idea of Catalan racial superiority was promoted by others and is related in a book called "La Raza Catalana" by Francisco Caja (see references below). Many of the separatists firmly believe this theory, among them Oriol Junqueras, leader of the ERC (he is currently on remand awaiting trial for sedition among other things)

Whatever happens in the forthcoming election, nothing will change: if the separatists win they will continue to fight among themselves while Cataluña slides into chaos with SEAT adding a big blow to their hopes by relocating elsewhere. Another huge blow to the economic future of the region is the decision by the European Medicines Agency to relocate in a city other than Barcelona after the agency leaves London-

If the 'union' wins the rentamob will take over and continue there favourite pastime of blaming Madrid for all their misfortune. But long term, because of the brainwashing in schools and colleges, there will be a festering resentment against Spain and who knows how that will play out.......

"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
 The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
 The best lack all conviction, while the worst
 Are full of passionate intensity."


Fernando del Pino Calvo-sotelo

Dr Robert's theory and Ramón y Cajal

Racism at the root of catalan nationalism-

Political prisoners? Read the thoughts of a genuine political prisoner from the era of Franco-

"The horrifying repression in Catalonia" during the referendum of 1st October. 
Oh really? Read about the Atocha Massacre in 1977 in Madrid and think again-

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Post-Literacy: A Realisation Of Modern Times, by Wiggia

I am in the process of having a declutter as we just might be moving, a previous piece* deals with all the horrors of that separately.

My biggest task was/is a large collection of books, I love books and am loath to part with them yet the truth is apart from a few most have served their purpose and one section especially falls into this category.

Books on gardening, there are coffee table books, history of books, plant guides, single genus specialist books, landscaping books, water garden books, soil management books, design manuals, specialist design books, manuals on costings, material usage books, plant and tree sourcing books  and on and on.

Most of these come from my time designing and creating gardens, though some are purely for pleasure and some have a sentimental value, being tomes from people I have known and revered.

The fact remains that apart from endless trade catalogs and fact sheets that have been disposed of the books remain or the bulk of them do, well over a hundred remain on my shelves with no obvious purpose left for them.

The knowledge gleaned from the reams of writings has been used and what I need now in life is stored in the old gray cells; the books apart from a select few are redundant.

So what to do, the specialist and “rare” books I decided I would put on eBay, that is until I saw that there are countless same volumes already on there that simply don’t sell whatever the price, so that wasjunked as an avenue of disposal.

What about charity shops? On principle I will not give to the enormous charities that pay executives huge salaries whilst the staff work for nothing, so that leaves the small ones and they when approached said they have too many books and no thank you.

I then thought that local gardening clubs/associations was a good route to explore; from those that bothered to answer the result was negative, one explained that they have a members' library yet only two books had been borrowed in twelve months, so again they politely declined my offer.

The sad truth is people simply do not read anymore, or certainly not as in years past, all information can be obtained on the internet. There is no need for hefty tomes to invade your ever-smaller living space: you have a problem then seconds later you have the answer in front of you - all the sections I mention above can be extracted from the web.

Is it the end of books apart from those posh coffee table adornments? To a large degree I have to agree and say yes.

The same can be said for my map collection. I had endless maps of various parts of the country, Europe and the world, most out of date and virtually all never to be used again. The sat nav and mobile phone apps have seen the end of maps apart from the basic back up variety so with no one wanting them either, into the recycle bin they went.

I have always believed books have a special place in one's life: we learn from them, we are entertained by them and many are reminders of times gone by, by association or time placement, so what to do? I am adverse to dumping them so will in the end take them with me, no doubt to claim a corner of my study until I pop off and someone else has the sad duty to put them in the skip along with much else that will be available at that juncture. The unloved, unwanted book, not words I thought I would ever say. 

The printed word has been with us an awfully long time, it has been the mainstay of our education system, yet along with the newspaper appears to be in terminal decline. 

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Forget tax changes and austerity; invest in R&D and education

From the USA, "Paddington" says: I'm trying to cause trouble again. I sent this to Michael Gerson of the Washington Post, and Paul Krugman of Princeton and the NY Times:
There is a great deal of discussion on the amount of economic growth that can be generated by changes in tax or fiscal policy.
What appears to be missing in that discussion is the likely answer: none. In fact, the changes proposed are very likely to hurt the economy.
The reason is that all long-term growth can be attributed to innovation, discovery and conquest. The first two are themselves dependent on earlier basic science research. The last is one reason why the Roman Empire collapsed when its expansion stopped.
Without basic science research, open access to the results, and a lead time of 20-30 years, there is no major innovation. The technology boom which began around 1990 was built on the government-funded research of the 1940's through the 1970's, in computers and electronics. Companies do not generally invest in research until the potential profits are demonstrated. When they do so, the results are often treated as proprietary, which impedes human advancement.
The US reduced funding for basic science around 30 years ago, which is one reason that most 'innovations' that we are seeing are the offshoots of earlier work, and nothing really novel is appearing.
Added to that is the attack to trim university budgets and faculty lines. Those faculty members are the very people who generate much of that new knowledge, for the common good.
Finally, we have the escalation in the cost of higher education and the proposed elimination of tax write-offs for it, without the realization that most of the people who staff the laboratories of the country are from middle-class families. Children from wealthier families choose business, law and sometimes medicine. Why more children from poorer families do not choose the STEM paths is a matter of some discussion.
In short, we are proposing, as a country, to shut off every avenue for the very innovation that we need to thrive. Our policies are a recipe for economic disaster.