Are you sure you should be doing that?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Massive inequality

I've said more than once that the housing market is segmented geographically and by price bracket, so discussion of house price movements in aggregate is not very helpful.

The same can be said of the savings rate, and here Andrew Kaplan plays with figures to show that US income is so unequally distributed that the top 1% could theoretically account for all the savings in the US. It is getting dangerous, I feel - I sense (I hear) among many ordinary people an inchoate rage against the financial elite, as well as against the remote political class that services them.

This concentration of wealth and power is exactly what sparked the American revolt of the 1770s. But a colonial secessionary war is quite different from a civil war; making peace after the latter is much harder. "O Freunde, nicht diese Töne."

Marc Faber - total breakdown ahead





... in my view, the big crisis is ahead of us. It may come in 4 or 5 years' time, maybe only in 10 years' time, but the total breakdown of the system is ahead of us and it will devastate the global economy. (4:18 on)

You have to decide whom to believe. Including Steve Keen, it's said that only 12 professional economists worldwide foresaw the crunch, although there are 10 - 15,000 practising in the US alone. So the majority verdict is useless. To me, Faber has the ring of truth.

The good news, such as it is, is that we may have a few years to prepare.


As to perceived turning points, I looked at this last December:

Splat

A couple of days ago I said that US debt default would splat the US far worse than its trading partners; of course, I missed the point. The real danger is rejection of US debt and the US dollar by its foreign purchasers, and both Karl Denninger and Jesse see that as an outcome of the Japanese election result.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Top travel tips from Lifehacker

Many useful suggestions on travelling and working here (htp: Credit Writedowns).

The terrorist state comes closer

No2ID has put a full-page ad in The Spectator (p.47) saying that the Home Office plans to make issuing your next passport conditional on your agreeing to be on their super-database.

Wikipedia says, "All British passports are issued in the exercise of discretion by Her Majesty's Government under the Royal Prerogative. In any event, discretion must be exercised reasonably and not on a whim, and even though there is no statute governing the issue of passports, such prerogative powers are susceptible to the normal processes of judicial review (Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service [1985] AC 374)."

I've read somewhere that there was a time when the British could travel abroad without a passport. And according to "Stiggy" on the No2ID message board, it's still legal to do so - I'd be interested to know if this is so, and how it could be done.

"Get out of the market" - RBS strategist

A caller to the excitable Max Keiser's show (htp: Nathan Martin) quotes from a statement by Bob Janjuah at Royal Bank of Scotland, warning clients to cash in and hunker down while the market tests "new lows". (And Jesse says "wealthy insiders are increasingly trying to liquidate investment positions to raise cash and diversify their holdings into cash and hard assets.")

Keiser got wide attention in July when he referred to Goldman Sachs as "scum" and (I think, not incorrectly) said that the practical results of some of their activities were worse than terrorist atrocities. Protests like this make no difference, except that they may relieve hearts clogged with helpless anger: what we've learned recently is that the shameless tenacity of politicians and bankers will outwear public indignation.

But society may change when everyone gives up looking to the the über-scum to help, and concentrates instead on personal benefit and survival. I think I may not even bother to vote in the next General Election.

Oh, and Nathan Martin also directs us to an article by Robert Kiyosaki, who compares the market to a dead frog galvanized by ever-higher charges of financial electricity until "Pretty soon the dead frog will be fried frog." Kiyosaki cites demographic change as a major threat in the long term.

How much does education matter?

Greg Mankiw thinks that correlating SATS scores and subsequent earned income misses the point that inherited intelligence are a factor in both. This appears to be supported by the graph in Alex Tabarrok's blog that shows "higher parental income predicts higher child income but only for biological children and not for adoptees."

David Davis points out that the £45,000 true cost of a university education is not always recouped by graduate earnings. (See also Charles Hugh Smith's piece, "Is Higher Education Worth a Lifetime of Debt?")

I have read that there is a positive correlation between shoe size and IQ. Public policy is to buy big shoes for everybody so they get smarter.

Hitchens against war

Really fascinating article by Peter Hitchens today, on what the world might have looked like if Britain had not declared war in 1939. And a wonderful three-paragraph (in the print edition) pudding of complaints about our present condition:

... if we won it, how come we look back on the Second World War from conditions we might normally associate with defeat and occupation? We are a second-rate power, rapidly slipping into third-rate status. We have a weak currency and shrunken armed forces, deployed as auxiliaries in wars that are not in our interest, and we are largely governed from abroad.

Our Parliament is a bought and paid-for puppet chamber. Our culture and customs have been debauched and our younger generations corrupted, as subject populations are, with drink, drugs and promiscuity.


We are compelled, like an occupied people, to use foreign measures to buy butter or meat, and our history is largely forgotten or deliberately distorted in the schools to suit anti-British dogma. Those schools are unable to educate most of our children up to the levels of our main rivals, so ensuring that we provide no challenge to them. Our country has been Balkanised into provinces and regions. Our language is invaded by foreign words and expressions. Our food and most of our consumer goods are imported, along with our TV programmes and films.

The remaining veterans of the supposedly glorious struggle, far from being gratefully honoured, often live in pinched poverty, scared of feral youths, or die neglected in squalid hospitals in a country many of them no longer recognise as their own.

A little over-egged, but still tremendously good.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

HSBC: Britain's safest bank

... at number 18 in the worldwide list. 4 of the top 10 are German; the safest US bank (Bank of New York Mellon Corp) is at #32.

Meanwhile, the Daily Finance is sanguine about the US banking system, reporting the view of several analysts that the total number of failures will merely be in the hundreds, as opposed to Nouriel Roubini's "much too high" 2008 prediction of 1,200.

Reborn investment banker asserts legal right to bonus

Cold turkey would kill the US debt junkie



Reading Jim from San Marcos' latest, it occurs to me that debt default looks like a seriously bad idea - cutting off your nose to spite your face doesn't come into it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Debt, unemployment and escape routes

Interesting observation by Steve Keen: unemployment correlates closely with the amount that debt contributes to demand in the economy.

Let me try to reason out the consequences, however inexpertly.

So, as everyone scrambles to cut spending and get out of debt, unemployment will soar. Since there is a great deal of international trade, the hit will be felt internationally.

Then government finances will come properly unravelled, especially in countries that have generous social welfare provisions. Worldwide, sovereign states will look for anyone who has real money to lend.

This should result in higher interest rates, but that would make the cost of debt, and its sustainability, extremely difficult, both for states and for corporations (and the burden on the latter will tend to result in even more unemployment and more claimants on the government). A rise in rates would also hit holders of long-term government debt, which may be one of the reasons the Chinese have been swapping that for shorter-dated Treasuries. A collapse in bonds will affect the capital value of pensions and investments, oh dear.

Another way out is default on debt. But who will be hit by that? Not just foreigners, but our pensions and managed investment funds.

A third way, which given that we have history to learn from doesn't seem likely, is the true hyperinflation approach. Germany in 1923, Hungary, Argentina, Zimbabwe... do you really see this happening here?

Then there's the downgrading of debt, with corresponding falls in the traded value of the currency. We've seen some of that - what, 20% off the pound? - so maybe there's more to come from that direction. Except other countries may follow suit. In 1922, if you were a far-sighted German, I suppose you might have sold marks and bought dollars; what currency would you buy now?

Or there's "more of the same" again - talking up the economy and pumping in cash until you spend because you daren't leave it to rot in the savings account.

Which way will it go? Where will it all end?

Housing (and the stockmarket) bear rally

For more, see Smith's redoubtable blog.

Monday, August 24, 2009

More on Al-Megrahi

Should an innocent man stay in jail to assuage our feelings about Colonel Gaddafi? A member of the Scottish Parliament thinks not.

And the total number of visitors to Professor Robert Black's blog has leapt 50% in the last week. They also serve, who only stand and wait.

The world may not be flat, but the universe is... or maybe not


Does dark energy exist? And if it doesn't, what about dark matter? These two are supposed to constitute 96% of the universe - and we get to see the other 4%. Or is it 5%. Or maybe not.

I'm sticking to Marmite. Though even there, theological problems rage.

Credit contraction is outpacing monetary stimulus

"... the Eurozone, the UK, Japan, and essentially every county on the planet is all attempting some sort of stimulus plan or other. This is bound to cause a major distortion at some point, as no country has anything remotely close to an exit strategy for this. What kind of distortion and when cannot be certain because we are indeed in uncharted territory, worldwide."

- Mish.

The more I read around, the more uncertain I become. All I have is my instinct, that things are out of control and we're being told fairy stories to lull us.

Mish's argument is that "The credit bubble that just popped exceeded that preceding the great depression, not just in the US but worldwide. Thus, it is unrealistic to expect the deflationary bust to be anything other than the biggest bust in history. Those looking for hyperinflation or even strong inflation in light of the above, are simply looking at the wrong model." If he's right, it's cash is king, for a long time to come.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Freedom and healthcare

I've just watched Daniel Hannan's address to Americans on the dangers of a nationalised healthcare system. I, too, want America to carry on holding up the torch of freedom and democracy that is being doused here in the UK, so that one day we'll be able to re-light ours from theirs.

But it seems to me that if you want private solutions for problems which all have (or will have), but not all can afford, then you must address the question of inequality of resources.

Peter Rogers, co-creator and producer of the Carry On film comedies, once remarked he would 'do anything for my actors except pay them.' Similarly, so much is done for us in the UK, perhaps so badly, in the way of health and education (to name but two functions), when it might work so much better if we had the money personally and could make our own decisions.

We are witnessing a concentration into ever fewer hands on both sides the Atlantic, not only of power but of economic wealth. Every dollar and pound is a vote in the daily election of goods and services. To use the terms of the French national motto, if we wish for liberty but mistrust fraternity, then perhaps we should contemplate some redistribution of wealth to restore a greater degree of equality.

For example, how about some form of credit card (funded from general taxation and directed to individual accounts) that can only be spent on defined areas of need, but the holder to determine how to use his/her budget to best effect? Something like the educational voucher idea, but radically extended?

New fiction website

I've set up a new blog for fiction with a topical twist. The first story is about the euthanasia debate. The site is called Future His Story. I hope you like it; if you do, thanks for reading it and please let others know.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The long crisis, and the rediscovery of the family

Calculated Risk plots the actual and projected change in demographics from 1950 to 2050, adds the observation that over-65s cost 3 times as much in medical care as their juniors, and the rest is future history.

Meanwhile, Leo Kolivakis looks at the looming meltdown in US pension schemes, mirroring what's going on now in the UK.

Long term, it looks like down with house prices (since the younger generation will have much less free income to take on debt) and (thanks to the oldies' rising income need) down with stocks.

Nurture your young.

... and the money trickles up

... Americans will thus pay for the TARP and low interest rate subsidies to their financial rulers with erosion in the purchasing power of the dollar. What we are experiencing is a massive redistribution of income from the American public to the financial sector.

- Paul Craig Roberts (htp: Jesse)

The ranks close

...the US has a finance and policy elite defined by college ties and related social connections, an elite with a strong sense that only people in their circle can really be trusted, and that their institutions must be saved at all cost at taxpayer expense if necessary.

- Robin Hanson

The energy crisis

There's much talk of looming energy problems - it's a staple of Nick Drew's blogging and even The Economist has now turned its attention to it. Today I see Brian Gongol has netted a story about battery development and how it could support the energy infrastructure.

But how much could we still do in the way of more efficient use, and non-use, of energy? According to this DTI report based on 2001 stats, the home uses 31% of the nation's energy (see Chart 1.3 on page 9). Chart 1.6 shows that in 2000, space heating accounted for 40% of all non-transport energy consumption.

More woolly pullies?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Law

We've been renting a house and now it's about to be sold; but the purchaser is delaying the exchange of contracts, with good reason:

The house has a fabulous view southwards, across fields and woods to the silver river and the sea beyond. This is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest, so it should be highly protected. However, the field immediately in front is owned by a farmer who wants planning permission to build six houses on it. He's tried several times before, and although he's on the local council himself, he's been turned down each time, so far.

I jest to the owner of our house: "Have you tried dropping a few rare species in the field?"

"There are rare species. The Authority wrote a letter to him saying that they would be conducting a field survey. When he got the letter, he mowed the whole field - right down to the ground. Then he sprayed it all over with weedkiller."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I see a bad moon rising

... sang Creedence Clearwater Revival. And as Panzner points out, inequality and growing poverty are factors that destabilise society.

He reproduces a graph (see below) that shows inequality is now higher than it was just before the Crash of 1929. The line also suggests that the rich do get hurt when the economy goes down - but they still do very well compared to the "ordinaries":
See where the least inequality came? Around 1980 - just when "it was decided" that lending and debt should take off and power a generation-long series of bubbles. Please see below my graph from June, which shows that political conservatives can be far from conservative when it comes to handling the nation's finances:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Market signals

At the hospital shop, a woman puts a £1.15 bottle of mineral water on the counter. The till operator says, "If you buy a Telegraph, the water's free."
"How much is the Telegraph?"
"90p."
"Okay." She rings it up. "Do you want the paper?"
"No."
She folds it and puts it to one side.

Everybody happy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A gross miscarriage of justice?

The proposed release, on medical and compassionate grounds, of the supposed Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, is controversial and currently leads the TV news agenda here.

It is well known that GP Jim Swire, who lost his daughter in the atrocity, attended the trial in the Netherlands and became convinced that Al-Megrahi was innocent of the charge laid against him.

It is also most interesting to read a blog set up two years ago by Robert Black QC FRSE, Professor Emeritus of Scots Law in the University of Edinburgh. His blog supports Swire's contention and discusses the way in which the legal case against Al-Megrahi was conducted. The very first post contains this paragraph:

It is my firm view that the crucial incriminating findings made by the judges were unwarranted by the evidence led in court and were in many cases entirely contrary to the weight of that evidence. I am convinced that no Scottish jury, following the instructions traditionally given by judges regarding the assessment of evidence and the meaning and application of the concept of reasonable doubt, would or could have convicted Megrahi. So how did it come about that the three distinguished and experienced judges who concurred in the verdict felt able to convict him?

Black summarises and comments critically on numerous points of evidence and the court's findings in relation to each. He posts again today and says:

The families of Pan Am 103, as victims, deserve justice; they deserve to know the truth. My own dark thought is that any decision made by Mr MacAskill will not really be based on compassion but on political expediency. There seems to be a desire to get Mr Megrahi out of the country and to have the appeal halted at all costs. Perhaps the Crown Office and governments fear what might be revealed as the appeal continues.

Black's blog stat counter shows that he has had only some 33,000 visits since October 2007. Perhaps, reader, you will look at what he has to say and encourage others to do so.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Taking a break from blogging - back soon


Liberty: a debating point

We've been arguing liberty vs addiction recently, and my own latest comment is:

Libertarian laissez-faire needs to mean more than simply standing aside and watching the rich and powerful cock it up for everyone. Paradoxically, libertarianism implies some kind of rule-setting and limitation of power.

Does that seem reasonable?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Back where we started

As concern grows for the future of the dollar, we should reinterpret stock movements to take account of currency exchange fluctuations. The above chart shows the Dow since the start of the year (red line) and adjusted for relative value of the US dollar against the Euro (green line).

If you have any suggestions as to what other currency to use instead, I'd be glad to read them. I fear that future weakening of the British pound and the US dollar may well undermine apparent future recoveries on their stock exchanges.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Why are you doing so well, dummkopf?

The Economist has its needle so stuck in liberal economics that its leader writer almost audibly busts a gut trying to find something wrong with Germany. As far as I can see, the daft Krauts are to be roundly condemned for...

1. Basing their economy on manufacturing
2. Running a trade surplus
3. Saving money instead of spending it on more imports
4. Not paying others to provide services they can perform for themselves
5. Not lending money to encourage more new businesses to start up (despite the fact that, as I learned years ago, 80% of new enterprises fail within two years)
6. Allowing women to stay at home
7. Saving jobs in order to preserve the skill base

We should all be so stupid.

A couple of days ago, I tried reading The Guardian newspaper again, and although there were one or two peanuts to pick out of the ordure, mostly it was, as I said to my wife, "Facebook for tw*ts". The writers even include their pictures in their by-lines so you can see they're still congratulating themselves on how well they used to do in the sixth form debating society.

But I think The Economist may have beaten them by a short head this week.

Addictive behaviour is the West's major challenge

"I finally decided to give up", say some. Yet I made that decision about smoking many times, before the last time (1977) that worked. I haven't seen an account of how to make a decision that sticks. Otherwise most of us would be slim, fit etc.

Gerald Durrell, in "My Family and Other Animals", tells how as a child he let his sister take care of some orphaned baby hedgehogs while he was away. He told her to be strict with the milk, not to overfeed. When he came back, he found that she'd fed on demand and they'd all died, because they couldn't stop demanding.

We live in a society that has plentiful cheap food, readily available and aggressively marketed alcohol, easily obtainable tobacco, easily found illegal drugs (and glamourised a thousand times by the media), computer games everywhere. It's surprising that anything gets done.

Some argue for decriminalisation of "harmless" drugs like cannabis, contrasting it with the undoubted dangers of alcohol. I agree with them in a way they won't like: alcohol is far too easy to get hold of.

Libertarians overestimate the amount of control we have over our behaviour, I think. Sartre argued stubbornly against the theory of the unconscious, because it undermined his philosophy of existentialism. I incline to the Buddhist analysis, that we continually form strong attachments and only the most determined can break the chains. Few manage it on their own. Some would say only 5% per year break free of alcohol, and perhaps a far smaller percentage stay off it permanently.

In our debates on liberty, should there be some discussion about restrictions that make us more free?

Forget the teepee

Green, not hippie, is Tim Smit's view (htp: Brian Gongol)

Perhaps more practical is the Transition Towns initiative, which has already recruited Totnes and Monmouth, for example.

And an even wider perspective is offered by Charles Hugh Smith's thoughtful "Of Two Minds" blog, which is founded on the principle that individual survival is necessarily a collective issue. He believes in this so firmly that he is making his book* available for download free of charge. * "Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation"

Social implications of advancing technology

... the economic problems of the future will not be about growth but about something more nettlesome: the ineluctable increase in the number of people with no marketable skills, and technology's role not as the antidote to social conflict, but as its instigator.

The battle will be over how to get the economy's winners to pay for an increasingly costly poor. ... In a future with higher taxes, the divide between rich and poor would be the central economic challenge.

- Economist's View

We're in for a big theoretical debate with highly practical consequences. Liberty, individualism, redistribution of wealth, where the wealth comes from in the first place, what is the Good Life... There must be somewhere between Goldman Sachs and Karl Marx. I don't like the two-party State (cosy-cosy) and I don't like bipolar philosophy.

Interpreting US LTV problems

"Almost one-third of all U.S. households have no mortgage. If you adjust for that, the 70-80 percent debt-to-equity ratio suddenly becomes a major challenge because it means that the two-thirds who do have a mortgage already face a debt-to-equity ratio in excess of 100%. Even worse, once the mean reversion has run its course, two-thirds of US households will be facing a debt-to-equity ratio of 120-125% on average. U.S. CONSUMERS ARE EFFECTIVELY BROKE."

New Deal (htp: Credit Writedowns)

Has he got this right?

And how about us in Britain? Can anyone make sense of it for me?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Bubble 3

It's getting to the point where things go worryingly quiet. First we had a speculative and debt-fuelled stock market bubble; then ditto a housing bubble; and now that the US/UK governments have swallowed the grenades of debt instead of throwing them over the firing-step, a government finance bubble.

I started this blog two years ago, because I thought precious few people sniffed what was in the wind - though I've since discovered that there are quite a few, mostly in the US, who did. I don't know why the UK is so poor at this, unless it's to do with not being used to retaining much of our income. Or a hangover from aristo-landlord days, of pretending to be uninterested in money but always expecting it to be there when needed.

But where can I go from here? There's not much point in continuing to cry iceberg when the ship's side is ripped open. Both Karl Denninger and James Kunstler are saying today that the disaster is far from over, the difference between the two being that Denninger still believes in fixing it with due legal process and decisive action, whereas Kunstler has no such hope and almost looks forward to the final scene because it will usher in a postmodern bucolic age and restore human values. (Kunstler's latest echoes what I've said recently, about drawing some cash for just in case.)

I feel like the Chinese philosopher who dreamt he was a butterfly and when he woke, was not sure whether he wasn't a butterfly dreaming he was a Chinese philospher. The sun shines (beautifully today), I have my teaching to prepare for September, I am proceeding with my plan to revive my IFA business. And yet these projects seem insubstantial, a soapskin full of emptiness.

For now, I have to go on with the assumption that Denninger is right - that when it gets bad enough, tough action will be taken and we'll pull through. That's the horse I'm backing. For I don't believe the proto-Marxist fantasy that a better society will rise out of a collapse, especially not on an overcrowded island like the one where I live.

Off on my hols again next week; and when I get back, time to tackle real life.

Swirly Marmite

According to this and this, the "dark matter" (that nobody can observe directly) influences the distribution, spin and orientation of galaxies. As Haldane said, "The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."

Bias

Thought-provoking article in The Guardian today, about how even medical research can end up with an unreliable consensus skewed by influential reviews:

A small number of review papers funnelled large amounts of traffic through the network. These acted like a lens, collecting and focusing citations on the papers supporting the hypothesis.

Worse, science can be "spun":

One paper reported no beta amyloid in three of five patients with IBM, and its presence in only a "few fibres" in the remaining two patients; but three subsequent papers cited this data, saying that it "confirmed" the hypothesis.

This is an exaggeration at best, but the power of the social network theory approach is to show what happened next: over the following 10 years these three supportive citations were the root of 7,848 supportive citation paths, producing chains of false claim in the network, amplifying the distortion.

This leads one on to consider the implications of social network theory. I suppose it's a talent for this that helped Mao and Stalin rise, but also it may explain how people in other fields (e.g. finance and banking, the media) can be both successful and dangerously dumb. (Remember Mao's bright idea of 1958, culling sparrows because they ate crops? The resulting explosion in the crop-gobbling insect population forced him to ask Russia for thousands of birds to restock).

And have you watched the celeb version of "Who wants to be a millionaire?" and been struck by the ignorance of some of them? Yet they know enough (of what they need to know) to make a sight more than most of us. The technique seems to be, get the job first, then learn how to do it from those around you. Duffers try to learn first, then apply for the post, by which time it's gone. Look at chancer Blair as against plod-towards-it Brown. (Some say that Blair has never read a book; but then, he doesn't need to. As Disraeli said, "When I want to read a book, I write one.")

Connected to social network theory is Cass Sunstein's notion of "group polarisation", where like-minded people get together, not only reinforcing their views but making them more extreme. I suppose this has implications not just for political caucuses and media advisers, but for how we choose our newspapers.

And what blogs we read.

Happy or clever

"If you're so clever, why aren't you happy?" a friend's mother would say to him.

I'd turn that around. I think that for some, being unhappy is what stimulates the mind. That doesn't mean that I believe it's a good thing; it's just that your brain accelerates, looking for a way to survive. Having taught Looked After Children for a couple of years, I'd say that typically, although they were academic under-achievers, they were unusually sharp for their age in other ways. Maybe that's also why girls from broken homes become sexualised earlier.

But the one thing that all this cleverness doesn't address is the root of the cleverness itself. It may seem an impertinence to judge people one hasn't met - though that is the bread and butter of the modern media - but would you regard, say, Stephen Fry or Dawn French as happy, well-balanced people?

A clever person is more likely to out-argue you than to put right anything about themselves. I've read that psychoanalysts find highly intelligent patients the hardest to cure; and that successful entertainers avoid seeking a solution for their neuroses, because it might turn off the tap of their talent.

I hope for a world that is fit, not for heroes nor for geniuses, but for the dully contented.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Our Achilles heel?

The Contrarian Investor suggests that the next market destabilizing factor is the need for minor European nations to refinance.

Nail on head

The cure will be to increase the median wage, and to stop the transfer of the national income to fewer and fewer hands. For that is how the system is set up today. It is not the result of 'free markets' but a sustained transfer of wealth through regulatory and tax policies, and a pernicious corruption of the nation most significantly starting in 1980, although a case has been made for 1913.

- Jesse

Turkeys Reunited

Goldman Sachs are on the brink of a massive new consultancy contract, it is rumoured. An unnamed source within the organisation hints that ITV may be asked to take over Lloyds Bank and Northern Rock.

"ITV's £105 million operating loss is peanuts," said the trader. "We at GS paid out £1 billion more in bonuses than we got in bailout money last year. The guys at ITV don't think big enough. If they don't wise up fast, they could be in danger of making a profit."

This alleged development lends credence to the long-standing speculation that the American and British governments are secretly planning the creation of a "Super-Turkey", merging all remaining manufacturing, banking and finance into a giant loss-making enterprise that will employ increasing numbers of the population until everybody starves.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The power of ignorance

If we were as ignorant of what goes in political circles, as country folk were in the Middle Ages, how could we tell which party was in power? Unless we had been pressed into military service, wouldn't we pretty much go on as usual from day to day? The papers rage about tax but most people haven't a clue how much they pay in income tax and NIC on their salary slips. Is it OK, rational, to be politically apathetic? Isn't personal action to improve one's life 100 times more important than who you vote for every 5 years?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

1984

It hasn't happened the way Orwell said it would, they keep saying. Yet:

The Children’s Secretary set out £400million plans to put 20,000 problem families under 24-hour CCTV supervision in their own homes.

They will be monitored to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on time and eat proper meals.

(htp: Mark Steyn)

Soon, I shall wake up and discover it was all a dream.

Monday, August 03, 2009

What's happening to houses?

Mish gives us a few interesting graphs on the US housing market and asks whether it's hit bottom yet. I did leave a comment but it disappeared, so here's the gist:

It looks as if most of the air has come out of the balloon - in the US. Houses doubled in 5 years, and in some cities have now halved again.

As the tide recedes, it uncovers evidence that the market is segmented - look for example at New York compared to the others. The "best" areas are holding up better, and I'll bet the best houses within those areas ditto.

I think this segmentation will continue to be important, because of growing inequalities of wealth. This has been going on over there since 1980, but also historically (as Fischer in "The Great Wave" points out) the rich get comparatively richer in times of crisis.

I also think that the not-the-best-but-better-than-average housing sector will enjoy support for some time, because I suspect that there are not a few people downshifting from the most sought-after areas. These will be aware that they could have got more if they'd sold in 2007 (when I was mooting a caravan to my dearest), but have still done okay and so will not haggle too hard to get that nice little place in the country, especially since many sellers are hanging on stubbornly, waiting for an upturn.

Here in the UK, we have much less land available for residential development, and nothing like the oversupply of housing that exists in the US, so quite possibly our house price bottom will not be so deep. Of course, if our government hadn't encouraged the (legal and illegal) import of masses of poor people who also need a roof over their heads, the picture might have been somewhat different.

In both countries, we still face long-term economic decline; lower real wages as we continue to lose our manufacturing sector, higher energy and food prices and so on. So I expect house prices to continue their decline in real terms over the next generation.

On average, that is. I think we can take the Blair's real estate coup in Connaught Square as not untypical of what will happen in the best end of the market. Speaking of whom, I note that Tony's practising the "sneer of cold command" these days. Pitiable, really.

The dam may break after all

Jesse reports on another big bank about to go down; Karl Denninger speculates that the FDIC is colluding in the cover-up of widespread bank insolvency, so it isn't forced to step in when there's no money left in its kitty - for the only thing after that is load more of the losses onto Uncle Sam, i.e. the taxpayers and all our descendants.

If the pressure continues, maybe we'll end up doing what some have said all along needs to be done: step back and let the losers fail, to flush all the rubbish out of the system. Well, all the rubbish that Uncle Sam hasn't already been forced to eat.

More difficult for us in the UK, though, since we don't have lots of second-tier banks ready to take over the loan books. Maybe Barclays and HSBC will profit enormously? Or how about the Bank of China, now moving into the British market?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A great mood-lifter

The penny drops

So, why Chloe Smith? Why is a 27-year-old accountant suddenly an MP?
Then it dawned on me: newsreaders. That's what they are today.
Doesn't mean they're stupid (Chloe got her first class honours) or unskilful (the swan above, the paddling feet below); but it's a different skill set, and a completely different function.
Can't remember when we were asked about this change of job description, though.

Do you want to be happier?

A British professor is urging us to join in his experiment to see how we can make ourselves more happy.

Why do I feel oddly reluctant? Do you feel the same?

An answer to that, might go a long way to explaining why we aren't as happy as we think we ought to be.

I think it's something to do with identity, and the personal past. We cling on, afraid that we'll fall endlessly if we let go; but maybe we're gripping an anchor on the sea floor, and will float towards life when we open our hands.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Green news

Overnighting in the South Hams, we pass Dartington Primary School, which is relocating nearby to a £6 million purpose-built zero-carbon site. Interesting.

As it happens, this year's Key Stage 2 SATS English (for 11-year-olds) was about low-environmental-impact housing - the Earthship.

Should I be for or against? Is this Marie Antoinette territory - a dreamworld for the well-heeled - or is it the way forward for us all?

A simple question

All these bankers and investment houses jumping up and down on the bed until (inevitably it seems, one day) the springs break... where do they invest their own personal money? How do they hope not to share in the debacle, when it comes? Or is the strategy to become so obscenely rich that they can afford to lose 90% and still be rich?