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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The secret target of tax / NI merger: the self-employed

The recently-announced plan to combine or harmonise levels of income tax and National Insurance Contributions could see the self-employed hit hard.

The government is moving the State pension system away from the layer cake of basic pension plus additional variable toppings of Graduated Pension, SERPS and S2P and towards a single income benefit for all set at a level that lifts pensioners out of the complicated and negatively-reinforcing savings trap.

But if all get the same benefit, it could be argued, all should pay the same, or at least the same rates. I think we may end with the self-employed paying the same proportion of their income in tax and NIC as employees - possibly also including what is currently the employer's contribution. This might vitally boost the government's flagging finances.

I commented on the stealth tax of NIC back in 2007, and showed how for an employee on basic rate tax the total government swipe was equivalent to a marginal rate of 40%. There is (or was, until the introduction of the 50% tax band) really not much difference between basic and higher rate tax-paying employees.

But there is a distinct advantage for certain categories of fairly highly-paid professionals to be self-employed or work as partners rather than directors. This could change - and what a juicy target those (e.g.) barristers might present!

Potentially, there's a plus for us ordinaries: if this tax-cum-NIC were all income tax, then it would be far more attractive for average earners to make personal pension contributions. Skandia thinks we could see the end of Higher Rate Tax relief on pensions; but I think it possible we could see, in effect, HRT relief for all. That would be radical, and ultimately beneficial. And it would reward the prudent ant above the live-for-today grasshopper.

Or maybe we'll just see an extension of the heavy tax burden to not only barristers, but jobbing plumbers, plasterers and the like, accompanied by more horrid, bullying tax investigations.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Trickle-up Economics

One standard conservative argument is that the wealthy are rich because they invest their money. The poor are that way because they spend their money.

The answer is thus to decrease taxes on the rich to stimulate the economy and increase employment.

Thirty years of trying have shown this not to work.

The problem is that the conclusion does not follow from the premise.

If we take the logical approach to this, we should increase taxes on the wealthy, and make sure that the lower-income folks get it. They will spend it, possibly in stupid ways, and thus stimulate local economies. Thus, more people get jobs, the government gets more tax revenue, and the corporations make even more money.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Most Evil Bank Scheme Ever

Conventional economics, so I understand, ignores the problem of debt and monetary inflation, because it's assumed that the money spreads quickly and evenly throughout the system. Wages up, prices up, nobody's hurt, right?

Wrong. Just like the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1893, who gets there first wins all. This is why those in the FIRE economy have taken over.

But you know, they are small thinkers, all of them, even the billionaires. What they've done so far is like building a faulty nuclear reactor; what they could do is like dropping the H-bomb.

Here's the scenario:

1. Two new banks are created - let's call them Orcbank and Trollbank. No branches - don't need them if you don't deal direct with the public. The problem with the housing bubble is the people. They have to be missold mortgages and then have to keep up the ridiculous payments while their equity tanks. Far too messy.

2. The Federal Government borrows a scad of money from the Federal Reserve - it doesn't matter how much, because the FR makes it up out of nothing anyway (watch Glenn Beck's recent crisp summation of the Fed's history).

3. This money is divided into two equal parts and deposited interest-free in Orcbank and Trollbank.

4. Orcbank lends whatever is the legal (who makes the laws?) maximum multiple of its deposit, to Trollbank; Trollbank does the same for Orcbank.

5. Then the banks go shopping. They go to all other banks, plus Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, buying up any residential property that is now worth less than its mortgage. Not at phony book value valuations: the real, disaster-filled forced-sale valuations. Many billions, maybe trillions of dollars'-worth. And Orcbank and Trollbank buy the lot, for the full value of the debt, cash on the nail.

6. You now have two monster insolvent banks. Oh, dear.

7. No, you don't. You merge Trollbank with Orcbank, forming the new First Bank of Mordor. And poof! the debt disappears, every last cent of it. All the assets (mortgages) and liabilities (money loaned out) on one are exactly the same as, and counterbalanced by, the other. Matter meets antimatter; mutual annihilation of all assets and liabilities.

8. What's left? The deposits, which are returned to the Federal Reserve via the Government. The interest? We'll come to that shortly.

9. Oh, and there's the not-so-little matter of free-and-clear ownership of gigantic quantities of residential real estate. First Bank of Mordor, wishing to have nothing to do with such a tedious and messy business as moneylending, deregisters as a bank and becomes the Sauron Real Estate Trust. Sauron can rent out property at whatever rates it likes, whatever the market will bear - having no debts, everything after maintenance and repairs is profit.

10. Sorry, that should read "everything after maintenance, repairs and management costs" is profit. In fact, you don't want to make a profit: you just want to pay everyone who's in on the scam. No pesky shareholders, please, so no dividends. If the Fed can be a private company and own America's government, Sauron can be a private company and own America's real estate.

All it needs is the OK, and there's a small enough number of people to see right about their doubtless and naturally very large and absolutely confidential though never defined ongoing expenses, if they're willing to take the money. And the Fed will need some interest for the money it loaned for that short period of time; plus I guess a few billion in administrative fees. Who cares? It's only money.

Upside? Some very happy people in blue suits who just relocated to the Caribbean or that island Scaramanga fitted out so luxuriously. Insolvent banks bailed out - and you can always rinse 'n' repeat if you didn't do enough the first time round (by the way, there's always the commercial real estate bubble to rescue, too).

Downside? Joe Average pays rent forever. But there's not that many properties he can buy instead of renting. In fact, you may just have turned a bubble into an incredible shortage and so up go valuations again. After all, they're not making any more land. Who knows, when the price is right Sauron may start selling tranches of real estate, just to ease the market.

And if Joe Average doesn't like it? What do you think you've got police, Army and the National Guard for?

No, surely they wouldn't do it. Surely you'd never get this past enough legislators and regulators to make it stick. But I'm telling you this idea publicly, just in case it's already been germinating in someone else's twisted little head. That's what you pay quants, lawyers and accountants for - crooked schemes to steal from the people.

This is the potential of fractional reserve banking, governments that lend free money, crony capitalism and the secret magic of the Federal Reserve. They'd have to dress it up as rescuing the system and the people; you know, being responsible managers of the economy.

All they have to do is dare. And look what they dare to do already.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

New Smart Bomb

Traders were shown a radical new-generation weapon at a major arms fair today. Fitted with a sensor that monitors its target in-flight, the Moral Bomb only unleashes volcanic hell on a bad person; otherwise it dissolves harmlessly into a cloud of doves and rose petals, the banshee wail of its tailfin converting into a whistled version of "You Lift Me Up".

Many bulk orders were found on the partly-completed forms found among the wreckage of the spectator stand. Claiming "it finally puts the 'eth' in 'lethal'", a spokesman for the manufacturer said that subsequent tests would be carried out in strikes on Libyan armoured columns.

Breaking News

As all visual media are now reporting, some people have been breaking shop windows in London today. And that is the end of the Breaking News.

Elsewhere in the capital, over 200,000 people have been marching in protest against something, but nobody has noticed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Index-linked savings to return!

Great news: National Savings & Investments are reintroducing Index-Linked Savings Certificates, according to this article in the Guardian newspaper.

But there is a sales target (£2 billion) and then quite possibly NS&I will shut up shop again, as they did last year. So it's likely that these will fly out very fast and you should be on the lookout for the launch - click here to get email updates from NS&I.

INVESTMENT DISCLOSURE: None. Still in cash, and missing all those day-trading opportunities.DISCLAIMER: Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Galgenhumor

The kindest people have the cruellest humour, it's kind of a ying-yang thing. Seen in an advice centre for carers today:

"I wish my lawn was EMO so it would cut itself."

"The EU has no power over Parliament" - British MP

"The EU has no power over parliament. In fact the Lisbon Treaty included a change for a provision to leave the EU. Parliament can simply refuse to incorporate EU law and in my view should be a bit more critical.

People also get confused between the EU and the Council of Europe."

Rt Hon John Hemming MP to Mr Rolf Norfolk, emailed 22 March 2011

In view of this, be prepared to challenge any Minister who claims that something is so and cannot be changed, because of European legislation. The struggle is between the people and their supposed representatives in Parliament.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More drivel, and getting more dangerous

Max "spank Prince Andrew" Hastings reaches out to the dar al-salaam in his latest Daily Mail piece:

"It remains puzzling why David Cameron, with so much unresolved in meeting the huge challenge of remaking Britain, has chosen to take the risk of leading the way into Libya.

"His boldness in an honourable and moral cause is indisputable. Now that British forces are engaged, we can only pray for their success, and hope that the crusade to remove a wicked despot from power ends as happily as do the best fairy stories."

Elsewhere in the (recent) news: "Why we should do nothing about Colonel Gaddafi", by Max Hastings.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

It begins

Is a radical a broken Conservative, one who believes in the principles of his country and whose conditioned inhibitions have snapped after too long contemplating the suborning of the Constitution?

How interesting that businessman-turned-professional-investor Karl Denninger should host a YouTube video by a subversive group that intends to mount cyberattacks on "The Machine"; a video that concludes with the soundtrack of Mario Savio's 1964 sit-down protest "put your bodies upon the gears" speech at the University of Berkeley, California.

And now that speech no longer sounds like merely the effusion of youthful testosterone, the power-ambition of spoiled adolescence; it begins to sounds reasonable, even to an older, cynical man like me, who never bought into revolution even as a student. It begins to sound like the only, desperate chance.

In that beginning are the seeds of a bigger beginning.

New Con-LibDem pact?

Why is the present Conservative government so keen on forging an alliance with the Libyan democrats?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Linguistic survival

In Hereford today, I told the tea shop owner it was the best cup of tea I'd had from a cafe in years. Delighted, he burst out, "Goo' boy!"

Friday, March 11, 2011

A seed crystal of suspicion

Yes, an SAS team was captured by Libyan farmhands how interesting. I've met one or two SAS headbangers; "They've lost the plot," was the opinion of a regular Army captain I met in the nineties.

But I'm more interested in the presence of a British spy on a remote farm in the desert 30 miles south of Benghazi, ready-placed to rendezvous with them six months before they arrived - and three months before even the unrest in Tunisia had begun.

Wisconsin News

For those of you following the union-busting moves in Ohio and Wisconsin:

Breaking news: Wisconsin has immediate openings for 250,000 serfs. Must provide own smock.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Extrapolation

Going to pick up the paper yesterday, I found a penny on the pavement and put it it our collecting-box at home. Today, 10p (two five-pence pieces). So tomorrow I expect to find a pound, and Thursday a £10 note.

After that, it'll have to be cheques.

I think I have discovered in Nature an economic model for our times.

Overentitled scribbler juggles smoking petard

Headline of an article by Max Hastings in today's Daily Mail: "How very different it might have been had someone spanked [Prince] Andrew's bottom when he was young."

Just wait until the age of the death of deference turns its attention to you, you po-faced toerag.

I have also submitted this as a comment to Mr Hastings' article; I am not hopeful that it will be allowed through by the flappers.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Bartender update

Until further notice, Harvey Wallbangers will be made with vodka and orange juice only.