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Archive for the ‘Ideology’ Category

Responsible Lending, Nationalised Bank Style

September 27th, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Anecdotes about the reality of the Nationalised banks. The Guardian liked this one.

So reader beware – these are anecdotes, and it may be that the friends who had these experiences are the exception. I wasn’t going to write about it on my blog, but then Gordon decides to launch Labour’s wake with announcements he’s going to crush the bankers and make them lend responsibly and increase their capital reserve requirements. The hypocrisy of it made me angry enough to post.

About a month ago I was talking to a friend, who banks with Nat West (owned by RBS, thus Nationalised) about their experience the last time they popped into their local branch. My friend is unemployed – no job, no income – and what did they offer him? That’s right! They offered him a credit card and a loan. He told them no. He said, you know, I’m unemployed and the last thing I need is a credit card.

But, they said, it’s got a 6 month payment holiday. You won’t have to start paying it back for 6 months!

Yes, he said. But I’m still unemployed.

Maybe that’s just Nat West, so let’s cross over the High Street to Lloyds – another Nationalised bank – where another friend attempts to take out a 3k business loan. The advisor tells them that they’re actually “entitled” to 15k. I only need 3k, they say. You can have 15k though, the advisor insists, shocked that anyone would turn down “free money”. Are you sure you don’t want more, he asks? They’re then told that ‘to buy a business’ isn’t a valid excuse for this particular type of loan, so if anyone asks they should say it’s to buy a sofa. They say, “it’s to buy a sofa” and the advisor winks and says, “that’s fine then.”

These are the Nationalised banks, doing business in the very worst possible way. And, you know what? We’ve invited this. The banks can’t fail. They know they can’t fail. Offering credit to absolutely anyone, without considering whether or not they have the means to pay it back, is perfectly fine when you know the taxpayer’s underwriting bad debts, and positively essential when you have Government stooges on the board of directors demanding you increase the amount of lending you’re doing in order to ‘save the economy’.

The economy’s not been saved. We’ve just dumped even more credit into people’s hands (by printing money to buy crap from the banks), postponing the inevitable until after the General Election.

Please, people, don’t reward Gordon for this. I’m begging you.

Energy, Minister?

September 1st, 2009 at 9:39 am

Probably how the conversation went...

The Government’s energy strategy, like most Government strategies on absolutely everything, is going to fail

Spad: Slight problem – You remember you agreed to let the EU shut down those 9 smelly old Oil and Coal fired power stations?

Minister: Oh yes. Very Green, wasn’t it?

Spad: Very brave, yes.

Minister: Brave? No! Surely not?

Spad: Possibly the most courageous thing you’ve ever done, Minister.

Minister: Oh no! This is a disaster…. is it a disaster?

Spad: Well obviously electricity rationing will be a bit of a vote loser…

Minister: Rationing?!

Spad: … and you’re going to need to build… (counts fingers) 10,000 wind farms…

Minister: 10,000?! Surely not! You can’t build one of those things without being swarmed by Nimbies. Perhaps we can build some more power stations?

Spad: Ah, yes, I thought you might suggest that, very wise – there is a slight, teeny problemette to deal with though: These power companies, you see, are a bit… reticent … when it comes to building new power stations.

Minister: What on earth for? I thought they liked making money?

Spad: Well, yes they do. But they don’t like EU regulations shutting down power stations because they’re not Green enough. That is the point, Minister, if you remember. No more coal and oil stations.

Minister: Oh, they’ve always been vindictive sods! Okay. So let’s have some more Nuclear then? That’s alright isn’t it? No CO2 and all that?

Spad: Any chance you might want to make it easier for people to build Nuclear power stations? Another burst of courage, perhaps?

Minister: Christ no! Obviously not. Well… what about that clean coal technology? Can’t we use that?

Spad: You mean the “Carbon Capture and Storage” concept? It’s wonderful on paper, Minister.

Minister: Ah. Fusion?

Spad: I’m afraid old age will get to you before Fusion powered energy does.

Minister: Right…. so, let’s see… what’s left? Gas? Is ‘Gas’ Evil too?

Spad: It’s still a fossil fuel and we’re dependent on imports – mostly Russia, actually. Assuming we can build the 10,000 windfarms we’ll need gas for, oh, 50% of our energy? Putin’s rather thrilled. Did you enjoy the hamper he sent?

Minister: Oh dear. That does not sound good. What can we do? Electricity rationing… please no! No! Not again!

Spad: Have you considered banning things that use electricity? For example, did you know that if you banned incandescent bulbs it would be equivalent to 70,000 cars off the road!

Minister: Really? Will it prevent the need for rationing?

Spad: Er no – for that you’re going to need to ban electric ovens, probably most LCD televisions, halogen lights, limit everyone to one television, ban microwaves, ban computers, ban vacuum cleaners and definitely ban electric heaters of any kind. For starters.

Minister: … and the people will prefer that to rationing?

Spad: Yes they will.

Minister: Really?

Spad: Probably.

No Light Here

August 31st, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Banging on about Lightbulbs again...

This story on the BBC news website, explaining the virtues of the new EU legislation to ban 100w incandescent bulbs features plenty of quotes from the Energy Saving Trust, who explain why Compact Florescent Lighting (otherwise known as “the shitty bulbs they’re going to make you use from now on, whether you like it or not”) are completely awesome:

According to the Energy Saving Trust, compact fluorescent lamps (energy-saving bulbs) use 80% less electricity than standard bulbs.

They could also save the average household £590 in energy over their lifetime of between eight and 10 years, and if all traditional bulbs were replaced, the carbon saving would be the equivalent of taking 70,000 cars off the road.

Good reasons.

Thanks Auntie. But who are the The Energy Saving Trust? Well they’re a ‘non-profit’ organisation 90% funded by the Government and includes as members The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, The Secretary of State for Transport, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and The First Minister for Scotland. It gets 2% of its funding from the private sector, and boasts the membership of most of the utilities and energy producing interests, all of whom seem terrified of being perceived as un-Green by consumers.

So when the BBC reports the views of the Energy Saving Trust like this, they’re not really quoting an independent, reliable source – it’s the Government advising the Government – again. It may be factually true that energy saving bulbs are cheaper to run, but ‘equivalent to 70,000 cars taken off the road’ is a completely bollocks statistic – and even if it were true, I have one simple question to ask:

So what?

In fact, I reached the end of the story wondering why, exactly, there’s this overwhelming need to take political action against the humble light bulb.

Handily the Government is on hand to explain to us what our criticism of this plan should be (because they’ve got a response pre-cooked for it, unlike, say, ‘hey, you’re taking away my decision to choose for myself, you authoritarian shits!’)

Claims of poor lighting were also untrue, [a Government spokesman] said.

“The light is bright and clear and tests conducted by the Energy Saving Trust suggest that the majority of people cannot tell the difference between the light of a new CFL and an incandescent bulb.”

Right, let’s rip this to pieces nice and quickly : ‘the majority’ (anything over 51% of the sample) couldn’t tell the difference in a trial. In other words, anything from 49% of people in the trial could tell the difference. The spokesman makes no reference to what their test subjects said about their quality of the light or which one they preferred. How do they get from ‘majority couldn’t tell the difference’ to ‘claims of poor lighting are untrue’? The mind boggles. It’s a piece of political propaganda and a conclusion not supported by data.

The reason all florescent lighting is inferior to incandescent lighting is simple: Normal bulbs emit the full spectrum of visible light, whilst Compact Florescents don’t. You get the full spectrum from the Sun, and you get partial spectrums from things like televisions – that eerie glow when a television is left on whilst the lights are turned out.

I used to do a lot of 3D Computer Graphics, and one of the hardest things to simulate is human skin. That’s because skin isn’t just ‘skin’ – it’s multiple layers of different types of tissues, and light is diffused and scattered around underneath the surface, each layer handling photons in its own way. Put your hand over a powerful light source and your skin seems to glow bright orange. In computer graphics it is fantastically difficult to get right, and is the main reason why it’s almost impossible to create a truly photo-realistic human in a computer.

What I learnt from this is that how we look is very much dictated by the light that illuminates us. The partial spectrum light from Compact Fluorescents makes skin look very different. I can’t explain it. It just feels eerie. Whenever I’m in space lit only by Florescent lighting I feel like I’m in a dystopian horror, as if we’ve crossed some invisible line in creating artificial environments for ourselves.

Yet despite “claims of poor lighting being ‘untrue’” the EU wants to have a go at reducing the perceived quality of lighting from the old style bulbs regardless, by making it illegal to sell a standard bulb that tints or diffuses the light. Hmm. Does this not suggest that someone, somewhere, is concerned enough about a difference to warrant legislating against it?

And once again I’m brought back to wondering why. Why do this? Presumably the answer is “because the market has failed! People are still buying cheap bulbs that give off better lighting instead of expensive bulbs that aren’t as good. We must do something!”

Yet the market hasn’t failed. The market’s working perfectly well. People aren’t switching because the new bulbs aren’t better and cheaper than the ones that came before. I mean, even if you decide that 100w bulbs are wasteful and it’s not enough that people simply waste their own money paying to run them, why make it illegal to sell a bulb with diffusion or tinting?

This is purely to rig the competition and deny us the ability to choose for ourselves.

So the EU, a ‘Free Trade Zone’, is deciding that the manufacturers of energy saving bulbs are to be favoured (they’re produced by Great Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain) and the manufacturers of incandescent bulbs are to be fought against. It is economic planning, without question – done on an EU wide level, using The Environment as the excuse for restricting yet another personal and economic freedom.

Is there any wonder that Green is the new Red?

The Common Ground?

August 15th, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Of all the foregone conclusions, universal health care isn’t something that we’re getting rid of (short of complete bankruptcy of the State forcing it). Should we even want to get rid of it though?

Consider: We need health care the most when we’re retired and when we’re sick. We’re never going to find another way for pensioners and people with chronic conditions to afford medical care without making making health insurance mandatory, spreading the cost of your life-time’s medical bills through your working life.

Then there’s people who, through no fault of their own, will never ever be able to afford to pay for the lifetime care they receive.

It was decided that this was intolerable and on the back of the war mobilisation the NHS was created.

Was this a good idea? Probably. It costs the person on the average wage £236 a month to pay for all this. The more you earn, the more you pay. Is it Marxist? Yes, of course it is – from each according to his ability, to each according to his need – it’s very Marxist. That doesn’t mean to say that it’s entirely irredeemably evil though.

The Government’s obvious role in all this is ensuring that medical care is paid for for everyone who needs it when they need it. No-one’s seriously challenging this in mainstream politics. People simply won’t accept the idea that people who haven’t paid for care should go without (as happens in America where health insurance is voluntary and many millions choose not to bother, in addition to those who can’t actually afford it).

The question: “Should families who can’t afford health care (for themselves, for their children and for their retired parents etc) go without health care?” Well, the answer’s been decided already – no. We’ve formed ourselves into an extended family – again, very Marxist – but the system works and it’s overwhelming popular as a means as paying for health care.

The real debate comes into the nitty gritty of who runs the hospitals and employs all the doctors and nurses. It’s here we’ve got room for manoeuvre to make the NHS better. For example, why does the state need to run all the hospitals? The answer is that it doesn’t. The chapter on health care in the Orange book made a very compelling case for an insurance model, where each individual treatment is paid for by medical insurance and the money goes to whomever the patient chooses to carry out the treatment for them – rewarding good efficient hospitals and seeing to it that the people running bad hospitals get fired.

You can have multiple insurance providers competing with each other – in fact that’s almost certainly essential. You can have private hospitals, too. All of them can be private, in fact. The difference is the state would only get involved to subsidise people’s insurance premiums when they can’t afford to pay them.

In other words, you can radically change the way medical treatment is provided without removing the basic ‘universal, free at the point of use’ element.

The rewards from such changes are obvious – the cost of medical care should come down and the quality of care should go up. If we look at the Singapore model and the Dutch Model we can see how these sorts of systems do deliver better outcomes.

The left wing blogosphere appears to be revelling in going out of the way to bully and castigate anyone who cares criticise the NHS – but this is, in my opinion, pure arse covering for their own failure – the truth is that the NHS is not perfect, and the only people who really want us to think it is are the people who’ve increased funding by 80% as their one single solution to the problem. The NHS has gladly absorbed this money without people feeling it’s 80% better. That ‘more money’ is the only tolerable answer is pure Labour dogma.

The question is are Labour more interested in preserving the status of nurses and NHS bureaucrats as employees of the state with cushy state pensions and conditions than they are in providing a human, better system for health care in the UK? 1.4 million people depending on the state for their employment make for a much more useful electoral block than employees of privately run hospitals. There’s not enough gratitude for simply funding healthcare. It’s less glamorous and exciting. It reduces politician’s ability to take personal credit for saving the lives of pensioners and children.

I hope that Lib Dems – and Conservatives in fact – can resist the temptation to be keep their opinions on how health care can be improved in this country to themselves for fear of being shouted down as extremists.

Your Turn, James Graham

August 9th, 2009 at 11:37 pm

I pick a fight with someone I probably shouldn't. But he started it.

I owe James Graham a drink, but that’s not going to stop me responding to his latest post, where he complains about libertarians and their reaction to the Jo Swinson ‘ban airbrushing’ fiasco.

By the end of this post I’m hoping you agree with me that this is a completely pointless and unnecessary fight – yet tackling James head on is something I’m absolutely determined to do – he’s the strongest of the LD blogosphere’s social liberal wing and I like a challenge.

James, please, do kick us off:

Frankly, if we did all live in a state of complete separation of mind and body, the libertarians would have a point. The fact that time and again we learn that environmental factors affect behaviour is a problem they have never come to terms with.

James is, once again, begging the question. Environmental factors change behaviour… but what business is this of the state, or politicians?

I’m not against bans in principle. If a judicious ban or restriction here and there can help people exercise their own personal judgement instead of being influenced by a bombardment of propaganda, then in principle it is the only liberal thing to do.

Substitute the highly indirect ‘only liberal thing to do’ for what James seems to really mean, ‘we must act’ then the fallacy becomes more obvious: “Advertising negatively effects people’s ability to make good decisions. Restrictions to advertising could limit the negative effects. We must act.” We do?

Yet Jo’s proposal is not concerned with people being tricked into thinking Product X is ‘cool’ by professional liars, so James’ argument is not even relevant (after all that).

Jo’s proposal addresses an unintended side effect of professional lying: In order to sell a product it sometimes suits advertisers to associate their products with beautiful, glamorous people. For Jo these models and actors are just too beautiful. She believes that young girls and women are being psychologically harmed, and the solution is to make the images less provocative. Okay! It’s a policy. An idea. Run with it.

To disagree with it on principle is not just a philosophical issue – it’s a psychological and sociological one. We’re talking about the state choosing to get involved with the mental health of girls and young women as a collective while reinforcing the idea that they’re helpless puppets incapable of differentiating between the glossy airbrushed world of magazines and reality. To presume this sort of interference would have nothing but positive or neutral psychological and sociological effects is… very, very brave and bold.

After having a pop at libertarians, James states his own grounds for being sceptical about Jo’s proposal: What’s the definition of airbrushing? Is using lighting, corsets and make-up to produce an image any different to hiding a spot and nipping in a girl’s waist with Photoshop? He also wonders about the evidence that ‘airbrushing’ causes measurable, significant harm.  For example, have there been clinical trials showing a causal relationship between exposure to idealised images of people and serious, crippling mental damage? It seems unlikely.

Yet with this sort of evidence of serious harm libertarians would be interested in seeing the details of the proposed solution. In fact, this is exactly why I didn’t touch the Jo Swinson story when it first came around – no evidence, so no particular reason to pay it the slightest bit of attention.

James, on the other hand, agrees in principle with it but wants evidence before lending his full support… right. So, a world shaking ideological conflict then, I’m sure you’ll agree. We both, ultimately, want evidence before voting ‘yes’.

So, here’s the end of the post and we’ve learned… well… that this was a completely pointless?

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