Windfall for tourists as Carney trails interest rate rise

The Grauniad tells us it’s a good time to be a British tourist, all thanks to that Carney chap trailing an interest rate rise. I can’t help feeling that empty promises of  rising interest rates are just like a lasting solution to the Greek predicament, this is a movie that we’ve seen before and will see again – announcement of interest rate rise only to welch on the deal when push comes to shove. But a lot of people seem to buy it. Or perhaps they’re pissed off with the Grexit shenaigans. Either way, we’re back in 2007 again in relative terms to the Euro, though we are all still flat on our financial backs with stars going round in front of our eyes. And that’s before you even think of Greece.

1507_eurogbpNow an Ermine could take the opportunity to hit Eurotunnel, duel with the myriad desperados and striking Frenchmen, and join the massed ranks of British wage slaves on their annual family two weeks in the sun, or I could think to myself maybe I’ll pass on that. I’ve always avoided school holidays for travelling anywhere because it’s damned hot and the price goes up and, well l’enfer c’est les autres avec leur fractious rugrats on public transport in the heat of summer. After 30 years of avoiding this sort of fun I’m not about to start now.

Nevertheless, perhaps I could take some of my ISA for a summer holiday. Last year I was a forced seller and sold IDJV[ref]IDJV is basically Eurozone big fish.[/ref] for about £16 because it had fallen to what I had paid for it. It was unwrapped, I’d already maxed my CGT allowance so I couldn’t sell any of the rest of my holdings at a profit even though I needed the cash, hence I had to borrow some. Now it’s still a bit higher than that at £16.91, so I’ve told TD to let me know if it falls to a bit below what I sold at, because then I can effectively bed and ISA this over six months.

All sorts of other foreign stuff will get cheaper. Now the other side of the coin is that all the foreign stuff that I already own will go down the toilet a bit. As it is this isn’t a hugge issue for me as I am hopelessly unbalanced worldwide

Ermine total equity distribution
Ermine total equity distribution

because my HYP is the largest lump and it’s UK biased. Index True Believers would sell off half of that and pump up that devxUK and EM. I’m okay with buying EM and have done some of that already, and it bleeds now of course 😉 I’m not touching the US at current valuations but I would quite like to see some of that IDJV, in my ISA this time thanks very much. I’m not in a great hurry – 1550 would do me well. I should probably knock it off on the EM and lift some bombed out dev world. The problem is that as the ISA gets larger the annual steering wheel of new contributions gets smaller compared to the overall size. Since I don’t sell and I bought a lot of the HYP in the bombed out years of 2009 to 2011 I’m going to have a hard time balancing this out a bit. But a high pound and a low Euro helps…

So you can keep your sea, sun and sand. I’ll get my summertime kicks on the market, particularly if the Greeks go and scare the horses a bit more. I like hot lazy summers of snarl in the markets.

UK government pensions consultation

I shouldn’t think there’s anyone reading this who doesn’t read Monevator, but there’s apparently a consultation on about UK pensions. Props to The Accumulator for trying to sift the mutually contradictory desiderata in the comments thread into a narrative suitable for Her Majesty’s Government, who will probably file the results in the round filing cabinet on the floor.

Nobody actually does a consultation to find anything out, they do it to put a veneer of faux democracy on the decision they are going to take anyway. Most of the motivated commenters are richer though not necessarily wealthier than I am[ref]you are rich by the size of your wad and/or income. You are wealthy by how much of your income is committed/how many years your wad will maintain your lifestyle – open-ended for the financially independent. There is correlation but not necessarily causation between the two, because of the astronomical variation in lifestyle costs[/ref], so the issue of the life time average and the annual contribution limits exercise many. I would have been sore about the annual limits as set now but I didn’t have £225,000 handy to put into a pension when I was going for it so I was okay. This isn’t my problem any more, because once I am 55 I won’t have space to avoid paying tax on pensions, so more pension saving isn’t useful to me. In the unlikely event that I decide to become a wage slave/productive member of society again I’ll just have to suck it up and pay tax, as my personal allowance will already be eaten up by existing income. Which is obviously a disincentive to putting my shoulder to the wheel of raising Britain’s dreadful productivity, though I will show later that it appears the Government has already decided I am over the hill in contributing to STEM activities, so it’ll be making knick-knacks on Etsy for me then. Bollocks to that, Iain Duncan-Smith. That’s the joy of financial independence – being able to issue that command.

I paid less tax in my last three years by using pension saving than probably at any time throughout my working life even though I was in theory a 40% taxpayer. Yes it would be nice if I could save more than £3600 p.a. into a pension now and get back the tax, but so what.

The straws in the wind are that the Government want to do for the 40% and up tax relief on pensions, perhaps making it about 33% for everyone, because the people they want to incentivise are basic rate taxpayers, higher rate taxpayers are rich enough to sort themselves out. It’s worth observing that a basic rate taxpayer can get 32% tax beneift if you can save into a pension by salary sacrifice, because the contribution comes off your pay before NI and tax are charged. But that’s for some future budget. Let’s just say that I am not yet putting my £3600 into a pension because if I can get 33% rather than 20% relief it will cost me £2400 rather than £2880. It’s not a huge amount of difference but it’s worth waiting till March 2016 for.

The overall feeling seem to be that the well off and the rich have been making hay on the pensions front and this will get screwed down. In some ways pensions are an odd incentive – the government is encouraging people like me to leave the workforce early, some 8 years (relative to The Firm’s NRA) to 15 years (relative to my State Pension Age), while at the same time hollering that the country is short of scientists and engineers. I am tickled by the casual ageism of the Government’s report on High Level STEM Skills – supply and demand

However, it is the inflow of new STEM graduates that is more likely to help ensure workers have knowledge of the latest science and technology – retaining older individuals does not do this.

That’s the trouble with those old dogs – you just can’t teach ’em new tricks 😉 Bless. What they are saying is that we need young scientists and engineers – the Zuckerberg doctrine at work.

away with ye - dead wood in the white heat of technology
away with ye – weed out dead wood in the white heat of technology

I have heard the theory that while the artistic side of CP Snow’s Two Cultures deepens and matures with age Zuckerberg may have a point in technology that young people are just smarter –  it seems echoed at GOV.UK 😉  I also observe that companies can’t be bothered to train young people in their specialisms these days – to wit:

A representative of one of the major engineering companies noted, “For mechanical engineering, I would agree [there is no shortage]. However, for electrical / electronics, there are simply not enough graduates with the right degree and employers are trying to recruit from a small pool of those with the right degree content (i.e. higher-voltage direct current is a pre-requisite for the transmission and distribution industry: there the supply of graduates is inadequate)”.

You, Mr Representative, are the problem, because of the fecklessness of your company. When I joined the BBC, with their specialism of colour TV, they damn well trained their graduate entry for a few weeks into the intricacies of the subject at their training facility in Wood Norton. You go to university to learn how to learn, and grasp the high-level aspects of your chosen field. Exactly what part of investing in people does this damn company not understand?

The upshot seems to be that the Government wants to spend less on pensions tax relief, and in particular less on pensions tax relief for the well-heeled. This was also a theme of the Coalition government before this one. The Tories clearly have the interests of old money at heart with their fondness for inherited wealth and the iniquity that goes with that encouraged in the Summer Budget, but they are perhaps less fond of the nouveaux riche and their tax avoidance through the pension system. Hence the double targeting of the lifetime allowance, aiming to limit tax-advantaged pension income to about £40k (SWR of 4% on a lifetime allowance that seems to be trending towards £1,000,000, currently £1,250,000) and limiting the annual contribution rate to £40,000. The combination seems a bit rough – elementary arithmetic shows a young pup in the finance industry could just about make it, if he gets his running shoes on and saves the full £40k every year from graduating at 21 to becoming a greybeard at 52 (how many 52-year olds are there in finance?) but he better not want to buy a house, he needs to be prepared to eat ramen in those first few years and not inflate his lifestyle. In practice it’s not quite as bad as that, compound interest typically doubles the real value of savings over a 40-year working life, but it’s not going to be easy to reach the lifetime allowance with the annual allowance.

I don’t understand the double whammy. There’s a case to be made for the lifetime allowance – there’s no need to tax-favour pension incomes of more than twice the median wage, but I don’t really see the point of the annual allowance limitation. And I certainly don’t agree with having both limits in place – one of the other seems okay. People’s careers vary much more than they used to, and the lifetime allowance sets a target of saying ‘this much income can be saved tax-advantaged, no more’. The annual allowance arbitrarily limits the capacity of the feckless Johnny-come-latelys to fix their pension savings in their forties and fifties – not everybody is a Steady Eddie on this.

hunting with dogs – class war by the aristocracy

Gawd bless the Establishment, eh. Class war is normally the province of lefty sorts, but there’s a fightback on the cards at the moment. Hot on the heels of George Osborne’s boost to retaining ancestral wealth tax-free with his inheritance tax reductions for housing, because any fule kno that what Britain really needs in future is more expensive housing.

You have to love the aristocracy, it made Britain what it is today. It owns more than half the land in Britain – in 2004 less than half of the land in England was on the cadastral records, for the simple reason that it had remained in the same family for over a hundred years.All the rest of us and our towns and cities make do with less than half of this green and pleasant land. And no, I don’t want Mugabe style land seizures – just that the noble inheritance tax that facilitated the middle class owning the freehold on their hovels in the ‘burbs[ref]my parents bought a semidetached house leasehold in the 1960s, and purchased the freehold from the landowner for a respectable sum in the late 1970s. Before the Sixties and Seventies many urban houses were sold leasehold on a 99 year lease because the greedy bastards of the aristocracy couldn’t quite believe that the reforming Labour governments of the post-war era would make them pay IHT on non-agricultural land, thereby breaking up estates that had been granted to their ancestors since the time of William the Conqueror. The aristocracy negotiated an exception on agricultural land so that the it could continue to hand its wealth down the generations – this exception stands even now. The pretext was ‘you wouldn’t want to see our little family farms broken up’ – of course now they get contract farmers to do the dirty work on mahoosive estates and use agricultural land as an IHT-free way of cascading the value of their ancestral wealth down the line. They have also agitated for EU CAP benefits for rich people costing every British household about £250 p.a. because, well, they’re worth it FFS. Plugging that IHT loophole would gradually distribute land more equitably over time[/ref]continues to maintain the fight against the understandable but socially negative process of people favouring the fruit of their loins with the fruits of their labour – after they are gone and pushing up daisies.

In an attempt to roll back the clock from the cheese-eating metrosexual times of 2004, Cameron and his chums want to restore the ancient tradition of charging around the countryside on horseback with a load of dogs with the aim of tearing a fox apart –

The English country gentleman galloping after a fox – the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable

Oscar Wilde

I think Call Me Dave lacks ambition on this rural sports lark. Yes, it’s animal cruelty, but jolly japes, it’s such good fun, Carruthers. Obviously the bleeding hearts moan, but although Britain claims to be a nation of animal lovers, the popularity of the Tesco £2 chicken raised on factory farms and the way we keep pigs indoors for cheap pork gives the lie to all that. So many of those townies who bitched about animal cruelty with foxhunting just do it by proxy to save money, who are they to demand we give up our ancestral right to hunt foxes. It’s vermin control on the cheap, and you get to dress up in red coats and put some sweat on the hounds and steeds. Tally-ho and all that.

No, the problem is that we need leadership on this front, we should get more in touch with our traditional British sports. The noble tradition of cockfighting was cruelly arrested in 1849 but there’s still a lot of demand for it. Let’s go for gold and bring back more traditional British rural sports. To assist us on the way, let’s consult the Encyclopaedia of Traditional British Rural Sports for inspiration – one of their references was a book edited in 1911 by the Earl of Suffolk (woot!) and Berkshire – the somewhat colonial Encyclopaedia of Sport. You can inspect a rather fine facsimile of it over at

So what else do we need to bring back along with the ancient rural sport of foxhunting with repeal of the Hunting Act tomorrow?

Badger Baiting. Angry buggers, badgers, and have you seen what they to the the garden shrubs, dahlink? Set the hounds on ’em.

have you seen what badgers can do to ones' prized lawn? Off with their heads!
have you seen what badgers can do to one’s prized lawn? Off with their heads!

Bear baiting with dogs – popular in Elizabethan times but dying out in Victorian times. Not because of any namby-pamby feelings but because the cost of importing bears was getting too much, don’tcha love the invisible hand of capitalism, eh? Maybe we could fly them in?

of bull-baiting fame = "The dog that grabbed the bull by the nose and pinned it to the ground would be the victor. "
of bull-baiting fame – “The dog that grabbed the bull by the nose and pinned it to the ground would be the victor. ” Blimey – that’s seriously overwhelming odds!

Bull-baiting which has given the traditional symbol of British pluck in the face of adversity and overwhelming odds – the bulldog. Trained to seize the bull by the nose. That must be jolly good fun to watch, Dave.

Cock-fighting – from which we get the term cockpit 🙂

Dog-fighting – the pit bull terrier wasn’t bred for its attractive visage and placid personality

1507_pigstickingPig-Sticking – get the lowdown from this fine treatise by R Baden-Powell, of Scouting fame 😉

RBP shows an interesting new angle on blood sports and how it legitimises the the aristocracy – having noted on page 9 that hoghunting takes the place of foxhunting in India he observes

“on becoming a pigsticker the pursuit of sport will take the young “civilian” [ref]member of the Indian Civil Service I presume[/ref] to covers in all corners of the district; he will of necessity be brought into personal contact with all classes of natives of his district […]

An admiration of physical courage is inherent in every race, and among the less civilised peoples such prowess is looked on as a necessary qualification in any conquering or governing race”

R Baden-Powell, Pigsticking, chapter 2

Quite, young man. I didn’t realise the exercise of blood sports is a necessary part of showing dominance to the lesser people, but this is what he seems to claim 😉

That’s the trouble with Cameron’s desire to repeal the Hunting Act. It lacks ambition  and intellectual rigour. If we’re going to advocate having the well-to-do getting to practise blood sports legally, then let the proletariat have its low-brow blood sports too  -there’s clearly a demand for dog fighting and cock fighting. If the toffs want to go on chasing and tearing up foxes with their hounds then let’s have some equitable thinking about this whole noble tradition of blood sports thing. Otherwise it’s class war by the aristocracy, suborning the government to legalise their blood sports while retaining bans on the blood sports of the common people. I know that foxes are a pain in the arse at times, but it is possible to shoot them, y’know. Our good friend R Baden-Powell confirms that the death of the fox is by the by –

Foxhunting, on the contrary, needs money, and although of a tamer nature [than pigsticking] has just as many delights born of the glamour of its particular home associations, surroundings and comforts.  But here the main point is a good gallop over a fenced country, the death of the fox being a secondary consideration.

RBP, Pigsticking, p17

If you’re reading this and getting ready to spit bricks in the comments about advocating animal cruelty then you’ve failed the spotting irony test. Sadly it’s easy for people really into a cause to miss, so for the record, I don’t want to see hunting with hounds and I don’t want to see any more ancient blood sports like bear baiting, cockfighting or dog fighting legalised either. Got that?

PS Since writing this I see the lily-livered Cameron isn’t up for a fair fight. He is going to rig the playing field, by withdrawing until he can hobble the opposition in the form of the SNP and then have another bash. WTF has happened to British sportsmanship and what the bloody hell is Eton doing letting such cowardice escape their tender ministrations?

the Irresistible Force and the Immovable Object meet again

Another day, another sideshow in the Punch and Judy sideshow that is the slow crawl towards Grexit. It’s getting tiresome, because this is a crisis of leadership – problems don’t go away by whistling a dancing tune and come up with ever more outlandish ways of looking the other way.

At the heart of the matter is that Greece doesn’t like austerity, and doesn’t want to exit the Euro. They can have that, provided there’s a permanent influx of other people’s money. Those other people are getting shirty about this, and are saying that the price of our money is that we get to run your country in a different way. That different way looks pretty rough to me – there’s no way it’s going to stick.

Greece has promised to pass laws introducing controversial economic reforms by Wednesday. These include reforming the VAT system, overhauling pensions and signing up to plans that ensure immediate spending cuts in the event of breaching creditor-mandated budget targets.

In the end Greece needs to find the cojones to seize control of their own destiny and quit the Euro – because it’s clear that the price of support is getting dearer and dearer. In the long run things that can’t go on, don’t, but it takes time to resolve the conundrum of the irresistible force and the immovable object. In the long run, of course, we’re all dead – it’s not surprising that most of the Oxi came from the young, who have most long run left 😉 By the looks of it the consensus of avoiding Grexit at all costs is losing the fight as it drags on. One of the flecks of gold panned from the endless tailings of random wibble from G Dubya Bush was

If money isn’t loosened up, this sucker could go down

Dubya in a moment of clarity

Fortune favours the brave and the decisive in situations like that, those that look at the predicament they are in and who take decisive action early to try and influence the outcome. I kinda like the pithy summary of

“The facts tell us what to do and how to do it, but it is our humanity which tells us that we must do something and why we must do it.”
— Sully Sullenberger

Sullenberger was piloting a jet aircraft over New York when suddenly a flock of geese stopped the clockwork 3000ft above the city. Unlike the Greeks and the Troika with their endless river of make-believe deadlines, he had three and a half minutes to bring things to a definite conclusion.

Tsipras failed the Greek people in asking them in a referendum ‘do you want the particular form of austerity that was on offer in early July’. He should have asked them the straight question

This much austerity or more, or leave the Euro?

At the moment it looks like he went to the country, asked them their opinion in an incomplete manner, then tore it up the confusing result[ref]Since writing this I have learned that referenda are advisory not binding in Greece which makes this a little bit more understandable[/ref]. This is not a fellow I would want in the cockpit.

Financial problems don’t get better through fudging them. The Ermine didn’t fudge the problem of my career going down the pan in 2009, within a month I had shifted savings to ISAs and drove my spending down to be able to save the maximum possible. I lived on the minimum wage plus an ISA allowance and saving the ISA with the rest going into pension savings to stop paying tax and NI on it. It worked – I was able to leave after three years and coast for three years more before I can get those pension savings. It wasn’t fun spending minimum wage while working at a higher level, because I couldn’t afford the middle class distractions that compensate for the suckyness of the way the job was going. I was lucky to be able to jump to a different project, but unlucky to run into the wall in the first place.

Sometimes you have to accept that all solutions before you stink, but that some of them are more ugly than others. The Greeks can either be a lot poorer soon, but then stop getting poorer and possibly turn things round, or they can face becoming incrementally poorer without a clear end stop, dependent on the unknown future grace and favour of others.

this fine Greek graffito says it well
a fine Greek graffito

Greece has a lot going for it – but not in the Euro, and all the time they spend chasing the chimera of less austerity within the Euro the situation is degrading. Everyone with movable assets has been moving them, that much is sensible. The middle class’s savings will be destroyed, just like they were in Germany – twice. They will be destroyed in the fall of the drachma or destroyed in trying to stave off the impact of austerity – basically the choice is death of their savings fast or slow.

It’s all too easy to choose the slow death approach by trying to avoid making a decision, but it nearly always makes the outcome worse. This ain’t going to end well. Germany can afford to throw money down this money pit, but are getting increasingly unwilling to do so. The question is can Greece afford to live the way that the Troika want them to, and I venture probably not. We’ll get to watch this movie again.

China doesn’t really seem to get this stock market thing

While our eyes are focused on the slow train crash that is Grexit, over on the other side of the world there is an interesting example of King Canute seeking to hold back the waves. In China they seem to be of the opinion that their overheated stock market, having gained over 100% in the last year, is supposed to stay there. If you’re one of those capitalist running-dogs that is going against the story looking to sell, well, you can stop what you’re doing right there. Hardened Western investors who went through the dot-com boom might ask themselves what the good reasons were for last year’s 100% heft in a generalised index[ref]this question being, of course, the one they failed to ask themselves in 1999 – ain’t experience and hindsight a wonderful thing?[/ref]

from Bloomberg
Shanghai Composite Index from Bloomberg

So they stopped people with a 5% or more stake selling, and the government lends money to people to buy shares 🙂 There’s something about the point of this whole stock market thing that is being missed here. The Chinese stock market is also a young market, it seems compared to other world markets there are a lot of retail investors buying shares on margin – what on earth could go wrong? This is classic New York 1929 bucket-shop trading. Maybe in a few decades they will  become sober index fund passive investors, but first they have to get the momentum-chasing speculator out of their systems.

China’s investing culture remains backward and immature.

Howard Gold

Markets elsewhere have been on a roll of a long time, and while Grexit is unlikely to hurt too much outside Greece this one could be the second shoe dropping. There seems to be a lot of ruin in China as it tries to reorient itself from its early 2000s economic model to something that matches the post Lehman-crash world. There’s a lot of ruin in most economies, and it doesn’t necessarily lead to trouble, but by its sheer size China could have big knock-on effects.

Better to be a dog in a peaceful time, than to be a man in a chaotic period[ref]May you live in interesting times is a good line, but not Chinese, so it’s not right to to use it for China ;)[/ref]

There haven’t been tremendous buying opportunities in the markets for two or three years now. But interesting times lead to interesting opportunities. There’s still too much zombie puffery inflated by easy money after the 2007 crisis. Emerging markets are probably where it’s at in 20 years’ time, and perhaps we will have more opportunities to pick ’em up cheap in the next few years if this sucker goes down. Of course, associated with that will be all sorts of other misery. I’m not doing a Dubya and saying ‘bring ’em on‘. China has big challenges ahead with the whole get rich before getting old thing, and I personally have avoided investing in it[ref]other than in generalised index funds[/ref] because I have no feel at all for the country – my preferences in emerging markets lean towards India, Latin America and Africa from a demographic point of view. Howard Gold is quite right to describe EMs as having gone down the toilet, but I’ll be surprised if they stay there for the ten years he is calling out. I don’t have enough EM exposure, because in the years after 2009 I was building a HYP. And I don’t want to be a dog…

How do you recognise product quality online?

Buy cheap, buy twice – I keep on doing this to myself, and really need to learn 🙂 The trouble is that it’s hard to avoid – modern consumerism deliberately tries to strip out any markers of quality, leaving us chasing cheap, as Ellen Ruppel Shell highlighted a while ago.

Three years ago I bought some RGB light strings from a fine Chinese emporium on ebay, which I used for parties outside. When new if I connected power to all RGB strands it would all light up white, but six lots of unrolling and restowing and it’s done for.

Update 16 Aug 2015 – in rigging the Harvest party I found what the problem is – cable tying these to the poles of the marquee means the bending radius is too sharp when the tape hangs down halfway through rigging. This cracks the solder joints ot the LEDs or ballast resistors. So it was my damn fault – when you get these stick them to something rigid and leave ’em like that. They could warn you of that in the data sheet by indicating a min bending radius, perhaps…

Whereas the equally Chinese white LED tape I bought five years ago is still going strong. This stuff is made out of three LEDs at a time – the workmanship was so shoddy that half the sections had gone – I bought two 5m lengths and both have become faulty with ratty connections and missing segments.

should really all be a nice even white colour
should really all be a nice even white colour

Perhaps using it outside was bad – although we think of dew as a morning phenomenon, in fact dew descends soon after the sun goes down, particularly in the summer. This surprised me when I observed it, but it is a consequence of the dew point, which falls with temperature. Derigging the equipment at summer parties after 1 a.m. the gear is often damp. Maybe this got into the supposedly waterproof tape and corroded the connections, though it was sold as waterproof 🙂

Buy cheap, buy twice – it’s an online thing

Ebay is a marvellous cornucopia of components and bits and pieces – whenever you want some part it’s always cheapest from there. Recently on a design I was making I wanted some TL494 power control ICs – I can pay 50p for these from CPC in 10-up prices or I can pay 13p a throw if I buy 10 from China on ebay for £1.29 – delivery free[ref]the price matters here because someone is thinking of using this in a product; for a single unit 37p is neither here nor there.[/ref]. If I rock up to Mr Texas Instruments and say I want to buy 1000 they will a) laugh me out the door – 500k is probably the minimum order, and b) cite me a budgetary unit price of 21US cents, probably F.O.B. Texas Instruments.

A pukka Texas TL494, from when they used to make them in the low-cost manufacturing place du jour before the fall of the Berlin Wall and Tianamen Aquare
A pukka Texas TL494, made by Texas in 1988 from when Portugal was the low-cost manufacturing place du jour before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Whereas the spotty youth in Shenzhen could manage to slightly beat the manufacturer’s price and stick ’em in a Jiffy bag to send over here. The canny buyer will, of course, ask himself some serious questions about the provenance of these parts, let’s just say that the Texas Instruments stamp on the cheaper parts may be a little bit fuzzy and this is probably not an ISO9001 traceable supply chain. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Shenzhen electronics store
Shenzhen electronics store

The way most sellers of onesy-twosy Ebay goods work from China is you put your order in, and over in China an enterprising young fellow will go down to one of the fabled electronics shops of Shenzen and buy the part and stick it in the post to you. Looks like it pays to be a local here to avoid getting ripped off, but ’twas ever thus. At Huaqiangbei you can nip up to the next floor and check out Women’s World or Carnival Clothing City if you are, ahem, “bargain hunters and brand name copy lovers“. Which explains why so many Chinese ebay sellers of electronics parts are equally at home selling me some LED strips [ref]For the record I didn’t buy the defective LED strips from this seller[/ref] or a girl’s dress. This puzzled the inquisitive Ermine snout, and now I know why.

Price is not a clear signal of quality in many markets, and it’s hard to gauge quality online

Once upon a time people used to go into a store to buy things, and when you handle the goods the experienced buyer can often gauge quality – by the weight, the smooth running of moving parts, the quality of workmanship. We’ve lost many of these quality cues when we buy online, leaving us with the basest metric of all, price. Although price can be correlated with quality it doesn’t depend on it – marketing is a lot more sophisticated now, indeed websites can show different prices to different consumers for the same thing, depending on their history. One of the main advantages we got with the Internet is that it allows us to compare by price, so that’s what we do, driving everything down to the lowest common denominator.. Which is great with many things – but it drives us right down to the bottom end for a lot of products. Which is not always where we want to be.

I don’t know where to go to buy a better RGB LED strip. I could go to these guys, and pay £8 a go. But let’s face it, they probably get their strips from China and mark ’em up – the product image looks exactly the same as my faulty item. For all I know there is one massive company in China turning these out. What I will probably end up doing is getting big 3W LEDs and screwing them to a aluminium rail – at least if I get failures it will be my own rotten workmanship and I will be able to fix it [ref]I can’t use the obvious route of commercial lighting kit as that’s all 240VAC and I want to run 12V[/ref].

In the grand scheme of things this isn’t a big deal, but the quality conundrum is observable in many things now – if you want something a little better than the bottom end quality you have no way of finding a reliable supplier even if you are prepared to pay more money. I can pay more, for sure, but as UTMT said, price is what you pay and value is what you get.

Continue reading “How do you recognise product quality online?”