Escaping the avaricious paws of Interactive Investor – again

I opened my S&S ISA in March 2009, with Interactive Investor (III). I was used to their system, had used it for shares research in my dotcom boom and bust days, and their charges were OK. What I want in a ISA platform is pretty simple. No ongoing fees, and specifically no percentage fees. I am happy to pay for buying and selling shares, not to hold them.

Before the Retail Distribution Review (RDR) this was common. Platforms made their money on kickbacks from funds. I had been educated to this problem so I didn’t have any funds. Simples. The RDR was supposed to help the common people, but I took the shaft. I was perfectly happy to have my platform costs subsidised by all those fund holders. III introduced a £80 p.a. fee, apparently for our own good. From their guff at the time

We believe that customers should be engaged with their investments and actively manage their portfolios. To support this, we are introducing a quarterly fee of £20. If you already trade twice or more a quarter then this fee will make no difference to what you pay – it is effectively an advance payment of those first two trades for the quarter. If you are trading less than that then you will still have the right to your two trades in each quarter without any additional payment and hopefully feel encouraged to more actively manage your investments.

I’d go to IG Index if I wanted to trade, guys. That’s not me, so I jumped to TD Direct. Not without pain, indeed iii’s attempt to make money out of their 2012 switchers showed that they are moneygrabbing scum, which is something I had forgotten over the intervening five years.

Moving a S&S ISA is tedious and slow

It took ages to move that ISA, I moved it in stock format. Don’t know why we suddenly resurrect Latin and call this in specie, but that’s the convention. You have to watch it because some platforms charge a transfer out per line of stock. OTOH you get to pay the transaction charges twice if you convert to cash and rebuy. Some people say there’s the extra hazard of being out of the market, and I suppose since bull markets are longer than bear markets that’s probably the case for a randomly chosen time period.

I had five years with TD, where they generally did what I wanted them to do, and didn’t give me any trouble, other than starting to charge for holding funds. So I got rid of funds I’d acquired with TD and switched to using ETFs. That gets easier as the ISA becomes a bigger beast. I don’t really buy less than £2k of anything now, £12.50 out of that is 0.63%, on a par with stamp duty. So I take a 1% hit upfront. On the £500 transactions when I started out in 20091 that 12.50 was an ugly 2.5%, which is why everybody used funds in those days. Paying the 3% in kickbacks and fees, no doubt 😉

Having laid the beast of III to rest, the zombie comes after TD Direct and buys it up. Other TD Direct customers were more savvy than me and jumped early, I left it until III tell me they are bringing their ugly “annual fees but not if you trade lots” fee structure to TD Direct, and get caught in the crush for the exit. I initiated a transfer to iWeb end of October 2017. Every month after I chased them in their private message system and nothing happened. Continue reading “Escaping the avaricious paws of Interactive Investor – again”

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Simple Living in Suffolk is no more

WordPress is great as a blogging platform, but this Christmas period is the third time my self-hosted WP has been hacked over the odd ten years of running this, and I’ve had enough.

I didn’t give up work to spend my days trawling through loads of computer files to look for exactly where the particular cyber scum had crapped on. It was time to give up the fight against the tosspots of this world. People are always more tossy than I can be clever.

So the solution is that WordPress can have the problem. I even considered paying for it for a moment, but then decided against it. I’m not so vain that I need to have my own domain name at this stage, because I don’t monetize the site. If Monevator can’t work out how to do that then I sure as hell aren’t smart enough 😉

But I do learn and appreciate the dialogue. Mrs Ermine even talked me out pulling the plug by offering to pay the WordPress rent. So I moved the content and comments to WordPress.com.

The ermine didn’t get where he is today by paying for things he can’t touch. I have no mobile phone subscription, I don’t rent anything if I can avoid it and one of the first wins over spending I got on deciding to leave work was to shoot all subscriptions and then take it from there. I’m not going to break that habit yet, but the WordPress corporation can have the work of keeping the Mujahidin Cyber Army out of their sprawling and messy code. And I don’t ever want to see PHP again.

Oddly enough I can still make websites using old-skool passive html – using Jekyll is a good way to dynamically process pages and create a great website on something historical that doesn’t change much. It would even do a very good attempt at blogging. But the tragedy of all static html is that there is no comment system, for that you need the database, and that’s where it all starts to go pear shaped. Since interacting with commenters is the whole point of blogging IMO jekyll doesn’t work for blogging.

It’s also part of the wider shift I mentioned last time. I want to get away from the nitty-gritty of making particular things happen – it is the creativity of writing that I am after rather than making computers do something. I want to spend time in places like this

Brean Down, Somerset
Brean Down, Somerset

than behind a screen. I took time out from battling the Cyber Army to go out and listen to the tawny owls hooting in the garden, because it is good to know what matters in this world more. So I want to use my time well, and in this quiet time of the year it is important to think about what I will not do as well as what I will do. Because every yes to the owls and the trees with the moon is a no to something else like

1712_code

and I’ve seen too much of the latter 😉 Continue reading “Simple Living in Suffolk is no more”

Why does getting super-rich mean a taste bypass?

Dear readers, feast your eyes on this, which is a new development in Nine Elms in London called Versace Tower. Now the first thing you need to know is that Nine Elms is south of the river, and anywhere sarf of the river is infra dig for the cognoscenti, it’s just not the place to be seen.

inside London’s Versace Tower. You need to view this full size to take in the true horror… I confess at first I thought the things on the side were urinals, but did wonder why you’d put a dining table in the bog.

The only way you can make it worse is to go south-east, which is where an Ermine grew up, basically in the arse end of the city. There’s a historical reason for that, which is that the prevailing winds in Britain come from the south-west, so when people used to throw their crap into the river the prevailing winds carried the stink east and north. London had a problem because the Romans built Londinium north of the river, so all the useful stuff ended up on the north side of the river and transport links south were historically poor. A quick glance a a Tube map of the bits that matter shows you this at a glance. [ref]It took me longer to get 15 miles from my parents’ place to Cannon Street by train in the 1980s than it took me to get the 70 miles from Ipswich station to Liverpool Street station in the heart London’s financial district, which says something about how southeast London was disfavoured in terms of transport.[/ref]

Not much south of the river, and the east side beyond Bank is relatively new build too. And yes I know this is symbolic rather than cartographic, but the symbolism carries the story of what matters too

WTF is wrong with the über rich? Ever since I read that Saddam Hussein had gilded taps in his toilet it struck me that a problem with today’s rich is that all too often they have absolutely no taste.

the only thing not to expect, as Peter York noted in his 2005 book Dictators’ Homes, is good taste.

Dictator’s Homes

That’s kinda understandable in a dictator, to the extent that there’s even a book on it, Dictator’s Homes.

 

Saddams gilded bog

 

Random item of Gaddafi’s palace

The landed gentry of Britain developed taste and a sense of proportion, which is why once the great unwashed managed to deprive them of some of their unearned wealth a lot of it was deemed a national treasure, and the National Trust has been able to charge us and foreign tourists to be able to gawp at some of this.

concentrating inherited wealth led us to stately homes and a tiny part of the population owning nearly everything. But at least they didn’t gold plate everything.

I start to see some of the reason why the aristocracy of old looked down their noses at the nouveaux riche, the problem with the hyper rich is that they are such tasteless bastards. A taste bypass is perfectly acceptable in a rapper but the rest of us have to live in the same world as the hyper-rich, and it’s time something stopped them despoiling large parts of London with their ghastly mega-basements and uninhabited gilded towers. The problem seems to apply across the board – paint this boat battleship grey and it still lacks the aesthetic appeal of a Navy destroyer, where at least form follows function

and yet apparently it is a design of Philippe Starck, he of the elegant lemon squeezer. He must’ve been having them on when he did this project.

Now if taste were the only problem it wouldn’t be too bad, but all too often it goes along with bad character, as exemplified by the despots. When it comes to gold and interior design, less is definitely more. There’s another well-known example of this genre

Chez Trump

which begins as soon as you get into the elevator

America take note. Gilding the living crap out of everything is a look that says something about the perpetrator, and that something isn’t very good, all the way from King Midas through Nicolae Ceaucescu, Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein 😉 Be afraid, very afraid.

So what does all this Brexit baloney really mean then?

Be careful what you wish for. You may just get it.

King Midas, and the characters in The Monkey’s Paw

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

H.L.Mencken, 1915

I have much sympathy with the view of Guy Verhofstedt that Brexit is the result of a catfight in the Conservative party that got out of hand. The more I see of how the Tory party prosecutes the aim of leaving the EU, the more Verhofstedt’s observation rings true.

Very little of what I have seen since June 2016 has convinced me that I erred in voting remain. However, it is clear from the result of the referendum that there is considerable animus in the UK to what the EU does or how it does it. Added to that seems to be a terrific amount of projection of other issues the EU is not particularly responsible for, from the winds of globalisation and automation to the fact that Britain was a much more significant player on the world stage 40 or 50 years ago, and those of late middle age feel the ways of the world slipping away from them, and hearken to glories past.

The tragedy of the referendum is that it was couched in the nihilistic terms of this or not-this. The problem is one of direction. A remain result would have been a clear result for a particular solution – the status quo in that case. A no result is a vote for ‘anywhere but here’. If I get in my car and set the sat-nav for London it can take me there. But I haven’t yet found the ‘get me the hell anywhere but here’ button.

The Tory party is ripping itself apart like a bunch of rats in a sack, because it is not of one view on anywhere but here. We have the swivel-eyed nut jobs, step forward John Redwood, Bill Cash, Daniel Hannan1, Jacob Rees-Mogg and others. Now to their credit they do deeply believe in Brexit, from a point of basically despising John Donne’s dictum that no man is an island – basically it’s everyone for themselves and let the devil take the hindmost. You can take that point of view as long as you are much richer than average, because you can buy your services and security on the open market. It’s Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, and Britain is Going Galt, 2 along with everyone in it.

These Brextremists positively crave a no-deal Brexit, because any deal gives the EU a say in something, and that pisses them off. No price is too high to pay for purity, and anything that doesn’t give them what they want is always the other side’s fault. There is a mirror-image of this in the EU with the focus on the terms of process, but in the end the UK is the dumper rather than the dumpee, so we get the advantage of calling the what and when, but fewer rights in calling the how.

We have the self-serving egotists – hello Boris Johnson, Gove et al, trimming their sails to whichever wind will blow them personal aggrandisement. The concept of living in a country run by BoJo is I suppose a little bit less bad than living in one run by Donald Trump, but the fundamental problem is the same – narcissist at the switch. BoJo is brighter than Trump, but has more of a tin ear, whereas I have a sneaking admiration for Trump’s ability to signal to his vote base via a barrage of what looks to others like random brain-farts.

Cats will fight

Then we have a whole bunch of non-extreme people that think a well-negotiated Brexit would work well for Britain, who seem to be AWOL on both sides, scared of the intensity of feeling of the nut-jobs. If we could kick out the swivel-eyed nut-jobs, then perhaps  the rest of Tory party could make a fist of it, but at the moment my greatest hope is that they rip themselves apart in the next few months. Cats will fight, and the buggers have been fighting about this for 40 years, it’s time that the fight goes all the way to death or dishonour for the sake of the rest of us. The endless yowling needs to stop, and Top Cat needs to stand on top of his dustbin lid.

What does a successful Brexit look like?

The trouble with the referendum is the nihilism of the No response leading to a lack of direction.

It should have been more nuanced – for instance

Should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave

Remain a member of the EU

Leave the EU

If you voted Leave the EU, what are your primary concerns?

The primacy of Parliament to determine life in Britain
The effects of freedom of movement on the social fabric
The effects of freedom of movement on wages
The effects of freedom of movement on services

It would have been useful to gauge which of the aspects of the EU concerned people the most.The obvious pushback is that it sets a leading question and favours the Leave side, and the government didn’t really want the No answer, but Cameron stupidly made it a manifesto promise hoping a Coalition would spike it.  Very little work was done on what a successful Brexit looked like. However, I saw the vile creepy grins3 and the spring in the step of my fellow voters who were all of a certain age (I voted in the afternoon, like all retirees) and I was pretty sure they weren’t voting remain 😉

Qualifying the issues people had would have informed what to prioritise afterwards. For instance, May and the wingnuts are making a hullabaloo about the ECJ, which probably doesn’t exercise people bothered about immigration, while the wingnuts frequently don’t even bother to mention immigration. I love Hannan’s disingenuity in asserting

In the event, of course, things worked out differently. Britain appears to have grown more strongly in the six months following the vote than in the six months before it, and finished 2016 as the world’s most successful major economy. Unemployment, far from rising, has fallen consistently since the vote. British stocks are the best performing in Europe..

Hannan, me old mucker, you may be a wingnut, but you’re not shit for brains. The result you wanted has devalued the pound by a lot. Obviously things measured in pounds will look bigger, in the same way as it takes you twice as many six-inch rulers to measure your carpet as 12-inch rulers.

the pound has got about 10% smaller in IMF SDRs since the referendum

A lot of those stock market gains you’re seeing aren’t real. The way unemployment is measured is deeply borked. I will be considered employed this year because I was working as self employed between April and May. We torture the genuinely unemployed with pettifogging rules and regulations; it’s not surprising that people claim to be employed but make no money and get tax credits. Look at the increasing number of rough sleepers and the use of food banks, which are also caused by the increasingly worthless pound among other things.

rich Brexiters fuss about sovereignty, the poor about immigration

It is of course possible as a remainer I have missed some aspect of the Leave debate, but of what I have heard, rich Brexiters tend to lie on the sovereignty axis, often not really giving a toss about freedom of movement, whereas poorer Brexiters have concerns about immigration, the effects of freedom of movement and the effect on their wages. The rich make sweeping assertions about Ricardian advantage and Schumpterian creative destruction, but when Tony Blair opened the UK to people from Eastern Europe the resulting influx had a negative impact on wages the lower end of the market. There is a very strong argument that the influx was good for the UK economy as a whole, which probably made people that took the sharp end of the stick feel even worse, seeing rich Londoners living it up on fine dining while they went to food banks.

A ‘sleb leaving the Chiltern Firehouse. Observing the increase in London fine dining probably throws a hard light on the tribulations of the minimum wage slave on a zero hours contract

If you’ve taken the shaft on minimum wage, voting Leave is not necessarily irrational even if it impoverishes the country.  It will be immigration that lights your fire. It is tragic that the effects of globalisation and automation are hurting these people too, and it is compounded by the wilful destruction of the welfare safety net in the last few years. The EU ended up shot for an awful lot of decisions that should have been laid at the door of UK politicians or the tides of capitalism and Schumpeterian destruction, as well as secular trends which aren’t going the way of unskilled labour. There’s some case for adapting the welfare system to ameliorate this shift from labour to capital, but it’s not really the theme of the current administration.

Free movement of persons seems to be the main sticking point. Freedom of goods is OK – not that many people seem to have an an issue about driving German cars or eating Italian ham. Curiously enough nobody seems to have a beef with the free movement of capital, even if they don’t have any, though that also makes working a bit more crap than it used to as the capital chases the lowest labour costs offshore. Freedom to establish and provide services across the EU doesn’t exercise passions either – people rich and poor are happy to bank with Santander.

The Ermine, sadly, is in the same camp as the swivel-eyed nut jobs in one aspect. I think the EEC jumped the shark with the treaty of Maastricht and the inception of the Euro. The change of name from European Economic Community to European Union showed the nature of the rot. I view the economic benefits of the EU as the reason for being in it, the political union as misbegotten, I’m not so keen on a United States of Europe, although it doesn’t exercise me with devastated dreams of Imperial derring-do of yesteryear, I’m not old enough to recall the pink of the British Empire maps.

The British Empire in 1915, when the sun didn’t set on it.

I don’t give a toss about freedom of movement, so that places me on the rich people side of the issues – with sovereignty. But I’m not rich enough to afford that sort of navel-gazing – in the end rubbing along with people in the world is about compromise. Britain secured specific opt-outs from the ever closer union and the Euro, which means what we had was better from a sovereignty point of view than what we would have if we left and rejoin once the old colonels dreaming of Empire days of glory die off and the interests of younger voters and the economic argument shifts the balance, as Verhofstadt carried on to say

“I am also sure that, one day or another, there will be a young man or woman who will try again, who will lead Britain into the European family once again. A young generation that will see Brexit for what it really is – a catfight in the Conservative party that got out of hand, a loss of time, a waste of energy, stupidity.”

[…]

Let’s not forget, Britain entered the union as the ‘sick man of Europe’ and thanks to the single market came out of the other side Europe made Britain also punch above its weight in terms of geopolitics, as in the heydays of the British empire.

And we from our side must pay tribute to Britain’s immense contributions – a staunch, unmatched defender of free markets and civil liberties. Thank you for that. As a liberal, I tell you, I will miss that.”

I am not rich enough to prize sovereignty above economics. I expect to be hit less than the poor by the economic fallout of Brexit, but I expect to be a lot poorer, and we will be the sick man of Europe once again. Looking at the swivel-eyed crew with their indifference to the economic costs, I am nowhere near as rich as they are, I would probably need to have much more than twice the wealth I have to share their insouciance about the economic fallout. I have no human capital left, so unlike the young who might be able to make it up by moving and working abroad – after all people worked in other European countries before 1973 – I will have to make my stand in the UK, stuck on a small island with these guys

I will probably face the need for health insurance as the NHS is destroyed because we can’t afford it, I expect social unrest because we won’t be able to afford even the eroded welfare state that we have now. It’s not an attractive thought to grow old in. And in the event that Britain does leave and rejoin, we will have less sovereignty than we had before we left, though I can hope that the Euro explodes due to its internal inconsistencies before any of those events come to pass, which may trim some of the dream of ever closer union. Europe doesn’t even share a common language FFS, never mind a common culture, there is more history in any one European country than there is in the entire United States (born 1776) which is why the United States of America is a viable union of states in a way the United States of Europe isn’t.

I do get some of this Brexit bollocks, from a sovereignty point of view, but nowhere near enough of it to think it’s a grand idea and vote for it. The EU had a lot wrong with it, but an awful lot more right, inherited from the old EEC, which was partly shaped by the UK, particularly the Single Market that the wingnuts are so keen to get away from. I find no conviction in the notion of a buccaneering Britain striking trade deals left, right and centre. The one with the United States will be ‘Here are our terms, you sign here for our GMO crops, chorinated chicken and antibiotic and hormone-pumped beef’. It’s been 60 years since Britain surrendered its Empire, the 1950s ain’t ever coming back, and Verhofstadt was wrong. Britain did perhaps punch above its weight in terms of geopolitics as part of the EEC, but not as it did  in the heydays of the British empire. Declinism is a disease of late middle age, and we are in peak Boomer time. I am one, but hey guys, we didn’t have to actually help the downswing come.

Sic transit gloria mundi, guys. For a Matt-Ridley-esque counter strike, let’s hear it from the Spectator

Brexit was a vote of confidence in our ability to shape our future as an independent democratic nation — a choice that few of our European neighbours feel they still have. We should not allow declinist panics to confuse the outcome.

I think matey boy is barking, but I admire his chutzpah, and ability to sell a great story. I suspect it isn’t just me that doesn’t have any idea what this Brexit bollocks means. The only people that do have an idea are the wingnuts. It’s the usual problem

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.
The wingnuts seem to be in the ascendant. Their no deal Brexit probably won’t be about immigration, bucanneering free market Britain will need all the lost cost hands it can get, and if that keeps the oiks in their place, well, all to the good if you’re Jacob Rees-Mogg and his ilk.

The personal finance angle – what to do?

Most of the last few years I have been allocating new spend towards foreign assets, with a bias ex-UK. As I accumulated stocks, I became lazier as I realised I wouldn’t have to eat an actuarial reduction on my pension, so I shifted towards the world according to Lars Kroijer. I didn’t sell my HYP but I bought a lot of a FTSE World ExUK index, to offset the fact my HYP was heavily UK biased. If you expect the UK to go titsup due to Brexit, it’s a good move.

Against that one should set the fact that fund managers deeply hate the UK at the moment (H/T Monevator)

When I see something stinking up the place like UK equities I want to go buy it – there’s now’t wrong with schizophrenic investment and so I am tempted to Buy Britain at the moment. Maybe a push on small/mid cap with about a quarter FTSE100, after all I should lean against my own prejudices every so often and I am too biased towards UK big fish. Brexit might turn out absolutely great, I find it hard to believe, but it’s possible. I may allocate half of this year’s £20k ISA allocation to Lars and half to the UK. If Brexit is a bastard the UK lot will go down the toilet, if it is a terrific success then it will save my ass for this year’s contributions. And vice versa for the L&G Lars option, which coincidentally is heavily weighted towards the US (because the US is the largest component of world equities by valuation) so I still remain contrarian. The US is also notably hated by the professional fund managers. I really can’t think why 😉

I need to stoke my SIPP with £7200 this year and next. It will follow the rest of my small SIPP which is currently in a gold ETF, this is money I will call on in the next year or two and I don’t trust the £ across March 2019. I will be most  happy to eat the hit if Brexit is a roaring success and the pound soars 😉

 


  1. A measure of the hypocrisy of the scumbag Hannan and that of Nigel Farage is that they were MEPs sucking at the teat/gravy train of their supposed arch enemy FFS, Hannan since 1999
      
  2. Attempts to replicate Galt’s Gulch didn’t go very well “Ayn Rand’s Capitalist Paradise Is Now a Greedy Land-Grabbing Shitstorm” for the same reason communism didn’t work – human nature. Better luck with Seasteading, eh, chaps? 
  3. I wish I had taken my camera with me, I saw an animation in people quite unlike any election before or since, and the turnout was huge
      

Trump-o-calypse turns into a stock market Meh

Looks like we’re with stupid, then. Yeah, I’m one of the college educated Remoaning cheese-eating surrender monkeys that the majority all hate, and in the last few remaining moments of freedom I have before The Donald makes America Great and Brexit makes Britain Great I’m going to sneer. I don’t know who the hell I am walking amongst, but they don’t think like me and I am the minority. Shit. Brexit could be considered an aberration, and doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, now we have a great big dose of the same old shit in a different way coming from the same motherlode. A group that’s been Cock of the Rock for years isn’t any more, and they want the 1950s back. That Obama geezer called out the problem in a State of the Union speech five years ago. Unfortunately he didn’t give DARPA enough money to invent a time machine to rewind history 60 years.

At least in America you now get legalised weed whereas I don’t even get to apply for EU citizenship after my fellow countrymen arranged to strip me of it. So following Stephen Covey’s principles of the Circle of Concern I will change the things I can. I will follow 3652days lead and configure my affairs to subsidise it as little as possible.

Because they got their country back, and I sure as shit ain’t paying for it.

3652 days

Anyway, this is about something bigger, though oddly enough opinion is divided even there.

Stock markets to Trump-o-calypse – “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”

 

Mr Market sauntered on by, doing a Rhett Butler to the passionate heaving bosom of the punditry that had called a win for t’other side. And the ermine was poised to snap up some US stocks, hell, even to sell some gold to do it, because I have been light US equities because they have been overpriced for years. Obviously good old TD direct had a hissy fit and went titsup in the morning, though they’ve got over their fit of the vapours now. Hargreaves Lansdown and Charles Stanley weathered the storm, I guess you get a better class of big iron for Hargreaves higher annual fees. Trouble is, there’s not much difference in VUSA since yesterday. So I will leave it be. I am regularly buying a L&G dev world exUK fund monthly so I was buying the S&P cheaper for most of this year. Particularly before June…

Looks like the experts lost out this time too. Maybe that slimeball Gove was right. Experts were experts in the old world but then the magnetic poles shifted or the flying spaghetti monster got crushed by an asteroid and now they always come up with the wrong answer. This Ohio report reminds me of the barmy summer day of the Brexit vote and I went to the polling station in the day[ref]because being a retiree means I can[/ref] and saw loads of a particular demographic with a creepy grin from ear to ear and a spring in their step, it was like being on the set of the Stepford Wives and their retired colonels.

Let’s look on the bright side of this, shall we? Mebbe the gimlet-eyed Mr Putin won’t feel quite so pissed off about whatever deep childhood tragedy makes him such a nutcase, because he has a more congenial nutcase on t’other end of the hotline. Sod it. I’m with Vlad, too, HRUB has almost come to parity, although I think that is more to do with my bodacious band of buccaneering Brexiteers dreaming of imperial glory to thank for that, by making everything foreign dearer 😉 But what the hell. Make Britain Great, Make America Great. Perhaps Vlad is Making Russia Great. If we all pull up the drawbridge, thump on our chests maybe the cargo cult dreams will come true. The US cousins of the people with the creepy grins who stole my EU rights seem to be voting for Trump.

Millions of people voted for his promise to achieve an improbable reversal of the decades-long structural decline in American manufacturing. By November 2020, the voters of Mahoning County will expect results.

“I want him to bring America back,” said Smith, the carer for disabled children. “Bring back the jobs, bring our country back.”

Good luck with that, lady. The 1950s ain’t ever coming back.

to live different you must do different

The Ermine has been using some of that extra time you get in retirement to go travelling, after a jaunt round Salisbury Plain with the archaeologists working for  military[ref]It’s seriously unwise to go for a looky-loo on that bit of Salisbury Plain without the military’s help ;)[/ref] and then on to Dartmoor, when I met up with Andy from liberate.life to talk about the modern workplace. Andy is a driven and hardworking chap so he’s already written the post by the time I get round to writing this, so I will stick with this picture of Haytor on Dartmoor, which is near his neck of the woods.

a fine rock and worthy fo a moderate scramble to get up to
a fine rock and worthy of a moderate scramble to get up to

where we had lunch. Lots of stuff discussed, because he has a different take on the world of work.Very different to mine, particularly how to approach it.

Occasionally a younger fellow has managed to use their initiative to find out how to contact the Ermine by email, along the general lines of all that work philosophy’s all very well, but how does it apply to me? And it’s saddened me that I’ve never had much of an answer to that. My story is a tale that started in a different era, and while many of the tools of the trade are the same, many things are tougher now, while conversely some specific opportunities are much greater now. After that discussion, perhaps there is a way to mitigate some of the adverse changes, of which more in a future post.

We humans are storytellers, but we often narrate the story of our lives in other people’s words

Let’s face it, we call that culture – Romeo and Juliet stand proxy for infatuated lovers even after 400 years. Less inspiringly the Kardashians stand for sucess, and  Donald Trump for alpha maleness, froth and scum float to the top as well as the cream.

All the world's a stage, and this is one of the 'alpha male' castings. I don't get it either.
We aren’t fussy about where we get our stories – all the world’s a stage, and this is one of the ‘alpha male’ cast of characters. I don’t get it either, but he does it for a lot of people.

We borrow from stories and weave the threads into the image of our ideal lives. The story of how work and life fit together comes from many places – it comes from how we saw people do that growing up[ref]which of course puts it about 30 years behind the times we actually try to live it in[/ref]. A lot of it comes from advertising, where clever people tell us stories to try and get us to spend money on things and services. Take a look at Ad Age[ref]I am tickled that they don’t like people using ad-blockers. Reconnaissance behind enemy lines is always a tough game[/ref]’s top 15 campaigns of the 21st century, and the way they talk:

Some of these ad campaigns are here because they changed the way consumers thought about the world around them

Their words turned into your stories… The lead quote was a corker

“Historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads of our time are the richest and most faithful daily reflections any society ever made of its whole range of activities.”

Marshall McLuhan

Your life has been designed, and not particularly by you. Most readers of PF blogs[ref]This is a total guess, but you’re not going to be worrying about financial independence and retiring early much lower down the scale. You’ll be worrying about making next month’s rent[/ref] are earning more than the median wage (~£27,000, FTE) – I hazard that this is the point where the fight switches from earning more to spending less, and the spending has a lot of the narrative written by people paid to make you spend more. Sometimes it’s good to see the extreme point to understand yourself – take a look at the phenomena of superyachts, which as PhD researcher Emma Spence has discovered, is basically all about consumerist willy waving writ large. You, dear reader, have to make do with with more house than you need and an iPhone. Nobody needed an iPhone 20 years ago, now everyone is walking around with £500 worth of easily pinched/broken hardware on their person…

That is one tasteless ugly piece of kit, non? And this is the attractive side. Apparently something to do with Philippe Starck, he of the elegant lemon squeezer. Where’s a Viking longboat or Jonny Ive when you need ’em eh?

What you consume is often the most egregious version of others writing the script, other parts of life have elements of this. I got to nearly 50 without realising that I actually had agency over how old I was when I retired. I hadn’t realised this was under my control, FFS – I took the age of 60, the normal retirement age at The Firm, and accepted that without bothering any brain cells with asking why this was so.

Some of the things we can do are constrained by what other people do. The price of housing, for instance, given an endless supply of credit, will tend to find a level where the cost of servicing a loan can be managed by two people working full-time, because that’s what most people in that market are doing. Low interest rates and low inflation won’t help to pay off the loan over a working life, because it makes all the numbers bigger. For some odd reason we think low interest rates make houses more affordable. It just makes them dearer.

Most people don’t get to financial independence under their own steam. To be different you have to do different.

Many people’s idea of financial independence is getting the State pension, roughly when they are 67-70. They effectively outsource the job, although whether that gives a decent standard of living very much depends on whether they are paying rent and/or have other sources of non-work income on retirement. That’s the default setting, both in terms of time and in terms of money.

There are two major areas you can do different to your peers. You can earn more, and you can spend less. The greatest win to be had is, of course, targeting both. Retirement Investing Today is an example of what you can do here. Unfortunately you immediately have a major problem when you want to swim against the tide, and that is that humans are social animals. If you are going to do different then spending less is going to make you look poor to your peer group. And most people just hate that feeling.

Earning more is the obvious other way to go, then. You need to have the talent and the luck, but even if you have those, you tend to take a hit along the spending axis. This is because your work peer group becomes more spendy as they earn more. In practice the axes of spend less and earn more aren’t orthogonal and mutually independent. There’s probably no real way round it, in the accumulation phase you are likely to look on the poor side to your colleagues. I guess this is what seems to makes it easier for introverts to chase FI  – one of the few cases where this trait is an advantage.

Not so easy after all. How about spend less? Fight consumerism by targeting the base of the fire.

1610_advertising

You’re changing the story there – in this case the story pumped out by the advertisers of what a good life looks like. After all, good ads changed the way consumers thought about the world around them. I presume this was in the direction of spending more and consuming more, because otherwise, what’s the point? I’m quite taken with the poetic description from Brandalism in this piece of agitprop 😉

Advertising shits in your head – but, first, its torrential, golden flow stains your magazines, your phone, your computer, your newspapers and your streets. Advertising shits all over and dominates our culture. It is a visceral, powerful form of pollution that not only affects our common public and cultural spaces, but also our deeply private intimate spaces. Advertisers want your ‘brain time’ – to shit in your head without your knowledge.

It’s why I run Adblock Plus and Ghostery, both set to 11 – kill ’em all. Destroying advertising as much as possible makes life simpler and more pleasant. It is a shame that at the inception of the Internet, we failed to craft a decent payment model, so advertising and the surveillance model became the original sin of the Internet, but there we go.

I don’t have a beef with real people recommending real things they have trialled, it is the automated stuff like Google Ads that is the problem – anonymised mind-spam sold to the highest bidder. A while ago I went to a meeting in Leeds where I discovered how people think about blogvertising. A very few of you [ref]those that aren’t running adblockers, and if not, why not?[/ref] will see I have an Amazon box on here – all of those are books I’ve read or things I’ve mentioned on here. I was running Google ads, but never saw them, because that’s what AdBlock Plus does for me 😉 When I realised I was running ads for Wonga and consolidating loans, because that’s what personal finance is about to most people I pulled it. Not because I thought any of my readers were going to be swayed to the dark side and toddle off to their local Money Shop to buy some overpriced money at extortionate rates, but because I didn’t want to be part of the problem.

There are three non-spending areas that cause a lot of hurt for British consumers below 45

Consumer spending causes a lot of trouble, because it’s a never-ending tactical battle fought one little piece at a time. But three strategic changes have caused a lot of damage to the personal finances of people starting out now. Let’s take a look at these

University, and the apparent dearth on non-university alternatives

When I started university in the late 1970s, fewer than 10% of school leavers entered university. It was much easier to fail exams in those days, because they were norm-referenced. It isn’t entirely clear to me what you have to do to fail exams now, because we have lost the cojones to tell some young people, and more specifically their parents, that they simply aren’t up to the mark academically.

In itself that’s not so bad, but because so many more people go to university, the old system where the taxpayer fronted the cost in the hope of getting more tax revenue in the future from the higher earnings became unaffordable. Even if everything else were the same, it would cost five times higher proportionally [ref]I am making the handwaving assumption that the increase in population is roughly tracked by the increase in taxpayers[/ref] to take 50% of school leavers through university than 10% was in the 1970s.

When you flood a market with five times the product, you also devalue it. When I started work, having a degree was a serviceable proxy to indicate I was in the upper 10% of academic ability, and for jobs that suit that sort of thing (engineering, science, research, for me) that was relevant. When nearly 50% of people go to university a degree tells you roughly they are of average brightness or above. Knowing someone is average or more is useful, but probably not something you’d pay £60k for over a working life.

There appears to be no control of numbers going to university in the UK, it’s all about the money, which is a shocking abdication of political will IMO. Contrast this with the situation in Germany where numbers are controlled in some cases. Yes, it goes against the free-market-money-is-all mantra, but it’s also a damn sight cheaper to go to university in Germany. In fact it seems a damn sight cheaper to go to university just about anywhere in the EU other than England and Wales. Shame this option is probably only good for the next couple of years for British wannabe graduates, who are SOL afterwards[ref]It wasn’t me wot did it despite being an old git, I was a Remainer[/ref] 😦

The fundamental problem with university in the UK is the product is getting astronomically expensive at the same time as it is being devalued. University has become an unaffordable luxury. Unlike Germany Britain is also not particularly improving the non-university options, much noise is made of apprenticeships but it is often simply a mask for cheap unskilled labour. The trends in the world of work are running away from unskilled labour. An apprenticeship where the apprentice learns something about a craft is good, but is only good if the craft is likely to remain one done by people in the future at decent rates of pay.

Housing

In Britain we used to build social housing but we sold that off to the then council tenants to buy votes. I seem to recall Thatcher expressly forbade allowing councils to use right-to-buy revenues to build more housing. As a result less than a fifth of social housing flogged off cheaply is replaced, I am surprised it’s that high. We used to have credit controls up until 1980-ish but removed those, because the free market always delivers the correct solution, even when it is banks incentivised to lend money to people who have no capital but need to buy an essential good. So we have high house prices and richer banks. It’s not just the banks, anybody with capital, from banks to people who buy up houses and then rent them out to people without any capital at exorbitant rates and no real duty of care to make the joint habitable. So we now have high house prices, richer banks and richer BTL investors. Well, at least somebody is winning I suppose…

As an example of just how out of touch the government is on this, Gavin Barwell, the Housing Minister, no less, delivers himself of the Marie Antoinette-esque recommendation that people should leave their housing equity to their grandchildren, FFS. That is so deeply fucked up it’s not even wrong. We’ve seen this movie before. When you go and see National Trust stately homes

concentrating inherited wealth led us to stately homes and a tiny part of the population owning nearly everything
concentrating inherited wealth led us to stately homes and a tiny part of the population owning nearly everything

you are looking at what happens in a world where inherited wealth accumulates across the generations, combined with a world where the return on labour was very poor. It took a couple of world wars and a lot of technological progress to break that up. Even then, the aristocracy, sharp blighters that they are, simply requested an inheritance tax exemption on agricultural land, got it, and this is why most of Britain by area  is still in the hands of a few hundred family estates who were gifted the land by William the Conk more than a thousand years ago. Obviously they don’t drive the tractors themselves – they get contract and tenant farmers to do the dirty work, kill our birds, pollute the drinking water, flood our towns and cities and then claim subsidies for the activity for shits and giggles  because they can.

What should happen IMO is a total escheat of all property on death[ref]I’d generalise that further but the great thing about land is you can’t hide it in overseas tax havens[/ref]. Those damn grandchildren didn’t work for it, and if they aren’t to get their throats cut by the massed and desperate hordes of people who weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouths in the accommodation dystopia being created, then the current trajectory of ever-increasing housing costs needs to be shifted. I was able to save enough money through my working life to buy a house from a standing start. That’s getting harder and harder to do as more and more funny money chases property, but no, Gavin and George Osborne, more inherited housing wealth is part of the problem, not the answer. Unless you are actually going to go out and kill all the poor people who are dirtying up your nice world.

The world of work is changing

The accelerating trends in automation and globalisation, are part of a general shift of power from labour to capital that has been going on for the last 20 years. In a double whammy for poorer First World residents, globalisation is amplifying the shift of low-skilled jobs that can be moved to cheaper labour forces. While this is undoubtedly good for business and capital, if you were part of that unskilled labour force in the UK you get so see your jobs go. The last 20 years have seen a tremendous fall in poverty and inequality, but that’s worldwide. Let’s hear it from Tim Worstall – right-wing nutjob and apologist for unfettered free-marketology sans compassion for poor saps less clever than he is, riffing off this paper written by Ayn Rand Chari and Penlan. Take it away, Tim:

According to a World Bank Study, in the three decades between 1981 and 2010, the rate of extreme poverty in the developing world (subsisting on less than $1.25 per day) has gone down from more than one out of every two citizens to roughly one out of every five, all while the population of the developing world increased by 59 percent.8 This reduction in extreme poverty represents the single greatest decrease in material human deprivation in history.

That’s a pretty good outcome from an economic policy and it’s why I support the process of globalization quite as much as I do. Absolute poverty, that peasant destitution, is something I regard as an abhorrence. Killing it off through economic growth I thus regard as not just desirable but a moral duty.

OK, but there’s a problem with this, as the paper points out. For some policies will be good for one set of poor people, those absolutely poor out in the Great Big World, yet bad for another set of the poor, those who are the poor in the already rich societies. And this globalization and free trade mixture is exactly one of those policies that has this effect. Rising inequality in the rich nations is a logical result of adding those couple of billion low wage workers to the global economy. We could predict it would happen, theory tells us it should happen and it has happened: no one should be surprised about that.

I’ve made clear around here a number of times that I both understand this point and also think that it’s a perfectly fair price to be paying. Yes, of course, that’s easy enough for me to say as I’ve not got to pay it. […] But that the relatively lowly paid in the rich countries stand still for a bit while the absolutely poor of the world climb the economic ladder to the joys of three squares a day, yes, I think that a price well worth us all paying.

Delightfully technocratic, Tim, and for all I know you’re right, it is indeed tough to fault the logic from a strictly rational/intellectual POV, the reason I can be sanguine about it is that while not as rich as Tim I am still on the right side of that inequality divide. You’re a clever cookie, Tim, the the sleight of hand is that price well worth us all paying. Seems a bit rough that it is just the poor who get to pay the price, Tim, might have been a bit more helpful if you’d like to chip in and  help out. As it is you only have to weep crocodile tears and wring your hands, because that’s conveniently precluded by the Ayn Randian logic. The UK poor aren’t standing still, they are going backwards – unskilled jobs are shit and getting shittier, for the simple reason that the value of unskilled work is falling. The second part of Tim’s article is a load of rationalising about why you can’t do ‘owt about that because if you redistribute towards your locally poor you shaft the globally poor- to wit

It’s entirely possible that we could have some policy or other that makes our own, rich world , poor better off. But which at the same time makes the absolutely poor of the world worse off. And if we did have such a policy, and we were also concerned about the poor, then we shouldn’t have that policy. Even though it benefits our poor they’re not in fact all of the poor. And given where our poor are in the global income distribution then they’re almost certainly not the poor that we should be worrying about.

He uses the specific examples of agricultural subsidies[ref]Agricultural subsides subsidise the rich landowners in the UK, I don’t know enough about the US situation to know if it’s different, though I’d say CAFOs, and subsidised high-fructose corn syrup are indicative of a different sort of pathology than consumers sponsoring the aristocracy[/ref] in the US to show how this works, and the EU has its own version of this. [ref]One of the tragedies of Brexit is that a big potential win from it, canning agricultural subsides, was nixed early on[/ref] I can’t fault his logic, but I would pay money to watch him try and develop that line of thinking with some of the people in the UK who have been at the losing end on globalisation. A government isn’t voted in by the people of the world, but by the people of a specific area. The Brexit vote was an example of regional pushback. Trump is another. Poor people find it deeply offensive when rich people tell them their standard of living has to fall to help some bunch of poorer people elsewhere while the rich swan off and don’t take any hit themselves.

This process of requiring more skills is drifting up towards what used to be known as middle class jobs, because it’s now automation that is coming for some of those jobs. When I considered learning something about accounting to become more competent and doing the books for a business, I came to the conclusion, supported widely in the comments, that it wouldn’t make sense to invest in training for something that is likely to disappear or be outsourceable. This is a microcosm of the wider ‘should I invest in university problem’, which is part of the topic of Poppy Noor’s little rant here, though I do think she needs a dose of  ‘if you want to live free, your utopia is irrelevant‘ to get her to be effective about changing her lot in life rather than be right about how it isn’t right.

Being right about how things aren’t right makes for a deep and satisfying rant, but the chat with Andy on Haytor left me wondering how a 25 year younger Ermine would tackle the changed world. It would need to be different from the way that served me okay.

 

The Guardian misinforms punters how to deal with the cost of Christmas

The Guardian, which is a broadsheet paper aimed at the left-of-centre middle classes, hipsters and other good sorts, brings us an article on how to deal with the fiscal impact of Christmas. Which is absolutely, totally, stupendously wrong on all counts. It is like, WTF is wrong with these guys. It’s a total riot of wrong-headed gormless thinking. They trip up right out of the starting gate, with the headline.

Overdraft or a ‘money transfer’? How to ease the cost of Christmas

Repeat after me, you addle-brained punters, you never, ever, ease the cost of anything by borrowing money to pay for it[ref]unless you can borrow for a total effective cost below inflation, which is not the case now[/ref]. You always make your future self pay more and go without so your greedy current self can Have. It. Now. That’s fine and dandy when you’re in short trousers, but by the time you’ve gotten to 18 and over when you can legally buy beer and drive a credit card, you should have noticed something about Christmas.

Christmas is not a random event

It’s so unrandom that I can tell you when it will be in a hundred years time – 25th December 2115 since you ask. It’s not a random event or some act of God – well, depending on who you speak to it might be, but not in the OMG that’s totally unforeseeable category of things.

less bad than the timer.. just. Still begs the question, why...? Just why make it, why buy it?
Do not spend more than you have to on crap like this

The choice is not overdraft or money transfer, you blithering nincompoops, because the other thing about Christmas is that is a totally gratuitious and elective expense. There is nothing at all wrong with spending shitloads of money on consumer trash to see the beatific smiles on your kids’ faces for five seconds if you save up for it first. You did, didn’t you? We presume since you are an adult you have noticed that regular things happen, er, regularly…? Mind you, I do wonder when the writer was born

This is a relatively new facility on offer to some credit card holders, and allows someone to take part of their credit limit in the form of cash that is paid directly in to their bank account.

Err, I used this newfangled facility to borrow £15,000 interest-free from MBNA to put down as a bigger deposit on my first house, over 25 years ago. There was a lot wrong with buying that house, but the MBNA loan was repaid and did not cost me any more than £15,000. This feature ain’t that new.

Not only are the Guardian normalising infantile consumer behaviour, they are also telling their readers

Go find a store that is offering x% higher prices for your Christmas goods. And shop there

Normally you’d look for money off, but borrow for Christmas and you are spending more on your Consumer Stuff than you need to, which is the mark of a prize airhead.

It’s simple. You spread the cost of Christmas by saving up for your consumer splurge before Christmas. Otherwise all you are doing is getting the same goods but paying more, or paying the same money and getting fewer goods. And that’s just pain stupid, dear Guardianistas. Don’t do it to yourselves.

If you need to borrow money for Christmas, you can’t afford it

So do yourself and your family a favour, cancel it for a year, and resolve to start saving in January for this predictable expense that will come round in 12 month’s time. You worked hard for that bloody money, and it’s rude to take 10-20% of your time working for the Man and just toss it down the toilet because you can’t think ahead. Suck it up for this time and resolve to get your act together for next Christmas, because y’know what? You have 13 months, starting now 😉

That’s an F for Total Fail, Guardian. Do not borrow money for predictable expenses, because if you do you are spending more to get less.