holidays in the sun are not a human right, people

Funny old game, really. One of the really big issues in the UK causing much bellyaching is the recently imposed quarantine requirements for returning from Spain, along with the usual gormless whinging about will I get paid. Err – no. Like when volcanic ash stopped flights a while back, you don’t get paid for the extra time you took to get back home, nor the extra hotel and transport bills. Unless you had decent travel insurance, and even then it was the insurer’s job, not your employer’s.

Earth to Great British Public – your holiday is not a human right. There’s no fairness fairy. There’s a global pandemic on. If you decide to take the risk of going for your two weeks in the sun, you also get to suck up the added risk of getting stuck out there and the concomitant costs (if they lockdown) and/or the risk of ending up with a domestic holiday bolted on (if we quaratine your destination).

Your right to two weeks in the sun doesn’t trump the public health. In the same way as we have other limitations on yer yuman rights to do what the bloody hell you like and have others eat the consequences. You can’t drive your Maserati at 100mph down an urban street, though I’m sure as hell it’d be great fun.

Greetings, sky unscarred by Ryanair, BA and Easyjet Remember them not so long ago? The risk of a quarantined destination is not your greatest tail risk, sunseekers

The Ermine is not overflowing with the milk of human kindness on the subject, because it is pretty obvious to anybody with a brain cell rattling about in their cranium that unexpected delays are a much higher risk this year. Earlier we have had the evidence of a country-wide shutdown and serious impairment to international travel, enough to clear our skies of contrails and shut down the endless rumble of jet noise so you get to hear the birdsong better.

It’s clear that humanity hasn’t really got ahead of coronavirus and hasn’t really solved the issue of the highly communicable nature of the disease plus its long incubation period making the whole thing really tough to manage from a public health standpoint.

So you’re taking several elevated risks on going on a cheap flight to somewhere sunny. I don’t know if you can insure against the potential loss of earnings, though to be honest why not self-insure? Save two weeks of earnings before you go on holiday, then if they do quarantine your destination you get a couple extra weeks to catch up with some DIY on unpaid leave.

If they don’t, well, stick the money towards next year’s holiday and celebrate your good fortune. Not only were you able to afford a holiday, but you saved the money, and if you think your employer should have paid for the risk then you actually still have a job, which is a stroke of great luck compared to an awful lot of Britons come August; one in ten will lose their job by the end of the year. Faced with this level of hazard, ending up with the loss of two weeks earnings pales into insignificance – if you would find that devastating then you can’t afford to go on holiday even if you currently do have a job. You’re not meant to say it, but if I were an employer struggling to keep afloat then if somebody had the brass neck to ask me to fund the tail risks of their ten days in the sun then they will go higher up in the queue when push comes to shove.

A holiday is for your benefit and enjoyment. Why the hell should your employer pay you if you aren’t back at work as originally planned. particularly as business conditions are tough this year?

Damn well prepare for foreseeable risks yourself, insure against them yourself, or just don’t take the risk in the first place. What the heck is so hard about that?

Back home, staycations seems to be making us into chavs all round

The Hawk Stone, Oxfordshire
The Hawk Stone, Oxfordshire

Last month I took a gander at this standing stone in Oxfordshire, and I was surprised at the amount of trash in laybys. Since there’s a theme of whining whingeing here, I will join in; this seems to be a wider problem that we’ve all become a lot more slobtastic.

The Ermine has a campervan, but I can honestly say that I am not the problem these guys are talking about. I have never shat in the great British outdoors in my entire life. I don’t dump camping gear in the outdoors, for two reasons – one is I don’t buy rubbish in the first place, and try and service it properly. But if it does break up, then I throw it away in … a bin? One of the great things about the supermarket plastic bag was you could use it to collect your sundry trash if rough camping and then ditch it in a litter bin. These days you have to buy a roll of swing bin liners, but I haven’t got through my first roll yet. Don’t be a slob. Fair enough, I don’t do tent camping and don’t hike to campsites so maybe this is easier for me, but what the hell is up with us now?

Continue reading “holidays in the sun are not a human right, people”

Priapic solstice perambulations in pursuit of weed

I know what you’re thinking, but we are country mice, so we are after seaweed, not yer metropolitan weed.

Seaweed drying on the washing line

Mrs Ermine had bought a snorkel, and was going to search the deep for seaweed. You can fry it and it makes pretty good crisps, as well as drying it and pulverising it in a food processor. She’s of the opinion that it’s good for you, well, as far as anything fried is ever good for anybody 😉

The snorkel was totally superfluous to requirements, because when the sea sounds like this

and looks like this

what you need is a RIB and an outboard motor. However, what the sea also does is uproot the seaweed from the sea floor and dumps it on the beach, which seems a much better win than getting wet to do this. Why keep a dog if you have to bark yourself…

I always look a bit askance at things from the sea, not only do fish f*ck in it, but you get diesel oil, heavy metals and tons of sewage, bunker fuel etc. It’s basically the dustbin of the world. Hopefully the seaweed filters this out, in the same way as your spuds filter out the muck they spray on the fields. It tasted fine. There were fewer people about this time than last time, and they seemed to be having fun.

These things were a git to get off the ground…
but looked like fun once you had done

We went back and had a coffee stop in the viewpoint of the Cerne Abbas Giant in honour of the summer solstice just gone past. He seems to have been newly cleared and was in gleaming priapic splendour

Cerne Abbas Giant

Normally we’d stop off at the little tea shop in the High Street, but as that sort of thing isn’t open yet it was coffee from Thermos flasks in the full view of His Horniness. It’s one of the delights of England that you get mad things like this plastered on the hillside for hundreds of years, outlasting Cerne Abbey.

The seaweed shrinks massively as it dries out

You don’t get left with much – it has been chopped up

and it has a deep and existential affinity to water. To the extent that if you dry it in the day and leave it on the plate overnight it sucks some water straight out of the air!

The trick seems to be to get it inside an airtight jar ASAP, which turns Nikon’s glass into a funky lomography lens

It’s odd stuff – varying in colour

Seems there is a tradition of eating seaweed that I was unaware of. The Danes call it sea vegetable not weed and it is industrially extracted in Scotland. The seaweed crisps are divine, sort of natural and far less bad for you than anything made of spuds, but their inherent nature of wanting to suck the water out of anything is preserved. They give you a stonking thirst, so do not consume anywhere which has a proximity to beer… The salt is probably bad for you whatever the Danes say.

No fighting please, we’re British?

This was written early in the week. There’s no need for hot-headed argy-bargy. Some London lads went to Bournemouth and ended up in a knife fight and a few people left their shit in a box. Just…go for a dump before you leave the house?

One of the advantages of being an island is that Britain has a hell of a lot of coastline, you don’t all have to head out to where everyone else goes…

It’s a dirty job, Dom, but somebody’s gotta do it

This is a purely UK domestic rant about a special adviser to the Prime Minister who took it upon himself to drive halfway up the country in a car with not one but most likely two active carriers of coronavirus, and once he felt better, drive 30 miles to a local beauty spot with his wife and kids in the car to test if he could see OK to drive back to London 😉  The dog once ate my homework too, Dom.

For the record I’m actually grateful to Dom for apparently jumping to the fact that lockdown needed to happen, even if it turned out that in his view it only applied to the little people. His supposed boss was dithering, still in thrall to an Englishman’s right to go down the pub so they could potentially die like a dog in a ditch.

However, there’s taking the piss and there’s taking the piss, and charging up the M1 for a couple of hundred miles with two active carriers of the pestilence to visit his second home aged parents’ farm is taking the piss on a new level. So I shared this sentiment with my MP, James Heappey, who has never voted against the boss, because he’s a fellow on the make. But he ought to get the feeling that some of his flock think that Dom took the piss to excess:

Dear James Heappey,

My mother is living in [redacted, let’s just say she is also one of James’ flock].

I have not seen her since February, which is to protect her and the other residents against Covid-19. Because:lockdown. Something that does not appear to apply to Dominic Cummings, a SPAD who appears to be above the law, according to the Prime Minister’s mendacious address on the telly1.

Can you kindly explain to me the reasons for the pusillanimous behaviour of the weak leader of your party in not sacking DC? Dominic Cummings not only decides that the lockdown rules didn’t apply to him, but that he was perfectly entitled to carry a notifiable disease 260 miles to a second home so he could have a more chilled experience, and then delivers a litany of self-serving entitled bullshit claiming he has done nothing wrong? I do not find his childcare a valid reason to break the law and expose another part of the country to carriers of the disease – he started out in London, the capital city of the UK where I am sure such services are to be had. Continue reading “It’s a dirty job, Dom, but somebody’s gotta do it”

What will we do with our world when this is over?

As my ageing mother said a couple of weeks ago, up until this you have not lived through any crisis. This is a woman who was not yet into double digits before the second world war ended.

You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.

Rahm Emanuel

Having switched off a fair part of the economy, it’s a fair chance to ask the question “If we started with a blank sheet of paper, I don’t know, say about May 1979, would we design to get to where we are now?”

if it was meself that was going to Letterfrack, faith, I wouldn’t start from here

apocryphal Irish joke

Let’s take a look at what we have got in the UK compared to what we had. Way back when a young Ermine entered university around that time, inflation was way up in the sky. By the time I graduated,  the economy went titsup in a big way, and it took six months to find a job. I plied my trade in a small company making electronic gizmos. Britain was a different place then.

When we wanted castings for a piece of equipment, we were able to go a couple of miles down the road to meet up with the suppliers, they could point to the part of the design that would reduce the yield, tell us why and we got to change that. The people who wound the transformers for us were in walking distance.

In my next job, I travelled by train from SE London to Cannon Street Station. No city, other than perhaps Edinburgh presents a pretty face to the railway line, but I saw light engineering firms here and there from the railway line, amongst the council estates and blocks of flats. As the decades passed, billboards went up ‘you could be home by now’ as the factories were cleared to make way for estates of ‘executive’ homes. Funny how every bugger buying a new house wants to feel they are an executive, I’d imagine a real FTSE100 CEO wouldn’t be seen dead in one of those rabbit hutches.

I inherited this pump made in east London from my Dad, we still use it when making compost to get enough pressure from our water butts to run a sprayer.

They used to make pumps in London – yes, Romford is in London, not Essex

As the entertaining wingnut David Starkey related, today’s Britain is buggered if it can make shaped bits of plastic in any quantity, for that is largely what PPE is. Sic transit gloria for the erstwhile workshop of the world. I’m sure Mr Carter would have something to say about that, once he’s stopped spinning in his grave on his sintered bearings, still serviceable after six decades or more.

Starkey is surprisingly dirigiste for a wingnut. Perhaps he hates globalisation and its inhabitants of nowhere even more than furriners. Maybe here is a way to make a success of Brexit, with hyper-localisation, though I thought we had given industrial policy up with Thatcher in favour of Ricardian advantage and the invisible hand of market forces. Too much of a good thing can be wonderful and all that.

Maybe there is a turning point here. We could draw in our horns and make more stuff, indeed balance the economy, though I don’t think that we will have employment enough for the horny-handed New Tories of the North. But hopefully we could make shaped plastic quicker… We used to have big companies that made the raw materials, with grand sounding names like Imperial Chemical Industries.

Britain decided to maximize the amount of money we could make, by specialising in finance, and tossed an awful lot of the population’s dreams and expectations1 by the wayside. Now although I blame the borked state of the housing market squarely on Mrs T and her cursed Right to Buy sale of votes, clearly the world didn’t stay static over the intervening 40 years, so you can’t blame other pathologies of modern Britain on her. But it did set the direction of travel, a focus on the numbers and Ricardian advantage. Despite the bad rap she has for manufacturing, causal inspection of the share of GDP as manufacturing chart lower down shows that it was the Rt Hon Tony Blair who was in the wheelhouse when manufacturing got run out of town.

Our finest minds went into finance, and there’s some pretty damning critiques of the desperate lack of balance in the British economy from some of these. There’s the short form from ZXSpectrum on Monevator

The UK made a sort of Faustian bargain: low unemployment for high underemployment and low skill base. Taxpayers subsidize many corporates and SMEs, through low taxation and incentives, to provide rubbish jobs on low pay. These jobs should have been offshored to EM markets years ago. It’s unsustainable for UK workers to be paid 3-5x an EM worker for something where they offer no advantage. It’s also results in terrible productivity and low capex.

I’m clearly going to have to pay more tax after this crisis. I’d much prefer to pay people UBI so that they could stare at the ceiling, than see my tax used to subsidize Richard Branson, Mike Ashley or Phillip Green. Machine learning and AI is going to make many middle class people unemployed.

and the long form with knobs on from Tullet Prebon’s Tim Morgan

In the West, a small minority prospers, principally the CEOs of companies whose profits have surged, and bankers who gain from the expansion of the lending sector. On the other hand, the majority suffers, both because of declining wages and because of rising indebtedness.[…]

Our Tim ain’t feeling any more chipper about things now, here’s what he has to say about the much-vaunted V-shaped coronavirus recession that the markets are telling you do go buy into RIGHT NOW ‘cuz everything is up in the sky and going up. There’s an updated version of Tim’s growl H/T FI Warrior which makes the same sort of Limits To Growth angle. For the moment let’s set the LtG angle aside2. After all, I was still in short trousers when the Club of Rome said we were doomed in thirty years, and I am now within spitting distance of The Firm’s normal retirement age, after two decades of extra play.

However, it is clear that since 1980 we in Britain have designed a world of work that is a seriously shit experience for a lot of people after 40 years of TINA. In particular we shifted the UK economy to services, and created an awful lot of crap low-paid bottom end jobs, and a lot of middle-class bullshit jobs. The poor on zero-hours contracts can point to what the problem is with their service jobs. They aren’t reliable, and they aren’t enough to pay the rent, never mind a good life.

Many in the middle-class find their bullshit jobs eat their souls, though they pay OK. One of the problems of bullshit jobs is that they are like Universal Credit for the middle class without the DWP torture, they still lower productivity. Bullshit jobs produce services/goods that nobody wants or needs.

We have maximised money, but not meaning, and muddle along with misery for the many

It’s all very well to clap for our carers, but we will learn what our values are if we collectively stick our hands in our pockets and pay the poor bastards a living wage, and perhaps bring back bursaries so they don’t carry student debt. In general this crisis is highlighting that an awful lot of people who keep the wheels running for us are paid the minimum wage if they are lucky, and don’t have a minimum guaranteed hours if they are unlucky.

And, when we get to stand back a little bit from it all, we discover that an awful lot of better paid middle-class jobs are a bizarre combination of make-work and perverse incentives. F’rinstance, several years ago, we took a look at how some funding organisation was setting up a community project. The first rule of funding is that you have to fund the consultants who happen to be funded by the funders somehow, that advise you on how to use the funding, then how to get next year’s funding, how to fill in the innumerable forms to get the right ticks in the boxes so the funders feel good about the funding.

Personally, I’d pull the plug on the lot, including the National Lottery and all its good causes. There’s a lot to be said for the Hippocratic oath when it comes to fiddling with the lives of the poor. First do no harm. Betting on the horses or greyhounds in the 1960s was more honest than ‘it could be you’ but pretty definitely won’t be. I have some recollection that there was regulation of that but it appeared that the Tote established by Churchill was sold off3 to Betfred in 2008. Ain’t privatisation such a great thing, eh? I’m sure Betfred maximises the amount of money not ripped off from the punters and feeds it back to the sports. Not.

On a more collective level we end up with the deeply borked twisted mess that the DWP has become. They start with a buggered up premise from the get go, which is that work is the way out of poverty. No. It used to be, when the economy had a wide range of jobs for a wide range of talents, and we needed hod-carriers as well doctors. That was forty years ago, guys.

That’s just not true any more, because: globalisation. There are many people in the UK whose skills aren’t up to adding enough value, because it is cheaper to go to somewhere where the cost of living is cheaper and hire that function there – or build a factory to make it there and import the product.

Now there are lovely jobs and lousy jobs, and whaddya know, there are a lot more lousy jobs than lovely jobs. This was spotted 17 years ago, it’s not new. You can’t make a lovely life out of lousy jobs.

That is why they don’t make pumps in London any more – they make money in London, and making pumps is just too low value-add compared with making money.

That isn’t to say we make nothing in Britain any more – the added value of manufacturing has been sort of retained, even as the share of GDP has dropped like a stone

Share of GDP added by the manufacturing sector as percent of GDP
Added value of manufacturing, bn USD, probably slightly declining over time given 30 years of inflation probably make 500bn 2020’s US$ worth less than 300bn US$ in 1990

So what, many might say. After all, my Dad was notably hard of hearing by my age due to working in a glass bottling plant, and he was stone deaf by the time he cashed in his chips.

People may wax lyrical about the mining community spirits but it was still a pretty ghastly tough job. There’s not that much great about a lot of manufacturing jobs, because wrangling Stuff tends to be physical, noisy and hard work. The younger ermine thought I would have to leave the electronics industry due to getting asthma. That first company was probably not COSHH-compliant. The problem turned out to be that we would wash circuit boards in boiling Arklone with the instruction never fall to the floor in that room, because the vapour is heavier than air. I never had trouble with asthma4 since leaving that first job after a year, though soldering was still part of the electronics industry, and fume extraction was not a thing until a few more years. As a design engineer and then research engineer I didn’t do enough soldering for that to be an issue.

Many manufacturing jobs were bad for you, but an awful lot of modern service jobs are shit in a different way. At least many of the problems in manufacturing were soluble with PPE and automation, whereas many service jobs seem to gravitate towards low-end minimum wage zero hour contracts that you can’t live or die on. The micromanagement and metrics of some middle-class jobs lead to chronic stress and the associated strokes/heart attacks.

In Britain Thatcher inaugurated the practice of buying votes by raising house prices. This was achieved by destroying social housing, giving bungs to people who were too poor to buy a house. Credit was expanded massively with banks going into the home lending market. In 1989 a young Ermine as a single man stupidly bought a house on 3.5 times earnings. Apparently you can still do that oop North, but according to the ONS your average English first time buyer earns5 52k, saves one year’s earnings and spunks 237k on the house.

Over a couple of generations, that means a higher level of housing precarity, though house owners feel good about higher nominal values, and they increase inequality by favouring their own children with the loot when they die. Those not so blessed with ancestral wealth also take a hit from BTL landlords hoovering up starter homes, because homeowners are of the view that bricks and mortar = money tree. Present company excepted, that is…

One thing I have always thought would be a good way to eliminate a lot of what’s gone wrong with employment practices is to terminate all agencies and middlemen. If somebody pays you to pay someone else to do something then you are skimming, and should be run out of town. We did it to wholesalers of Stuff, let’s repeat the exercise to wholesalers of people. The Firm used to employ its cleaners directly. They saved money by outsourcing that, goodbye paid holiday and sick pay. Agency is a fancy name for gangmaster. Oddly enough digitalisation has greatly disintermediated buying and selling stuff, but has greatly intermediated employment with agencies and job-search platforms.

What could we do better?

We will have less Stuff. Probably fewer Services. It’s not all bad – you might get to see your kids more. Here are some things I would like to happen. I’m sticking with the UK here, we seem to want the world to get a larger place what with Brexit etc and I am nowhere near clever enough to fix anything wider, but I could probably match the current shower in charge of the UK in basic competence. Ain’tcha glad I’m not in charge. huh?

1) Destroy the low-cost leisure airline industry. Burn it, and encase the memory that it ever happened in glass and concrete, and bury it so deep nobody will ever find it for five thousand years.

Easyjet will resume domestic flights in mid June. There is absolutely no need for domestic flights in the UK ever. Britain is not that big – we aren’t Australia or the United States. I want to see EasyJet, Ryanair, the lot of them destroyed and the ground that low-cost airlines grew in salted and burned. If you have grandchildren, you don’t need low-cost airlines. Because: their world when they are your age.  Let’s quietly ignore the possibility that air travel got Europe into serious shit in March according to the ECDC. The original mistake wasn’t malicious – people weren’t to know then. However, after what happened, if you postulate air bridges – well, it pretty much sums up air travel all round. No externality is important enough to constrain the God Given right to cheap air travel. This is not about people starving like the Berlin Airlift, it’s about the right to fight for towels on a packed beach.

Zooming out, you will never electrify air travel. Sure, you might be able to do it technically in a couple of decades, but you have to plug the entire output of Sizewell B power station into a future electric 747 for an hour to achieve one long-haul flight. Even if you don’t give a shit about climate change or know for a fact it’s all a Deep State cabal, just how much nuclear waste to you want those grandchildren to have to deal with to keep up your flying habit? People used to have one annual family holiday to foreign parts. If we could make work less hateful, perhaps we might not need to run away from it so often. As for commuting by air…

Right, capt'n, where do I plug this sucker in? Photo Dave Croker, Geograph
Right, capt’n, where do I plug this sucker in? Photo Dave Croker, Geograph

I really hate the low cost airline industry. It fucks up our skies which is patently obvious now, it generates needless unholy rumble through most of the day and encroaching onto the nights, it ruins your kids’ future worlds,  it facilitates stag party twattishness, it makes places like Barcelona nd Amsterdam crap. It’s just gone too far. If coronavirus can kill it that is all to the good IMO. Less is more. It’s a proxy for the pathologies inherent in late stage capitalism. It just doesn’t know when to bloody well stop. More is not always better.

2) A four day week isn’t a bad idea, along the lines of making work less hateful

3) Do something about crap jobs. Automate the ones that aren’t worth doing, pay the ones that are worth doing a living wage.

4) String up anybody who even thinks “work is the way out of poverty”  – it hasn’t been for 40 years and it never will be. Talent that matches well paid work opportunities and luck are the route out of poverty, and neither are something you have overwhelming influence over. You can play a good hand well, but you can’t do anything with a weak hand, the opportunities just aren’t there. We have specialised too much.

5) Fix Universal Credit. Turn it into a universal basic income, or for all I care universal basic services. Or at least be honest and say we believe some people’s lives are worthless, we aren’t going to get involved, we don’t give a shit, and basically, kill ’em all. If we can pay Endemol to round up Iain Duncan Smith and have him live a month on UC that should be good for a laugh, too.

6) Destroy bullshit jobs. A Universal Income/Services would save the waste of human potential. And the trees. And reduce the pressure on the transport system.

6) Think about how we feel about poverty. If we collectively are chilled about it, there are enough dystopian way pointers on how to deal with it. If we aren’t, then finding some way of learning to live within our means will mean rationing of some things. Probably including air travel,  and probably including other popular lifestyle choices.

7) Reinstate previous generations’ controls on ownership and share of media6. There was an awful lot wrong with the media in the UK before Mrs T gave it to Murdoch, but I would suggest that while the cure eliminated the disease, the pathology metastasized into something worse. There was at least plurality in the previous disease.

Ain’tcha really glad I’m not in charge? Before I take too much heat for the air travel, note many people would have more time in an Ermine world, you can get to your Alpine skiing second, third, fourth holiday by Eurostar. I’m only coming for your second and up air travel holidays. We’ve probably got enough world for the air travel of the 1990s. But not the amount in 2020 BCV.

How about that Limits to Growth stuff?

It is possible that this second global financial crisis of the new Millennium is the result of systemic overreach as described by the Club of Rome. Let’s not beat about the bush here- the prognosis for FIRE is dire in this case. If you aren’t there you’re not getting there, and if you are there you may not stay there, and yes, that’s me too. The problem is an overhang of debt accumulated, this covered up the fact that global production hasn’t kept up with global population, and some of the limiting inputs to production are becoming exhausted. These are claims on future resources that will not be honoured because they just aren’t possible.

That narrative makes a lot of sense, but there are other stories playing out. For starters old men have been saying the world is going titsup ever since Roman times and probably before.

an alternative – Spenglerian decline

Secondly there is a power shift in play – the ascendancy of China and the East in general, which is a longer example of the cycles of the Imperial decline of the West. These were the European empires of Victorian times, of which the best know example was of course the British Empire, but I would also say that the American Empire is also into decline, the Project for a New American Century looks like a Spenglerian dream gone wrong.

Old men dreaming of past Imperial glories, back in the last century. Diddums. Now where have we heard that recently?

Trump and Brexit both express nostalgia for past exceptionalism, but this is not just a pathology of the Anglosphere, it’s writ across the Western world IMO.

Spengler’s – The Decline of the West was written a hundred years ago, and the narrative runs true to form, and it predates the Club of Rome by fifty years. Like Asimov in Foundation, Spengler did not predict a catastrophic fall, but a protracted decline. That’s pretty much what this looks like to me. Maybe the Chinese will fix air travel with small fusion nuclear reactors that won’t spew foul shit everywhere in the event of a crash. Maybe we will have five thousand years of darkness until the new Imperium rises. Hopefully humanity will have learned a thing or two across the interregnum.

We could make a better world, and for all I know this may be the impulse that makes us ask some tough questions about would we want to end up here if we started along the track that got us here. We could start with the question anybody contemplating FIRE asks themselves.

Is our current level and form of consumption the optimal way to live, or is there a better way to optimise our experience?

But I fear we will let the crisis go to waste. The desperate urge to get air travel going again is symbolic of the driving impulse for a snap back to how things were before. There’s all sorts of special interest pleading to get back to the status quo.

A lot of that is understandable – this has been a sudden stop for an awful lot of economic activity. But it isn’t unheard of for us to say ‘we want to see less of this sort of economic activity in future’, usually because it has undesirable outcomes, usually externalities, costs paid for by other people who often don’t get a say or a share of the economic advantages.

It won’t happen. The drive towards a snap back is strong, and the countervailing forces are weak and disorganised. Macchiavelli was right

“there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.”


  1. The dreams include raising children, having jobs that you could plan a life on, being able to buy a house. The reason their dreams were tossed by the wayside is because they don’t have the aptitudes for high finance. That’s the problem with doing one thing overwhelmingly well, you tend to suck at other things. Specialisation is for insects 
  2. If you want to see how Limits to Growth is going now, take a look at the thirty years on update. It ain’t looking good. 
  3. Blair’s government should be charged with the original idea and doing all the groundwork for this, even though the next government actually pulled the trigger. New Labour was no friend of the statistically illiterate working classes, since t’was they who inaugurated the National Lottery to happen. 
  4. Curiously enough the OSHA doesn’t cite getting asthma as a side effect of CFCs, they reckon it causes you heart problems. You can get away with anything in your 20’s, eh 😉 OTOH the datasheet seems to say respiratory problems were possible. 
  5. I can’t work out if earns means individually or collectively, best not have kids in that house if collectively given what young children do for the household income, eh? 
  6. Goldsmith’s College have a longer form report on UK media shares/ownership  

I’ve got a sneaking admiration for Donald Trump

Go big or go home…and The Donald’s going big in opening up America, standing down the coronavirus taskforce in the next few weeks. It’s probably fair to say there’s not an awful lot of love lost ‘twixt the Gray Lady and The Donald. New York is full of, well, t’other side, and it’s just not Donald’s tribe, though it has been his old stamping ground for ages.

Trump administration officials are telling members and staff of the coronavirus task force that the White House plans to wind down the operation in coming weeks

NYT

It’s not unknown for a POTUS to claim a premature victory. We’ve seen this movie before

How did that work out for ya, Dubya?

but there’s a big difference. I felt that Dubya was a bit out of his depth. He probably believed his own hype. It’s all that inbreeding in the presidential families of America. Trump is an outsider. Sure, his dad was steenking rich, we’re not talking the poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks making it to POTUS version of the American Dream.

I’m of the view that Trump is one of a kind – a masterful dog-whistler. Not everybody is responsive to his particular schtick, and it brings an awful lot of people out in hives. But those to whom he does speak, he speaks directly, and they feel he speaks for them. And sure as hell nobody else has been speaking for them since the American Dream started to go down the toilet pretty much since Reagan took office.

The Mule’s childhood was one of alienation and torment. This motivated him to use his powers to get revenge on the Galaxy

He reminds me of the Mule in Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, someone who almost directly controls people’s minds by making what he says resonate with their lived experience. After years where nobody sounds like they are listening to you that is magnetic – because all humans want to belong and for their pain to be witnessed. The Ermine has recently fired up the TV and paid the goons of TV licensing. I heard Trump on the TV news, and unlike hearing it through my PC on the Web, I heard him on my hi-fi.

The Donald needs to be re-elected

And while he doesn’t speak to me and I know he’s a lying sack of shit, I could hear the magnetism in the way he used his voice and understand the appeal. But the Donald comes with problems. Presumably he had attachment issues as a child, anyway he has a deep seated need to think that he is favoured, and it is really, really important to him to win the election.

Over in London they think coronavirus probably has a low mortality rate and the economy is suffering. Citing various posts from the intellectual right-wing website Unherd, some make a cogent case that Covid-19 isn’t such a big deal for most people. To their credit, Unherd supported their assertion with interviews with experts of similar views  – Hendrik Streek, and Johan Giesecke, and these make a lot of sense. it’s only when you look at Unherd’s content more widely that the focus of their particular lens shows clearly.

Their lens may be more accurate in some areas. I find a lot of resonance in Unherd’s interpretation that a lot of the problems in recent decades stem from a general anomie where by measuring everything in money we may have stripped our world of meaning and knowing what we stand for. I am not clever enough, nor privy to the information that shows whether the truth about coronavirus is closer to the Johan Giesecke end of the spectrum or Neil Ferguson’s. I am less convinced by Giesecke’s, not because I have a way of evaluating it, but from the people that are pushing it, who seem driven by the economics. But the low mortality rate we are all overreacting because what does it matter if this is infectious as hell if it doesn’t kill that many people is popular in London, and it is internally consistent. These are clever people making the case. Human societies do not put life first above all else everywhere – cars, pollution and many other things are examples of drawing a balance where some deaths are part of the price of achieving a greater good.

Mandy Rice-Davies might proffer that Londoners would say that. Londoners are young so at lower risk, on average. It’s unlikely to be a lot of fun being holed up in London micro-flats in a mini-heatwave.  Some are currently not doing a job that brings in squillions. Feeling more squillions disappearing down the plughole due to the shuttered economy must be stressful.

It’s less bad for a retiree in the sticks, where in a bike ride of several miles I encountered four cars once I got out of the town. I saw this

the white handkerchief is a Little Egret

avoided a serious gang fight

Why this field hasn’t degenerated into a swan war of all against all beats me

and wondered how this knot was done

Knotted Willow

While there’s some rumbling going on among the more swivel-eyed Tory contingent about opening up the economy – step forward Iain Duncan-Smith channeling FDR in the Torygraph

After six weeks of lockdown, we mustn’t lose sight of how vital a functioning economy is to our health and wellbeing. Perhaps we should remember President Roosevelt’s wise words in a time of crisis: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Iain “I’m all right Jack” Duncan-Smith, who is of the blessed opinion that poor people have a previous monthly salary paid in arrears that they can draw on before they get Universal Credit, writing in the Torygraph 5 May 2020

the trouble is that they are all chickenhawks. What the world needs to straighten out the difference between these courses of action is someone sure of their convictions and with balls of steel and pure conviction. Enter our man of the moment, Donald Trump.

Here’s a guy who knows what he wants, and knows how he’s going to get it. There are two competing ends of the theory spectrum about coronavirus, and sadly we have insufficient data to make a clear call which is right.

One, the London/Unherd view is that it’s not a biggie, most of us have already had it, closing the economy kills people too y’know. The other is that this is so infectious it will let rip as soon as its given a chance, mortality is not low enough that it won’t kill many. The UK already seems to have the highest European death toll, which points me in the latter direction, but whatever.

What we need is strong leadership, somebody who goes with his gut to cleave the Gordian knot in the face of uncertainty. Now strong leadership tends to have rather undesirable consequences of people marching in shiny jackboots and smashing windows in the night, so what we need is strong leadership somewhere else. And in the US of A they’ve got it. They voted for it once, and they’re gonna vote for it again.

Donald’s really keen on getting re-elected. He’s already flung so much Federal Reserve money at the stock market that it no longer reflects reality, even Warren Buffett can’t see where he’s going, the screen is covered with so much money.

But that’s not enough. Donald needs boots on the ground. He’s not going to let a little thing like a global pandemic get in his his way of being re-elected. Not only is he going to ReOpen America, he’s going to damn well Make America Great Again. And for that he needs Americans back at work. lickety-split.  No, not that interpretation of the phrase, though I guess this is Trump…

Now obviously there’s a chance that people might die if the low mortality  view is less congruent with reality than the higher mortality view. But that’s not important to Donald. Strong leaders decide, others take the consequences. Trump 2020 is what matters, so the great engine of American exceptionalism needs to get fired up. As Warren Buffett said,

never bet against America.

Warren’s ADF indicator may be titsup because of the Fed’s wall of money, but Donald Trump knows exactly where he’s going, what he wants and how he’s going to get it. And he’s going to put the pedal to the metal. Real Men accept collateral damage.

Warren scratches head. Which way is up on this damn thing? Trump leans over, smashes glass, sets the needle. That way is up, buddy.

Cheese-eating surrender monkeys and the rest of the world can stick it, lily-livered quislings that they are. But they can hitch a ride on the Trump.

VUSA is your friend. Or pretty much any S&P500 fund or ETF. Never bet against America, because Donald will MAGA. I’m tempted. I am light America. I loathe everything Trump stands for. But perhaps our Londoners are right, and coronavirus isn’t all that. A punt may at least make me feel better when Donald wins again in November. Like Asimov’s Mule, he doesn’t need to make everybody like him – all he needs to do is keep the people who do like him doing his bidding.

Sonos to Earthlings: All Your Base Belong to Us. We’re with Trump on the environment, BTW

I’m going to have a grumpy old man rant here, but consumerism is getting evil. Any Sonos buyer renter should be made to play Life For Rent as the first confirmation their expensive new kit works, and to remind them they have a lease on it for about five years. Because despite what you may think, you don’t buy Sonos gear. You rent it for a one off purchase cost, and get an indeterminate term of usage. They get to switch your kit off at a time of their choosing.

if my life is for rent

Sonos is an egregious example of what’s been going wrong with consumerism for a while. Disguising a rental model as a capital purchase. Se also : PCP car ‘purchase’. My Dad was right, back in the day. If you can’t pay cash for your car, look for a cheaper one, it’s a wasting asset. However, Sonos is a deliberately wasting asset.

Back in the day, you got to buy your toaster, you plug the beggar in and welcome to several decades of toast. Now if you decided to get the burnt toast out with a butterknife after a particularly excessive night on the sauce like yours truly did as a student, then all bets are off.  1 Muppetry aside, you could anticipate decades of service.

Heck, you used to be able to change the element in a kettle. Audio gear tends to last a long time, once you are out of your twenties, where either you spend enough money to be able to turn the wick up without overloading the amp thereby trashing the tweeters, or your straitened living circumstances mean you turn it down. Small children and pets are a hazard to speakers, but then they are a hazard to lots of things.

The Ermine hifi has a Naim 250 that wasn’t new when I bought it, back in the early 1990s. My speakers date from then. I owned am AR SP8 preamplifier for over 30 years which was also secondhand when I bought it in 1984, but I sold it a couple of years ago because I moved to streaming my CDs from a NAS box, changing it for Naim streaming gizmo/tuner/analogue preamp.

I can see where Sonus scores – the Naim app has a foul user interface. But at least the back end uses open standards, and I have used an alternative Upnp browser. Mrs Ermine grouses about the control interface each time she tries to use it, But since she is prepared to stream crap from YouTube via bluetooth into the system which is does well, then she is happy because she can understand Youtube and it’s free. As long as I don’t have to listen to it its fine. I can’t stand listening to music in her mode, which is to play three quarters of a track and then jump to something else. But each to their own. I am sure this would be easier with Sonos.

Sonos is the antithesis of that sort of system. It is the Apple of the audio world – you plug it in and it Just Works. You pay for that with a locked in walled garden sort of system with the service life of a mayfly, not because it’s unreliable, but because of software designed to be obsolescent as they please. So you also pay for it with highly unethical business practices, which they borrowed from Apple, which is designed in planned obsolescence. Just that Sonos took it it a new level.

Two of the components of my 1980s/1990s system were secondhand. One served me for 34 years before I sold it and it’s presumably serving someone else. The other secondhand component is still in service. I had it refurbished once and repaired2 by Naim once, but for a piece of gear which has been serving me for getting on for thirty years it ain’t bad. It also had the decency not to take out my speakers when it failed, which is good in a power amplifier.

Sonos – and nothing I have is truly mine…

The Ermine doesn’t do Cloud. I loathe Cloud with a vengeance, because I have been suckered by it too many times. If it needs Cloud inherently, like a web server, that’s fine.

Sonos are taking this to a new level, however, and that’s because they have remote control of your gear in your home. I hate Cloud and Software as a Service3 and shit like that because if it needs Cloud so they can milk you again and again. No. Foul ‘ole Ron was right4. Buggrit, buggrem, spying on me with Rays.

I don’t have a mobile subscription. I don’t use Netflix, or Spotify, or any of that sort of thing. My CDs are ripped to the NAS and if I unplug the ADSL feed I can still play music. I don’t want service providers in my life unless there’s a good reason. Yes to electricity and gas and broadband. No to Alexa, Ring networked doorbells, Hive central heating controllers. And evil bastards like Sonus who use Cloud to brick your older equipment by remote control. Presumably you need a connection to them, else you could blackhole whatever Sonus gear phones home to. If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow as that fellow in the Nixon admin said. And you pay for that?

Sonos is hardware as a service. They want you to upgrade all the time. You aren’t going to be using your Sonos gear in 30 years. You’ll be lucky if you are using it in five. The piss-taking bastards say if you have an old component in your system then you can’t even upgrade newer ones. That’s just nasty. Oh sure, you can get a 30% discount if you set your old component to recycle mode, which bricks it.

Nobody recycles electronics. We send it to some Godforsaken part of the world for people to strip out the precious metals at massive cost to their health. At least if you ebay the sucker, then someone else gets to use it. My 30 year old preamplifier is still in service somewhere. WTF is wrong with Sonos? Nearly all of the challenges in audio engineering have been solved. You will need to change the head unit which gets your compressed cloud music as things change. The network bit and the distributed speakers and associated clobber presumably all run uncompressed audio. That’s not going to change for the next 30 years. Some of this Sonos crap you build into your house, for God’s sake. Do you really want to remodel your house because Sonos says so?

Sonos. Just say No

Because all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to stand aside. For that sake of your grandchildren. To stand against the needless waste. And to cut greedy bastards and shady business practices off at the knees.

I’d generalise this wider. I don’t tolerate Apple anything. Not because it doesn’t work, or doesn’t look lovely. Again, a controlled walled garden ecosystem makes for a far better user interface. It’s just that you get to pay a thousand pounds for your bloody phone or computer every five years, because the cheeky buggers orphan old equipment, just because they can. That’s when they aren’t slowing them down ‘to be easier on the elderly battery’. Here’s a radical idea, Apple – hows about making the damn battery replaceable, you know, like it’s been done for all the decades since battery-power shit was invented, until you decided to fetishise ‘thinness’ as an excuse to glue you consumer gizmos shut so not bastard can fix them. Evil bastards. And then you weep crocodile tears about how you really care about the environment and talk rubbish like this

downloaded from https://www.apple.com/uk/environment/ 23 Jan 2020, doesn’t square with my experience, in particular about updating older devices.

So WTF have you orphaned my damn Ipod Touch and glued the battery inside? Last as long as humanly possible, FFS…

And as for Sonos, the service life of audio gear should be measured in decades, not years. And nothing on earth at all should be intentionally made obsolete by remote control, you evil bunch of punks.


  1. The hot tip here is to unplug the thing first. I had assumed the switch was in the live side but it was on the neutral side despite this being a Class 1 device. Still, at least I got that slice of toast out, after the flash as the element vaporised. And we had a gas grill that you lit with a match. so we were still good for toast. And fish fingers. What on earth could go wrong, eh? 
  2. Turns out I could have fixed this myself. Symptom was it blew 10A mains fuses. I popped the lid and didn’t spot any charred components or magic smoke escaping, so I assumed the power transformer had a shorted turn, and these are a custom component I couldn’t buy. Turns out one of the discrete bridge rectifier diodes had failed short. My hasty assumption cost me a couple hundred quid, which served me right for jumping to conclusions ;) 
  3. Adobe Creative Cloud, we’re looking at you. Evil courses through Adobe’s corporate veins 
  4. Terry Pratchett, Discworld ISTR 

passive investors, are you destroying your children’s world?

Most of the brouhaha about the rise of passive investing comes from the intuitive feeling that passive investors are only along for the ride, they don’t know or care ‘owt for what the companies they hold passively are up to.  Insofar as they are not engaged shareholders, they don’t guide the companies they own collectively, and the burden of shareholder feedback falls upon a smaller band of active investors.

Most of the argument about this in the FI sphere is a concern on corporate governance and returns, and there are various forms of rebuttal. The dumb passive billions are like the carriages on a train following the remaining active engines, but they switch to a different locomotive depending on the outcome, the fickle bastards. So it comes out alright in the end, is the received wisdom – the passive crew are amplifiers to the results of the active guys, rather than sponsors of their yachts. So the dumb money is safe1, because it follows the smart money.

The Anglo-Saxon business model eats the future, quoth the British Academy

who make the case in an extensive report that the narrow definition of the aims of the corporation in the English-speaking Western world makes companies focus on making money to the exclusion of all else. They are required by law to make as much money as you can for your shareholders. There is an implied “by legal means”, but globalisation means that there is a race to the bottom because what’s legal there isn’t necessarily what’s legal here. That this has been damaging to Western working populations can be seen by the changes in the workplace, particularly since the global financial crash – disaffected Western aspirations voted for Trump, and Brexit.

One of the problems of globalisation is that it has massively reduced the leverage of government regulation. The UK government could regulate to reduce practices that harm the environment, but the activity so discouraged will then migrate to a jurisdiction that doesn’t have such scruples.

On the other side, as buyers we qualify our investments by the desired rate of return. This is marginal enough as it is – the common assumption is a 4-5% real return on investment integrated over decades. The corollary of that is that you need a capital of 20-25 times your desired annual income. Shift that down to 2 to 3% and that starts to become 50 times your desired income; doing that in a 30 year working life starts to look really tough.

A quick spin through the top components of a whole world index fund

Do big firms eat the future? A glance at the undesirable practices of the biggest components of a well-regarded recommendation of world index fund VWRL isn’t happy reading for those with a social conscience:

Apple Inc: Failure to adhere to Chinese labour laws. I’d charge ’em with price-fixing, planned obsolescence, anticompetitive practices, non-replaceable batteries2 and refusal to engage with third-party or DIY repairs. Pictures of workers and pollution here

MSFT: I couldn’t dig up that much dirt. Yesterday’s men, they tried to rule the world and failed, though they were done for antitrust offences ISTR. Bill’s still rich as Croesus

AMZN: So bad Wikipedia has a page dedicated to AMZN criticism. Closer to home they treat people like shit in distribution centres. I think their riposte boils down to ‘treating people like shit is part of our business’ and while it’s true that I left work because I was treated like shit at a critical juncture, it’s notable that for the vast majority of my working life treating people like shit wasn’t a widespread part of my work experience or that of people I know.

FB: Suborning the political process, getting rich on fake news, making sociopaths of us all, aiding and abetting Dominic Cummings, refusing to stop meddling in elections by showing different things to different people. Selling personal data to the highest bidder, lying about it until caught. The problem was manifest from the get-go as the youthful Zuck described his punters as dumb f**s. Evil courses through the company’s veins. If I were God for a day social media is a class of product/service I’d uninvent and rewire human brains so it could never be dreamed up again. Yes, it’s nice that Grandma in York can keep in touch with the grandkids Down Under but the collateral damage in terms of human misery is appalling IMO

JPM: I couldn’t come up with any dirt but they paid a $13bn fine for something to do with the GFC. Presumably they have enough money to pay decent lawyers to get them off the hook, so it must’ve been bad.

Two lots of Alphabet, Google’s holding/parent company: How’s that ‘Don’t be evil’ thing going down with y’all? Oh and this

on Youtube, owned by Google. It’s either irony, hubris or advertising, and I am not clever enough to determine which. Orwell called it forty or fifty years too early with “if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.” Usual charges against Big Data, suborning the common weal, all that stuff. I’m kinda tickled that the Google search of what’s wrong with Google assumes you have technical problems, rather than searching for the central heart of darkness. Chapeau for the subtle control of framing, guys. What’s wrong with Google? Nothing to see here, move along now.

JNJ: I couldn’t dig up that much dirt.

VISA: I couldn’t dig up that much dirt.

NESTLE: Baby Milk Action. ’nuff said, although the £25 Kit-Kat should get an honourable mention just for taking the piss, I can’t make the case that it’s evil.

It may help me retire early, but I’m not sure I can actually feel good about owning VWRL. Perhaps I can tell myself that’s only 12% of the market cap (and mainly American) and that the levels of evil were dropping as I went down the list to the smaller fry, but to be honest I’m not sure I want to know what the rest of them get up to after this exercise!

On the other hand if you try and stick to being ethical you get slaughtered in the markets. Sin pays. You can read countervailing arguments, but it’s people talking their book. It is interesting to observe that ethical investment screening locks you out of nearly two-thirds of the UK’s largest firms. This suggests ethical passive investing just isn’t possible in the UK market. Passive investing only works if it is representative of the market by capitalisation, and a third just isn’t representative. Turn the telescope round and the British Academy chaps have some point – two thirds of the top British firms are harming the public good somewhere.

Maybe nobody will be able to retire in future if this is cleaned up, the rate of return will be so dreadful you just aren’t going to live long enough to save enough to get out of the rat race. Historically, capital accumulated very slowly across a human life, to the extent that dynastic and ancestral capital ruled society. You still see the background radiation of this in that 25000 landowners own half the UK. and the largest share of a third is the aristocracy, where the land has remained in the same families since William the Conk declared himself owner of all of it after 1066 3.

The problem is that money is power, and power corrupts. Most of these firms get an edge through scale. With the exception of FB, they all provide a useful or valued service, they just happen to cut corners in parts of their operation, and globalisation weakens limits on their ability to cut those corners in dark places. We’ve seen some of this movie before – the robber barons of the Gilded Age, and a lot of the pollution and abusive work practices echo what happened4 in the industrialising West in the last century or two. Tim Worstall would probably say that sort of exploitation is a price worth paying. It worked in the West and it’ll work for the global poor.

Globalisation was good for humanity in general, but not for most people in the West

In the article the crisis of capitalism Milanovic argues that

The western malaise is the product of uneven distribution of the gains from globalisation. When globalisation began in the 1980s, it was politically “sold” in the west – especially as it came together with “the end of history” – on the premise that it would disproportionately benefit richer countries. The outcome was the opposite. Asia in particular was a beneficiary, especially the most populous countries: China, India, Vietnam and Indonesia. In Europe, as in the US, it benefitted the 1%. It is the gap between the expectations entertained by the middle classes and the low growth in their incomes that has fuelled dissatisfaction with globalisation and, by association, with capitalism.

Harvard isn’t noted for being a hotbed of Marxist anti-globalisation thinking, but their Dani Rodrik made a similar case in 1997 in his book Has Globalisation Gone Too Far5, observing that lower-skilled wages have fallen in real terms in the US and then Europe since the 1970s. This fall predated my entry into the workplace. I did not observe this at first, because my experience of the workplace was different from my father’s6. He was a maintenance fitter, I worked in industrial research. The suckout took thirty years to reach me, but reach me it did – I retired eight years earlier than normal retirement age for The Firm to escape this deterioration in the workplace.

It’s quite chastening to see that the pathologies dragging us down now were foretold in 1997, exactly as I reached the halfway mark of my shortened working life. Of course, the problem with working out which portents of doom to heed is that  there are so many of them, most of the things that could go wrong don’t go wrong. The bear case always sounds smarter. It’s still eerie to see that over twenty years ago a forecast of the troubles we  face now was written:

Globalization is exposing social fissures between those with the education, skills, and mobility to flourish in an unfettered world market―the apparent “winners”―and those without. These apparent “losers” are increasingly anxious about their standards of living and their precarious place in an integrated world economy. The result is severe tension between the market and broad sectors of society, with governments caught in the middle. Compounding the very real problems that need to be addressed by all involved, the knee-jerk rhetoric of both sides threatens to crowd out rational debate.

The standard answer to that from Calvinist work-is-good-for-you believers is adapt to creative destruction, get on your bike, or die, suckas. Bollocks to that – life is about more than work, I don’t want to hustle for the rest of my days, because I loathe hustle and self-promotion. Had I been born ten years later, that escape route wouldn’t have been an option open to me.

There’s no good reason to put up with a deteriorating workplace if you can buy manumission from The Man. Arguably the stagnation in living standards since I left work meant I haven’t gotten relatively poorer as a result of rising wages in the time I have been out of the workforce. Observation shows that in the West, and in Britain in particular, work is getting more shit for most people. Rodrik was right.

There’s a case to be made that Brexit was partly a rejection of globalisation, the line that if I am going down, you lot are going down with me. Time will show if they get what they wished for. Let’s hope they like it, eh? They’re not going to get a do-over.

Globalisation is much more popular in Asia than in the West, according to Milanovic

But the dissatisfaction with globalised capitalism is not universal: a YouGov survey showed a very high degree of support for globalisation in Asia, with the lowest support in the US and France.

It stands to reason – it has been a win, particularly for the Asian middle class.

Who has gained from globalisation, 1998 to 2008. Tea-leafed from Milanovich’s report in the Harvard Business Review, “Why the Global 1% and the Asian Middle Class Have Gained the Most from Globalization”

Right-wing nut-jobs like the Adam Smith Institute’s Tim Worstall makes a cogent case that globalisation has been a good thing for humanity in the round. He is probably right in that nobody has experienced an absolute terms retrenchment7, but if I had followed my Dad into a blue collar job and Tim showed up in a bar telling me “chin up old boy, your end of the boat had to go down for the greater good, but though you can’t buy a house your telly’s sharper and your phone isn’t screwed to the wall like your Dad’s” then he might end up with a robust and physical riposte, because I don’t particularly care about humanity if I am feeling shat on. He’s also got an answer to the tosspot8 David Attenborough yammering on about environmental issues and that there is no problem that exists in the world to which the right answer is ‘more human beings’, basically don’tcha worry your little head about that, capitalism will fix that too.

Even on a white-collar income, Dani Rodrik’s declining trajectory is shown in my life. I discharged my mortgage ten years later in life than my Dad did, on his single household income. The arrow of time still points in the same direction, the retrenchment in home ownership9 in more recent generations. Worstall would say so what, Millennials will live longer than previous generations, and they have far more choice in what to spend their incomes on. If he makes the case in some hipster east London bar through a mouthful of smashed avocado on toast, he may be met with some pushback in the form of “as long as those things we can afford don’t include buying a house or having children, yes”.

Is your passive FI/RE dream eating your children’s future?

The British Academy lays out the charge on page 27, Corporate Financing that the arm’s-length passive ownership is not only detrimental to the common weal, but it amplifies the actions of bad actors

Traditionally, corporate financing has been concerned with the interests of investors alone. Stock market listed companies in the UK and US are dominated by dispersed passive shareholders who do not provide the active engagement with companies that is associated with larger share blocks in other countries around the world.

In particular, universal shareholders who hold the global portfolio of shares through index funds have risen to the fore. To the extent that there are engaged investors, they take the form of short-term hedge fund activists who hold blocks of shares in companies for an average of between two to four years.

What is for the most part missing in the UK and US are long-term, engaged holders of blocks of shares who act as true owners of corporate purposes . Since one cannot have a relationship with the anonymous, the absence of identifiable holders of blocks of shares undermines the provision of long-term relationship forms of equity finance. The result is not only insufficient governance and stewardship by investors but also a deficiency of committed owners of corporate purposes.

I am not clever enough to see if they are right, but at least some of that seems to have a grain of truth to it. This bell has been tolling for some time – 8 years ago I watched the programme Finished at Fifty that showed a stark contrast between the lifestyles of a Chinese middle class aspirant in an economy with rising prospects and a fifty-year old Brit who had already been offed from one job, carried too much mortgage for his stage of life, lived high on the hog and wasn’t looking at the road ahead. Some of the anger I had in that post is because I saw myself in him, and I was half-way through extricating myself from that sort of folly. We hate seeing in others the dim reflection of our Shadow, and that was why watching this berk do what I had done two years before got on my tits so much…

The stench of decline in the West has grown worse since that programme, in the English-speaking world it’s names are Trump and Brexit, and they harken back to making America Great Again and its Mini-Me Brexit Putting the Great back into Great Britain Again over here.

Putting the Great back into Britain

It just ain’t gonna happen, guys. Sic transit gloria mundi. Well, it’s going to happen for the better off, but although I am over halfway up the UK wealth scale10  I am nowhere near safe from that firestorm, and I don’t even have the right to live elsewhere any more11 any more because of these nostalgic dreamers of Imperial glories past selling their jingoistic story.

Jacob Rees-Mogg will do all right out of it

Jakes will do all right out of it. Of course he’s not influencing Somerset Capital Management‘s investment decisions since he’s an MP. So that’s all tickety-boo and above board then. But the engine of globalisation is driven by our money as well as his. Perhaps I am closer to Tim Worstall than I like to think. It’s not a good feeling.


  1. I am sure one day there will be someone with enough cash to be able to flush this dumb money by pumping and dumping enough stocks along the index rebalancing cycle, but it hasn’t happened so far that we know of. 
  2. The battery works on a chemical process and has a finite number of cycles before it loses capacity. Once upon a time you could change the rechargeable battery in a mobile phone just like in any other electronic doo-hickey. Apple led the way by glueing the damn thing inside the case, so you get to throw the whole thing in the trash when the battery is knackered. 
  3. The Domesday Book of 1086 is the first and last comprehensive record of land ownership in England. Unlike any other self-respecting European country the cadastral records of the modern Land Registry don’t cover 14% of the country because the aristocracy don’t want you to know how rich they are. Land is their preferred method of preserving capital across the generations. Estates aren’t sold when inherited, so they can do this on the Q.T. 
  4. for instance the Dhaka garment factory fire of 2012 has echoes of the Triangle Shirtwaist disaster in NYC a hundred years earlier 
  5. Yeah, that’s an Amazon link. I am part of the problem, as I’m sure are most of you. Don’t like His Jeffness? Google it…oh never mind 
  6. My Dad retired just after his 65th birthday, having worked at that company for 23 years, but he started work at 14, so he worked for 50 years in total. 
  7. I find this hard to square with the increasing signs of overt poverty in the UK, the increased amount of visible homelessness, the food banks that Iain Duncan-Smith regarded as just the third sector picking up the slack rather than the direct result of his vile disdain for the lower orders not being able to ride out the five-week delay built into Universal Credit welfare reforms pour encourager les autres. But let’s not pick the fight with Sir Tim Worstall, eh? 
  8. If you’re about to pound the keyboard giving me what for about the dastardly disrepect shown to Sir David, may I respectfully suggest to you that your irony detector has failed in service. 
  9. You can make the case that home-ownership isn’t as well suited to modern insecure working patterns. The trouble is that the rental market is too skewed to favour landlords in Britain, with virtually no security of tenure what with the section 21 eviction at short notice without reason, though there are moves afoot to change this. That won’t take things anywhere near the sort of security of tenure German renters have, for instance. 
  10. the median UK household wealth is about £260k according to the ONS 
  11. I suppose I could buy Maltese citizenship but Brexit has shown just how frail supranational entitlements of residency really are. You gotta admire Maltese chutzpah, when the EU gave them a bollocking for selling citizenship they simply raised the price (to more than I can probably afford) and said that that was all right then. Malta’s got other serious problems – it is far too close to obvious geopolitical hazards, the government seems to have issues with journalists who find out too much. Before Brits point fingers at those Maltese fly-by-nights note that the UK government sells citizenship on a sliding scale of £2,000,000 to £10,000,000. Interested? Apply right here on gov.uk. The extra £8M readies buys you three years off the settlement delay, and you can fast-track the application for 500 nuts (on top of the £1600 fee).  We don’t give you all that US bollocks about moral turpitude. Acts of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellowmen are absolutely fine with us. As long as you do your crime and skip the country where you perpetrated it within 12 months, or your criminality is more than 10 years ago we’ll whistle a dancing tune and welcome you and your money with open arms. What’s more, unlike those money-grabbing Maltese the money is still yours, all we ask is you lob it in a UK bank and convert it to sterling. Ta muchly. Obviously if you wanted to get EU citizenship you are SOL, but £2mill ought to get you a suitable gated pad with a concierge, so you don’t need to fear the revolting proletariat in the years to come. Toodle pip old boy and the best of British luck in sharing your ill-gotten gains with us investing sagely. 

Two Factor Security shouldn’t involve a mobile phone

If I were God for a day the piece of technology I’d uninvent in a heartbeat is the mobile phone, with a special mention for its bastard spawn the smartphone. It’s made rude shits of us all, because the phone trumps the person you’re talking to in meatspace right here right now. It enables zero hours contracts, things like Uber and pretty much anything that allows us to treat human beings more like pieces of machinery. It allows Facebook to track the proles all over the place and sell them shit they don’t need to impress people they don’t like…you  know the pack drill. Pretty much anything that’s good for Facebook1 is bad for the common weal.

I give a few people I want to talk to my phone number, and even fewer a mobile number, along with the exhortation do not make the assumption that you can get me on this. One colleague summed it up perfectly when I was at work – he only uses a mobile when he is mobile. Well, yeah. Duh.  Unlike the rest of the human race it seems, I go about my business without carrying a mobile phone with me. I don’t want to be disturbed at anybody’s whim if I am doing something else. I think the AI guys can beat humans by just taking a break for a few years, then the gormless numpties that are us will lose the fight, like Idiocracy on speed.

Asimov missed the target in The Feeling of Power.

The congressman took out his pocket computer, nudged the milled edges twice, looked at its face as it lay there in the palm of his hand, and put it back.

It’s not just maths, it’s orientating ourselves spatially using a map, knowing shit that you ought to know without the Big G, all sorts. But this fight has been lost, the bad guys won. In the fight between Them and Us, Them routed Us comprehensively.

Increasingly seems that banks want, nay demand to have a mobile number, and they just can’t believe I don’t have one. So the blighters continually demand one, and say I can’t use t’internet to buy shit without. Sure I possess one, but since it spends most of its time in one place it’s not the vade mecum that it is for everyone else. I gotta switch the damn thing on, because I’m sick of the FAANGs “following me around with Rays2” otherwise.

2FA – what you have and what you know

I understand the point of 2FA3. Way back in the mists of time, you could present your credit card, and the spotty yoof would take a print from the embossed card and get you to sign it, and then inspect the signature with the one on the back to see if it matched. That was the something you have – the card – and the something you know, which is how to scrawl your moniker in such a way as to match the one on the back. The obvious problem was presumably visual artists could match anyone’s signature, so we went away and invented Chip and PIN, and all was well with the world.

Then some more spotty youths invented t’internet. Bless their idealistic souls, they built it along the models of some prelapsarian Eden where Bad Guys didn’t exist. It’s one of the reasons why email is so broken and you get all those letters from people you know, even those that are dead, saying they’re stuck in some God-forsaken place without money could you just Western Union4 over some cash.

So we all got on our computers to buy our consumer shit that we see people with on Instagram, and they had to invent some other sort of out of band authorisation, involving injecting spurious data from third party sites5 and calling it 3d secure, ‘cos obviously knowing the number on the front and the one on the back is trivially easy for some punk that’s just nicked your card, as long as it’s not something he wants delivered.

That’s not up to snuff for actually using your bank online. Obviously they could ask you to put your PIN in the computer the way you do at an ATM, but all sorts of Bad Guys are in your computer along with the NSA, GCHQ and some random assortment of Russian whatevers. You’re probably OK form the latter sort of Bad Guys but it’s the ones who don’t have enough money that you have to worry about. Sometimes it’s a wonder you can get the lid back on your computer, there are so many bad guys in there. So the banks give you a gizmo you stick your card in that has no ports for a keylogger etc. Yet, anyway. The whole point is you don’t plug it into your computer where all the Bad Guys are hanging out.

I was pretty much OK with that as an option, and I would have been OK to use that on the Web instead of 3D (in)secure. But the banks now want to send out text messages to a mobile phone.

A mobile is highly thievable, insecure and spoofable

Hoodied n’er-do-well on a bike about to half-inch a phone in London, as shown by the Metropolitan Police

Now I don’t spend time thinking about mobile security but it’s pretty obvious that mobes are highly liftable. Plus, it turns out, they are highly spoofable by design, which is a big Security Fail for the banks, because Mr Big Bank sends you a SMS text message to a phone number.

In an epic fail, Mr Big Bank failed to realise that the phone number is not an inalienable parameter of the mobile phone, it is a function of the SIM card. The clue’s in the name – Subscriber Identification Module6.

So there’s no security to be had by texting your mobile number, because Bad Guys can get your number reallocated to them. As happened to gobshite Jack Monroe. While she may sometimes talk rot in along with a fair amount of sense presented in an edgy manner, she doesn’t deserve to have Bad Guys run off with some of her hard-earned. There’s also an object lesson here, which is if you must put your birth date on Facebook then for God’s skae make it a day, month and year which are not the same as the ones you give to your bank, huh? HM the Queen can have a real birthday and an official birthday. If it’s good enough for Her Majesty, it’s good enough for her subjects. OK so she has managed a fail by blathering her real birthday on the website, but she has the advantage over you and I that she has staff to sort out her money, so it’s not like she has to ring up the Bank of England and some droid in another continent asks her for her birthday to let her know how many billions she has in the Bank light now. Don’t plaster your birthday over social media, peeps, and if you must, make sure it’s wrong. Sure, it’s an example of security by obscurity but don’t make it unnecessarily  easy for the bad guys, eh? At least make your Social Media Self a couple of years older or younger if you’ve already let the cat out of the bag.

Mr Big Bank., let’s have less of this garbage about enhancing security and making life twice as hard as it needs to be. You had a perfectly serviceable method with the card reader gizmo to get an out of band validation of the customer’s pin, which you spurned in favour of the mobile phone. There is absolutely nothing secure about a mobile phone, and the smartphone is known only for being a totally uncontrolled piece of computing hardware which has a totally uncontrolled set of software applications and an equally uncontrolled software patch status.

The one thing we know about the smartphone is that is does pretty much anything it does incompetently, it’s nickable as hell and there’s no process of nailing the phone number to the phone, even if that were desirable. So, banksters, quit the fetishisation of the smartphone as a way to add security. Use either the card readers you have already, or suck it up. As for the rubes that grizzled on the radio about not being able to use their bank details stored on their mobile phones due to yesterday’s Three outage, well, whaddya expect? A bank card just is. If you want to save yourself the burden of carry less than 1g of plastic by sticking it on your phone where you need a working network connection as well as the damn phone, well, you’ve just discovered that the extra requirement inherently reduces reliability. Live and learn, eh?


  1. OK, let’s not pick on the Zuck. Anything that’s good for the FAANGs isn’t good for the common weal. 
  2. Terry Pratchett, Soul Music, Foul Ole Ron 
  3. Two Factor Authentication
  4. The rule is simple. If it involves Western Union it’s a scam at best and criminal at worst. Presumably there is a correct use for Western Union but I’ve never run across it. Why the heck they don’t re-christen it Bank of Con-Artists and Thieving Scumbags is a mystery to me. 
  5. how injecting cross-site scripting Javascript into a web page makes the system more secure beats the hell out of me because in pretty much every other application on the Web that’s a big No No. 
  6. Else it would be called the PIM, huh? There is a phone identifier snazzily called the IMEI that is meant to identify the phone. No idea how spoofable that is. There’s still the problem that phones are small and valuable, thus attractive to thieving barstewards. 

All you cash belong to Zuck

Say what you like about Mark Zuck, but the fellow doesn’t lack ambition. There’s a bit of the Terminator in him, or one of those mediaeval giants that takes quivers full of arrows but keeps on coming.

It not just your innermost secrets, your lives, your loves and of course what consumer goods you buy he wants to know. The Zuck is now coming for your money. Be very afraid. It’s called Libra, it’s blockchain, and Mark is doing it because he wants to make more money and know how you spend yours has a deep compassion for the

1.7bn people around the world without a bank account would be able to use it to make instant and nearly free international money transfers from their mobile phones

Earth calling Zuck. You may have a brain the size of a planet but has it ever occurred to you that a good number of these people don’t have a bank account because they don’t have any money? How do you fix that? Well, paying your taxes rather than spiriting the ill-gotten gains into Moneyland would help this altruistic aim more than facilitating people to spend money they don’t have, all watched over by the benevolent gaze of Facebook’s servers.

the great and the good involved with Libra

There are other companies involved, and of course Libra’s website makes much of its credentials as a not-for-profit independent company, along with all the good is will do for these good folk who are unbanked, possibly ‘cuz they don’t have anything to bank. To wit:

Reinvent money. Transform the global economy. So people everywhere can live better lives.

There’s a Youtube puffery vid for ya

There are some questionable statements delivered in that minute and a half:

Technology has improved the world around us

Not sure what Extinction rebellion would say about that. Not if you’re a London sparrow. Or a cyberbullied teen. But sure, it’s improved many things, lets move on:

So why is it simple to send these [on screen example of low-value consumer goods] anywhere, but not money? What if we made money truly global, stable, and secure

Err, that’s because there’s no United States of Earth to protect us from the goddamned strongmen that we already have and seem to be siphoning off resources into offshore tax havens? Who watches the watchers, and how to we kick the blighters out if we create such an overarching single point of failure? The problems here aren’t technical. They are human. The history of the world shows you shouldn’t put a few people in charge of power. Piss off, Zuck and your ubermensch mates. What part of No do you not understand? As for secure, with Facebook on the board that’s just not happening. I’m not even sure it’s possible at all. Every bugger has their price.

Let’s run Libra through the bullshit translator, shall we. Let’s take a look and what’s wrong with money now. Money is two things. One is a medium of interchange. If you have money, you can get people to do things for you, right now – clean my windows, fix my drains, make me and my SO a nice meal in attractive surroundings, build be a superyacht so I can big up my ego.

It’s also a claim on future human work, which is often called a ‘store of value’. For various technical reasons, ever since 1971 and arguably before then, it’s not particularly good at that. To store value these days you are usually advised to use it as a medium of interchange to buy a diversified array of other things like equities and bonds. Storing value as currency doesn’t work that well in normal times. It can work exceptionally poorly in abnormal items – Venezuela now, Argentina not so long ago, Germany in between the wars. It was pretty iffy in Britain in the 1970s 😉

Improvement is possible. Some people critique the issue of there being no anchor – once upon a time currencies were backed by gold. With crypto you could probably achieve a similar limit in the money supply, well, until quantum computing comes along and people get to forge it. But that’s technical, it’s probably solvable. There was a problem with the gold standard in an expanding postwar economy. If your money is fixed and the amount of valuable stuff in the economy it is chasing rises, you are locked into deflation, and the real value of your mortgages and bank loans goes up with time. Of course, having floating currencies lets politicians promise more than they can deliver and let a slow devaluation in the currency tax people invisibly. But given that we don’t want to pay tax I guess it’s got to come from somewhere…

OK, maybe we have gone ex-growth, environmental degradation may mean contraction and convergence. Maybe a fixed  worldwide amount of money could work. But not if it’s run by Facebook.

Iffen it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Banks use ancient IT systems, but I can’t recall the last time a load of money just disappeared. Challenger banks are making the user interface better. Western consumers don’t need easier payment systems and micropayments. really they don’t. Consumer debt is already bad enough

UK households already owe £60k on average. They don’t need easier spending

One of the easiest wins you can have with spending is simply to insert a wait loop. want to buy something that’s over £50 and isn’t a matter of health and safety? Stick it on a piece of paper with the date, and wait a week. If you still want it a week later, go buy it. It’s amazing how many want-it-now purchases can be canned.

Paying for something really isn’t that hard these days, assuming you have the money. We don’t need a totally new edifice run by tech giants to fix something that just ain’t broke in that way.

I’m not saying that money can’t be improved. But let’s think long and hard about the requirements capture, the social ramifications and how we kick out abusers of power and grifters before we build a system because money attracts bad sorts like shit attracts flies. Before we have a Global Currency of Earth let’s have a United States of Earth first, eh? Currency unions are historically rife with problems – ask the Greeks how that’s going over a small area with closer economic convergence that Earth.

Libra. Just say no, if only to keep Mark Zuckerberg out of your payment history. He knows far too much about you as it is! One of the most scary bits in the Grauniad article is the kicker at the end.

Facebook claims financial transactions will remain siloed from social media activity and that user ad profiles will not be based on Libra habits

Yeah, right. And I am the King of Spain.

Brexit – not in my name, thanks

It’s a day after last night’s drubbing for the tosspots who thought it was a clever idea to hold the 2016 EU referendum in the first place. So what is the conclusion they came to?

Election results, courtesy Jacob Rees-Mogg in the torygraph. Apparently it’s a blessing in disguise. Dunno what he’s smoking, but I bet it isn’t legal if it’s that strong

Take it away, Jacob Rees-Mogg. What did you learn?

Most obviously, Brexit needs to happen in a true form. The vassal state that apparently the Government and the Opposition have agreed, including a Customs Union and high alignment, is not the answer. This will simply ossify the failure that has just been punished in the local elections.

The Tory party needs to be the Brexit party and to win back all those who are planning to support Nigel Farage and my sister, Annunziata Rees-Mogg, at the European elections. To do so will show the path to a clean Brexit. This is not to deny that the current House of Commons has set its face against leaving the European Union properly and wants to remain at least semi-attached, but Parliament against the people cannot work for long. Voters will not tolerate such a state of affairs.

Hmm, that sounds like a challenge, Jake. It’s perfectly possible Britain is so enamoured with pure “kill em all” Brexit that Annunziata will romp home with the bacon at the end of this month. We shall see, eh? In the meantime, do you have a good explanation for the lib dem and green shift in your pic, Jake, seeing as they aren’t fans of any sort of Brexit? Jake wasn’t the only fellow to make this category error.

election results show voters want both main parties to ‘deliver Brexit’

Eh? How the hell do you interpret massive gains for the Liberals who are unashamedly pro-remain, and the Greens, who are functionally pro-remain, as a massive support for Brexit? Why is UKIP down more than half? WTAF is with the tin ear and blinkers?

It may not signify a massive push for Remain, after all, these elections are meant to be about local issues, which Brexit most certainly isn’t, but if you were to read anything about Brexit into it, less rather than more Brexit would seem to be the obvious inference to draw.

And anyway, Treeza, you took on this job so it’s your problem to deliver it. Verhofstedt was right that the Brexit was a catfight in the Tory party that got out of hand, so if it destroys your lot then perhaps that’s the price you pay for not kicking out the nut-jobs early on. This voter doesn’t want anybody to deliver Brexit. Not in my name, thanks. I was lucky enough to be on the winning side this time.

In a delightful twist today I got a welcome invitation to vote for the EU parliament elections.

Well I never, an EU Parliament poll card, against May’s apple blossom. That’s the month of May, not Theresa, whose nemesis JRM quoth “Never glad confident morning again”

The People’s front of Brexit and the Brexit people’s front

can go and stick it as far as I am concerned. I wasn’t for it in the first place, I thought May’s deal matched roughly the result of that 2016 vote but it appears that wasn’t good enough for the nut-jobs. FFS it wasn’t good enough for the nut-jobs supposedly on her side, they wanted a pure ‘and we curse you and the horse you rode in on’ version of trading with our nearest neighbours. I will try and understand the d’Hondt proportional representation system of the EU elections to maximise the pro-EU form of my vote. Brexit was wrong then in my view but it was doable and fair enough in 2016. It’s gotten even more wrong as time passed by, an amped up all or nothing caricature which doesn’t justify the slim margin. If you want that sort of extremism, then put it to another bloody vote, and this time, Brexit lovers, say what you are FOR rather than against. Give the People’s front of Brexit form.

Here’s how it’s done.

I have not been represented in UK elections the last time

and I’m getting sick of it. Everybody seems to be yelling about the will of the people as in the 52% who voted leave, and ever since 2016 anybody of the 48% gould go swing in the wind. The result of that damned referendum was only slightly over 50%, it wasn’t overwhelming. Due to the nature of the voting system in the UK1, there are basically two choices in with any chance, and both of them promised to promote the goddamned Will of the fricking People as sampled in 2016. But the Will of the People is a moving target. We’ve had a general election since then. It would have been nice to have had a chance of voting for an unashamedly pro-Remain party, that had a chance of winning if there were enough Remainers to carry it. But there was nowhere to go for the for a Remain vote. I voted for one that didn’t have a chance of winning rather than vote for either of the two main parties who were in fear of the Referendum. This was a general election that happened after the bloody Referendum. the whole point of an election is that the answer can be different from what it was last time. Else what’s the point?

The thing that scares me most about Brexit is why it’s most ardent fans are so obscenely rich

The referendum was for leave, but not necessarily the most extreme leave. The result wouldn’t have cleared the 2/3 majority bar many countries set for constitutional change, so feelings weren’t extreme. Rich people seem to be taking us to the more extreme end, for example let’s look at the good people of the European Research Group2 Continue reading “Brexit – not in my name, thanks”