Sunday, 18 February 2018

Not only is business good for society but so are bosses.


Andy is a local businessman. Employs about twenty people. Works hard - pretty much non-stop. Pretty typical of his sort. I want to tell you about his sort by way of response to this piece of Marxist bigotry:
...neoliberal bosses have something in common with child molesters. Both lack restraint in the pursuit of their own self-gratification in situations where they think they can get away with it.
I'm not beating up on Chris Dillow here for the crass correlation of businessmen with paedophiles but rather with his perpetuating the myth that the operation of trade - business - is merely a matter of "the maximal pursuit of money".

Andy had an employee who was diagnosed with cancer. It turned out pretty soon that this young man wasn't going to make it and, more to the point, he wouldn't be able to do the job for which Andy employed him. In Chris Dillow's fantasy of the businessman as an exploitative, MaxU, utilitarian, Andy would see the employee onto sick pay and that's end of it. Let me tell you what actually happened.

The dying young man was kept on the payroll - full wages despite not being able to work - right up to the day he died. When Andy discovered he'd no life insurance, he organised a fundraiser to get some cash for his wife and young kids. And he spent the last days of this man's life helping his family deal with what was happening.

There is a common shtick among left-wing (and not-so-left-wing) commenters that trade - doing business - attracts the worst sort of people and is, you know, just a little mucky and common. Wherever we look - film, TV, literature - business people are portrayed as bad people. Yet the reality is that the typical businessman or woman is no better or worse than the typical social worker, academic or Marxist columnist. And this means that, every day, business people act without consideration of maximising profits because they want to do the right thing. It's not just high profile things like paying for a woman's cancer treatment but a whole host of little things made possible because the business people have made some cash - anybody who has worked raising money for something like building a new village hall know just how businesses, large and small, are willing to help out. As 'Secret Millionaire' showed us, the idea of giving back, of helping, of making a place better is as central to business life as deal-making.

The late Barry Pettman, one of the founders of Emerald publishing, ran his other publishing businesses from his home at Patrington in Holderness. To make sure that the village post office kept open, Barry shipped everything to Patrington to go out through this little post office. For sure, Barry (who was born in a Hull council estate and was an academic economist) liked buying very expensive wine and grand cars (plus second and third homes in the USA and NZ), but his urge to make money was matched by his desire to see that money help the community where he lived. And what Barry did is repeated again and again across the world, business people are not soul-less Randian automata motivated solely by maximising utility but flesh and blood people with strong personal ethics, courage, faith and love. It's time we recognised this and put an end to the narrow "bosses are bad" perspective of people like Chris Dillow.

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Marco, who owns around 150 properties internationally, including six in Preston, said he is willing to give extra support to the winning candidate as well as the keys to the top-floor flat, including footing the council tax bill for as long as necessary.

Read more at: https://www.lep.co.uk/news/millionaire-businessman-is-giving-away-a-flat-in-preston-for-free-1-8358210
Marco, who owns around 150 properties internationally, including six in Preston, said he is willing to give extra support to the winning candidate as well as the keys to the top-floor flat, including footing the council tax bill for as long as necessary.

Read more at: https://www.lep.co.uk/news/millionaire-businessman-is-giving-away-a-flat-in-preston-for-free-1-8358210


Friday, 16 February 2018

Baby Boomer Myths - old people are horrid and have stolen our future


Text for today is this Tweet:



I'm guessing that it's some sort of 'subtweet' - directed to one or other 'boomer' on social media but not bravely enough to actually identify them. As one of those 'baby boomers', I find this sort of myth-making fascinating, especially given none of us spend our time fantasising about fighting in WWII.

The first observation in the Tweet does rather miss the point (and, of course, grants were means tested with the result that I got a full grant and my brother didn't) since in 1970 only 6% of school leavers went to university - nearly all of them male. Most of the 'middle class baby boomers' being complained about didn't go any where near a university education, they left school at 16 or 18 and went to work. Today approaching 40% of school leavers go to university despite those terrible loans (and well over 50% of those heading to university are women). So baby boomers can't remember getting a grant for a university education they didn't receive!

The next comment is about housing affordability. It's true that housing, especially in London, is less affordable now, but we should also remember that back in 1970 something like 45% of people lived in council houses. A fair load of the people our tweeter is dismissing as 'middle class baby boomers' were born and raised in council houses. It was only the glorious initiative of right-to-buy that gave loads of boomers the chance to own.

There's folk out there who want to lay the blame at the door of sixty-somethings rather than respond to the actual problem. For sure, the 'green belt' is second only to the NHS as a national sacred cow and the boomers (or at least the ones in the south) have done very nicely out of the house price gains. But this is no excuse for the sort of nonsensical 'old people are horrid and have stolen our future' comments this tweet illustrates.

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Thursday, 15 February 2018

"What's the point of a Secret Club if it doesn't have a Secret Fort?" Building child-friendly cities.


Or at least the rose-tinted suburbs of my youth. As a seven-year-old, I walked with my sister to the bus stop at the end of The Glade, got the 54 bus across town and walked up Foxgrove Road to school. On our own. When I wasn't at school, we'd tramp cross country (if you call the allotments, Monk's Orchard Primary playing fields and Elmers End Cricket Club 'country') exploring all the exciting things that a boy could find in that little chunk of South London suburbia.

In the other direction were Long Lane woods and what we called the golf course (it used to be one but was just open land between Bywood Lane and Addiscombe). Across the Main Road were the old sewage works - we weren't supposed to go in there but we did - that are now South Norwood Country Park.

They were happy days. The world - at least this child's world - was a happy one.

So yes, let's start building cities for children not childless, boring grown-ups:
Everyday freedoms refer to children’s ability to travel safely on foot or bike and without an adult in their neighborhood—to school, to a rec center, to a park. The “popsicle test,” in which a child can walk from their home to a store, buy a popsicle, and return home before it melts, is one way to measure this ability. Children’s infrastructure means the network of spaces and streets that can make a city child-friendly and encourage these everyday freedoms.
And let's remember this isn't just about parks and playgrounds but about the marginalia of suburbia, the little bits of scrub land, the borders between schools and playing fields, the paths of streams - places to explore, discover and adventure. Remembering that child wants you only when they want you - this was the best line is a very bad film I watched recently - "What's the point of a Secret Club if it doesn't have a Secret Fort?"

Right now we're cramming ever more 'housing units' into ever smaller spaces, recreating the hard, grazed-knees world of back-to-back terraces facing straight onto cobbled streets. We're forgetting the importance of the child's world, forgetting that it starts close to home and spreads as far as that child is brave enough to venture:
The most effective interventions are implemented at the hyperlocal level. Think front yards and neighborhoods. “On average,” the authors write, “[spaces in front of homes] make up at least 25 percent of a city’s space and have the greatest potential to encourage everyday freedoms and social interaction.” Focusing on the very local also means that more children can access the interventions.
Definitely. Make cities child friendly. Or maybe, I dunno, build suburbs again?

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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Obesity policy - snobbery dressed up as healthcare


So, yet again, the Guardian lays into the choices of normal people:
A ban on junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed is long overdue. It should be supplemented by a ban on promotions and price cuts for “sharing” bags of chocolates, as Action on Sugar urged last month. And the sugar tax on drinks could be extended to food products, with the revenue channelled into initiatives making fruit and vegetables more affordable and attractive to consumers. The government’s failure to force change means that the rest of us will pay the price – in ill health and higher taxes – as big food rakes in the profits.
I've given up pointing out that obesity hasn't risen for over a decade, that how we define obesity (BMI of 30+) has no scientific basis, or that individual ingredients - sugar, fat, salt - are not the reason why folk today are fatter than they were in the 1970s (when they ate a lot more sugar, fat and salt).

Now I'm just cross and irritated by the snobby, self-righteous people who write editorials in the Guardian, pontificate on daytime telly, and fill the minds of young doctors with utter tripe about diet and health. It really is the case that what these fussbuckets believe is that your choices - especially if you're one of McDonalds' 3.5 million daily customers in Britain - are wrong. Worse these snobby judgemental nannies want to slap on taxes, bans and enforced 'reformulation' - to take away your pleasure in food - simply because what you like doesn't match what they like (assuming they get any pleasure at all from their sad diets of spiralised vegetables, quinoa and bean sprouts).

It really is time that the vast majority of people who eat a decent diet - including sugary snacks, fizzy drinks, pizza and burgers - tell snobby Guardian writers and public health officialdom to take a hike. Obesity really isn't the number one health problem facing the UK and slapping on controls, bans and taxes that might (but probably won't) result in all of us losing a handful of pounds will not improve the overall health of the nation one iota. Most people - 95 to 97 out of 100 - are not unhealthily overweight and, if we want to do something about obesity, we need to direct the resources towards the relatively few for whom it is a serious issue. Right now we're squandering millions on a fool's errand of reducing the whole population's weight when, quite frankly, the whole population doesn't have a weight problem.

The truth, of course, is that grand public health fussbuckets have decided that, because they disapprove of the eating habits (and drinking habits for that matter) of less well off people, those people should be forced to pay more for their food. It's just snobbery dressed up as health care.

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Sunday, 11 February 2018

You're not cosmopolitan, you're privileged


Striking observation from Joan C Williams, author of White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America.From an interview about the book:
Cosmopolitanism is seen as a sign of sophistication. But in fact, it’s a sign of privilege. It means that you went to university, you met people from all over the world and you have an international network and international opportunities. If you didn’t go to university, and your prospects don’t depend on an international network, but a small group of friends, then you’re going really to value that social solidarity. And you’ll be profoundly shocked that the PME (Professional and Managerial Elite) doesn’t seem to feel any responsibility to other people from their own country. This is just shocking and hurtful – something which, by the way, led to Brexit.
True I think.

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Buses aren't saving the planet...


One of the usual arguments against suburbs is essentially "cars are bad for the environment". This statisitc - from the USA so data may differ for other places - tells a different story:
The average car on the road consumed 4,700 British thermal units (BTUs) per vehicle mile in 2015, which is almost a 50 percent reduction from 1973, when Americans drove some of the gas-guzzliest cars in history. The average light truck (meaning pick ups, full-sized vans, and SUVs) used about 6,250 BTUs per vehicle mile in 2015, which is also about half what it was in the early 1970s.

By comparison, the average transit bus used 15 percent more BTUs per vehicle mile in 2015 than transit buses did in 1970. Since bus occupancies have declined, BTUs per passenger mile have risen by 63 percent since 1970. While buses once used only about half as much energy per passenger mile as cars, they now use about a third more.
Hmmmm.

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Free markets work really well - for everyone. We should stop trying to fix them.


When we were children, my Mum used to put up students from a nearby English school. These students came from all over - we had a Saudi colonel, a French jazz pianist, an Italian woman with the highest heels I'd ever seen. One such guest was from Ecuador - he was an agronomist.

I say this because, during one conversation with this Ecuadorian chap, he remarked about the supermarket as he'd had occasion to go into one. This was the 1970s when our supermarkets were less grand affairs than today's hyper-stores but our guest was still blown away with the experience. In this discussion the Ecuadorian asked "who sets the prices". To which we replied "the supermarket" or something similar. This wasn't good enough for our friend who insisted that there had to be an agency somewhere that decided on the price of, say, oranges or tea. This was what happened in Ecuador, we were told,

I recalled this story following another frustrating exchange with an intelligent person who simply could not see that free markets - indeed even slightly unfree markets - are a good thing. I'm told variously that there aren't any free markets, that it's all about the source of the capital, that free markets are exploitative and that direction is essential for reasons of fairness, equity or goodness. The problem is that, while these intelligent people are happy to pile into free markets (mostly for the simple reason that free markets are things right wing people like and are therefore bad) they are very reluctant to offer an alternative - other than, in effect, an unfree market liable to corruption.

The problem - you'll have spotted it - lies in the opinion of our Ecuadorian guest. The alternative is for some agency - typically, but not always, government - to decide on price, supply and who can take part in the process of buying and selling. This is, in the manner of things, the logical extension of Douglas Jay's case for socialism - the gentleman in Whitehall really does know best. And, as is shown time and time again, this really isn't the case at all. More importantly, why institute some planned system when markets do it so much better? And it's complicated - as Adam Smith explained:
Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or day-labourer in a civilized and thriving country, and you will perceive that the number of people of whose industry a part, though but a small part, has been employed in procuring him this accommodation, exceeds all computation. The woollen coat, for example, which covers the day-labourer, as coarse and rough as it may appear, is the produce of the joint labour of a great multitude of workmen. The shepherd, the sorter of the wool, the wool-comber or carder, the dyer, the scribbler, the spinner, the weaver, the fuller, the dresser, with many others, must all join their different arts in order to complete even this homely production. How many merchants and carriers, besides, must have been employed in transporting the materials from some of those workmen to others who often live in a very distant part of the country! How much commerce and navigation in particular, how many ship-builders, sailors, sail-makers, rope-makers, must have been employed in order to bring together the different drugs made use of by the dyer, which often come from the remotest corners of the world! What a variety of labour too is necessary in order to produce the tools of the meanest of those workmen! To say nothing of such complicated machines as the ship of the sailor, the mill of the fuller, or even the loom of the weaver, let us consider only what a variety of labour is requisite in order to form that very simple machine, the shears with which the shepherd clips the wool. The miner, the builder of the furnace for smelting the ore, the feller of the timber, the burner of the charcoal to be made use of in the smelting-house, the brick-maker, the brick-layer, the workmen who attend the furnace, the mill-wright, the forger, the smith, must all of them join their different arts in order to produce them. Were we to examine, in the same manner, all the different parts of his dress and household furniture, the coarse linen shirt which he wears next his skin, the shoes which cover his feet, the bed which he lies on, and all the different parts which compose it, the kitchen-grate at which he prepares his victuals, the coals which he makes use of for that purpose, dug from the bowels of the earth, and brought to him perhaps by a long sea and a long land carriage, all the other utensils of his kitchen, all the furniture of his table, the knives and forks, the earthen or pewter plates upon which he serves up and divides his victuals, the different hands employed in preparing his bread and his beer, the glass window which lets in the heat and the light, and keeps out the wind and the rain, with all the knowledge and art requisite for preparing that beautiful and happy invention, without which these northern parts of the world could scarce have afforded a very comfortable habitation, together with the tools of all the different workmen employed in producing those different conveniencies; if we examine, I say, all these things, and consider what a variety of labour is employed about each of them, we shall be sensible that without the assistance and co-operation of many thousands, the very meanest person in a civilized country could not be provided, even according to what we very falsely imagine, the easy and simple manner in which he is commonly accommodated.
Repeat that across everything in our complicated lives today and imagine - or try to imagine - the planning system that can organise all this better than a market? And then consider that the more that market is free, the more people can take part in trade without constraint, the better it is for everyone. To illustrate, I'll give you just one example - the 18 year old woman who rents a chair so she can cut hair, who after a year or two at that chair takes on a proper shop to serve the loyal customers she has secured in that two years. In that shop she can take on some trainees, maybe rent out chairs herself.

Imagine - and in some places this is the case - that a group of existing hairdresser, using the excuse of safety or quality, get together to persuade government that cutting hair should be licenced and that the number of licenses is limited. Who gains here? The market is limited - fettered as its opponents desire - ostensibly for good reason (safety, quality) but in reality we get more expensive haircuts, less innovation and less creativity.

If this fettering of markets extends everywhere, the result will always less innovation and less betterment for society. In some cases - we see this with energy - the result of government fettering of markets is high prices shortly followed by demands from the same government responsible for the problem that the firms cut their prices. Similarly, London has a housing problem because we've stopped people from building homes in the places where people want to live. The crisis is the direct result of government interference in the market, yet one proposed solution is to fix the rents - the state creates a problem then compounds it through price controls.

We haven't found a better way of organising the distribution of goods and services than a market (and it's not for want of trying) but then the same people who haven't found a better way screech about "market failure" as if this is a fault of the market rather than a fault of state intervention - most so-called market failures would be better entitled, "regulatory failure". Whether it's fuel poverty, housing shortages, too few doctors or a lack of school places, the cause of the problem is almost always governments - often along with producer interests like trade unions, business lobbies and professional associations - limiting or preventing the free operation of the market.




It is pretty much impossible to replicate a free market system through planning, however clever the people in Whitehall might be and however mighty their computers are. It really beats me why we try.

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