(no subject)

A belief that things are better left unchanged, or even that they used to be better in some distant golden age before it was all ruined, are pretty much the epitome of conservative views.

In contrast, people with progressive views are usually those who want to move society forward, believe that the best is yet to come, that things can be improved through reform. "Progressive" is a term adopted by those with liberal, leftish, social democrat views.

Why then, when it comes to the public sector, are many "progressives" being so damn reactionary? The prevalent view on blogs, twitter, LJ, The Guardian and so on seems to be completely conservative in analysis of the UK public sector. It was all better before it was ruined, it shouldn't be changed other than possibly to go back to the way things were, all that's needed is more money…

What happened to a belief in reform, in improvement and building a future rather than attempting to relive a golden age? Instead we only hear the constant cries of outrage being replaced by a muted rumbling of begrudging support from the gallery when a reform is halted.

I'm not saying that all change is good and should be supported regardless of intent or outcome. However, it seems that there's no appetite for reform at all. There's no desire for looking at comparable systems around the world and choosing the best features, or performing our own experiments and measuring the outcomes. The only view is of our own past, and a belief that it was better.

That's not progressive politics, and it is not helping anybody.

(no subject)

Johann Hari wrote another anti-cuts article yesterday. I hate to admit it, but having read that, I'm finally beginning to have some sympathy with the phrase "deficit denier" (usually found in frothing comments posted to newspaper and BBC websites), in analogy with "climate change denier" being somebody who is ignoring an inconvenient truth in the hope that it will just go away if they pretend it isn't happening or doesn't matter.

He extensively relies on Keynesian economists like Paul Krugman, who are arguing that the UK¹ shouldn't cut spending now because that will depress the economy. Hari entirely ignores Krugman's statement "there's no question that Britain will eventually need to balance its books with spending cuts and tax increases.". Krugman isn't arguing against cuts, he's arguing against cuts as immediate and as deep as the coalition has implemented.

¹ (well, mostly the he argues about the US economy, but he occasionally mentions the UK)

Hari's argument that the national debt has been higher for 200 of the past 250 years is just silly. Even ignoring the obvious changes in technology that means it no longer takes months to get a message to Shanghai, or the economic reforms of Adam Smith throughout the 19th century it's still silly. He entirely ignores that for 155 of the past 250 years the debt has been cut; i.e. there hasn't been a deficit for most of the arbitrary period Hari is arguing about.

Even the coalition's cuts, which are both criticized and lauded for their severity, won't cut the debt for a while. The forecast is that the UK debt will continue to rise over the next 4 years. After years of these painful cuts, the result will be that the debt isn't going to get any worse.

Krugman might be right, I'm far from being qualified to judge which group of economists are correct, those advocating deep immediate cuts or those advocating delaying cuts and softer cuts. As far as I can see though, the common theme from the economists, also agreed by all major political parties in the UK, is that there have to be cuts.

It would have been nicer for everybody if the Keynesians were listened to and had turned out to be right. They weren't listened to though, so in a sense I hope that they're wrong and the cuts being implemented are necessary.

(no subject)

I won't be voting Yes to AV in May. AV is a miserable little compromise, it isn't what anybody wants, it isn't particularly proportional, it doesn't do away with tactical voting, it doesn't give a 50% mandate to candidates.

What I will be doing is voting "No to FPTP", because it really is the most dreadful electoral system that anybody has seriously proposed for the UK, and even AV is an improvement. Hopefully after a relatively short time of AV we can move again, this time to something worth voting in favour of.

(no subject)

So on one hand we have a party where 28 MPs, including the leader, did exactly the opposite of a direct personal promise, and another 6 broke the promise by abstaining (2 broke it by having duties that meant they didn't turn up, but that's more understandable).

On the other hand, what else is there?
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(no subject)

[…]it is simply not possible to promote healthier lifestyles through
Whitehall diktat and nannying about the way people should live.
2.26 There are also some activities that it makes sense to do once at national level[…] [t]his includes […] legislating to ban some types of drugs.
3.38 […]The Home Office is committed to implementing the ban on selling alcohol below cost without delay.
3.42 Public health professionals will work locally to prevent people from taking harmful drugs
3.44 Central government will sequence social marketing for public health through the life course [ed:What on earth does that mean?] so that, at each stage in a person's life, there is a meaningful and trusted voice.

Public Health white paper

It's not that I object to the broad approach of the white paper (after an initial skim through, but reserve the right to object to individual items); an increased focus on public health seems to make sense, the claim that it's going to be evidence led is good, the localism is good (in theory, I'm skeptical that it can be made to work, but hope to be surprised).

However, the tabloid rhetoric in the forward really wasn't necessary, especially when some of the policies could easily be seen as "nannying" (possibly justified and beneficial nannying, but nannying all the same). It's pure political posturing that detracts from the content of the policies.

(no subject)

I worry about the reading comprehension skills of people who teach, or at least used to teach until recently. The education white paper contains the paragraph:
When young people compete for jobs and enter the workplace, they will be expected to communicate precisely and effectively so we think that changes in the last decade to remove the separate assessment of spelling, punctuation and grammar from GCSE mark schemes were a mistake. We have asked Ofqual to advise on how mark schemes could take greater account of the importance of spelling, punctuation and grammar for examinations in all subjects.

Katharine Birbalsingh seems to have understood this to mean:
Children now have to know how to spell and use grammar properly to pass their GCSE exams.

(no subject)

Coincidentally, the Guardian has a CiF post on the 50p tax rate, commenting on its popularity with voters.

From what I read this morning, it's rather debatable how much the 50p rate is likely to raise in tax revenue, and it is plausible that it would even cause a net loss. However, I suspect that many people would support taxing the rich more, even if it cost them money.

The Treasury estimate that the 50% rate will gain £2.4 billion, the IFS forecasts suggest it could be as bad as a £800 million cost. The Taxpayers Alliance claim it could be as bad as a £4.5 billion cost (though I think that very unlikely). In context, overall government receipts are £548 billion (after the June budget), so these figures are a fraction of 1% of overall income either way. Taxing the rich a bit more, or not, isn't going to either save the country from ruin or give us a land of plenty. On the other hand, the difference between IFS worst-case and treasury could pay for the whole Legal Aid program (as it was before yesterday), so it isn't completely without real relevance.

So, a poll, within the bounds of above expectations of the amount raised or cost being relatively small:
Poll #1645240 50p tax for people earning > £150,000

Would you support 50p income tax rate for the rich if it raised money overall? (i.e. increased income or services for everybody in the country).


Would you support 50p income tax rate for the rich if it cost money overall? (i.e. reduced income or services for everybody in the country).


Eat the rich

A few days ago, I tweeted a criticism of a Spectator article. Specifically, the article stated:
The Taxpayers’ Alliance did the figures for us, and put the cost of the 50p tax1 at £4.5bn.

I've since looked into the detail of this claim.
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In summary, it seems very unlikely from published research that the 50% tax rate will cost £4.5 billion, and it's disingenuous of the Spectator to base an article on such an extreme value. However, I've now a better appreciation of the considerations around raising money by increasing tax on the rich, there does appear to be a rather delicate balance to strike to optimise income, and relatively little hard data to make this decision on.

Of course, none of that takes into consideration any social effects of higher rate taxes for the rich. I can imagine that some people may act in an economically irrational way and support higher taxes for the rich even if it cost everybody else more. Obviously, there will be opposing views to that too, and the overall social effect of all that is rather unknowable.
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(no subject)

"Shelter, the housing charity, today produced research showing that almost a third of councils outside the capital will have households facing losses of more than £50 a month following the cuts.[…] Of 283 local authorities outside the capital, 81 will see two-bedroom households in their area lose an average of £50 or more[…] Some of the worst hit live in the south-east. The loss in Cambridge is estimated at £100 a month[…]"


I'm no supporter of the housing benefit cap, but that figure surprised me. I've some awareness of Cambridge private rental prices, and didn't think that the average rent for a 2 bedroom flat was anything like £1247 per month (£290 per week cap * 4.3 weeks per month + £100 loss). The most expensive 2 bedroom rental property in Cambridge I could find in a quick web search was £1150 pcm.

I can't find all the details of Shelter's research, but a press release that Shelter published today, that appears to be related says:
New analysis by the housing charity shows that 17 councils in the East of England will see two bedroom households in their area losing between £50 and £100 a month from next October when the changes come in, including Cambridge, Welwyn Hatfield and Rochford.

Have I misunderstood something about the housing benefit cap which means it's not as simple as comparing the weekly cap published with rental value?

Edit: Ah! I have utterly misunderstood how Local Housing Allowance works, and the caps are misleading. People in Cambridge qualifying for a 2 bedroom flat currently get up to £155.34/week according to https://lha-direct.voa.gov.uk/ ; and the criteria for qualification for house sizes appear to be quite strict.

I feel quite dim now, but the reporting of the issues has concentrated on these headline cap figures. I didn't realise quite how irrelevant they were outside London.