30/01/2011

Tomorrow's weather forecast: If it doesn't rain it wil be dry

Back in the days when we thought Idi Amin was just a buffoon rather than a brutal dictator there was a a famous weather forecast sketch that I was reminded of yesterday:

 <iframe title="YouTube video player" class="youtube-player" type="text/html" width="480" height="390" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/4zlMO4z2T74" frameborder="0" allowFullScreen></iframe>

So what dragged up this little snippet from 30-odd years ago? Via Bishop Hill we learn of the Met Office's winter forecast:
On 25 October 2010, the Met Office provided the Cabinet Office with an updated three-monthly forecast, which suggested a 40 per cent chance of cold conditions, a 30 per cent chance of near average conditions and a 30 per cent chance of mild conditions over northern Europe.

They deign to frighten us to death with tales of future doom 100 years hence if we don't all impoverish ourselves by giving up the evil pollutant CO2 yet all they can do for a winter forecast is nothing more than a three way guess.

29/01/2011

Advice for every dictator, Clinton was right, its the economy, stupid

As the former Tunisian president goes in to exile and half his cabinet is removed and now trouble is flaring in Egypt and other places it is worth considering what has caused the popular uprising.

It isn't a lack of democracy, much as  those of us who cherish democracy we would like to think, its lack of economic opportunity. It wasn't the lack of a vote that caused Mohamed Bouazizi to torch himself, it was grinding poverty and lack of opportunity that someone with a degree and ambition had to put up with. The French revolution wasn't about the vote, it was about the poverty of the proletariat whilst the rich looked after themselves. The same can be said for many revolutions and the fall of the former Soviet Union.

One history lecturer I had whilst doing some Army eduction courses reckoned that the reason that we never had a revolution in the UK around the time of the French revolution was that the political elite kept one step ahead of popular unrest by doing just enough to improve the lot of the proletariat to keep them mollified.

I'd even go as far as saying that the revolt against apartheid wasn't about the vote, it was because the white population enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle whilst the black population lived in poverty with no hope of improvement.

For all his faults Clinton knew this, as do most politicians. The reason Blair and Brown got away with so much bad government and authoritarianism was that they created the illusion of wealth through rising house prices and throwing money at the public sector. There is no way Blair would have got away with taking us in to war if we had all been feeling the pinch of economic down turn.

And this is where the Chinese come in. The Communist Party isn't stupid and and wants to cling on to power for all its worth and the only way to do this is to let the people get gradually wealthier. If they hadn't started to liberalise (I use this term in a relative context) the economy after Tienanmen Square they knew they faced ever increasing threats to their rule. Things are still bad in the countryside in China but for city dwellers life is getting better and they aren't minded to challenge the Communist Party and put up with the lack of civil liberties we regard as underpinning our freedoms. The same happened in HK, British rule was tolerated because the Chinese were allowed to get gradually wealthier.

Perhaps Egypt and Syria might hold down the protests with some brutality for now, but if the dictators don't listen to Clinton the end is inevitable - its benign dictatorship or eventually bloody revolution. They can build up the instruments of terror and try to impose brutal suppression but as
Mohamed Bouazizi  showed eventually the regime they impose can't cope with desperation and the human spirit. 

The only thing that is worrying is that their may be a more brutal regime stepping in first, as Iranians learned when they threw out the Shah and accepted rule by mad men who used the authority of some desert dwelling warlord to justify their own brutality.


12/01/2011

On Illsley and the BBC

I couldn't believe the BBC last night with Robinson trying to somehow mitigate Ilsley's thieving. Apparently because MPs don't think they are paid enough they were given these allowances, not expenses he reminded us, but allowances. The problem, as Robinson perceives it, is  is that those rich bastard Tories could claim for their duck island (complete with standard pictures) but poor Labour MPs are left to claiming for bath plugs to make up their pay.

Leaving aside whether or not these are legitimate allowances (they aren't) this crook made up his claims, it wasn't even a legitimate expenditure within the existing very lax rules. What is wrong with these BBC types? (That's rhetorical.)

And then on Today we had a comment that if he had any integrity he'd resign. No, if he'd had any integrity he wouldn't have stood at the last election knowing he was guilty. Perhaps some extra punishment for the extra costs he cause?

Feeling pleased with myself

We took part in a national simultaneous pairs competition on Monday night and did rather well. Bearing in mind that this is only the 5th time we've played together and only the 7th time I've played competition Bridge I'm rather pleased with the results: 2nd in the club and in the 20% nationally out of 1800 pairs.

08/01/2011

FoI act extension - letter to my MP

Following on from a post on the tireless campaigner  Dick Puddlecote's blog I've just written to my MP:
Dear Robert,

Firstly, thank you for following up on my letter about local government spending on trade union activities. I shall indeed be following this up with Hillary and monitoring the situation closely and lobbying for change.

 I was pleased to see that Nick Clegg has announced an extension to the FoI act to cover, as I understand it from the Daily Telegraph:

 Among the institutions expected to become subject to the laws are: the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, academy school trusts, the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Local Government Association, the Advertising Standards Authority and Network Rail.

This is indeed a good move and one which is to be applauded and supported. However I fear it doesn’t go far enough as there appears to be one category of recipient of tax payers’ money that isn’t being held to account, what is often referred to as fake. If you are not familiar with the term these are charities that receive all, or most, of their funding from  Government departments and then use that funding to lobby Government to change the law to suit their own often self righteous  prejudices. It  often gave Labour a smokescreen when introducing their illiberal laws, which usually involved the banning of something and further reducing personal liberty, by claiming that it had the support of “charities”.

As the Tax Payers Alliance said in their statement on the subject:

Our report on Taxpayer funded lobbying and political campaigning found that many organisations like Alcohol Concern were dependent on the Department of Health for the vast majority of their funding. Nick Clegg should be commended for this move but it’s crucial that bodies such as these are included in the broadened scope of the Act if taxpayers are to be given full information on public spending.

With that in mind I would like to ask you to push for a simple amendment to any new Bill or secondary legislation to include the following simple statement:

All third parties in receipt of public money will be expected to comply with the freedom of information act with regards to the use and management of public funds

Obviously the security services would be exempt, but this should just about cover everyone else spending our hard earned money.

Yours Sincerely

 

Simon



Could the tradional Matron ever return to the NHS?

We got on the subject of the poor performance of the NHS in the pub last night, well specifically the poor performance of hospitals - it seems to be a popular subject at the moment. The standard call for Matrons to be reinstated was met with the usual agreements by all, except from little old contrary me.

Not that I don't think its a good idea, if we assume that Matron is the type of character played by Hatti Jacques. One that marches round barking orders at all and sundry, including doctors, and only accepting the highest of standards. There is no doubt that sort of person would raise standards in any industry, but it just won't work in today's work place and especially the over protected civil service work place that we hear so much about.

I don't disagree that there is a problem as from my own experience of hospital wards as a patient and visitor there is a complete lack of direction. Nurses seem to gather around a "station" gossiping and then wandering about aimlessly doing the odd task and only going to patients when called. Nobody seems to be managing the ward, issuing tasks and making sure they are completed, walking about chatting to patients to see how they are, checking up on cleaners and and all the other tasks that a good manager should be doing.

The reason I don't think it will work is that people don't like taking orders nowadays, not that they ever really did, and within weeks, if not days, there would be complaints to HR and pretty soon talk of bullying. Matron would come under pressure to back off in case staff started leaving or worse still claims of constructive dismissal,  and many would be off sick with "stress" or some other ailment that can't be diagnosed. Pretty soon the whole thing would descend in to chaos.

So, no, bringing the traditional Matron isn't the solution, but more active management is needed.




When Nudge becomes prod

There has been some debate about Nudge and how it can been used, especially in terms of organ donation. For those not aware Nudge is a book by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein based on the premise that we aren't very good about making decisions about our long term future. The idea is that the decision architecture is set up so that that by default we end up with the decision that experts have decided is best for us and that we have to make a positive action to change it. But, furthermore, taking that action should be low cost and easy.

I haven't read the book but I know a man who has and he has excellent libertarian bona fides and he seems quite relaxed about the concept because, as he says:
But Thaler and Sunstein never view the public as unwitting dupes of corporations and peer-pressure. Rather, they view people as fundamentally sensible, if not always well informed. As such, they set significant limits on the kind of nudging that can be considered tolerable in a liberal society.
...
When they talk about making 'good' choices easier, they actually mean it. Unlike the UK Faculty of Health and the last British government, they do not mean banning 'bad' choices.
I have also heard Richard Thaler speak on the subject and, often to the dismay of the interviewer, he seemed quite relaxed about people opting out of whatever Nudge scenario had been set up.

The classic example is retirement savings. Most people would agree that saving for retirement is not only in our own best interst but also that of wider society who pick up the tab if we don't. So using Nudge principles we are automatically enrolled in a plan and have to opt out if we don't want to save. There may be very good reasons why people want to opt out, investing in education to get higher future rewards, for example, but whatever they are it is not the business of the rest of us, and especially politicians, to chastise and berate those who do opt out.

The subject that is causing a stir at the moment is organ donation and it is something that Longrider has been debating for some time. The idea is that we should have some form of presumed consent that our organs can be used when we die unless we opt out. The way many see it working is that we automatically consent when we apply for a driving licence and have to make an decision to opt out by, for example, ticking a box. Why just drivers I don't know, maybe it should be automatic when reaching the age of 18 and you receive a letter that you have to return or go to a web site to opt out I don't know, but the mechanics aren't the point, its the whole concept of Nudge and organ donations that is the issue.

As long as the opt out is very easy I don't have a problem with the concept. But that isn't the issue that is causing most angst, it is what happens to those who opt out. There are some, amongst them commenters on Longrider's blog and on the original CiF piece that prompted the debate, who seem to think that those who opt out should be vilified and not allowed to be the recipient of organs.  There are others who think that opt outs shouldn't be available and we shouldn't have any say in the matter. To which the answer is, if that is your argument do not claim to be using Nudge. Why people would want to opt out out of organ donations is there own choice, even if its for some daft religious ritual it is none of our business and we should respect that choice and not hold it against them when it come to medical treatment.

And this is the problem with Nudge. It has been taken on by politicians and the righteous to further their own aims and prod us in to doing things we don't want to do, even if they would be better for us. Nudge is fast becoming prod and even shove and it looks like we are going to have to start applying Jefferson's maxim to Nudge:
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.



06/01/2011

NHS contract cleaning isn't the problem

I got in to discussion on the NHS this morning. The usual argument that hospitals were spotlessly clean until jobs were contracted out was trotted out to knowing nods.

Unfortunately they didn't have an answer when I pointed out that the private hospital I had an operation in  a couple of years ago was spotlessly clean and they used contract cleaners.

The problem isn't the cleaning company, they are doing what comes naturally, the problem is the original tendering process and allocation of contracts. If you don't set the quality threshold correctly and then chose the cheapest that meets the bidding requirements then of course you get problems. But then as Wat Tyler keeps pointing out, what do you expect from the Simple Shopper?



05/01/2011

Your spare room belong us

George Monbiot has caused something of a stir with his latest green eyed wittering - the state owns your spare rooms. :
The issue is surplus housing – the remarkable growth of space that people don't need. Between 2003 and 2008 (the latest available figures), there was a 45% increase in the number of under-occupied homes in England. The definition of under-occupied varies, but it usually means that households have at least two bedrooms more than they require. This category now accounts for over half the homes in which single people live, and almost a quarter of those used by larger households. Nearly 8m homes – 37% of the total housing stock – are officially under-occupied.
With George and his mates deciding what we need of course. It doesn't matter that we may have scrimped and saved for something because we want it, if George and his mates say we don't need it, we don't get it. You can just imagine the star chambers where you have to beg to be able to keep a couple of spare rooms for your obscure hobbies like making matchstick models or maybe because you like entertaining friends or grand children. In our last house we had two rooms dedicated for painting, would the star chamber decide if my wife's art is good enough to justify such extravagance?
The only occasions on which you'll hear politicians talk about this is when they're referring to public housing. Many local authorities are trying to encourage their tenants to move into smaller homes.
There's a good reason for this. If someone is in subsidised housing and they are entitled to a larger subsidised house as their family grows then it is not unreasonably for them to move to a smaller home as their family leave, not withstanding a spare room for the grandchildren to visit.
But public and social housing account for only 11% of the problem. The government reports that the rise in under-occupation "is entirely due to a large increase within the owner-occupied sector". Nearly half of England's private homeowners are now knocking around in more space than they need.
See that bit about owner, George, that means someone has paid for it and its there's to do with as they please. As Shuggy (hardly a right winger) says:
Anyway - and I appreciate some might find this an unsettlingly rightwing argument - the house isn't part of some 'common stock'; it is hers because she bought it.
But here's the real problem, George doesn't want to solve the housing shortage in the customary way, by providing more:
The only answer anyone is prepared to mention is more building: let the rich occupy as much space they wish, and solve the problem by dumping it on the environment, which means – of course – on everyone. I think there's a better way.
Its that Gaia thing again. We can't build more houses because George doesn't like that solution, despite the fact that we really do have a lot of spare land in this country as a quick look at Google maps shows.

I know that columnists have to be controversial and raise difficult subjects, but when they come up with such idiocy they not only get a good fisking and leave themselves open to charges of hypocrisy, as you can see in the comments section, but sometimes an interesting idea is doesn't get a fair hearing:
I would also like to see an expansion of the Homeshare scheme, which could address several growing problems at once. Instead of paying rent, lodgers – who are vetted and checked by the charity that runs the project – help elderly homeowners with shopping, cleaning, cooking, gardening or driving. Typically they agree to spend 10 hours a week helping out, and to sleep in the house for at least six nights out of seven. This helps older people to stay in their own homes and lead an independent life, gives them companionship and security and relieves some of the pressure on social services and carers. It provides homes for people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford them.
On a purely voluntary basis there may be some mileage in this, but any rational discussion will have to wait for another day columnist than George.


H/T dearieme in the first comment here






04/01/2011

Another example of why we need checks on power

The benevolent dictator is one of those dreamy ideas that some see as a better system than democracy and its reliant on politicians. It has its charms but the problem is that not only does power corrupt, but unchecked power attracts those who really aren't benevolent and are just looking for the main chance. This is why we need openess in Government with the separation of executive, legislature and judiciary, civilian control of the police and armed forces and a strong and independent Fourth Estate to ensure that those with ulterior motives do not get into positions of power, or if they do it is checked.

So I wasn't surprised when I read this recent story from Archbishop Cranmer:
Mammon seems to have become a bit of an issue in the Holy See.

Not content with the systematic cover-up of child rape and the sheltering of paedophile priests, it appears that there has been more than a little collusion with the Mafia in money-laundering.

The Vatican Bank (aka the Institute for Works of Religion) has been guarding Peter’s Pence (actually, €1,000,000,000s) since Mussolini cut a deal with the Lateran Pacts in 1929. Its chief exec is accountable to a committee of cardinals, and ultimately to the Pope.
As I say, it shouldn't come as a surprise when you consider:
The Vatican is a sovereign city-state and is not under the jurisdiction of the Godless, secular, anti-Christian, immoral and corrupt EU (despite fervently desiring to foist it upon all other European states). It is all a question of papal sovereignty: the Pontifex Maximus cannot simultaneously be Catholic and subject to a higher temporal authority, especially when that higher authority is somewhat antithetical to Canon Law. The Vatican Bank is not supervised by the IMF and hitherto has not been subject to EU regulations and controls on money-laundering, despite being a member of the eurozone.

Since the Holy See also has no border security, it is perhaps unsurprising that l'Istituto per le Opere di Religione has been a rather useful mechanism for money laundering and tax evasion.
We really should trust nobody, not even, or maybe especially,  those who profess to be so righteous they can moralise about the way the rest of us lead our lives. Ronald Reagan summed it up beautifully: Trust and Verify.

*Some will argue a written constitution as well but that's for another day







Very amusing put down

Anyone who follows cricket closely will know that Sir Ian "Beefy" Botham and Geoff Boycott don't exactly get on and there doesn't seem to many areas where they are in agreement, except both wanting England to win the current Ashes series and I suspect they would agree with each other through gritted teeth. They rarely miss an opportunity to have a dig at each other and sometimes they are quite amusing.

The latest one from Boycott comes from his Daily Telegraph column of a few weeks ago which I receive by email:
Who said Andrew Strauss was a conservative captain? We've only bowled nine overs, and here comes Graeme Swann. Ian Botham's up to his usual tricks on Sky. He wants a silly point, a man round the corner, a leg slip, two naan breads and another Kingfisher. Botham's favoured field-setting is the 9-7 field. (Ian Botham's record as England captain: played 12, won 0, drawn 4, lost 8.)more.
Ouch. I haven 't seen a retort yet but keep looking.





Confirming my belief that religion should be kept out of schools

For some reason I am on the distribution list of the London School of Islamics and get regular emails on whatever is their current whinge. The latest one centres around a Panorama program that I didn't see and so cannot on whether or not this is accurate:
John Ware is nothing more than an Islamophobe and an Islam basher. To single out Islam as the only religion where such so-called teachings are given proves Ware's own prejudice, bigotry and hatred
Given that we are talking about the BBC and not some rabid US religious right TV station I'm tempted to go with this being an opening statement in a game of victimhood poker. But I'm not interested in the standard special pleading from special interest groups what I am interested in is how my taxes are spent and how our children are educated because that is something I do have a stake in.

What I am not interested in is religion, not just Islam, but all religions. They are divisive special interest groups who believe that they have some special right to tell me how to live my live, beyond the harm principle, and so I don't support their right to religious schools for any reason, but especially not for the following reasons:
 A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/she does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brit. He/she must be well versed in Standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. At the same time he/she must be well versed in Arabic, Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of literature and poetry
No, if you have come here from another part of the world you are more than welcome but you have come here to take part in, and benefit from, our way of life, something which has developed over 100's of years of struggle, of trial and error, of wars, civil and external. We are a mongrel society and have welcomed many different nationalities, especially those fleeing terror and oppression and I and I know many others are proud of that. One thing that binds us is our history and that, and only that, should be taught in our schools. In passing they should cover other cultures, not to teach them as something to live by here, but so that we know how to work alongside. And they certainly should be teaching from any religious books, be they Bibles or the Koran.
 It is not wrong to teach children that anti-social behaviour, drinking, drugs, homosexuality, sex before marriage, teenage pregnancies and abortions are western values and Islam is against all such sins.
They may well be sins, but with the exception of drugs and perhaps anti social behaviour which is a grey area, they are all legal in this country and to that end it is not up to schools to teach them as sins. And what the hell is homosexuality doing in there? That's a personal issue and we've been through years of struggle to get it accepted and not to be condemned or discriminated against, so it certainly isn't the place of schools, or anywhere else for that matter, to teach it as a sin.

The full email is below if you want to read it, but all its done is confirm my views that religion should be removed from state schools and religious schools deprived of all state funding and closely monitored, at their expense, to ensure that they do not teach anything that remotely smacks of undermining our society, which is one of tolerance of others and equality for all.

============================================================================

Established 1981

London School of Islamics    

An Educational Trust

63 Margery Park Road London E7 9LD

Email: info@londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

Tel/Fax: 0208 555 2733 / 07817 112 667

 

BBC Panorama: Muslim Schooling

John Ware is nothing more than an Islamophobe and an Islam basher. To single out Islam as the only religion where such so-called teachings are given proves Ware's own prejudice, bigotry and hatred.  The documentary contained many close-up images of hijab-clad girls set to sinister music, as well as slow-motion shots of so-called radical preachers and Muslim men praying in mosques. The message was that Muslim communities are isolating themselves from mainstream society. It gave the impression that Muslim parents who send their children to faith schools are exercising ‘voluntary apartheid’. We live in a world of many divides. Indeed, it would appear that divides are the norm rather than the exception.

The Panorama show was a confused and sensationalist piece of filmmaking. The Islamic Schools in the documentary were all rated ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, confirmed by their own presenter. To be honest, I didn’t find much weight in their arguments against the schools at all. Anti-Muslims sentiment spread by the media has led to increase violence and discrimination against Muslims in small suburbs and market towns. The attacks on Muslims go largely unnoticed by the media and politicians. Muslim schools protect Muslim children from the onslaught of Euro-Centrism, homosexuality, racism, drinking, drugs, incivility, anti-social behavior, teenage pregnancies and abortions and secular traditions. English is one of the most damaging subjects - reflects secular and immoral beliefs that contradict the view point of Islam. Romeo and Juliet of Shakespeare advocates disobeying parents and premarital relations. Speaking English does not promote integration into British society, and broaden opportunities. The whole world belongs to Muslims. A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/she does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brit. He/she must be well versed in Standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. At the same time he/she must be well versed in Arabic, Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of literature and poetry.

No one is advocating the establishing of Sharia law in a non-Muslim country. But Muslims like Jewish people should be able to have their own inheritance laws, religious weddings and divorces according to their own beliefs. It was Muslims in their own lands who first allowed non Muslims to be able to practice their own laws and this was enshrined in Islamic law nearly 1400 years ago. It was Muslims who gave shelter to the Jews when they were thrown out of Europe during the inquisition and during pogroms. Muslims never burnt people alive or tortured them for their beliefs. Islam is not associated with denial of human rights - actually historically Islam provided documentation for human rights. It is absurd to believe that Muslim schools, Imams and Masajid teach Muslim children anti-Semitic, homophobic and anti-western views. It is dangerously deceptive and misleading to address text books and discuss them out of their historical, cultural and linguistic context. Muslims were already disproportionately being targeted by police with programmes such as the Prevent project. Focusing on Muslim schools for investigation would tell Muslim young people "you are different" and further alienate them. Singling out Muslim schools threatened to add to already "dangerous" levels of Islamophobia, which he compared to the amount of anti-Semitism in the 1920s and 1930s.

 It is not wrong to teach children that anti-social behaviour, drinking, drugs, homosexuality, sex before marriage, teenage pregnancies and abortions are western values and Islam is against all such sins. This does not mean that Muslim schools teach children to hate westerners, Jews and homosexuals. Extremism, homophobia and anti-Semitism are nothing to do with Islamic teachings and beliefs. Islam does not teach that Jews and Christians are pigs and monkeys. The government, Panorama and the Policy Exchange think-tank should concentrate on institutionally racist schooling and chicken racist teachers, the rising levels of attacks on teachers and the bullying of children; also the fact that society has rising levels of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and anti-social behavior. British education system does not take into account a child’s ethnicity, language, culture and faith. A child’s identity and heritage are core to who they are. It is precisely for these reasons that Muslims seek to encourage their children to go to Muslim schools and learn Islamic values and develop cultural, linguistic and spiritual identities, so that they can be decent, productive people, who have respect and care for others.

Iftikhar Ahmad



03/01/2011

Why Labour hate the LibDems

Ever wondered why Labour has turned on the LibDems with such viciousness? It isn't the hurly-burly of hard politics, it's personal.

The answer is simple once you understand what the Labour Party is all about. It isn't a party with simple ideologies, indeed ideology gets in their way, its far deeper than that. Yes I know they claim to "identify with the poor", as one blogger once claimed, [and I still don't know what it means despite hours pondering] or want to look after the "working man" or "squeezed middle" or what other vacuous and meaningless slogans have been dreamed up by pollsters but these aren't ideologies that drive a decision making process.

No, Labour is about one thing and one thing only, as was pointed out by a leading Labour blogger on the much lamented House of Comments -Labour is a coalition of anti Tories. When I heard that it all dropped in to place, why all those hours over fox hunting, the scorched earth of the past few years where any spending would do if stopped the Tories winning power even if it fucked up the economy.

So, the LibDems biggest crime isn't the raising of student fees, how could it be as Labour set that one in motion? Or even AV which Labour would have entertained if it gave them an advantage. It isn't the spending cuts, Labour has as good as admitted they would have had to do the same. It isn't Free Schools; these are only one step removed from Academies.

No, the reason that Labour has turned on LibDems with such venom is that they let the Tories in, pure and simple, nothing to do with the policies and everything to do with the green eyed monster.

Bear that in mind whenever you hear a Labour spokesman and all will become clear.

A counter to the selfish baby boomers?

There's a very interesting letter in this weeks Economist which really gotme thinking about the best way to counter the selfisheness of the baby boomer generations before they bankrupt the country as they move in to the 3rd age. Before discussing the letter its worth looking at this idea about the selfish baby boomers, as set on by David Willetts in The Pinch and reviewed by Peter Oborne:

This generation - and I am ashamed to say that I belong to it [Me too] - has greedily destroyed the financial and social capital bequeathed to us by our parents.

And, as a result, we have squandered the inheritance we ought to have passed on to our children.

Here's how the Willetts thesis works. He says that in all societies there are three stages of life - childhood, maturity and old age.

During childhood and old age we are dependent on others. But during maturity - from our early 20s to our mid-60s - we do not merely provide for ourselves. We provide for the young and old, as well.

Willetts calls this the contract between generations.

The trouble is that the baby boomers - those of us aged between 45 and 63 today - have destroyed this age-old contract. We have looked after only ourselves.

There are two reasons for this. First, for the past three decades the baby boomers have been ascendant, and this has meant there have been an abnormally large proportion of people of working age.

As a consequence, we baby boomers have had to spend a lower proportion of our hard-earned cash looking after the young and the old than any previous generation.

As Willetts puts it: 'We have had an extraordinary demographic bonus over the past 25 years. There was a bulge of workers in the middle with no real increase in the number of pensioners and quite a low birth rate.' So we have had far more money to spend on foreign holidays, large houses, restaurants and other luxuries. Living standards have boomed. But now, the first of the baby boomers are starting to reach retirement age.

Soon there will be a much smaller working population - and a much larger number of retired people expecting to be paid for by a much smaller number of wealth creators.

Willetts calls this The Pinch  and it will squeeze tightest in 2030, by which time all the baby boomers will have retired.

This might be just manageable but for one extra and devastating factor. We baby boomers have been the most selfish generation that history has ever known.

We could have used our gigantic piece of demographic good fortune to build for the future. Instead, we have spent every last penny of our windfall gain.

Indeed, we have done even worse than that. We have incurred gigantic debts that will have to be paid off by future generations - who will already be reeling under the necessity of paying for the largest number of
pensioners in history.

That should give you the gist but there is one glairing example of our selfishness and it has been the cause of booms and busts since I can remember buying my first and yet we still venerate it: houses, and more specifically house prices. Despite all the pain of the past two years we still see stories about the need for house prices to continue to rise, but why? Or more precisiely Cui Bono?  Why the baby boomers of course.

How many of those baby boomers have used housing as a store of wealth that they plan to use when they retire? For years we have been told that a house is an investment [and this is where I have always disagreed with my own generation including some good friends] and that house prices will always rise. They need that rise more than ever now the baby boomers are approaching retirement and looking to sell and trade down, releasing that wealth. To understand why just look at what happens with some simple maths. A baby boomer with a house valued at £400,000 is looking to trade down to something around say £200,000, giving them a nest egg of £200,000. Lets say prices fall by 20% - they now have a house valued at £320,000 and their target house is now worth £160,000, giving them a nest egg of only £160,000, a loss of £40,000 in the baby boomers eyes.

Much better that prices rise by 20%, giving them a nest egg of £240,000. But who pays? Younger generations who now need to work harder and longer to afford the bigger house, a transfer of wealth to the baby boomers. And as such a huge demographic  baby boomers will scare politicians to death because they are more likely to vote and so we will see more efforts to keep house prices high through regulation, with planning permission being determined by locals aka NIMBYs as a current proposal. Baby boomers will also be in a position to demand higher benefits - free bus travel, higher pensions, fuel allownces, free BBC and a myriad other methods of transferring wealth (stealing?).

So what is this marvelous idea that might provide a check on those rapacious baby boomers($):

SIR – You talked about the significance of the elderly voting-age population in Japan as a factor in determining government transfers, such as pensions and health care (special report on Japan, November 20th). The median age of voters in Japan will reach 65 within the next 15 years. We should seriously consider giving children a vote and having their parents use it on their behalf. Parents with children under 18 would then control 37% of the vote.

Why should we give children a right to vote? Because intergenerational income distribution became a contentious public-policy issue with the establishment of public-pension systems. It may seem outrageous to extend the vote to children, but the extension of the franchise to women was also opposed. That historic change was achieved through the
democratic process and resulted in a dilution of the voting power of the male-only electorate. Greying populations require such a fundamental democratic change.

Reiko Aoki
Director Centre for Intergenerational Studies
Hitotsubashi University
Tokyo


Brilliant. OK, so there are a few down sides, but no more than when those children get to 18 anyway.

And if those new found voters have any sense they wil push for a Land Value Tax to force the baby boomers to allow house prices to become affordable or at least pay for their NIMBYism.

For more on Land Value Taxes follow Mark Wadsworth, a tireless campaigner for them if ever there was one.



Happy New Year

I haven't had the will to blog recently, mainly because I've been too busy on a very steep learning curve as I recently joined a Bridge Club and like many others the new  Government has raised the hackles as much
That doesn't mean I haven't had lots of thoughts on what's going on
around me, just that every time I sat at the computer I ended up
playing bridge.

Anyway, I've got myself across the systems we are playing and feel the need to do something else as I was getting stale with so much bridge, so its back to blogging. The hiatus means that i will be covering some old stories, but it will help clear my mind.

So with that I will wish you a Happy New Year and move on.