Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Pickled shite

Having really dull chat I was explaining some dull transaction that took place a coupla years ago and from which an already very rich person made oodles and oodles more cash to a fabulous person the other night. Her response, am guessing predicated on what’s subsequently happened and will happen, was that it wasn’t fair. She was right and what we’re now beginning to see in all sorts of ways is the way in which that is and will be the case.

Because it was all about an asset value bubble bursting and consequently to benefit beforehand you needed to have assets that were appreciating and could sell, this was/is a financial crisis in which the rich got WAY richer and the quite well off got quite a bit well off-er, but those with fuck all got fuck all give or take Labour’s economic policy of using oil revenues and London and South East England tax fivers to piss new mickey mouse jobs across post-industrial Britain. Now though it seems we’re all in it together.

And if you believe that you are a fucking moron. Now that the political bitch move of cutting central government grants to local authorities is being played out so local government inefficiencies and loony left schemes can get blamed for everything really, the reality is becoming more and more apparent. I’m not English and would have a helluva job pointing out well anywhere in England on a map really, but even I know that Tower Hamlets, Middlesbrough, Blackburn and Hartlepool are arseholes of the world compared with say Kensington and Chelsea. Yet going by the government’s own numbers Kensington and Chelsea will experience a notably lower reduction in its estimated' revenue spending power' in 2011-12 post transition grant, than those other ghastly in a different way places (-5.26% vs -8.9%).

Am sure there are lots of terribly dull facts that could be used to obfuscate this fucking obvious state of affairs, but fuck it. Plus, in shithole towns like Middlesbrough the public sector accounts for a much bigger slice of the economy so when it shrinks (a) it has a disproportionately larger effect and (b) there is a smaller private sector to take the strain. Hence, even a – 5.26% cut in local authority spending would mean more to Middlesbrough than it would Chelsea.

So we’re all in this together? Are we fuck, rather what we’re going to see is more people in already relatively deprived areas having progressively less access to mad crazy indulgent shit like:
- Care for the elderly
- Support services for the mentally ill
– Support for disabled children
- Libraries
- School buses
- Roads without potholes

to a greater extent than any Chelsea tractor driving shitstain married to some city cunt called Alfie and/or Charlie and (a) its no even fucking started yet and (b) its going to go on for at least 3 years. Bring on Ian Bone.


A different headline for either of these pictures would be "Anarchist trapped in photographer circle jerk" because both show how protests usually involve far more media bods than they do feral, mindless, thuggish, yob, anarchists. This is sad because it makes clear non-violent protests don’t count as news or at least not front page news anyway (peaceful protests being relegated to page 24 besides the sudoko and/or the second last item to be followed by a youtube clip of a skateboarding squirrel).

Rather media organisations, both public and private, have a clear angle they impose on all protests. Furthermore, they will only pay top dollar for anything in keeping with said angle. Hence essentially trivial gestures (oh look he’s broken a window just like that drunken sod did down Swindon high street last Saturday night) are hunted down then amplified until they drown out the actual issues being protested about.

This is interesting when you think about it. A public protest is by definition both a gathering of the public and an attempt to influence public opinion. In practice, doing so requires media attention and given the media will only respond to stories, images, etc. of violence, i.e. they tacitly present an incentive to be violent, it appears complicit in the whole process.

That’s probably a tad philosophical in a moral maze kinda style, it’s much easier to simply assume journalists and media organisation owners are for the most part the snidey cunts you think they are.

The other people violence serves of course is politicians and the police because it gives both a good get out clause. Hence politicians can grandstand about feral thugs and the need for water cannon to distract from what was actually going on and the police can hope Mr and Mrs Moral Outraged from Peterborough are too busy being morally outraged to notice officers continuing to cover up their numbers so they can wallop people with impunity, the far, far, far, far greater number of protestors than police that get smacked about and the tactics developed as the latest student protest wore on for dealing with people in wheelchairs (no tactic / tactic).

Indeed, the Metropolitan police in particular have an incredible track record for publically shitting all over victims of their own incompetence. The usual approach sees unnamed police sources briefing journalists off the record about so and so being a bad ‘un, the longest running example of this being the treatment of Colin Stagg in a lets not try and influence potential jurors/cover up our own failure to catch anyone type style. More recently there was the death of Ian Tomlinson where after each and every press release issued by the police to paint thems in as good a light as possible was contradicted by pesky facts, unnamed sources started mentioning a laptop might need to be looked at, nudge, nudge, dodgy stuff, eh? etc..

Hopefully that some ugly auld tart sat on piles of inherited cash got touched by an oik will prove enough of a distraction and Alfie Meadows won’t be subject to any of the disgusting, taxpayer funded self-serving character assassination usually dumped on victims of thuggish police incompetence. And water cannon eh? Is that distracting spin or an expectation of more protests I wonder?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Integrity (what are you doin' to me)

An enquiry is a powerful means of giving the impression you’re doing something about something. Thankfully if it’s set up right at the outset you can sound all hard and (Spanish) inquisitive in a we're going to cluster-fuck you like hedgehogs on a broom kinda way and yet guarantee nothing actually happens and no one is found to be at fault.

Some obvious ways of doing so include:

1) Making sure the remit of the enquiry is so narrow it can’t enquire into anything that matters
2) Ensuing its status is such that you can’t place too much faith in the answers given to its questions e.g. fibbing isn’t a crime and/or there’s no immunity for witnesses
3) Get as many placemen on it as possible, ideally starting with the chair so no nasty questions get asked
4) Conduct it in secret so no-one is aware of what actually gets said
5) Drag it out for as long as possible to the point where everyone loses interest and rather than the results getting scrutinised the cost and time spent becomes the story.

Those things certainly sprung to mind when I read the Financial Services Authority notice that it’d completed its enquiry into the Royal Bank of Scotland and that no further actions were to be taken. Rather, the biggest fuck up in British corporate history was due to “bad decisions” and most definitely “not the result of a lack of integrity by any individual and we did not identify any instances of fraud or dishonest activity by RBS senior individuals or a failure of governance on the part of the Board. The issues we investigated do not warrant us taking any enforcement action, either against the firm or against individuals”. So there you are then.

Alternatively, lets tick off, which of the above techniques for guaranteeing no action apply here. Definitely 1) given the reference to “(t)he issues we investigated” is clear code for if there are other things that fucked it up well tough tittie cos that wasn’t in the enquiry’s remit and is fuck all to do with us give or take the FSA was responsible for regulating the whole shebang regardless. Don’t know about 2), but 3) definitely does apply given PWC was used to investigate the fecker i.e. a company that makes its living selling accountancy and consultancy services to banks was used to investigate a bank that its business development managers (i.e. salesmen) regard as a major customer/cash cow, which in turn means there was one fucking monster of a conflict of interest. 4) also applies in spades given “The FSA cannot publish the content of the RBS review as information gathered from the bank during the course of the review remains confidential under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000” and 5) also, but to a lesser extent given in enquiry terms 21 months is kinda quick.

Except, I think the FSA fucked up big time because they’ve created a ginormous, humungus hostage to fortune that should (emphasis on the should) apply in spades to all their other reviews by stating there wasn’t a lack of integrity. Now, integrity is a powerful word; its use here is intended to convey the impression that the RBS executive and board made honest mistakes i.e. they may be utter fuck-ups, but they were fuck-ups who fucked up in good faith.

Fair’nuff, except how the FSA defines integrity can be publically stated because it is in no way a commercial secret, rather it’s a generic quasi-legal notion. And the notion of integrity in British banking, or at least parts of it is open to serious question.

In the absence of an FSA definition I looked up a few definitions of integrity and would say wikipedia’s is the best (for my purposes anyhow). It goes on about how integrity as a concept concerns consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcomes. It continues to describe how in ethics, integrity is regarded as the quality of having an intuitive sense of honesty and truthfulness in regard to the motivations for one's actions. Moreover, integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy, in that it regards internal consistency as a virtue, and that parties holding apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs. …… As such, one may judge that others "have integrity" to the extent that one judges whether they behave according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.

Now that is some powerful shit for a regulator. Put simply did senior bods at RBS and all the other banks being looked at actually behave according to the values, beliefs and principles they claimed to hold and/or espoused? More straightforwardly, and relevant here, did they behave in line with their company’s stated policies and processes when they lent money or did they do things like lean on more junior staff to do what they were told and not what they thought was right, did they take short-cuts when it came to following documented and established credit sanctioning procedures, did they "finesse" the analysis of financials and subsquent fulfilment of post-sanction drawdown conditions, beforehand did they always emphasise the positive as opposed to the realistic when it came to assessing a proposition's propsects despite credible, contradictory views being readily available and so on and so on etc., etc., in ways that are fuck off easy to find out given credit applications are well-documented things people remember?

Hmmmm. By this definition most lenders know for a fucking fact some senior bods did not behave with integrity and made lots of bonus cash for themselves by doing so. There again given the FSA said everything about British banking was hunky dory until it wasn’t it's got a mucho vested interest in its utter fucking shiteness not being disclosed, In fact I'd guess there’s no chance any of its enquiries will generate anything other than more whitewashes. Rather the best we can hope for is for the UK economy to not end up like Ireland by default and for only a few million more taxpayers’ fivers getting pissed away proving the great and the good might not be great, but at least they had integrity.

A Dec 6th P.S. - aside from revisions to the above that friends of Sir Fred Goodwin are asking for the report to be published lets you know how fucking shite it is. There again he's probably hacked off with being the scapegoat, which is fair play cos then mebbe some of the other fuckwits who fucked things up would start getting scrutinised. Except given what actually passes for scrutiny that'd simply generate more expensive wastes of time give or take pointless op-eds by financial commentators so clued up they keep forgetting/don't know Sir Fred first earned his "Shred" nickname when he was at Clydesdale Bank.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

stop it

Latest comments on the current mortgage market taken straight from the BBC website - "The lender said potential buyers were being deterred by the uncertainty generated by the government's public spending cuts." - no, actually that's utter fucking shite.

The reason the mortgage market is at historic lows is because people can't afford the deposits now required to buy a house. I mean for fuck, fucking sake. Like seriously, for fucking, fuck, fucking, fucky, fucky, fuck, fuck sake - people can't afford mortgages anymore. That's it, that is why the housing market is fucked for the forseeable future. Sure there's some consumer confidence uptown downturn wank pissing about on fringes, but the overall state of the market is (like it has fucking been for 2 years now) explained primarily by the restricted supply of new mortgage finance. That is fucking it.

So why in fucking, fucking cunt of a christ on a syphilitic bike is that utter fucking in your face like an ambidextrous jizz lobbing pervert gone fucking mental down the high street with his willy banjo fact not simply accepted and every alternative factor told to go shut up and fuck itself rough in a shitty corner with a hard, jaggy stick so our esteemed political and economic leaders can be left to debate how to respond and how to address the factors that underpin the current situation as well as the possible impacts of any policy responses? Utter cunts.


Nov 24th P.S. I guess the above is part rhetorical question part rhetorical request. If there wasn't this rigmarole of tossing one off over some mortgage lender's latest self-serving press release we'd have to consider actual important shit like:

- should there be a maximum loan to value and if so what should it be?
- securitisation, the rocket fuel that drove the housing market, is fucked. Is that a good or a bad thing and should or can Britain try to start it again?
- what is the role of the state in the mortgage market, a lender, a guarantor and so on?

Much better to ignore shit like that and let politicians fixate on banker bonuses/wank on about lending targets, etc.,

Going, going ...................... fuck you

I’d be grateful if you would be kind enough to ignore the recent banking reality and concentrate on the theory in the next paragraph.

How much to charge when lending money is relatively straightforward – the greater the credit risk i.e. the risk of the debt not being fully repaid, the higher the interest rate that should be charged. Hence, whereas I’d charge a fine upstanding nun with a million pounds in the bank say 2% to borrow £50 off me for a week, I’d charge an insane heroin addict living on benefits and already owes Big Ian £10,000 say3% or mebbe even 150% to borrow £2,000 off me for 10 years.

Much the same principle applies to government debt. Hence, the successive spikes seen in how much Greece, then Ireland and Portugal and latterly Spain have to pay to borrow money; all these countries are heavily indebted and are suffering the after effects of a mixture of mental public spending, property crashes, making lots of Port etc., So it all seems perfectly fair I guess, in fact the spread that’s emerged between how much Germany pays to borrow and what PIIGS pay could arguably be presented as a good thing; it’s the bond markets (government debt being sold as bonds) inflicting the necessary discipline on otherwise unruly governments, there’s no such things as a free lunch, no pain no gain, etc.,

Except, that argument can go fuck itself up the nose with a shitty, rabid dog cock. For starters all these countries previously paid pretty much the same as Germany, that insane bunch of inflation haters with an incredible manufacturing base/export record. So err yeah, the people currently doing the disciplining where “experts” whose institutionalised methodology could barely tell the difference between Germany and Portugal for fuck sake, the latter being a country whose capital city is absolutely fabulous and totally worth seeing, but from personal memory was backward enough to have street beggars suffering from horrendously advanced elephantitis.

But, setting that general fucking utter and total ineptness to one side, there’s the lovely wee causal chain now in motion that raises a number of questions:

1) Bond investor suddenly gets the willies about country A and herd mentality kicks in big time
2) What country A has to pay for its debt spikes as a result
3) Country A is no longer able to borrow/can’t afford to borrow any more cos of the spike
4) Country A gets a bail out from the ECB, the EU, the IMF, MFI, WTF, etc.,

The thing is though throughout this process Country A makes this simple claim (in amongst a raft of others) – our bondholders will be fully repaid, we will not default on any government debt.

Obviously, given it’s a politician, it’s perhaps wise to take this kind of shit with a grain of salt, but because the Eurocrats don’t want any member state defaulting, there’s a huge fucking in your face dollop of truth in it. Hence when defaulting becomes a real possibility the EU steps in and hey presto the bailout means country A doesn’t.

Now lets get back to banking basics here for a mo, which is the risk should be reflected in the reward. Except, for investors in bonds this simply isn’t the case; they get the rewards, you fucking bet they get the rewards, but when the risk starts to appear and push comes to shove allova sudden a bailout happens and it disappears again because France and Germany have stumped up the readies.

But, hang on in the case of Ireland its up shit creek because the government put the Irish people on the hook for the Irish banks whereas now the day has been saved because Germany (and France) have in turn put themselves on the hook for Ireland, so shouldn’t this same indirect on the hooked-ness now apply to Irish sovereign debt i.e. shouldn’t their cost of borrowing fall back to German levels? Not yet it hasn’t, which leaves me thinking we’re in a heads you lose tails I win situation as far as it goes with investors in government debt because as the cost of government debt increases so the risk of default (due to this forcing a default) recedes.

The one caveat and potential saving grace here is Spain. Ireland and Greece (and Portugal) are all very well, but their actual economies just aren’t that big so as a result can all be readily sacrificed/bailed out to appease the sovereign debt gods. Spain on the other hand is big. In fact in credit crunch banking parlance it’s arguably to big to fail, so as bond investors and speculators start speculating for their own short-term personal gain with this ramping up what the Spanish government has to pay to borrow as a result, one obvious option that emerges is to let the risk-reward aspect of lending reappear. In fact fuck it lets get co-ordinated on their fucking asses and have a pan-European sovereign debt default, which would leave the greedy fuckers looking about for someone else to lend to and then after realising perhaps North Korea isn’t the safest of options at the mo, mebbe a 10% haircut on debt I was already getting 6% or whatever on isn’t so bad after all. Except we won’t because we’re sad cunts.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Daft laddie and the magic porridge pot

Most people in social housing (two thirds according to this note) claim housing benefit. It’s kinda confusing then to read the lovely new government proposal to allow social housing rents to be raised to 80% of the local private sector market average. So is housing benefit going to be increased to cover any (and all) increases then? That seems a tad unlikely given the emphasis is on cutting or at least capping housing benefit spending, which leaves me thinking tenants will be expected to pay the difference. Except, as already noted, most social housing tenants receive benefits to pay their rents i.e. they are by definition poor, so where exactly are they going to find the cash to pay any increased rents, the magic porridge pot?

The other thing that gets me is the notion of introducing regular means testing of social housing tenants. The rationale for doing so is so obvious enough if somewhat disgusting – if you can afford to rent from the private sector, in other words you’ve got a job, you shouldn’t be in social housing. But, given the proposal to allow social housing rents to rise only so far as 80% of the local private sector average, it’s very clear that even at its worst social housing will still cost less than the private sector alternative i.e. a policy that forces people out of social housing into private accommodation actually creates a clear incentive to not find work (or to only find very low paid work) because if you do (a) you lose your benefits, (b) you’ll have to move house, with all the uprooting that entails, and (c) you’ll have to pay more in rent so could well be no better or even worse off financially.

This perverse disincentives argument also applies to the waffle being spraffed about making it easier for social housing tenants to move between housing associations in search of work; if you do so successfully, then again by definition you render yourself ineligible for social housing. There again capping the housing benefit individual’s receive is likely to make moving in search of work less of an option anyway given high employment areas tend to have higher private sector rents.

Picking through those obvious contradictions (and the punitive approach to being a benefit claimant they embody) is quite an interesting thing I think. There’s a rhetoric of get on your bike and various other moralising shite being used to legitimise them at the same time as the market signals they actually send out are hopelessly contradictory to the point of being arguably counter-productive. Given that I’d categorise them as being more ideological gestures than anything else, in fact I’d categorise them as being expressions of dogma especially given unlike say the bankers’ bonus tax they are permanent rather than temporary measures. Following on from this is the extent they appear to exemplify a reworking of the relationship between the state and the individual and associated expectations as to what the limits of the welfare state should be i.e. this is some pretty heavy shit.

Looking to the left though, well Labour, I’ve no sense of there being any especially meaningful response let alone critique. Partly, this represents a Labour elite’s focus on power politics and tactics – lets have a 2 year policy review so we can come up with a strategy for the next election and in the meantime avoid any meaningful engagement with what’s actually happening give or take the odd huff and puff. Partly part II itts because of a depressing failure of imagination on the part of Labour’s grassroots where the universal response to pretty much anything is to (a) identify a problem and (b) recommend throwing more state at it to solve it in an environment where because the rules of the game have been accepted (by the Labour elite), this simply won’t happen.

The end result of all this is rather straightforward – just in time for Crimbo it looks like single mother’s the length and breadth of the country will be looking forward to living without something else to make sure their kid(s) have a roof over their heads. But, that’s all good cos its not as if they’d ever take to the streets in protest (government nursery arrangements being what they are), so fuck them I guess. Now, Kate Middleton aside, whose next on the list for getting royally fucked?

Friday, 19 November 2010

No idea what to call this post

I was lucky enough to directly hear one of the best comments I’ve heard or read about the credit crunch. It involved someone I'd recruited to a job well below his abilities (in my defence he gave an atrocious interview) and some other bloke who was a refugee from a much sexier part of the bank who had previously taken part in some of the big deals that made my employer the institution it is today. Anyhoo, the guy I recruited was moaning about how things were post August 2007 to which the former dealmaker replied “Aye, but you didn’t complain before when you were getting your annual bonuses did you?”

Touche you might think. Check mate even. Except as the guy I’d recruited quietly explained he’d have happily foregone the extra £500 his dealmaking superior’s antics had generated if it’d meant he’d still have a job next year, what with his bonus just scraping into 4 figures as opposed to the high 5 possibly 6 figure bonuses dealmakers were paid.

To me, that perceptive appraisal has much wider applications. The way the good times actually worked out for the most part meant most people only ever got crumbs off the table – a new arts centre here, an income tax call centre and associated shit pay job there i.e. a wee bitty extra, but not too much. By contrast, the people that caused the credit crunch profited from it big time and for the most part still are.

Except, now what with the January 2011 VAT hike, pay freezes and April 2011 onwards government spending hack backs and so on we’re moving into a reality when as many of the crumbs as possible get taken away. In fact I’d guess millions of people will be handing back more than they ever received.

On a lighter note the guy I recruited recently jacked it all in to travel the world to the envy of everyone who knows him. The dipshit he had the discussion with on the other hand is still there, still clearing a fat pay check.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Stupid cunts (being us)

Reading Robert Peston’s recent blog about how Ireland, the nation that is, is propping up its banking system, which in turn is being propped up by the European Central bank, a coupla things struck me. One, obviously, is the fact Ireland voted no to the EU constitution as recently as 2008, so it’s a big ha ha there. The other is the extent to which successive Irish governments have chosen to prop up their banking sector on as easy and no questions asked wherever possible basis (e.g. the blanket guarantee given to Irish depositors, which put the Irish taxpayer on the line for fuck knows how many billions of Euros in the event of a bank going bust). But, what really put all that in perspective was an email from a fabulous person today telling me how yet another Scottish local authority is hacking back its spending on musical tuition for children.

I’ll explain; the credit crunch that we are now living with and ain’t going away for the foreseeable future (no its not gone away, look at any mortgage comparison website and compare the loan to values on deals available today with what was available before August 2007. Then tell the British Bankers Association to piss off every time they claim mortgage lending stats reflect restricted demand rather than a conservative step change in supply) may have originated in some super duper complex sub prime securitisation financial engineering shite in the US that in turn engendered a crisis of confidence that rapidly destroyed the unproven balance sheet financing models adopted by banks and former building societies here and in Ireland, but actually, from a UK and Ireland perspective it was to do with shite lending.

Put simply, bog standard commercial bankers and retail i.e. mortgage lenders adopted the view that property values could only ever increase. In fact not only could they only ever increase, they could only ever rise rapidly to the extent entire banking organisations (and government policy lets be honest) were structured around that one, simple over-arching principle. Only lend 70% loan to value? Nah, fuck that make it 80, 90, 100 or even 120% in some cases cos it don’t matter cos the property market will only ever keep on rising.

Now, this isn’t rocket science and neither is it casino banking (Well it is in that its taking a punt, but its not the pointless split of investment banking from retail banking shite Vince Cable has a hard on for). The end result was they lent way, way too much against property. Like seriously, way, way too much.

Except in Ireland the property market has fallen into an utter fucking blackhole leaving the following reality:

1) With positive noises from fund managers providing the mood music bank CEOs (and their marketing and strategy departments and what not) ordered their people to lend more cash. Pronto.

1) Basically if you want to do that in banking you do so by lending more against property, hence fuelling a boom.

2) The people who did the lending met sales targets set by the great and the good and as a result got good bonuses (not investment bank mega bonuses, but good bonuses relative to the national average wage).

3) Anyone who queried this kind of lending got fucked over by organisational politics, hence all the backroom bods quickly learned to say yes to every deal so they’d get a promotion/get a not as good as the schmoos doing the actual lending, but still quite healthy bonus.

Now picking through all that the reality we've all been let with is incredibly straightforward and is as follows; the fund manager fuckwits that looked positively on massively increasing shit lending are most likely still in place.

All the CEOs, corporate bigwigs etc., who gave in to the fund managers, didn’t know any better, but set sales targets regardless are either still in place, are already earning mucho cash working for a different financial services company or have fecked off to the Algarve to piss away their early retirement pension on being cunts.

The cunts that did the actual lending? A LOT of the schmoos that did the shit lending in the first place to meet those targets/get those bonuses have moved over into bank business repair teams to sort out the shite they put on the books in the first place, but on the same salaries.

So there you are then. Few if any people that did well out the boom times have done badly during the subsequent crash they helped engineer. And that’s kind of it (in fact there are some scum who did well out the boom and are going to do even better out the crash, but that’s a different post).

Except, its not the end because to save their banks entire nations have been put on the line and to be able to afford to do so, as fabulous person informed me this morning, because of this governments are doing things like denying hundreds of kids music lessons.

What I don’t get to the extent it confuses the pants off me is the utter failure to connect these two realities and take real umbrage as a result. I mean back here its not as if its hard to work out who the worst mortgage or commercial property lenders are in British banking history, nor is it especially challenging, given what's in the process of being done to say family allowances, to spell out how the personal decisions these gits personally profited from have ultimately done more damage to things like the family than Josef Fritzl.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Social housing vs the free market

Right I’ll try some pseudo academicky stuff for a change.

Social housing; while the housing element of the term is straightforward enough to conjure up images of high density housing units clustered into secondary and tertiary urban locations, the social, especially now, is a politically contested notion. The use of the word “social” rather than “council” in itself reflects the fundamental shift in government policy with responsibility for the provision of housing having been moved from local authorities to housing associations. Ironically, “social” has arguably been a more accurate description given it reminds us of how social housing originated in explicitly socialist politics that in turn highlight how competing ideological notions of the social have played a part in shaping the very geography and architecture of social housing, most obviously via the influence Welwyn Garden City had on the first generation of social housing. However, rather than any idealised notions of communal or "proper" living, right now the terrain is shifting once again, becoming seemingly narrower in the process as “social” becomes largely a matter of eligibility.

The origins of this partly reside in the Thatcher years when the housing acts of 1980 and 1988 started unpicking then historic constraints on private sector rental accommodation. These originated in WWI as a response to rent strikes along Clydeside that threatened to undermine the war effort. Confronted by this the government chose to sacrifice the petty capitals tied up in the private rental sector to the interest of the nation and the big capital of munitions manufacturers; it did so by introducing rent controls (for which read constraints) that, in an age of galloping inflation, squeezed private providers out the market by limiting their ability to charge profitable rents. The resultant hole would in turn be progressively filled by the invention of mass council housing that over the subsequent decades saw the state become the landlord not so much of the working poor as of the working class.

However, while Conservative governments started the process it was the last Labour government that fundamentally changed this relationship. The graph on housing tenure presented above neatly shows how the decline in social sector renting was matched by increased renting from private landlords, a transition driven by the successive tightening of eligibility criteria used to ration a shrinking social housing stock. Put simply this graph tracks the emergence of today's situation where being able to afford private sector rents in itself largely disqualifies people from social housing. Instead, social housing, for new tenants at least, has been rendered almost entirely an issue of social need, a safety net instead of a universalist aspect of the welfare state.

With this as context the take off seen in the buy to let (B2L) market over the 10 years to 2008 makes even more sense. This was partly a consequence of a cheap credit fuelled housing bubble to be sure, with small-scale investors seeking to prove their financial acumen by riding a passing wave. However, the take off in B2L was also integral to the deeper reworking of the relationship between the state and its citizens. Indeed, I would argue every B2L investor who borrowed to buy a 2 bed newbuild city centre flat is as much the embodiment of Labour policy as any right to buy former council tenant is of Thatcherism. Unfortunately for Labour's electoral fortunes, this was too tacit a process and too predicated on market signals as to have largely gone unnoticed. Unfortunately, for us the ConDems either don’t understand what happened or frankly couldn’t give a damn.

To be fair to Labour they did try quite cleverly to exploit the housing bubble. New housing developments over a certain size had to include and/or pay for new social housing units. Plus, they actively encouraged housing associations to borrow more to build more in the now passed NICE decade. And that is the problem we now have; Labour part-hardwired the provision of new social housing to a property bubble that has long since burst and is unlikely to re-emerge, if at all, for the forseeable future. To give a brief example, encouraging housing associations to borrow to build is all very well, but it's no longer clear banks actually want to lend to them given the relatively low returns on offer.

So what we now have is a situation where the number of households in Britain is set to increase faster than the actual housing stock with no sign of anything or anyone stepping in in response what with government focused on avoiding any form of capital spending and bank led credit constraints limiting the scope for B2L investors to re-emerge in especially significant numbers. This is especially unfortunate given the reworking of social housing policy now underway, most obviously the (re)introduction of caps on the rents government is willing to pay. As I understand it the current government view is that if it pays less rent, then rents will fall. Except, that was tried before, in 1915 in fact, and it simply didn’t work. Rather, what we are going to see in an already crowded nation is more people being squeezed into ever shabbier accommodation.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A.S.H. are C.U.N.T.S

I’m a smoker. I enjoy smoking. I am also addicted to smoking, something I realise every time I break off from work to trudge outside into the rain for a puff. I’ve also had a coupla years postgraduate training in social science research methods at a leading European institution, but even without that I could still rip ASH’s report on “The economic cost of tobacco in Scotland” to shreds, then wipe my shitty arse on it in an environmentally friendly, recycling styley. In fact, the only thing interesting about the ASH report is what it says about the emerging common-sense now breaking out like a pustular rash across the public sphere.

But, I digress, the ASH report is fucking shite. Notice the choice of title for starters, it’s not just cost, it’s “economic” cost, woooo, cos economists are good at understanding things aren’t they, like I dunno, the credit crunch? Alternatively, its a spurious rhetorical flourish invoked from the outset to tart up a piece of shit exercise in vested interest, cockamammie pseudo scientific spleen venting wank.

That aside, the big problem people who make a living moaning about smoking have is the brute fact that taxes on fags are so high they generate more in revenue than it costs to treat the consequences. End of, or at least it was in Scotland until this report came along to state that smoking generates £940m in fag taxes, but actually costs the economy £1.1bn.

This magic £1.1bn is primarily made up of £271m in treating smoking attributable diseases and £692m in productivity losses (the remaining costs being relative fag ends by comparison. Boom boom).

Starting with the £271m, this is pretty incontrovertible I guess except people tend to die of something and incur costs in the process. Oh and then there’s the rapid growth seen over the last few decades in the old-old population, you know they old-old feckers that are  used to justify fucking everyone else’s pension cos its too expensive. And yet at the same time as everyone else’s (including my) pension is getting the big, hard wahoo, they old-old feckers remain subject to the exponential likelihood of lovely things like dementia, which in turn require care and as a result incur costs. But, that’s OK cos as the ASH report’s authors’ blandly state “in the absence of Scottish lifetime care cost studies, the perspective adopted for this report will not examine differences in end-of-life care costs,” i.e. they refuse to compare the cost of say treating a smoker who dies at 70 with lung cancer with the cost of a non-smoker who dies saturated in pools of his incontinent piss in a state funded care home at 95 having thought his name was Molly for the last ten years of his life throughout all of which he claimed a state pension. So in a report that claims to be cautious, conservative etc., anything likely to get in the way of their argument/prejudice gets discounted, which is a bit of a shame I guess.

Actually hang on a mo, given the kerfuffle over unfunded public sector pensions, shouldn’t we all encourage public sector workers to start smoking 20 a day once they hit 45 to reduce the fiscal deficit? I mean think about it, that would both increase the tax take and shorten life-spans in ways that'd ease the pension deficit etc.,

Anyhoo back to ASH and productivity, which is the trump card they’re trying to play; ASH rightly highlight how smoking varies with socio-economic class, in fact they go so far as to state “Smoking is also strongly patterned by deprivation; 43% of adults in the most deprived 10% of areas smoke compared with only 9% in the least deprived 10% of areas, resulting in marked inequalities in smoking-related disease and mortality”. Fair play to them given that presents taxes on fags as a tax on the poor, except I don’t think that’s what they mean or realise the implications of what they’re actually saying, which is the deprived i.e. in many cases the unemployed, are disproportionately more likely on a systematic basis to smoke fags i.e. people who are unproductive in an “economic” sense.

This is a shame because the subsequent references to extrapolating from one or two studies on the effects smoking has on productivity make no reference to this systematic bias. I think this is a bit of an oopsy in a Scottish context, but, hey ho there is a reference to some bod who studied 200 Scottish working people a few years back when more people smoked, which is nice I guess except that’s not a representative sample in anyone’s fucking book. More importantly the £244m estimate used seems (it’s not clear) to be based on the additional time spent away from work by smokers. Except, to give a personal example, I work more than my contracted hours most days of the week, most weeks of the year; smoking enables me to do that, so on a net basis? No fucking loss. However, the authors also state “It should be noted that, amongst smokers, there may be positive effects on performance associated with smoking breaks …. e.g. improved concentration or reduction in perceived stress versus withdrawal symptoms caused by nicotine abstinence). However as studies to date have not included such variables it has not been possible to estimate any impact this may have.” So there you are then, the potential positives aren’t taken into account.

More fucking generally, going by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “rest breaks helps workers to be more relaxed and calm on the job and helps to enhance productivity and leave the workers more physically and mentally refreshed” i.e. fag breaks can be a clear positive.

Actually, am getting bored with this now cos it’s so fucking shite. It’s like oohh, oooh, they know what fungibility is so if you were to point out smoking generates lovely income tax, national insurance and corporation tax from the people and businesses engaged in making, selling, wholesaling and transporting fags, which they haven’t taken into account, they would then wank on about how smokers would spend the money on something else anyhow and ignore the fucking obvious points like chances are it wouldn’t be made in Britain if it was and chances are it’d generate less fucking tax revenue regardless. It’s just fucking shite really, the kinda shite a real study would show was toss because on a net basis taking direct and indirect costs and benefits fully into account it would be totally clear smoking is an “economic” positive.

So nah, while the fact one of the people who reviewed a draft was an advisor to the Policy Exchange i.e. one of the Tories favourite think tanks, may have given me the willies, the real meat of this report, because of what it exemplifies, is the fact it uses a spurious cost saving argument given all that says about how we’ve moved into an age of austerity wherein if the rhetoric ain’t about cutting costs and/or public sector spending it ain't about jack-shit. More positively, looking at page 13 of their latest annual report the vast majority of ASH’s funding is from the public sector, so hopefully the ignorant fuckers will get the big wahoo next time they go sniffing round for taxpayer's fivers to piss away on shite.

Nov 15th P.S. My personal experience of Brian Monteith, the former Tory MSP, is limited to my having been unfortunate enough to find myself in a rather good French restaurant at the same time as he was engaged in a very LOUD conversation with Michael Fry, who the Guardian describes as a former Tory. The food was good, as always, but due to noises in the background conversation was impossible. To suddenly discover upon reading this today that we’re both critical of the ASH “research” for many of the same reasons gives me even more reason to hate ASH.

Mebbe there’s a libertarian argument to make about it all with ASH a state funded bunch of fannies desperate to impinge on adults exercising their right to choose, mebbe there’s no. Or mebbe ASH illustrates how the therapeutic state (a posh post-modern alternative to the nanny state term of abuse) is as guilty of as many sins as big business what with its lobbying, its self-serving research and its vested interests and as such should be treated with as much disdain and cynicism. Or mebbe it’s simply my view that the rhetoric and approach ASH chose to use is an example of how in this age of austerity, arguing for cuts has become the new common sense. I don’t know. All I know is that ASH are a bunch of bastards that have left me feeling as soiled as a non-smoker’s clothes after spending a day in a room full of 40 a day addicts. Ignorant cunts.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Down with this sort of thing Pt II

The Vodafone protest is the best protest of the decade. End of.

1) It has a nice, clear, recognisable well-defined target - Vodafone
2) It has a nice, clear, easy to understand and readily achieveable objective – getting Vodafone to pay up what’s claimed to be its real £6bn tax bill
3) It is neatly linked into the current political-economic situation – Vodafone paying this supposed tax bill will reduce the pressure to cut public spending
4) It has a clear and motivational moral imperative – fairness
5) It has potentially much broader ramifications such as the tax law surrounding all this and associated processes would be/are open to potential scrutiny, other companies may be reassessed, the links between big PLCs and the political process/politicians (e.g. the anti-file sharing legislation rushed thru parliament shortly after Peter Mandelson met David Geffen in Corfu), etc.,

Because of all this it won’t get the same coverage as say the US Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and will probably fade away quite soon. This is for various reasons including it’s too practical and dull, it cuts through the political process and associated media superstructure, there's no need for any self-serving pseudo-psephological “analysis”, it lacks any ultimately dumb big ideals for liberals to cheer about and there are no headline grabbing personalities involved either. Plus Vodafone's corporate communications department will be working their guts out to kill the story.

Ideally, what's needed is for Simon Cowell to get involved on the protestors behalf, mebbe even Jordan or worse case scenario the percussionist from Radiohead, anyone but Billy Bragg basically. Except they won’t.

Nov 5th P.S. - seeing as its Guy Fawkes night and all that says about burning effigies and bastards more generally it was interesting to listen to the ace File on 4 programme about tax dodging PLCs, which made specific reference to Vodafone stating "Vodafone agreed a £1.2 billion tax settlement for Luxembourg
and related tax disputes dating back fifteen years. That’s a lot of money but it’s a billion pounds less than Vodafone had provided for in its accounts"
, that provision signalling the potential bill could have been higher than what was eventually paid if not quite £6bn or whatever. Of course prudence (for which read caution) would dictate sticking a big number in the accounts, so the £1bn extra is no more than indicative, but even so.

Was also interesting to read about people being done by police for protesting outside a Vodafone shop in Brighton on the grounds that their refusal to leave constituted a threat to "public disorder and intimidation", i.e. they were presumably successfully stopping people buying mobile phones from Vodafone.

So a big PLC would seem to have successfully bilked us all out of however many millions of pounds and in return taxpayer funded police arrest taxpayers for complaining about it?

Dec 9th P.S. Brilliant!!!!!!! I was totally wrong. So sure on Saturday there the BBC didn't even name the "organisation" behind it in its initial reports about the latest Vodafone protests, but allova sudden what's now called UK Uncut is actually gathering a head of steam, geting some rather lovely attention on radio 4's today programme and there's a new mass protest planned for Dec 18th. Last shopping day before Christmas and sales are going to be blocked at arcadia and vodafone stores. Utterly, utterly brilliant and the best political development of the decade.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Evil croissants

The quango cull reminded me of croissants, that and the limitations of democracy as practised in Britain. Listening to Francis Maude pretend it was about re-establishing democratic accountability in Britain this morning on radio 4 as opposed to the cutting out wasteful inefficiency it was originally presented as I thought what a fanny. Besides the obvious realisation by the ConDems that they ain’t gonna save much money there’s the self-inflicted wounds it inflicts; politics is oiled by patronage, quangos or at least a seat on the board of a quango and the associated however many grand a year dished out for spending a coupla hours a month pontificating gave politicians a fabulous resource with which to reward friends and neighbours. Cull too many quangos and all that patronage gravy goes bye bye.

‘fessing up to that would allow politicians to claim they were above board, on the level and all that kinda jazz, except doing so would be to admit the role patronage plays in the political process, which they won’t. So instead it looks like a stupid mistake unless of course the transfer of responsibilities to organisations for which politicians have direct responsibility is actually going to happen and make a difference, which brings us back to croissants.

One day one of the major supermarket chains conducted an experiment. They did some nice straight forward labelling, which assigned traffic light ratings to the contents of different types of croissant. Sales of the croissant that had lots of red lights on it fell. Sales of the croissant with more green and amber traffic lights increased. The end. Except it wasn’t, the supermarkets subsequently campaigned vigorously against the Food Standards Agency (a different FSA) making the traffic lighting of food according to its sugar, fat, salt content etc., a legal obligation. The supermarkets won so instead we have all this shite about RDAs and this and that and what not i.e. an overly complicated system no one really understands or can be arsed with so largely ignores.

This is a bad thing. Pleb morons don’t care cos they believe they have the right to eat shite food. Middle income liberals are too busy wanking over farmer’s market organic cheese to notice while fat, fat fatties have glandular issues and big bones that mean they have to eat hunners of choccie biccies and avoid any exercise. But, on balance and on average, a straightforward traffic light system would probably see some incremental shifts in what people eat and put pressure on supermarkets to tell the manufacturers that supply them to change their contents in favour of less obesity inducing stuff. Except, that would cost money and possibly sales, hence their vigorous and successful opposition to the FSA’s efforts and the associated constraints this indicates big business lobbying places on the democratic process as practised in Britain with public health being sacrificed to private profits.

So now that another FSA is being “substantially reformed” will we see a more independent approach being taken by government to the issue of food content labelling? It’d be good if we did and it’s a nice litmus test as to the benefits of the quango cull that’s in keeping with Francis Maude’s claims. In the meantime the soon to be defunct Government Hospitality Advisory Committee on the purchase of Wines sounds like the best quango to be a part of ever, I can even think of a fabulous person who should have a seat on its board.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Tit and Tory boy pt.II

When your boss has to go and defend what you’ve done you know you’ve fucked up big time, so it’s fun hearing and watching David Cameron trying to smooth things over by wanking on about the need for tough and difficult and tough and fair and difficult and tough decisions. But, WOW what a fuck up the child benefit thingy is.

Aside from the tough/difficult rhetoric, the main response I’ve heard concerned an appeal to practical snobbery – basing it on household rather than individual incomes would involve a horrendous bureaucratic process (true) and also involve means testing. Now its fun to hear a politician say "means testing" in this age of the “targeted” benefit, but isn’t that kinda what the family and working tax credit processes already involve?

I’d have thought an easier approach, a pragmatic one even would have been to automatically exclude all those on £44k+, but allow them to submit a claim if their total household income was below a certain level; that way the rank unfairness of the current proposals wherein households with an income in excess of £80k can get a benefit households with a £44k income can’t would be addressed. Plus, as benefits not paid to auld yins prove, there will always be penty of people who don't claim.

But, WOW what a political fuck-up all the same given the Tory fascination with the nuclear family and notions of mums staying at home to raise the kids, but getting the shafteroo cos hubby is a middle manager in a PLC. And WOW 2x given the Tory desire to appeal to the aspirational i.e. those who don’t earn £44k but aspire to and can see themselves doing so. And WOW 3x given the stupid fucks forgot about the origins of child benefit, which is that it was to provide a universal income to mothers, i.e. one devoid of the stigma attached to nearly all other benefits and grounded as much in feminist as it was statist thinking.

The backtracking going on right now about transferable married people’s allowances (noises rather than commitments) is amazing also given cutting one benefit, but increasing an allowance would limit any net benefit in terms of deficit reduction. But, that’s a tad to sensible, rather the Beeb will simply fixate on any notion of backtracking followed by a wank off over personalities cos that’s how politics and the economy are reported on here.

Which is a pity given this deficit is a finite thing isn’t it, like the Tories are taking all these tough/difficult decisions to address a one off problem whereas presumably the child benefit cut will be a permanent measure? How that work?

Perhaps on the basis that it plays straight into the US Democrat rhetoric Labour are currently wrapping themselves in of the squeezed middling sort, providing a wonderfully practical example of how the current cabinet of toffs just doesn’t get it.

Tits and Tory Boy

I could be a tit and quote myself from May this year so I will “it seems like middle income bods are gonnae get clobbered left, right and centre by various VAT,NI and income tax rises and freezes and also get excluded from as many benefits as possible e.g. no more from tax credits or nursery vouchers and say the end of unverisal child benefit and what not if household income is over 40 grand a year or something, the staggered introduction of all which will progressively knock thousands off people's disposable incomes and further ghetto-ise the benefit system”.

But, aside from my having crystal balls (it was bloody obvious), what's really, and I mean REALLY impressive is how dumb the child benefit proposals are. So that’s no child benefits for any family with at least one person earning over £44k? Seems fair enough I guess, except looking thru the following hypothetical households:

Single parent earns £44k, total household income, £44k = No benefit
Two parents: he earns £43k, she earns £43k, total household income £86k = Gets benefit
Two parents: he earns £44k, she earns £15k, total household income £59k = No benefit.

So it targets higher earners not higher income households, which doesn’t strike me as being especially fair (whether the legislation will be smart enough to pick up on same sex couples will be interesting also). And oh oh, I was a schmuck on the grounds I didn't think anyone was dumb enough to conflate individual earners with households.

Then there are the raw disincentives to work it creates. In this blessed age of flexible working a bog standard two income family debate is whether someone should cut their hours to spend more time with the kids. Whereas the economics of this originally took into account the earnings forgone vs child minding costs saved, now they will increasingly need to take into account the £1,752 p.a. in benefits foregone also.

To give a practical example if Mum A on £45k p.a. dropped to a four day week, her net salary after tax and national insurance would fall from £32,860 to £26,764, however, she would keep her child benefit and potentially save c.£1k p.a. on child care costs.

And yeah, yeah, pension contributions would also fall 20%, but so feckin what given pensions are going to be raped on a continuous basis for the next decade. I mean what’s 20% less of fuck all tomorrow compared to getting 20% of your working week back today? The other funny besides stuff like people losing out when they get a promotion and/or pay rise is the potential damage it’ll do to the tax take.

So whereas Mum A on £45k for a 5 day week coughs up £12,139 p.a. in tax and NI. Mum A working 4 days only pays £9,235 p.a. and keeps her £1,752 p.a. in benefit. So a measure intended to save £1,752 a head ends up costing £4,656, which kinda matters given it indicates only a significant minority of people need to follow Mum A’s lead for the fiscal benefits to be neutralised. Eligibility needs to be tapered or banded in some way. End of.

You could at this point be cynical and suggest that actually it’s all about reworking the relationship between the state and the citizen and weening more and more people off what had deliberately become a near-universal system. Except, that’s a pile of shite because means testing household rather than individual incomes would be both a fairer and more effective means of doing so. It also implies a greater degree of vision on the part of the government than they appear to possess. I originally thought poor Danny Alexander was wheeled round the TV studios a while back to ensure the LibDems got all the stick for Tory decisions. Rather than any Machiavellian shenanigans I’d now say the more likely explanation is George Osborne really is the fuckwit “flat tax”(??@*&?!?) Tory Boy shit stain he always came across as before the election, that and he probably wears purple buckets for a bra.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Green Diamond

Howard Davies is the kind of smart Adair Turner gets presented as by people who rub themselves against the latter in the hope some of his apparent credibility rubs off. Both were/are also FSA chairmen, but only Howard’s recent writing is worth much reading. This includes an essay last month on why the moves to reform the financial system are running into the sand, which matters given the rationale for reform was to prevent a reoccurrence of the kind of thing that has already put millions of people on the dole.

This and the increasingly aggressive push by the banking industry to be left the fuck alone provide the context for today’s announcements about two bankers getting new jobs. The one that got all the headlines, commentary, analysis, pish spoken, etc., involved Barclay’s bank, which will be headed up next year by a very, very rich bloke as opposed to the current very rich bloke. The one that was actually significant though was the announcement that the chairman of HSBC will become a government trade minister in January next year. Not that the attention paid to the former in any way obscured the latter or that there was any coincidence involved in the timing of the announcements. No chance.

Regardless of that its nice to know that as the government is considering reregulating banking and even has a nice commission considering breaking banks up the chairman of a bank that recently threatened to leave Britain if this was to occur will be in government. It leaves you feeling all warm and moist knowing they’re in the tent pissing out, not pissing in. Or perhaps it’s simply taking the piss.

Speaking of which, arse. No idea how to add a graph showing how the % of long-term unemployed has risen from c.1 in 4 to c.1 in 3.

Also piss is all this BBC malarky about the spending cuts/review given what was going to happen was already apparent before the election during which it was allowed to fall between the cracks in favour of the usual personality wankfest. Presumably the temptation to do vox pop/speak your brains specials has just got too damn much. The other point of course is that the spending cuts will be over a number of years and not really kick in until 2011 - i.e. the BBC will get bored with it a day or two after the spending review is announced on October 20th (having already nagged ministers every morning on Radio 4 in the run up to the announcement) and the human misery they actually cause will no longer be headlines when the misery actually starts getting caused (by then my guess is they'll be wanking on about the coalition breaking up in between over-reacting to some disease that might just wipe out Western civilization).

P.S. read an intersting article today (8th), which mentioned Barclays told Downing street in advance about the very, very, very, very rich man's impending appointment, exactly the kind of info that would enable those so motivated to make sure the other appointment was announced at the same time and buried as a result.

Monday, 6 September 2010


Woo hoo a graph! A shit looking one to be sure, but still it tells a story even if it’s not one with an especially happy ending.

The background here is that unemployment rose sharply throughout 2008 before stabilising at the beginning of 2009 where it has largely remained since. Positively, the employment rate has recently ticked up signalling the worst of the credit crunch is behind us, which is all fine and rather dandy until you look at the actual composition of the unemployed population in a shit graph like the one what I’ve done here. There what you see is that while the unemployment rate may have plateaued, within this long-term unemployment (defined as greater than 12 months), has continued to increase relative to the total. To put it another way from 2008 Q2 to 2010 Q2 the number of people unemployed for over 2 years increased by 63% while the number unemployed for 12 months plus increase by 104% which is an even more fucking horrendous number.

To quote an Office for National Statistics review of employment statistics long-term unemployment is more likely among older men, those with fewer qualifications and the disabled. A different way of putting this is that the growing number of poor sods signing on for the 53rd or more time this fortnight have endured and are enduring an increasingly nightmare uphill struggle when it comes to getting a job. Sure, things are getting better, but why exactly would an employer take on an unskilled, disabled, middle-aged bod who hasn’t got out of bed before 8am for 2 years when there’s some able-bodied graduate just come to the end of a temporary contract and desperate for beer tokens knocking at his door? The answer is he won’t and we’ll see a permanent (over the medium-term i.e. 5 years) increase in the number of long-term unemployed.

At a high falutin economic policy level, the resultant increase in “structural unemployment” will probably see the NAIRU revised upwards in due course and nuanced references to why unemployment in excess of say 6% can be compatible with supply-side constraints and in no way a reason not raise interest rates. It’ll also see some Daily Mail led splenetics about dole scroungers and benefit fraud being trotted out every time government benefit spending figures get published.

Alternatively, given the human misery involved, I’d like to see the next few Office for National Statistics labour market statistics bulletins printed out and publically rammed down the throats of the few dozen or so vile British financial cunts who contributed to and profited from the credit crunch; it’s not as if it wouldn’t be a piece of piss to start naming names, especially given ignorance is rarely an acceptable excuse.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010


Full employment as a notion sounds lovely cos its not just employment, its FULL employment. Yeah, everyone has a job! Except while common sense and a big dod of reasonableness would leave you thinking that’s what it means, in practice it doesn’t actually for basically snidey reasons, in fact full employment is weasel words!

A certain degree of unemployment is unavoidable what with frictional unemployment i.e. people moving between jobs with ideally a contract in the post and a month or two to chill. However, alongside this is the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment or NAIRU beyond which so many people have jobs and start buying things and taking advantage of tight labour market conditions to bid up their wages prices start rising. Hence in practice a debated degree of unemployment is considered acceptable, necessary even by our lovely policymakers, which is kinda unfortunate given the links between unemployment and crime, poor health, poverty and so on and so on. But, hey ho its all good if it lets people claim full employment has been achieved even if there’s still however many poor sods on the rock’n’roll.

Except, unemployment is also an irredeemably social, moral and consequently political issue as opposed to being simply a technocratic one. To give an example, am sure a “dole scrounger” being interviewed down the broo as to why they’re unemployed won’t score any brownie points by claiming they’re doing their bit to ensure inflation stays on target.

And then there’s that lovely class-dividing line between us and them at which point me getting a stonking great pay rise is an inflationary threat and as such to be avoided whereas you getting an even bigger one is a necessary incentive to ensure those who create wealth are attracted and retained. Except if we are to believe Sir Fred Goodwin, named Global Businessman of the year in 2002, when he told the Treasury select committee that “it is just too simple if you want to blame it all on me. If you want to blame it all on me and close the book, that will get the job done very quickly, but it does not go anywhere close to the cause of all of this", then individuals, even when they are the great and the formerly good, don’t necessarily make much of a difference (for a different and more wide ranging example of the irrelevance of CEOs see here).

And this isn’t even touching on the long-term structural issues affecting labour markets like gender pay inequality, that piss all over any notion that the labour market as a whole is anything even approximating an efficient market. So for me anyhow the labour market, that place where we sell our time in return for status and cash is a tad more complex than even the fanciest econometric formula can imagine.

Hence reading some Labour leadership contender’s commitment to full employment I thought what a twat. More generally if unemployment is a price worth paying to avoid inflation, cut the deficit and misquote the former Tory chancellor Norman Lamont, I always wonder if those doing the bulk of the actual paying mebbe deserve something concrete and tangible in return if only because so many o fthe people who caused the current mess are sat on piles of cash and/or in the case of John Thain have new, multi-million pound a year jobs.

As a P.S. that's the various Japanese pornographer/cultist comments gone. They were just waaaaaaaay too creepy

Friday, 6 August 2010

Halfords is fucking shite

Excellent, now I’ve built up a dedicated audience of half a dozen Japanese cultists and pornographers I can abuse my newfound position of power and influence by slagging off Halfords cos they are fucking shite. In case I’m not being clear Halfords the shop that sells stuff for cars and bikes and stuff is fucking shite, as in fucking shite i.e. shite that is fucking shite. They are shite. See that picture? That's Halfords.

So there’s me living in E’boro stuck on a bus of a morning going to work thinking fucking hell the fucking farce that is the E’boro trams and all those taxes docked off my wages so some fucking tit of a councillor can shit it into holes in the ground to massage his or her ego is so causing congestion (and all the economic damage that does to a local economy) I’d almost be as fast walking, in fact I’d be faster cycling. So cycle to work scheme it was for me!

Except to get the tax free benefits of the scheme via my employer I needed to get my bike via Halfords. On point of principle I’d rather have got it from a local business as opposed to some big chain store. Now though I’ve learned it’d have been better to have got it from anyone but Halfords because Halfords is fucking shite. Now clearly, dissing Halfords like that requires serious justification; thankfully Halfords being so fucking shite has provided that in spades.

Take ordering my bike – as I subsequently discovered the fucking tool who passed Halfords's rigorous recruitment process didn’t click send after he took down all the details. The key word here though is “subsequently” because in my weekly phone calls to find out if my bike had been delivered I was told to try a few days later the first few times, then eventually that the supplier was giving them problems. The supplier possibly was and is is and the representatives of Halfords were/are right to bring that to my attention. Alternatively they were lying wee useless fuckwits. Anyhoo after however many weeks had passed I phoned “head office” and after a few more calls to the useless fuckwits outlet later I finally got some clarity; send got clicked and eventually I got my bike.

From this point on mebbe it's all my fault – I was that excited to finally get the fucking bike I’d now been paying for for months I didn’t pay enough attention to how it wasn’t set-up by the Halfords fuckwits. Mebbe them thinking nearly flat tyres are cool, telling me "that seat's a bit low" rather than assisting me with altering it or not oiling the chain let alone suggesting I might want to buy some oil and thus achieve some cross-fucking-sales were clues to Halfords being fucking shite? I don’t know. What I do know is taking something out a box and handing it to someone is something a fucking monkey can do if you gie it enough bananas let alone minimum wage and only counts as product knowledge if you are a fucking moron - Halfords do not "go the extra mile".

Anyhoo, as I subsequently discovered on quite a busy street the real issue was the fact the fucking gear change didn’t work and that the brakes weren’t too clever either, but that’s OK you ignore the Halfords outlet morons telling you they can’t take your bike in for a fortnight and just turn up (carefully and slowly) and say my brakes don’t work and neither do my gears and I’ve only had this a coupla weeks and the actual branch manager will see to it personally.

Except the other day my gears stopped working again because the people who perform bike maintenance at Halfords are fucking shite, much like Halfords itself, which is fucking shite and to be avoided like the fucking plague. I thought I’d phone the cycle to work number at Halfords and get some help and hey presto I got through quite quickly – unfortunately they told me to call the customer service number, which took a lot, lot, lot, lot, lot longer although thankfully while I was waiting I was reassuringly told that my call was being taken seriously by some robotic voice. Except, Mr Robot was wrong because Halfords have obviously made the strategic decision that it should take a lot less time to answer a possible sales enquiry than it should customer service, which is a fucking obvious guide as to what is taken seriously and what isn’t. Anyhoo, when I eventually got through they were useless cunts and my gears still don’t work and I’ve no idea when they ever will.

But, hey let’s turn that frown upside down by using my personal experience to spell out some realities about Halfords as a business and as an organisation:

1) Halfords is a company that does not train up their employees to the point where they can understand or operate routine company processes
2) Representatives of Halfords are comfortable with lying to the point of making defamatory comments about suppliers/other companies without any substance whatsoever
3) Halfords is a company that is happy to let its customers ride off on bikes that don’t work properly regardless of the very obvious risk that poses to said customer’s lives.
4) Halfords is happy to let people who are incapable of performing satisfactory routine bike maintenance perform routine bike maintenance (regardless of the very obvious risk to said customers’ lives).
5) Halfords systematically apportions significantly more resources to sales than customer service despite their inability to sell bikes that work, indicating Halfords does not take customer service seriously.

So yeah, Halfords is fucking shite – they lie, they don’t understand the products they sell and the customer service is fucking shite. Spend your money elsewhere and question them being the only cycle to work supplier at your work if it turns out they are. You could even check out this blerk for another example of Halfords being shite or this one or even look at this in the meantime.

An 8th August postscript - Didn't realise Halfords was actually called Halfrauds. But, aye, one of the things that makes Halfords utter fucking shite is that while they sell products with warranties its nearly impossible to get your bike in to them to get it repaired rendering the warranty useless in practice. My experience was most times I phoned the person to talk to about bikes was unavailable. The odd occassion I got him he explained I couldn't book a slot to get my bike repaired, rather I had to hand it in and mebbe I would get it fixed within 2 weeks if I was lucky, an arrangement so awkward as to encourage me to go elsewhere. So I did. I went here to a local business that couldn't have been more spot on - same day (afternoon actually) service, loads of useful advice and a ridiculously good price, all things that highlight how Halfords are rip off money grubbing useless shites.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Fab person has a downer on it

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is both misunderstood and a pile of fucking shite. Starting with the misunderstanding, this stems from its origins and ends being so poorly known. Rather than being an even remotely shiny new thing, CSR originates in paternalistic management practices dating back to the nineteenth century. Back then, rather than however many over-ambitious middle managers jetting off to Malawi to build a new toilet block for refugees, CSR was about employers providing company housing, company shops, company retirement homes, company swimming baths, company libraries, company bandstands, company doodlydads etc., etc., the key word throughout being company i.e. when you worked for a company (some companies at least), your entire life was spent in company premises of one sort or another. Hence doing anything that threatened your job with said company was also a threat to you and your family’s entire way of life cos if you weren’t working for the man you certainly weren’t living in the man’s house.

CSR then originated in deliberate efforts by employers to impose an all encompassing managerial discipline and authority. In the case of say Cadburys or Lever Brothers at Port Sunlight, it also entailed imposing actually quite lovely notions as to how lives should be lived, but still it was a thing being imposed as opposed to free will etc. Except then the post war settlement with all its redrawing of the lines between public and private provision and mucho more council housing and welfare state and subsequent full employment suddenly fucked things up – you could tell the gaffer to fuck himself safe in the knowledge you’d still have a home to go back to.

You could argue this was the end of paternalism and as such claim there was a disconnect with the CSR shite we have today, except paternalism had always involved both ”soft” and “hard” objectives and its that distinction that’s still with us today. The hard were and are the easy to spot, obvious things. Like in much the same way that a company built a swimming pool expected fitter, more hygienic workers (and was also tacitly telling the state to fuck off when it came round asking for higher taxes to pay for houses with toilets), so today when a company sponsors an art exhibition it expects 100 free tickets to a private viewing where it can woo new and existing companies - and you bet they’ll get them given CSR is now a full-time pretendy profession with full time CSR experts and managers and what not all desperately trying to justify their existence by pointing out the bottom line benefits of whatever it is they do.

If the “hard” is about the readily measurable; the “soft” by contrast is the never ending and elusive quest for legitimacy and authenticity. Here the only meaningful difference between Victorian Gradgrinds and today’s corporate champions is what’s being legitimised. Back in the day the emphasis was on control and managerial authority and all the structured inequality that entailed when it came to the distribution of economic outcomes. Nowadays it’s still about legitimising, but of whatever it is the business coughing up to sponsor an art exhibition does to make money.

Take BP fer instance – piss oil allova Americans? Not necessarily a bad thing given how much they shite on everyone else, but that aside, ignore the environmental fuck ups and concentrate on all the lovely art they sponsor and the extent to which that proves BP is a cultured muthafucka of an organisation that routinely contribute to the moral and cultural life of Britain. In fact if you’re so inclined you could even read Noreena Hertz’s latest article on fuck knows and, ignoring any car rental references, latch on to her as the half-witted pan piper ideologue arguing in favour of a status quo wherein Bono and BP should be left free to spend a teeny tiny fraction of their tax efficient fortunes on patronising darkies.

Alternatively you could get real. Every public organisation and institution that puts out banners and adverts associating a corporate sponsor with something cultural should be obliged to also acknowledge the fact the vast majority of its funding comes from taxpayers and as a result oblige it to hold a parallel lottery wherein every month a taxpayer gets the chance to (a) win an exclusive night when he or she (and friends and family) has a private viewing and (b) gets a picture of him or her plastered all over the place.

As for the sponsors, every time a team of marketing managers are sent to Malawi to build a new toilet block the company they work for should be obliged to issue a public statement explaining why simply asking the volunteers to give up a single day’s pay and then handing that over to pay for actual local builders to do the exact same thing only much more effectively and without the additional cost of flights and accommodation wasn’t the better option.

And ooh, ooh Christopher Hitchens has cancer. Does that mean the Left needs a new, favourite bourgeois, pointless waste of space ornament to lionise? And will the “hitch” produce a diary of his treatment of the sort Christopher Morris satirised years ago? Who fucking cares, it’s the Grauniad equivalent of Jordan and Peter Andre’s latest Heat article iz all.

Back to actual real stuff. Yer man here knows whats what when it comes to the corporate paternalism or at least he used to before the Welcome Trust fucked up what constituted historical research in Britain. And the weird fucked up pic attached to this post I found when I googled CSR is supposed to represent CSR how exactly? Stupid cunts.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Ass wad

"You can judge a society by the way it treats its ..... eldery, prisoners, animals, poor, toffee pops, etc., etc., (delete/insert your vested interest where appropriate)" is one of they pat, sanctimonious, rhetorical cliches used to claim the moral high ground when there's no actual facts, logic or what no to support the view being taken.

And yet as all those economists across Britain pore over the budget looking for some nugget to insert into the summaries they'll be pissing over the internet and thru intranets into already clogged up inboxes, for me right now its the appropriate position to adopt.

To be fair as budgets go I fair liked its transparency, especially the nice straightforward table near the back showing how income tax, VAT and national insurance pretty much pay for everything i.e. us, not corporation tax, something to bear in mind I think. Then tonight there were the usual city talking heads being asked to react, my personal favourite being the tool from Barings who popped up on newsnight. Yeah that's right Barings, the bank run by inbred schmoos too posh to realise they didn't know what they were doing until the whole thang whent phut. Anyhoo, yer Baring's bloke said some terribly, terribly interesting stuff, so interesting I was about to pass out until I thought I heard him say "ass wad". Was the interviewer that bad? Or was it "ass-wajj" instead? Am no sure, either way it sounded fuck all like "assuage".

But, aye, ass wad aside, what got me was the budget decision to make claiming disability living allowances harder than it already is. Lovely, lets pick on disabled people cos you bet they had it coming.

Wait a mo mebbes the bods who came up with that lovely wee zinger had confused DLA with incapacity benefit? Probably, but who cares, its no as if DLA claimants can put up much of a fight and if they do we'll unplug their electric wheelchairs and jobs a good 'un.

Monday, 14 June 2010

3 musketeers

Cool, I get to be a pertinent for a change.

Between them Vic Reeves, Professor John Kay and Johnny Rotten provide the best guide available to the future direction and state of the British economy, one that’s far more accurate than the shite being issued by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Starting with Vic Reeves, his comment that 88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot doesn’t directly apply to economic forecasts, but the warning it gives about spurious precision does. Every forecast comes with the caveat ceteris paribus (all other things being equal) because every forecast is the product of a model that only takes a finite number of things into account when it predicts the future direction of an infinitely complex thing (the economy). This would be cool if right now infinite complexity didn’t involve all sorts of mad, unpredictable shit that may or may not have all sorts of mad degrees of significance attached to it, like a sovereign debt crisis of a major European economy and all the scope for contagion that entails in a completely impossible to model type style, except it does.

But, then if you go by Professor Kay’s sage suggestion (and you really, really should), about economics and economic forecasts and how while we may be able to accurately predict what team will win on Saturday (particularly if it's however is currently top of the league), predicting the score is a lot less certain, then that’s all good (the practical example here being if we could quantify the future with any meaningful degree of accuracy the pools would have gone bust years ago).

Except right now we’re being encouraged to attach importance to the 0.4% difference between the 3% rowth Treasury under Labour forecast compared to the 2.6% subsequently forecast by the OBR. Alternatively fuck that shite, fuck it long, hard, bad, rough and wrong because both views depict strong, above trend growth, which is a YAY! in my book.

Plus given recent events the more recent the forecast the more likely it is to be pessimistic and anyhoo in forecasting terms how big a difference is 0.4% anyhow? Like as of May 2010, if you wanted a forecast for UK economic growth in 2011 you could choose from hundreds of options including Goldman Sachs’ 3.4% and Capital Economics’ 1.5%, 2 views with a whopping great 1.9% spread between them. Or should we simply tell both of these august institutions to go and fuck themselves for being useless fuck nuggets? (Probably, but thats a different point).

The reality then is that forecasts are affected by recent events on an ongoing basis, they change on a regular basis as a result, are derived from different models that are more or less accurate over time in unpredictable ways and can only ever provide a general guide as to what is likely as opposed to what will happen; a diretion as it where as opposed to a step by step route map.

Except that don’t fit in with the political narrative being constructed as I type this which is because we’re in an economic crisis government spending needs to be hacked back hard. As ever the use of economic forecasts here to "objectively" legitmise political decision making is a reminder economics is actually political economics as opposed to a game of psuedo scientific mathematical wanking, which in turn reminds me of Johnny Rotten saying "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

(revised and arse picture added May 15th)