If only Steve Hilton knew what he was talking about

It’s not looking good for the idea that Steve Hilton is well informed, is it?

My meeting with Luiz was arranged by Citizens UK, the brilliant community organisers who have been such a powerful force in campaigning for a living wage. But my real conversion to this cause was brought about years previously by an unlikely protagonist: Polly Toynbee.

Gaining your information from that source is never going to work out well, is it?

And yet he does get close, only to reject the correct solution:

Some might say that the minimum wage was deliberately set so low that it wouldn’t affect business very much. An increase to the living wage would be a completely different proposition. It is to counter this argument that in my book, More Human, I advocate what I describe as “business-friendly living wage” that requires companies to pay a living wage but cuts their employers’ national insurance by roughly the same amount to neutralise the overall impact. But to be honest, this is letting businesses off the hook. There are plenty that could perfectly well afford to pay the living wage. It’s a choice.

The actual answer is to, as we have been saying here for near a decade now, reduce the amount of tax charged to those on low incomes. We will have more on this later in the week but seriously, what is so difficult to understand about the following? If you want the working poor to have more cash then just stop taxing them so damn much.

The Treasury has lost on RBS whether or not it sells up

One bizarre argument that has come up on Twitter and amongst the media recently is that George Osborne, in his ruthless free market zeal, is determined to privatise RBS, selling off some of the government’s stock now, despite this meaning the government will have lost money by rescuing the bank. According to these critics Osborne fails to see the obvious correctness of their arguments and the obvious stupidity of this move because he is blinded by an ideological obsession with privatisation.

This line of attack is nuts. Firstly, you do not make a loss when you realise it; simply turning the equity into cash does not suddenly mean the government has lost out. By analogy: imagine I buy a house for £400,000, but I accidentally drive a bulldozer into half of it, meaning that it is now worth only a quarter of what I paid. When did I get worse off: when I drove the bulldozer into it, or when I sold it? Am I still worth £400,000 until I sell the house for its new value of £100,000?

Secondly, even if you did, there’s little to no reason to expect RBS shares to rise above any other asset in the future; the government could easily lose more than the notional £12bn less its 79% stake is worth than when it was bought. There may well be some market inefficiencies (or perhaps not) but even if there are, no one is seriously going to argue that the government is playing one of the super-sophisticated strategies to exploit those inefficiencies by holding onto a FTSE100 bank that it picked up as part of a bailout.

Thirdly, simply comparing price now to price then is ridiculous: the FTSE as a whole has something like doubled since 2008 and 2009 when RBS was bailed out. If the relevant counterfactual is ‘risky equities investment’ then the government could have made tens of billions of pounds; if the relevant counterfactual is ‘pay down debt’ it could have saved billions of pounds on debt interest. On a more relevant comparison, the state has lost a lot more than £12bn. But it lost that when it invested and when the price fell.

If it’s bad to sell off RBS, that’s because there’s some special reason why RBS will do better for itself and society if owned by the government. This is quite implausible; actually it seems more likely that owning RBS could twist governmental and RBS incentives, distorting the banking market and harming society overall. It is complete nonsense to say that by selling now Osborne is losing money for the Treasury—it’s already gone.

Just say no to the Swansea lagoon

Everybody obviously colours the argument for their pet scheme. But it’s rare to see something quite as transparent as the entirely fallacious arguments being put forward for the Swansea lagoon:

Plans to build the world’s first tidal lagoon power plant in Swansea Bay have now been granted development consent. At a time when the UK is struggling to rewire its electricity market to introduce more security, less carbon and less cost, here is a blueprint for an infrastructure solution that ticks each box and that will endure.

Reliable? Quite possibly, low carbon almost certainly yes. However, less cost it simply will not be. We can tell this because they’re asking for a contracts for difference price on the electricity to be generated of £168 per MWhr. Rather higher than even the most absurd of the nuclear plans and very much higher than a gas plant, or even wind turbines (and yes, higher than gas even taking carbon emissions into account).

We know this because this has all been extensively studied. Hundreds and hundreds of pages of analysis with this basic conclusion:

In the light of these findings the Government does not see a strategic case to bring forward a Severn tidal power scheme in the immediate term. The costs and risks for the taxpayer and energy consumer would be excessive compared to other low-carbon energy options. Furthermore, regulatory barriers create uncertainties that would add to the cost and risk of construction. The Government believes that other options, such as the expansion of wind energy, carbon capture and storage and nuclear power without public subsidy, represent a better deal for taxpayers and consumers at this time.

That was the report that killed off the idea of the government itself investing in it. Now Frankenstein’s Monster has risen again by claiming that it won’t get government subsidy. It’ll just pick all our pockets through the electricity price instead. Same people having to pay the same subsidy just via a different route.

That analysis really is damning too. The larger the lagoon, barrage, built, the more money is lost. It’s as if the cot com boom never happened: we lose money on every transaction and make it up in volume. It’s really not too strong to say that this is the rapine of the citizenry.

It’s also possible to identify where the original mistake was made: by Ed Miliband, yes it was. If there’s going to be a subsidy to renewables (we prefer a carbon tax but…) then that subsidy should be the same for all technologies. And thus we’ll end up building out the renewables that work best. However, the decision was made to vary that subsidy dependent upon the costs of each different technology. So it’s possible for people to wander in and claim they’ve got this great idea: but they’ll just need to sell their ‘leccie for 4 times the going rate to fund it. This is madness. And it’s exactly the problem that the imposition of a carbon tax avoids.

We absolutely know that this phantasmagorical plan just will not work, will not work in providing us with the energy that we desire at a price that we’re willing to pay for it. We really do need to tell these chancers and scheme promoters to take a long walk off that short pier that their lagoon will obliterate.

There’re times to obey the rules and there are times to strangle the last politician with the intestines of the last bureaucrat

Presented without any further comment than that headline:

Charles Murray is quick to add that he is perfectly fine with a wide range of sensible regulations, and that only a narrow subset of regulations ought to be disobeyed, offering this rule of thumb: if the matter in question were to become a news story in the mass media, the vast majority of Americans would side with the rule-breaker. He offered the example of a bartender with whom he corresponded––she was fined $3,000 for failing to card a customer, and while he granted the legitimacy of requiring alcohol sellers to check the ages of customers, he felt it was unfair to fine the bartender in this particular situation as the customer was her father.

Are these people Nimbys or Bananas?

The reason that Lancashire is not going to allow fracking for natural gas:

Here’s the wording of the official rejection – all about the impact on the landscape and the noise:
1) The development would cause an unacceptable adverse impact on the landscape, arising from the drilling equipment, noise mitigation equipment, storage plant, flare stacks and other associated development. The combined effect would result in an adverse urbanising effect on the open and rural character of the landscape and visual amenity of local residents contrary to policies DM2 Lancashire Waste and Minerals Plan and Policy EP11 Fylde Local Plan.
2) The development would cause an unacceptable noise impact resulting in a detrimental impact on the amenity of local residents which could not be adequately controlled by condition contrary to policies DM2 Lancashire Waste and Minerals Plan and Policy EP27 Fylde Local Plan.

Wrong decision.

It’s worth recalling a few facts about this fracking thing. Carbon related emissions in the US have been falling even as the economy grows. Because that fracking has led to a massive boost in the supply of natural gas, a fall in its price and thus the displacement of he far more polluting coal. Given that the Bowland Shale is three times the depth of the Marcellus, we would rather expect teh same to happen here.

And we’ve even had reports that it would: the amount of extra gas that Cuadrilla announced as a result of just one well test would lower natural gas prices for all of Western Europe by 4%. That’s just the extra from one well test. We do indeed get DEC saying that fracking will not reduce gas prices: but that’s because they speak with forked tongue. What they mean is that gas prices won’t fall from today’s levels: while their own economic models claim that gas prices will double into that same future. Fracking would, by their own admission, stop that doubling, even if not drop prices from today’s levels. Forked tongue or what?

As to impact upon landscape: come one, puhleeze, this is Lancashire we’re talking about. It’s not exactly sticking an oil rig in Lake Windermere, is it?

At which point all we can really wonder about is whether these people are Nimbys (Not In My Back Yard) or Bananas (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone) for it’s clear and obvious that they are bananas.