There’s a reason why we have farming you know

There are those out there who think that we should return rather to our hunter gatherer roots. Simply pick from nature’s bounty rather than intensively farm the planet. There’s really only one problem with this delightful idea: we’d all starve within months having stripped the Earth of everything edible:

Epping Forest, an ancient woodland straddling the border of greater London and Essex, is one of the best fungi sites in the country, with over 1,600 different species. But, like other fungi-rich sites such as the New Forest, it is being stripped out by illegal picking by gangs believed to sell the wild mushrooms to restaurants and markets.

“They leave a trail of destruction,” says Dagley, who has been head of conservation for 20 years at the 6,000 acres wood. “It has stepped up over the last five years. Sometimes people run away when they are challenged, but we have been threatened too. People pick using knives so they feel armed.”

He says pickers often take everything away and sort the edible from the poisonous later: “You can find people with 40kg of fungi, which is huge” but much is just thrown away.

Dagley says it is distressing to see the destruction, and it prevents the forest’s 4.5 million annual visitors enjoying the spectacular variety of fungi. The weird and wonderful shapes and colours of the fungi he points out revives his enthusiasm. “You have gills, frills and pores and the puffballs, they are like things from outer space,” he says.

The growing popularity of foraging for wild food may be part of the problem, says Sue Ireland, director of green spaces for the City of London Corporation, which manages Epping forest: “In rural areas, foraging is fine if you are picking for your own personal use.”

Quite: there’s no problem at all with a couple of people going off for some ceps: nor with a bit of picking the hedgerow for some blackberries of the sloes for the Christmas Gin. But as soon as many people do it it becomes unsupportable. This is why we have mushroom farms of course. And farms for cows, because hunting the aurochs to extinction has already been done. And farms for what and so on. The truth is that, other than as a very marginal leisure activity, we just cannot live off nature’s bounty. There’s just too many of us to be able to do so.

Yes, the public health people are lying to us again

It would be useful if they could manage to keep their stories straight:

A landmark report by Public Health England (PHE) says lack of exercise is as dangerous as smoking – directly contributing to one in six deaths.

Officials warned that the UK population is now 20 per cent less active than it was in the 1960s, with half of women and one third of men damaging their health through lack of physical activity.

Given that weight is a straight function of calories consumed to calories expended we’ve the cause of our obesity epidemic right there. Calories consumed have fallen in that timescale but calories expended has fallen faster. We can thus junk 90% of the current public health programs over addictive sugar, trans-fats and all the rest as simply being nonsense. This part of the public health sector has told us what is really happening.

But it is, of course, worse than that. Our public health people do not seem to understand the economics, nor even the accounting, of public health:

Officials say that without major changes in the way people live their lives, the welfare state in Britain could collapse under the burden of self-inflicted diseases, which are fuelled by obesity, alcohol and smoking.

This simply isn’t true. As we’ve pointed out many a time in these pages, fatties, boozers and puffers save the welfare system money.

Yes, there are public costs associated with the treatments for the diseases all three bring on. But in terms of medical care those costs are lower than the public costs of treating someone who does not die early. There are thus savings in public costs if someone pops an artery in their 60s rather than needing, a little later, a decade’s worth of Alzheimer’s treatment. When we include things like pensions savings the numbers are even starker. From the point of view of the finances of the welfare state we should be encouraging everyone to stuff themselves and to puff away and imbibe as they do so.

On the other hand of course there are substantial private costs to such early deaths: so we don’t in fact go around doing that but just, if we’ve any liberality left at all, tell people so that they are informed of those costs: the benefits they already know of as it is pleasurable to eat, drink and smoke.

This does not mean therefore that there should be no information campaigns, no attempts to inform people that their health should be better if they stagger up off the couch for a walk for 30 minutes a day. That’s all just fine. But what it does mean is that none of these campaigns or actions can be justified by reference to the costs to the welfare state or the public purse. It just ain’t true that fatty, puffing boozers impose costs upon said welfare state: thus reducing the number of fatty, puffing boozers isn’t going to save that welfare state any money.

Isn’t it EUronic

I actually can’t tell if they’re kidding or not.

From the BBC:

The UK has been told it must pay an extra £1.7bn (2.1bn euros) towards the European Union’s budget because the economy has performed better than expected in recent years.

Replace ‘UK’ with ‘worker’, slot in a different extremely high number, change ‘EU budget’ to ‘UK budget,’ and the system starts to resemble something quite similar to tax law in the UK.

The article continues:

The payment follows new calculations by the EU that determine how much each member state should contribute.

It would add about a fifth to the UK’s annual net contribution of £8.6bn.

A government source said the demand was “not acceptable” while one Tory MP said the UK should simply refuse to pay it.

“UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the UK had been “hammered again” while Labour said it was imperative that the European Commission must reconsider the “backdated bill”.

It appears UK politicians are in complete shock that hard work and serious efforts to pull out of the recession are being threatened by a big, bureaucratic government body that feels it’s entitled to some of those earnings.

This is priceless.

On the issue itself, I agree it’s “not acceptable”, and I dearly hope the UK “simply refuse(s) to pay it.” What a wonderful precedent that would set for next year’s tax season, when hard-working taxpayers (who, according to this year’s stats, will have been working for the Chancellor for 148 days to pay off their obligations), decide that they, too, don’t want to be penalised for working harder and being a bit better-off financially.

Politicians can be slow on the uptake, so I guess there’s no deep surprise that it took them this long to understand the mechanics of ‘hard work = rewards.’ I just hope they whistle the same tune come next tax season.

To Polly the populace are just the milch cows of the State

Polly Toynbee is bemoaning the manner in which UK wages aren’t rising:

On Wednesday Steve Machin, research director at the LSE’s centre for economic performance, laid out to a meeting of economists the collected evidence on the nature of falling pay – and warned that this is beginning to look not like a slow recovery in wages, but a permanent, structural feature of the UK economy. He showed how the group-think of economic forecasters has consistently and wildly over-estimated an expected increase in wages: the OBR forecast for March this year was a wage rise of 4.3%. What happened has been a continuing real fall.

“There has been a startling and unprecedented lack of wage growth as unemployment falls,” Machin says. The “herd mentality” of forecasters is always to expect things to improve, but there is no sign they are right. This begins to look like the new permanent, as flatlining real median pay began back in 2003, long before the crash. Nor, finds Machin, is immigration a cause of falling pay: areas with high or low immigration saw pay fall equally.

Polly does at least pay lip service to the idea of being a Keynesian but I’m sure she would be surprised to find that Keynes would have been fully supportive of all of this happening. If people are unemployed then those people have to be priced back into work: and it was exactly Keynes who pointed out that people get very touchy indeed about falls in nominal wages but will put up with falls in real wages if they’re lightly disguised by a bit of inflation. Further, the Phillips Curve comes out of very much the same sort of thinking. That there’s a trade off between the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. We reach NAIRU (the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment) and if unemployment dips below that then inflation will rise. If it’s above it then inflation will fall. And if we’re seeing ever-falling unemployment and no sign of wages rises then we can conclude that NAIRU has fallen: which is absolutely great, for it means fewer people have to be consigned the the scrap heap of unemployment in order to keep inflation at bay in the future. We’ve had a favourable change in the basic structure of the economy.

However, the real shocker to us here is this:

Low pay is not just unjust, it’s crippling the country’s finances.

That’s dangerously close to insisting that the populace are just the milch cows there to pay for the State, the sheep to be shorn of their incomes to pay for public employees. Actually, given that it’s Polly saying it that’s not dangerously close, that’s what she means.

UK politicians’ ignorance towards immigration gives Juncker credit he probably doesn’t deserve

It’s a tough day when you have to agree with Jean-Claude Juncker. After all, I tend not to see eye-to-eye with those who think the European Commission needs “to be an even more political body.”

But today, Juncker came out strong against Cameron’s proposed cap on EU migration to the UK; which is good, important even:

From The Telegraph:

Mr Juncker said: “I am not prepared to change [freedom of movement]. If we are destroying the freedom of movement other freedoms will fall. I am not willing to compromise.”

He said that any attempts to address the issue of the amount of benefits being claimed by foreigners would have to be in line with current EU treaties.

“Member states are free to take the initiatives they want as long as these initiatives are line with the treaties,” Mr Juncker said.

Here’s the problem – I don’t think I do agree with Juncker; in fact, I have a sneaking suspicion he and I hold the opinion that free movement in the EU should remain uncapped for fundamentally different reasons. I, for one, don’t think migration is complimented by mandates to ensure a universal ‘minimum social wage’ throughout the EU.

Rather, I see free movement as an integral and necessary component of UK economic prosperity, not to mention a huge benefit for communities that both migrants and natives come in inhabit.

Yet on this particular topic, Mr Juncker and I have the same end goal. And his commitment to protecting free movement—rejecting Cameron’s migration negotiations—has taken us another step towards a full-blown referendum in 2017. Such a referendum, described in the most positive light, would be an opportunity for Britons to discuss and debate the implications EU regulations have on the UK (the specifics of trade agreements and vacuum cleaner bans are two topics that immediately spring to mind…). But there is a deep worry on the part of pro-immigration advocates such as myself that many will use the referendum to lock migrants out of the UK as best they can.

The majority of Juncker’s policies fall short of promoting freedom and prosperity—but on migration, at least his end goals are right. And until UK politicians (all of them really, Conservatives and Labour across the board) stop trying to halt the overwhelming benefits migrants bring to the UK, I find myself in unfamiliar waters, with Mr Juncker as my ally.