In which we sympathise with a letter in the Telegraph

We find ourselves nodding in agreement at this letter:

Mr Walters said there are some benefits to being a member, but that the level of bureaucracy is a heavy burden on the state.
“If we get ourselves out of the bureaucratic nightmare Europe creates, that would be beneficial. And the amount of money spent propping up that bureaucracy. There would be no worries about an exit.”

Because of course “Europe” is a political union with people who do this:

Four French bakers have been found guilty of working too much and hit with fines after sparking national debate over their desire to stay open seven days a week.
A court in Dax, south-western France, handed €500 (£368) fines to the four from the town and nearby Saint-Paul-les-Dax saying they had flouted a 1999 prefectural order obliging any bakery to remain closed for at least one day per week.

Note that this is not about giving the staff (nor even the boss) a day off or two. This is an insistence that the actual premises must close for one day a week. Supposedly so:

Jean-Pierre Crouzet, head of the national baker’s and confectioner’s confederation backed the status quo, saying it encouraged competition by obliging people to buy bread elsewhere at least once a week.

That is, in the view of the French Bakers’ union, the French people are too stupid to understand the concept of shopping around. A problem which can only be solved by having one seventh of the country’s bread, confectionery and patisseries plant and capital inoperative on any single day.

We really are of the opinion that this is something that the market unaided can solve. And, further, should be left to solve.

The EU closes the shop again

The bureaucrats in Brussels do not care for the constructive way Britain has fostered vital, young entrepreneurial businesses and their financing.  Their latest move is to specify how small companies can use the financial support they receive.  In a free and fair market, you might imagine that SMEs should be able to use their funding in any way the funders agree.  UK Venture Capital Trust (VCT) and Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) legislation broadly does this.

Nanny Brussels knows better and has decided that these funds may not be used for “replacement capital”, e.g. one generation of SME owners selling out to the next, and company acquisitions. Continental countries, notably Germany, do not use the financial market so much as state handouts which you might think more reprehensible, but oh no.  If you did not know for whose benefit the EU operates, wake up now.  If there was any doubt, the Association of Investment Companies reports that the Commission has warned HM Treasury that they will be watching the UK implementation quite specifically.

Fresh financing often involves an element of replacement capital, whether the entrepreneur wishes to sell the business, or reduce his personal financial risk, or simply grow the business. Using the financial services market to grow the wider economy is precisely what the EU should want. Releasing some equity may be the only way that an entrepreneur can develop the business.

As a company grows and develops, its financial profile changes and so does that of the management team. Replacement capital is crucial for facilitating such development.

Business growth must not be limited to the organic. Sales and acquisitions are vital for a healthy market.  The weak are reinvigorated by the strong.  This is where value comes from, notably for consumers who will be short-changed by the Brussels meddling.

To differentiate between growth capital and acquisition finance is, in many instances, completely artificial. VCT and EIS finance are major sources of capital in an investee company.  Outlawing such activity, often their main source of funds, will certainly reduce growth at a time when most commentators think that growth is what the EU most needs. A company, like any organism, is constantly evolving; many grow, some shrink, but as they change, so do their finance needs develop and alter.

In the UK version of the legislation in the Draft Finance Bill 2015-2016, HM Treasury has sought to water down the prohibition through negotiation with Brussels.  Needless to say, that compromise was ineffective and does not solve the problem. We should not have to play this off the back foot anyway:  the EU’s position is simply anti-competitive.

A guest worker programme for Syria’s women

I have previously written that we should let Syrians come to work in Britain through a guest worker scheme, arguing that the effects for natives are unlikely to be very bad, and I suspect may well be positive. But how might such a scheme work?

Typically guest worker programmes are seasonal, allowing workers to migrate during harvests to work in agriculture. The UK ended its Seasonal Agricultural Workers schemes in 2013 when it was scrapped alongside work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians being lifted. New Zealand’s programme has supplied workers for its growing wine industry, which quadrupled in size between 2004 and 2012 (from NZ$300 million to NZ$1.2 billion).

Britain’s agriculture sector is growing less quickly, and shows less of an obvious need for new workers. But we do have a problem with high childcare costs and, perhaps relatedly, low native fertility rates leading to an older population.

So I suggest we set up a guest worker programme for Syrians to come and work in the childcare sector here. This would reduce costs – labour costs account for around 78% of total childcare costs, in part because we have such tight regulations about things like staff:child ratios compared to most other Western European countries.

But interestingly, this could have a significant knock-on effect on fertility. A paper released last year found that, by reducing childcare costs, immigrant inflows can boost the fertility rate of high-skilled native women. By reducing the cost of having children, highly-educated women are able to have more of them (and may be less inclined to leave the workforce when they do have kids.)

Virtually all childcarers – 98% of them – are women, so the visa programme could be opened to women only without distorting the existing shape of the UK labour force.

This would have the added benefit of avoiding most of the crime that people (possibly exaggeratedly) worry about immigrants causing – the UK’s male prison population is about nineteen times the size of the female one (i.e., women account for 4.6% of the prison population). Of course we could require that applicants have English language skills as well.

This would also significantly boost the incomes of Syrians back home or in refugee camps – the New Zealand guest worker programme led to per-capita income gains of 30-40% in countries like Tonga and Vanautu with per capita GDPs significantly higher than Syria’s.

I have heard objections to this that Syrian women would simply not be allowed to come by their families, which seems to me to be a misreading of the strictness of Syria’s religious culture. But even if I’m wrong and there’s not much take-up, the few people who do come would still be made better off. The main downside might be what would happen to the men in Syria if the gender ratio became significantly lopsided – an argument against doing this on a massive scale, perhaps, but not against taking an extra twenty or thirty thousand people.

A programme like this is obviously going to be limited in scope. It won’t solve the Syrian crisis, but it could be very good for the people who take part. And it would have the nice bonus of reducing costs for British families and boosting the birth rate among high-achieving British women. So what are we waiting for?

We would blame central heating ourselves

Science has discovered a mystery:

It may be the final straw that kicks off intergenerational war. Hard-pressed millennials already resent their parents’ generation for their free university education, generous pensions, higher employment rates and ownership of mansions they bought for £18.50.

Now it turns out baby boomers even had it easier when it came to dieting. A new study has found those consuming a given number of calories were 10% heavier in 2008 than 1971.

The difference, it turns out, is not down to Generation Y spending all its time sat on their well-padded nether regions playing computer games and sexting. Those with the same calorie intake and physical activity levels had an average body mass index 2.3kg/m⁲ higher in 2006 than in 1988. While average food and energy intake around the world has risen in recent decades, research has undermined the notion that weight gain is simply the result of people consuming more calories than they expend.

Well, actually, calorie intake in the UK has declined over that period. But this paper is specifically looking at the US:

Between 1971 and 2008, BMI, total caloric intake and carbohydrate intake increased 10–14%, and fat and protein intake decreased 5–9%. Between 1988 and 2006, frequency of leisure time physical activity increased 47–120%. However, for a given amount of caloric intake, macronutrient intake or leisure time physical activity, the predicted BMI was up to 2.3 kg/m2 higher in 2006 that in 1988 in the mutually adjusted model (P < 0.05).

If that were a British result we would immediately “blame” central heating. Something unusual in 1971 and near universal now. As an American result we’re less certain.

Factors other than diet and physical activity may be contributing to the increase in BMI over time. Further research is necessary to identify these factors and to determine the mechanisms through which they affect body weight.

But that is the first thing we would go and look at. Given that we are, in fact, mammals. And that the major use of calories in mammals is the regulation of body temperature?

Rather than, say, blaming the food industry for advertising yummy things to us which we regard as the inevitable outcome of this current approach.

Transport for London could dissipate its goodwill

Transport for London has quite a good record. There have been significant improvements in London’s transport, and TfL can take credit for some of them. We have the new Routemaster buses with the open back that you can hop off in a traffic jam, or hop on or off at traffic lights. There are the new wide tube train carriages that allow you to talk from one carriage into another in search of a seat. We are soon to have all-night tube services on some lines.

The new traffic lights that tell pedestrians how long they have to cross are a good innovation, as is the reconfiguration of some congested crossings that were previously more dangerous to pedestrians. TfL took part in some of the consultations that led to these and other improvements.

The leaked proposals under consideration on Uber could dissipate all of the goodwill TfL has earned, however. There is no conceivable benefit to Londoners in having to wait 5 minutes before a car can pick them up, or in preventing them from seeing which cars are nearby. This is typical corrupt rent-seeking, trying to hobble competition through political lobbying in order to protect incumbents and keep up prices.

Uber has provided Londoners with a service that is more flexible, more convenient and less costly. An estimated 1.2m users have taken to it. They do so because it is of value to them. Black cabs provide a good service, too. Most cabbies are cheerful and helpful, and they know the shortcuts. There is room in London for both types of service. The way to benefit most Londoners would be to ease the regulations and costs of the black cabs, rather than to legislate away the benefits that Uber brings.

The black cab drivers’ association and those representing licensed minicabs boast openly that they were behind the now-public consultation proposals, and influenced TfL to take them on board. TfL should now ditch those proposals as ones bringing no benefit and great disadvantages to Londoners. Unless they do so, they will rapidly lose all of the goodwill gained by their other, more sensible, innovations.