What a delightfully delicious dilemma

The usual hipsters and food faddists are soon going to face the most delightfully delicious dilemma. Quinoa has the merits of being a forgotten grain from a little regarded civilisation. The "rediscovery" of it thus brought tears to the eyes of all who would mark their social prowess through their bowels. And so it became tres trendy, certifiably chic.

The same group of cheerleaders are of course largely the people who insist that no GM will ever sully those bowels. No, we're not sure either but they at least insist they have some reason why.

At which point:

It has become a byword for metropolitan, health-conscious dining, but new research suggests quinoa could be destined for a far more important future.

Scientists believe the “supercrop” could solve the problem of feeding the world’s growing population.

The resilient seed, which was once the "mother grain" of the ancient Andean civilisation, thrives in harsh environments and provides a more balanced source of nutrients than cereal.

Well, isn't that lovely? And now for the dilemma:

Experts have now discovered a way of manipulating the quinoa plant changing the way it matures and produces food to make the bitter seeds sweeter.

Researchers from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology sequenced the Chenopodium quinoa genome, creating the world's highest quality quinoa sequence which has already yielded insights into the plant's traits.

The reason you sequence the genetic code is so that you can manipulate it. Thus, coming soon enough, GM quinoa.

Which of the two fads will win? More of a cheap and nutritious grain with which to feed us all, in that most healthy manner as is currently claimed? Or the method of making it cheaper and more nutritious blacklisting it from all GoodThink diets?

Our suspicion is that GM making it cheaper will be the thing which makes it unfashionable. For how can you go around making a moral statement by consuming something that's cheap enough for everyone?

There's a reason we use prices to ration things you know

The intricacies of how supply, demand and prices interact seem to be a mystery to all too many people. Unfortunately, those who are so flummoxed appear to include large numbers of those who have the statutory right to reach into our wallets:

Introduction of 30 hours free childcare could mean shortage of places

Well, yes, thanks to The Guardian for that headline. We'd go so far as to insist that when something formerly paid for becomes "free", free at the point of use at least, then demand is really very likely to outstrip supply.

Because, you know, that balancing act performed by prices.

From September, three- and four-year-olds in England will be entitled to 30 free hours of care per week in term time - up from the current 15 hours.

But a poll of local authorities by the Family and Childcare Trust found uncertainty about impact of the policy.

The government says quality, affordable childcare is central to its agenda.

The survey was sent to all 152 local authorities in England, and 112 of them responded.

Of the 112, over half (54%) said they did not know if they would have enough childcare available for pre-schoolers using the 30 hours.

A third (33%) said that there would be sufficient places, while a further 13% said there would not be enough.

This is of course not free nor any reasonable simulacrum of it. Someone, somewhere, is going to have to pay for those places and that care. And doing so through the taxation system rather than the price one is the wrong way to go about it.

What we would actually like to happen is that those who can earn more by going to work rather than caring for their own children - and wish to, of course - do so. And those who earn less than the cost of child care don't. Hiding that decision from the price system is therefore the wrong thing to be doing.

It's actually making us poorer which isn't the point of government nor policy at all.

Sadly, Hans Rosling has died

It is not a surprise that Hans Rosling has died, it's been known for some time that he was terminally ill. However, there is of course a sadness for his family and friends and also for us out here in that wider world. For in his final career he became an evangelist for the truth about our world. Things are getting better, fewer children die, the population explosion is near over as a result, the world is getting richer and better day by day.

This is of course in direct contrast to the usual jeremiads about how capitalism and globalisation are leading us down the path to damnation. And as such, of course, all most useful.

If you've not seen any of his talks then we recommend this, the first and breakout one at TED. This one about the decline in child mortality is also close to our hearts. And we have a very soft spot for this about the washing machine. How the mechanisation of drudgery makes us all so much richer.

If you prefer static imagery and data sets to video talks then Max Roser presents much the same information here.

The essential lesson on offer being, and one without which we simply have no hope at all of deciding what to do next, that the good old days are right now. Further, that as long as we don't mess up there is no reason why they shouldn't keep getting better off into the future.

That is, roughly and imprecisely to be sure, with backsliding here and there, we're on the right track with this economic development thing, with that just passed greatest reduction in absolute poverty in the history of our species.

Rosling wasn't feted and awarded in the same manner that Paul Ehrlich, who has been wrong on every point concerning the same matter, has been but then that's just how society seems to work. Gloom sells better than optimism.

All (all!) that Rosling did was stand up and tell us the truth about our world. A worthwhile thing to do with a life, don't you think?

Sheesh, the latest Brexit disaster

It strikes us that there does seem to  be a certain amount of umm, reaching, over the disasters that will befall us once Brexit actually takes place:

British tourists will face crippling mobile phone roaming charges in Europe after Brexit, leaked EU plans revealed today. 

EU lawmakers banned phone operators from charging holidaymakers roaming charges - the extra fees for making and receiving calls when abroad.

And from June this year consumers will be able to send texts and surf on their mobile at the same price they pay at home.

But European Parliament documents on the new rules say they should not apply to British travellers after the UK officially leaves the EU - expected to be in spring 2019.

So the situation post-Brexit will be exactly the same as it is today and has been for the past decade or two. This does not strike us as an agonising problem.

As to why this will be true:

However, a leaked analysis on UK withdrawal from the EU confirmed this would not apply to Britons post-Brexit.

The document was drawn up earlier this month by the European parliament’s committee on industry, research and energy, and endorsed by MEPs. It states that “regulation (EU) No 531/2012 on roaming will no longer apply with respect to the UK, impacting business and other travellers to and from the UK”

Why would this be so? Because the various levels of the EU will no longer have the power to impose regulations upon doing business in Britain. It does not mean that roaming charges musty be imposed, it just means that a certain set of government will not be able to insist that they're not., Something really rather different. For:

Other companies have voluntarily dropped them as they sought a competitive edge before the expected 2017 ban.

Really? Izz'at so? There are enough British consumers who are worried enough about this that not charging roaming gains a provider a competitive advantage? And why would we expect this not to be so even in the absence of governmental insistence? 

And if there aren't enough people who think it important enough that offering the option would not provide a competitive advantage then roaming charges or not does not actually matter, does it?

Freedom Week 2017

Applications for Freedom Week have just opened. And if you are aged between 18-25, you should be interested.

A joint project of the ASI and IEA, Freedom Week 2017 will be held from 3 – 8 July.

What is Freedom Week? It is a week-long series of lectures and seminars where around 30 of the best and brightest young thinkers are gathered for the time of their lives. I say this not because I work for the ASI (though I do), but because last year I went on Freedom Week, and it proved to be one of the best weeks I’ve ever had.

Though daunting at first, meeting all on the week was a pleasure, everyone was so interesting and kind, and willing to lock horns on subjects from Veganism to the Gold Standard. Many I met on Freedom Week have proved to be friends that I still talk to and meet today. Through attending, I met the team at the ASI, including President Madsen Pirie who pointed me in the direction of applying for one of their Gap-Year internship positions, as well as giving invaluable university advice. And that is why I am sat here writing this now, in the ASI office in Westminster!

Regardless of your background, Freedom Week will give you the opportunity to explore the economic, philosophical and political implications of free market ideas, immersed in talks from some of Britain’s leading thinkers.

As if that wasn't enough, there'll be as many evening activities as you can handle, including a BBQ, a drinks reception, several dinners in the College, trips to local pubs and a seriously fun pub quiz. Attendees will also be able to try their hand at punting on the River Cam, and will have free time to explore Cambridge.

Memories have been etched into my mind that will stay with me forever – all of them good. We worked as hard as we played on Freedom Week. It proved an unparalleled opportunity to network, but doing so was never a chore.

And the best bit? It is all completely free, all expenses paid (apart from beer money of course!) Though, I should mention, gaining a place is highly competitive.

Our brand new website is now live and ready for you to apply. Places are given as and when they come, so don’t delay, pop your name into the hat for the spiciest soirée out there.

Sadly, all too many don't understand business rates

Business rates are not perfect as they rely upon the rentable value of the building, not the land it is upon. But they are the closest we've got to a good tax, a land value tax. Meaning that if we're going to have a debate about rates and the current revaluation then it would be a good idea if we all understood them:

April’s new business rates will be the final nail in the coffin for many small shops. A re-evaluation means that overall high-street retailers will need to find an estimated extra £125m to pay increased rates (according to business rent and rates specialist CVS). This lumbers the average small shop with an extra £3,663 added to its rates bill and, as I can attest, there aren’t many that are going to be able to pick up their pricing guns with a devil-may-care shrug and get back to work.

No, in anything other than the shortest of terms it will be landlords who pick up £125 million less in rent a year. For rates are incident upon said landlords and their rent, not the occupiers of the premises. We know this very well- those 80s special development areas were free of rates for a time, rents rose as a result.

 If you happen to be trading in a property hot spot (and, indeed, your brilliant business may have contributed to the success of that place, as in Southwold and Port Isaac, areas with notably good independent shops that will be hit by rate hikes), or big brands have arrived and now surround your enterprise, then your valuation goes up and you find yourself catapulted out of the small business relief zone.

Yes, that's the point. There's a limited supply of land in those hot spots, taxing that land is the least distortionary tax that we have. It's a good tax. And note what is being taxed - that the other people around that property are adding value to it.

But the revaluation works for the online retail giants. According to CVS analysis, the nine Amazon distribution centres in England and Wales will be able to knock £148,000 off their property tax liabilities this year (despite annual sales in excess of £6bn). Similarly, fashion retailer Boohoo gets 13% knocked off the bill for its distribution centre in Burnley; so it goes on.

Quite so, this is what we want to happen. There's a limited demand for chi chi shopfronts in Burnley and there's lots of land. Thus we tax the use of low value land more lightly than the use of high value land.

 So the true value of the high street remains undervalued, fiscally and culturally. 

Which is to miss the point so badly it's like watching England try to pass the ball on the weekend. The exact thing which is being taxed is that value of the High Street. Because that's how the tax is calculated, the value that being on the High Street adds to a particular property for use as a retail or any other business use.

And if we're not going to understand these basics about business rates then we're never going to be able to have a reasoned discussion about them, are we?

Shock Horror! as Burmese women employed at legal age on legal wage

Another of those stories telling us how appalling things are in the sweatshops of the world:

Children as young as 14 have been employed to make clothes for some of the most popular names on the UK high street, according to a new report.

New Look, Sports Direct’s Lonsdale brand and H&M have all used factories found to have employed children, after several major brands switched their production to low-cost factories in Myanmar. Workers told investigators that they were paid as little as 13p an hour producing clothes for UK retailers – half the full legal minimum wage.

Labour rights campaigners say that the use of children in factories supplying household names is the result of a “race to the bottom”, as brands chase ever lower labour costs.

This is of course part of the race to the top instead. For, as Paul Krugman, among others, has pointed out this is how that whole thing of industrial development and rising incomes starts out. We've even mentioned this before.

The report itself, if read closely, also tells us that things are not quite as that opening paragraph makes out:

Brands have had some success eliminating child labour from their main supplier factories in recent years, but as wages have risen in countries such as China, companies are increasingly moving production to cheaper markets, including Myanmar, where children can legally be employed for up to four hours a day from the age of 14.

The allegation is that 14 year olds are being employed.

All the factories investigated employed workers below the age of 18.

And the problem is?

Researchers found wages below the full legal minimum at factories supplying Sports Direct, Henri Lloyd, New Look, H&M, Muji, Pierre Cardin and Karrimor (owned by Sports Direct).

The lowest wages of just 13p an hour were found in factories supplying H&M, Karrimor, Muji and Pierre Cardin. The day rate for those workers was £1.06. Myanmar’s labour laws permit factories to pay newer workers at reduced rates.

People of legal age to be working are making wages which it is legal to pay them. Hmm.

Now, do we all wish that incomes in Burma were higher? Sure, we sure do. But it's worth noting that GDP per capita is some $3 a day. And whatever else we might want to talk about we should all realise that average wages across the economy simply cannot be higher than GDP per capita.

So what exactly is the solution here? Again, a close reading of the source article (and Krugman above explains in more detail) tells us what does happen:

The low labour costs in Myanmar have encouraged international brands to switch production from more expensive countries and between 2010 and 2014 exports tripled to £787m. There are now more than 400 factories in the country, employing 350,000 people, 90% of them women.

That's 350,000 people earning more than they would get following a water buffalo through the paddy. Sounds like an excellent idea in fact.

but as wages have risen in countries such as China, 

20 years ago we were hearing exactly the same stories from China. Now we're not. The reason? Because economic development has taken place. And no, it was not because of the various labour rights NGOs, it was simply because we bought the things produced, they became more productive in producing the things we want to buy.

Or as Madsen of this parish repeatedly says, we make poor people in poor countries richer by buying what they make.

None of us are exactly happy at the thought of people living on £2 a day, however much better that might be than the previous choice of being a buffalo soldier. But the question is obviously what do we do about it? The answer being, as Madsen says, we speed that race to the top.

When out looking for clothes, heck, even if not looking for any, check the label. If it says "Made in Burma" buy one, buy three. If we demand more of their production then their wages will rise as has been happening in various places around the world this past 250 years.  We know it works so why not? Spend your money to shape the world to your desires, buy things from poor people and make them rich.

We think this is an awesomely lovely complaint

From George Monbiot:

Alec has claimed that more than 1,000 of its bills are introduced by legislators every year, and one in five of them becomes law. It has been heavily funded by tobacco companies, the oil company Exxon, drug companies and Charles and David Koch – the billionaires who founded the first Tea Party organisations. Pfizer, which funded Bertin’s post at Atlantic Bridge, sits on Alec’s corporate board. Some of the most contentious legislation in recent years, such as state bills lowering the minimum wage, bills granting corporations immunity from prosecution and the “ag-gag” laws – forbidding people to investigate factory farming practices – were developed by Alec.

How terribly naughty, people group together to try to influence the laws that are made, even write draft laws to offer up as to what the law should be.

And do note that a business is just that, a group of people attempting to achieve a task. This is of course entirely different from people grouping together to try to influence the laws that are made, even write draft laws to offer up as to what the law should be:

Lady Worthington was the lead author in the team which drafted the UK's 2008 Climate Change Act. This landmark piece of legislation, which requires the UK to reduce its carbon emissions to a level 80% lower than its emissions in 1990. At the time Worthington was working with Friends of the Earth working on their Big Ask campaign, but was seconded to government to help design the legislation.

Isn't David Cameron a very naughty boy, as George says?

Another funder was the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. It paid for a researcher at Atlantic Bridge called Gabby Bertin. She went on to become David Cameron’s press secretary, and now sits in the House of Lords: Cameron gave her a life peerage in his resignation honours list.

Somehow the two cases are entirely different.

Somehow.

How excellent, so that's climate change dealt with then

Isn't this just wonderful news?

Falling costs of electric vehicles and solar panels could halt worldwide growth in demand for oil and coal by 2020, a new report has suggested.

A scenario that takes into account the latest cost reduction projections for the green technologies, and countries’ pledges to cut emissions, finds that solar power and electric vehicles are “gamechangers” that could leave fossil fuels stranded.

Polluting fuels could lose 10% of market share to solar power and clean cars within a decade, the report by the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London and the Carbon Tracker Initiative found.

As Bjorn Lomborg pointed out two decades ago all that is necessary to avoid the terrors of climate change is that non-fossil fuels become competitive with fossil. As the Ur document of the whole discussion, the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios also pointed out. If our globalised and capitalist society moves away from coal and toward those renewables then we move from the dread A1FI to A1T. The effect of this being, in their own terms, that climate change moves from being a serious problem we must do something about to one that could have been a problem but we've already done something about it.

Do note that this is all within the mainstream of that climate science. Get off coal and onto solar and we're done.

Now, we might want to cavil a little and think that maybe it won't work at night and so on but as we say, this is entirely within the mainstream of standard climate science. Get solar, and or wind, cheap enough and we're really pretty much done. Just sit back and watch as the standard technological and capital replacement cycles move from emitting to non- such energy sources.

And thus we're done.

Oddly, those at the Grantham Institute seem not to realise all of this which is why we need to remind them. As we are. All that we ever needed to do to beat climate change, from those usual and mainstream climate science sources, is get non-fossil power cheap enough. And as their report today says we've done that.

Hurrah, eh?

 

The European Union might be in for something of a surprise

It is of course entirely possible that the European Union are genuinely expecting this:

Sir Ivan says the European Commission genuinely expects a figure "of the order of 40-60billion euros" for leaving the EU. 

He says senior figures have said Brexit has "exploded a bomb under the multi-annual financial framework" and left a "big hole" in the EU budget.

The bill would most likely include the UK’s share of outstanding pensions liabilities, loan guarantees and spending on UK-based projects.

And they should of course, as we've mentioned before, be met with a certain amount of pushback. For example, loan guarantees are not things which are payable until the loans sour. So they can be left off said table at present. Similarly, future EU spending on UK based projects is not going to happen thus there is no need for us to pay them for that.

However, the large point here is that the EU itself has some capital value. There are parliament buildings (too many of course but still) embassies, office blocks and so on all of which belong to the institution itself. Which we have helped pay for. In fact, as nearly the only country to have consistently been a net contributor to the overall budget we've paid for most of those things.

And as we're cashing out then we'll have that capital value back, thank you very much. Shouldn't lead to the EU having to pay us too much for leaving but it really is most unlikely that the capital value is less than those accruals, isn't it?