Azara Blog: November 2009 archive complete

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Date published: 2009/11/30

The Lib Dems come up with yet another property tax proposal (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Liberal Democrats have doubled the threshold at which they say homeowners should pay an annual "mansion tax".

Properties will now have to be worth at least £2m to incur a 1% charge - the previous plan was to charge 0.5% a year on a property's value above £1m.

The party is also pledging to raise tax thresholds to £10,000 a year, taking four million people out of income tax.

Party leader Nick Clegg said the plans "would put £700 back in the pockets of the vast majority of taxpayers".

But four million top-rate taxpayers would lose out as they will no longer be able to claim tax relief on their pension contributions at the higher rate.
...
He insisted the party had not been forced to do a U-turn on the mansion tax policy after complaints from Lib Dem MPs in marginal constituencies in the South of England, who feared it would harm their chance of re-election.

"It is not a U-turn. A U-turn would be abandoning the policy," said Mr Clegg.

Instead, he said the party leadership had "looked in more detail" at property values before deciding that a tax aimed at the owners of "very high value properties" should be levied at £2m.

"We don't want family homes caught up in local property bubbles to be hit. We want to ensure that only the very wealthy pay this tax - pay their fare share so that we can offer tax cuts for everybody else," said Mr Clegg.

He said the £2m mansion tax "does what it says on the tin" and would generate more money than the original £1m proposal, as it was a 1% annual levy.

The £1.7bn raised would help pay for tax cuts for low-paid workers - making the Lib Dem proposals the fairest of the three main parties, he added.
...
The new proposals would affect 70-80,000 properties, compared with about 240,000 under the original policy.

The Lib Dems in a muddle as usual. They have spent the last decade telling everyone how evil the local property tax is, and now they see it as a way of promising the vast majority of the country that they can have services but they don't have to pay for any of it because the super rich will come to the rescue. Needless to say, whatever money they claim they will raise from such measures, they will end up making a lot less because of tax avoidance. So, with properties, it is quite obvious that couples will split their property in two, and so only properties worth more than 4 million will be affected. And even on the issue of tax relief on pension contributions, if people get less tax relief then it is a no brainer that they will put less money in (official) pension schemes, so the tax raised will be a lot less than claimed. It is unfortunate that most of the Lib Dems seem not to have taken Economics 101 (well, to be fair, the same is true of most politicians).

The Swiss hate Islam (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Swiss voters have supported a referendum proposal to ban the building of minarets, official results show.

More than 57% of voters and 22 out of 26 cantons - or provinces - voted in favour of the ban.

The proposal had been put forward by the Swiss People's Party, (SVP), the largest party in parliament, which says minarets are a sign of Islamisation.

The government opposed the ban, saying it would harm Switzerland's image, particularly in the Muslim world.

But Martin Baltisser, the SVP's general secretary, told the BBC: "This was a vote against minarets as symbols of Islamic power."
...
Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims and has just four minarets. After Christianity, Islam is the most widespread religion in Switzerland, but it remains relatively hidden.

There are unofficial Muslim prayer rooms, and planning applications for new minarets are almost always refused.

Supporters of a ban claimed that allowing minarets would represent the growth of an ideology and a legal system - Sharia law - which are incompatible with Swiss democracy.

But others say the referendum campaign incited hatred. On Thursday the Geneva mosque was vandalised for the third time during the campaign, according to local media.

Amnesty International said the vote violated freedom of religion and would probably be overturned by the Swiss supreme court or the European Court of Human Rights.

This is not good for Switzerland. Switzerland has always had a rather benign image, in spite of being a safe haven for the money of drug barons and corrupt dictators. But there is no way this vote can be construed other than as an out and out admission by the Swiss that most of them are racist and/or Islamophobic and/or too dumb to know what they were voting for. The idea that minarets, or mosques for that matter, are "incompatible with Swiss democracy" is a joke. You might as well claim that churches are. Or supermarkets. Or petrol stations.

Zac Goldsmith has non-domiciled tax status (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Environmentalist and Conservative Parliamentary candidate Zac Goldsmith said he had gained "very few benefits" from having non-domiciled tax status.

Mr Goldsmith, who inherited millions from his father Sir James, denied claims he "dodged" huge sums in tax.

But the Lib Dems have called on the Conservatives to sack him as a candidate for Richmond Park in London, which is currently held by them.

Mr Goldsmith also advises Tory leader David Cameron on green issues.

It is unbelievable that Cameron allowed Goldsmith to become a Parliamentary candidate. Many MPs don't get what the problem is with their expenses. Many bankers don't get what the problem is with their bonuses. And Goldsmith evidently doesn't get what the problem is with his non-dom status. It is all very well for him to claim that he has had "very few benefits" but that is just on his say so, and he has not even come close to proving it. Welcome to the Tory Party circa 2009, just like the Tory Party circa 1959.

Date published: 2009/11/25

Tories think that people should be rewarded for recycling waste (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

People who recycle household waste would get up to £130 a year in shopping vouchers under the Tories, shadow chancellor George Osborne has said.

He said a Conservative government would reward people who recycled, not "punish them" with "bin taxes".
...
Since March Conservative-controlled Windsor and Maidenhead Council has been working with a US company which specialises in "pay to recycle" schemes in America - funded by savings in landfill tax.

The Tories say it has encouraged households to boost their recycling by 30% and the average home is on course to receive £130 a year in vouchers.

Another bad Tory policy proposal, and they are not even in government yet, which does not bode well for when they are in government.

In theory (if not in practise) ordinary household waste should be charged at a rate X and recyclable household waste at a rate Y. X and Y should reflect the actual (direct and indirect) cost of dealing with the waste. It's quite possible that Y < X, although no government official ever seems to state this, and it seems the citizens of the UK are just supposed to assume this to be true. But whatever the relationshop of X and Y is, it is almost certainly the case that Y > 0. Yet the Tories are proposing to pretend that Y < 0, so rewarding people who recycle more.

There are several problems with this. So households that produce less waste (both X and Y) are (relatively) penalised compared with households that produce huge amounts of waste (both X and Y). This is completely the wrong message to send. Waste is waste, and producing less of it in the first place is the real way forward. Rewarding people for producing more of it, even if it is allegedly "holy" (because recyclable) is just plain daft.

For example, according to Mr Osborne, people who compost their own organic material are now going to be deemed to be worse citizens than people who hand it all over to the State to deal with. The latter will be showered with vouchers and the former will get nothing.

And because the rates will almost certainly be measured relative to weight (rather than, say, volume) it means that people who drink wine will be deemed to be better citizens than people who drink beer (wine bottles weighing a lot more than beer cans). And people who buy loads of newspapers will be deemed to be better citizens than people who buy none.

All in all this is a crackpot policy. And this is not even to mention the irony of handing over vouchers which will encourage yet more consumption of goods, i.e. produce more waste.

The UK will allegedly plant a lot more trees (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Millions of trees should be planted to cover an extra 4% of the UK in woodland in order to tackle climate change, the Forestry Commission has recommended.

It said planting 23,000 hectares a year would make a "significant" contribution to meeting lower emissions targets.

Trees suck carbon dioxide from the air and store it in wood, cutting the level of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
...
The recommended planting - equivalent to 30,000 football pitches a year - would bring the UK's total woodland cover to 16%.

Professor Sir David Read, chairman of a panel of scientists who carried out the research, said: "By increasing our tree cover we can lock up carbon directly.

"By using more wood for fuel and construction materials we can make savings by using less gas, oil and coal, and by substituting sustainably produced timber for less climate-friendly materials."
...
It is hoped the latest plan would absorb 10% of the UK's target of slashing its emissions of greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050.

The UK should definitely be planting more trees, but planting trees in the UK does a lot less for the world than planting them (or not cutting them down) in the Amazon. And there is also the question of what the trees will displace in terms of land usage, and even the question of how that will impact other possible uses of the same land. All in all, the calculation of alleged carbon emission savings is not as obvious as the proponents might like to claim.

Date published: 2009/11/15

Tony Juniper wants to be MP for Cambridge (permanent blog link)

In Cambridge, as in many other parliamentary constituencies elsewhere in the UK, the forthcoming election (allegedly in May 2010 or near enough) will provide a once in a generation opportunity for fresh faces to become MPs. So the sitting Lib Dem MP, David Howarth, has for some reason suddenly decided not to stand again. And the proposed Tory candidate also suddenly withdrew. And even though the Labour candidate seems harmless enough, and even though the Cambridge MP would probably still have been Labour, rather than Lib Dem, were it not for the war in Iraq, it is hard to believe that Labour has any chance of winning the election this time around.

This means that it is ripe time for some other person to run in Cambridge. And that seems to mean Tony Juniper, who is the candidate for the Green Party. Unless the Tories or Lib Dems come up with some credible candidate, it is quite possible that Juniper will become MP.

Today someone dropped off a leaflet for Juniper in Arbury. Now the Green Party is the party of the academic middle class (as are the Lib Dems). And Cambridge is obviously very academic middle class. So the city is natural territory for the Greens, even if Arbury is not (being one of the few parts of the city that still has many ordinary working class people in it).

Unfortunately this leaflet is full of the usual content-free jargon one expects from political parties, which is a bit disappointing given that the Greens always claim they are somehow morally superior to the other parties (of course they are not). So we are told that the "Green Party has become increasingly popular in the City of Cambridge with a vote increase of 15% since 2005!". Well, when you start with near zero there is only one way to go.

The leaflet also claims that Juniper has "a thorough understanding of local issues" but provides no indication that that is true. Of course anyone who has lived in Cambridge for 20 years is bound to know something about "local issues", but that is not saying very much. And indeed he has spent a large chunk of his life working in London for Friends of the Earth and he probably knows more about London than Cambridge.

In the leaflet he modestly claims to have "effectively introduced the Climate Change Act" (one of the many ill-thought-out pieces of legislation that Labour introduced in the past decade) while he was director of FoE. Although the leaflet doesn't mention it, he is also one of the people who campaigned against so-called GM food (in particular he took part in the "debate" at the government-sponsored event in Cambridge many years ago). As such, he has delayed a crucial technology for the world, and could be deemed part responsible for the hunger of hundreds of millions of people, now and into the future.

The leaflet says that Juniper supports a "sustainable economy" and that the Greens want "an environmentally sustainable future". But how "sustainable" is it to be a London commuter, travelling over 100 miles by train each day to get to work? One of the major problems Cambridge faces is expensive housing, and one of the reasons housing is so expensive is that London commuters have pushed prices up. How "sustainable" is that? One of the major problems the world faces is over-population, indeed this is the major reason that emissions are such an issue. Juniper has three children. How "sustainable" is that? For the sake of name recognition the Green Party has chosen a candidate who has failed some of the basic "sustainability" tests.

It is hard to believe that Juniper would do anything for the people of Cambridge if he were elected as MP, because he has never shown any interest in Cambridge itself. Instead he would just take being an MP as an opportunity to grandstand his particular views of the world. He sees his stage as being the country and the world, not Cambridge.

The world would allegedly be trillions better off if only humans got lost (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Money invested in protecting nature can bring huge financial returns, according to a major investigation into the costs and benefits of the natural world.

It says money ploughed into protecting wetlands, coral reefs and forests can bring a hundredfold return on capital.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study (Teeb) is backed by the UN and countries including the UK.

The project's leader says governments should act on its findings at next month's UN climate summit.

Teeb is the first attempt to evaluate the economic value of "ecosystem services" - things that parts of the natural world do for free, such as purifying drinking water or protecting coasts from storms - on a systematic and global basis.

"We have now evaluated 1,100 studies ranging across different countries and different ecosystem services," said study leader Pavan Sukhdev, a Deutsche Bank economist.

"And we find that with protected areas, for example, no matter how you slice the figures up you come up with a ratio of benefits to costs that's between 25-to-one and 100-to-one.

"Now we can say quite confidently that there is a solid benefit from investing in protected areas," he told BBC News.
...
Conservation groups have repeatedly called for a vast expansion in protection for marine ecosystems, both to conserve biodiversity and as a longer-term boost to fisheries yields.

Mr Sukhdev said there was a powerful economic case for this as well.

"If we were to expand marine protection from less than 1% to 30%, say, what would that cost?

"Establishing reserves, policing them and so on, would cost about $40-50bn per year - and the annual benefit would be about $4-5 trillion."

The benefits would come from increasing fish catches and tourism revenue and - in the case of reefs - protecting shorelines from the destructive force of storms.
...
Although individual economists have made these arguments before, Teeb aims to draw all the evidence together and present it to policymakers, hoping it can persuade governments to invest in nature protection just as the Stern Review made the economic case for tackling climate change.

Yes, many scientists (and probably even many economists) "have made these arguments before". The whole point of Teeb is to "do a Stern" by getting some rich banker to provide publicity for the cause, since up until now the governments of the world have ignored these claims.

Hopefully someone who is independent will try and verify the numbers promoted by Teeb. Unfortunately the data underlying this analysis is very difficult to get hold of because conservation scientists are extremely bad at making their data public (i.e. freely available), in spite of the fact that a lot of the work is paid out of the public purse.

Of course there is a serious point here. Externalities are usually ignored. But it would be interesting to see if Teeb can come up with any example of any human activity in any ecosystem anywhere in the world where the planet is allegedly better off than if that activity did not occur.

UK whacks up Air Passenger Duty (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The first of two rises in UK airport departure tax has come into effect, adding up to £30 to the cost of flying.

The price of the shortest flights rises by £1, with Air Passenger Duty on business and first class journeys over 6,000 miles up from £80 to £110.

The costs used to be based on either short or long haul flights but is now divided into four distance bands.

The government has cited environmental reasons for the rise but airlines are worried about business in a recession.

Further rises will come into force in November next year.

A spokesman for the Treasury said: "The government maintains that air travel should pay its fair share in tax.

"APD is an important contributor to the public finances, while helping the government achieve its environmental goals."

Air travel should indeed "pay its fair share in tax". And air travel should also cover its environmental externalities. Unfortunately the APD is one of the most idiotic mechanisms for achieving either goal. So on the tax front, air tickets should be subject to VAT, to put it on a level playing field with (almost) every other consumption of goods in the EU. And on the environmental front airplane fuel should be subject to a carbon tax. The APD is a completely idiotic subsitute on both fronts because passengers flying with efficient airlines pay the same as those flying with inefficient airlines. Of course the APD does contribute a lot of tax to the government, and it will mean that fewer people fly, hence there will be less damage to the environment. But there is little rhyme or reason to the current government approach, given that it penalises good airlines and rewards bad airlines. Further, train passengers are hugely subsidised, so in effect pay a negative tax, in particular a negative carbon tax. It seems that only drivers and airplane passengers are supposed to cover the costs of their journey. This is what happens when the academic middle class run the world.

The Eurocracy half agrees to throw billions of Euros out the window (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The EU has agreed a conditional deal on how to help other nations fight global warming, ahead of a key climate summit, but set no figure on what it would pay.

The EU agreed climate change would need 100bn euros ($148bn; £90bn) a year by 2020, and would pay its "fair share", conditional on other nations.

UK PM Gordon Brown said the deal, which came after a deadlock on cost sharing was broken, was a "bold proposal".

However, Green groups criticised the deal, saying it was not nearly enough.

The accord had been threatened by a coalition of nine poorer EU nations, which argued that richer countries should pay more.

To meet the concerns, the initial funding will be voluntary and no cost targets for individual EU nations were announced.

Details of how the burden will be shared will be sorted out later by a working group.

Surprise, the EU has fudged the issue. Surprise, the "Green" groups want to make Europeans poorer by having loads of money thrown at other countries. The main problem with this approach is how it could ever be accomplished in a sensible or efficient way. So it seems almost inevitable that the main beneficiaries of this approach will be the bankers and lawyers and bureaucrats who broker all the deals, and the corrupt leaders of the developing world who will gladly line their Swiss bank accounts with all this free money being thrown their way. Of course by making their own citizens poorer, the EU oligarchy is accepting that their own citizens will consume less, and hence emit fewer greenhouse gases. It will be interesting to see if any populist party takes up cause against this massive transfer of wealth from Europe to the rest of the world.

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