Tag Archives: BBC

Fidel Was Worse Than Hitler – as anyone but the lefty media knows

Hitler was, without doubt, an utterly evil man who sought to eliminate the entire Jewish race, plus assorted other minorities.  He was also, unfortunately, charismatic and so an otherwise highly educated nation followed him to their doom.

Fidel was worse.

Continue reading Fidel Was Worse Than Hitler – as anyone but the lefty media knows

The US Electorate Trumps Their Political Establishment

Hail the Don!  Trump is the next president and the political commentariat are in meltdown.  I’m not.

Firstly, don’t be scared.  Such is the inertia of the US government machine that even with Republicans in the White House, Senate and House of Representatives it is very hard for any president to get anything tangible done, (c.f. Obamacare).  And few Republicans are Trump fans. Yes the dollar will wobble a bit – as will T Bond yields, but that is just the speculators adjusting their forecasts and unwinding positions.

Foreign policy might change a bit – President Don might be less willing to expend US lives in remote places – which, given the near disastrous last two US forays might be a good thing.  He may also be reluctant to prop up NATO members who don’t pay their way, which is also a good thing.  If he is a little less keen on confronting Putin that may also be a good thing; generally, wars are far easier to start than to finish.  Being selfish, Trump likes the UK despite the foolish comments of some recent Prime Ministerial failures.  The United States is already by far out largest export partner – with 11% of exports heading there.

How is that a problem for the UK?  Good question.  To the US political establishment, the unthinkable has happened, and outsider has won.  Worse, he won unexpectedly and despite little media support.  This is either because the US electorate is dumb, or the political establishment is out of touch (or both).  Expect a raft of psephologists seeking to demonstrate that Trump was elected by white working class males.  He may have been popular among them and in the rust-belt states, but there are not enough white working class males in the US to elect a president.  More people voted for Trump, and from many more electoral segments.

This squealing by political analysts, (akin to that in the UK post Brexit), is a symptom of the problem that both countries demonstrably face.  Their political thought is out of step with their population, and hasn’t noticed it. This is a surprising outcome in any country – and one that is potentially a source of unrest.  It is astonishing that it occurs in the two self-proclaimed bastions of liberal democracy.

That, not Trump or Brexit, is the problem on both sides of the Atlantic.  The question therefore divides into two; how did this happen and how do we fix it?

The first part of this is going to be a field day for left of centre social economists – inequality caused by free market capitalism.  That these are the same social economists who have been advocating the policies that led to these electoral shocks is a delicious irony and further demonstration of the problem.  I content that this is not about economics (broadly an outcome) but process.  And one (Bill) Clinton slogan – “It’s the economy, stupid.”

I am increasingly of the opinion that in a free market capitalist economy the best economic policy a government can hope for is not to screw it up.  An economically competent government may well lay the grounds for growth, but it is not the government who risks wealth to create the growth (and creating growth requires private capital).  Nor is it the government which suffers the pecuniary loss associated with commercial failure – and growth is risky. It is ridiculous for politicians to claim credit for the work and appetite for risk of a very few of their population.  When a Chancellor says “We have created growth of X% this year” what he should be saying, and actually mean is “I managed not to cock it up for another year.”  The hubris of taking political credit for the efforts of others is at the root of the problems of Westminster and Washington.

This tendency has been exacerbated in the UK by the politicisation of the Civil Service and the scourge of the Special Political Adviser (SPAD).  In the US they have had this problem from the start – many senior administrative appointments are politicised.  Such politicisation a government machine that seeks to curry political favour as well as do its job.  This leads inexorably to pork barrel politics, whether it is turning UK marginal seats into special economic areas or building NASA’s launch facilities in an alligator infested swamp.  And the politicisation is pointless; as three time New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia said “There is no Democratic or Republican way of cleaning the streets.”  So why politicise it?

The SPAD evolution has also led inexorably to the professional politician (who grew up as a SPAD).  How do you get to become a politician? Start as a SPAD.  How do you become a SPAD?  Know someone who is prepared to take you on.  The array of political individuals in the main parties is thus being homogenised and decreasingly aware of the non-political world.  Thus, political thought is succumbing to a group-think.

Of course, the media should be challenging this.  Unfortunately, the path between media commentator and politician is well trodden and, with some noble exceptions, few interviewers or reporters are able or willing to confront the delusions of our legislators. This is a problem of the BBC.  What was started as an impartial organisation to inform, educate and entertain at public expense has (inevitably) become highly politicised with an interest in “big government” to maintain and increase its taxpayer funding.

Murder has been illegal since Moses went hill walking, countless laws have been passed against it and yet it continues.  There is a limit to what legislation can achieve, and yet every year more and more laws are passed – many of which have unintended consequences and some of which are highly divisive in the real world that exists outside the capital.  As the American satirist PJ O’Rourke pointed out at the American bi-centenary, surely there comes a point when a society has enough laws?

Money is a problem too.  SPADs, researchers and the publicity process all cost money which political parties must fund from members or donors.  In the UK we have fairly tight rules on spending but even here there are moves towards the state (that is, taxpayer) funding of political parties.  In the US, with no spending limits, a candidate’s ability to get elected is constrained by their ability to raise funds.  In the UK most people don’t fund politicians – those who do tend to expect something for it, be it a bauble or access.  It exacerbates the shrinking of the political parties’ universe.

So, on both sides of the Atlantic we have had electoral shock after outcomes that the establishment neither wanted nor expected.  In the UK the government has (reluctantly) committed to Brexit but many politicians have not. Instead they persist in thinking and acting as if they better know what is the interest of the country and its population.  It is increasingly obvious that they do not.

What happens next?  The sun came up this morning despite the outcome, as it did on 24th June.  The world will continue much as before in the short term. In the medium term the relationship between political parties, political thought (such as it is), the media and the population must evolve and reconnect with their populations.  How this will happen is less clear, as is the time frame.  But it would be a foolish member of the political elite who considered Brexit and Trump one off aberrations.

I Love Crickhowell….

Crickhowell is a small town in Wales on the road from Abergavenny to Brecon. For the early part of my life passing through it meant that either I was about to spend a week or so getting cold wet and miserable on the Sennybridge Army training area or, having got cold wet and miserable, I was on my way back to barracks to clean up, dry out and head up to London for some debauchery. Beyond that I didn’t think about the place much. That changed last week as the result of a BBC programme “The Town That Took On The Taxman.” I now love the place.

Essentially the small businesses in Crickhowell have adopted some of the (entirely lawful) methods used by multinationals to reduce their corporation tax bill. Good on them. Heydon Prowse, the presenter, did a reasonably objective job although he shared the BBC’s general disdain for profit (although it has no objection to running a surplus on its license fee). Perhaps unwittingly they put their finger on the nub of the problem; directors of a company have a duty to their shareholders to maximise profits. One aspect of this is the ruthless reduction of costs, and corporation tax is a cost so directors have to minimise it. It turns out that this is pretty straightforward.

First a quick bit of accounting theory and jargon definition. All businesses sell stuff, and the total value of the amount of stuff they sell in a year is called the turnover. Of course, the stuff sold was not free, so associated with the turnover is the costs of sales. Subtract the cost of sales from the turnover and you have the gross profit.

But the business has more costs than the stuff it sells. Typically it rents buildings, pays administrators and advisors, spends money on marketing and uses electricity and phones. All these costs are referred to as overhead. Subtract the overhead from the gross profit and you have what is generally known as the earnings (more precisely, the earnings before tax, interest, dividends and amortisation – abbreviated to EBITDA). If you subtract the interest from the EBITDA you get the figure used by HMRC to compute corporation tax. In essence the corporation tax bill is 20% of this figure. The remaining balance has to cover the costs of amortisation (essentially depreciation) and pay dividends to shareholders. Never forget that for public companies the shareholders are largely your pension funds. Paying them dividends is what produces a pension for you. Also, remember that if you receive a dividend you will be taxed on it as income.

It should now be obvious that the way to reduce a corporation tax bill is to reduce the value of EBITDA minus Interest. This can be done by either reducing EBITDA of increasing interest (i.e.by borrowing more). Reducing EBITDA means finding another cost, preferably one borne by shareholders (so they get paid). The easiest thing to do this with is a brand. If your company is benefiting form being able to use a brand it should pay for it. The payment for this is ascribed to overhead, and thus reduces EBITDA. Provided the brand is owned in a separate holding company (possibly domiciled in a tax haven) and the holding company is owned by the same shareholders as the trading company (easily arranged) then the payment for use of the brand is a transfer of profit to the shareholders free of tax (although there may be tax costs in getting the money from the holding company to the shareholders, which is why putting it in a tax haven is attractive). In essence this is what google, Manchester United, Amazon and the rest do. And now Crickhowell has joined them.

The BBC, Corbyn and Guardianista view is that this is immoral, which predictably misses the point. The real point is that the increasing globalisation of the world means that corporation tax is now pretty much voluntary. Governments can (and do) try to plug loopholes but companies (who have better lawyers and are generally better motivated) can find ways round it. The bottom line is that the UK is competing with every other country as a place for companies to domicile their activities. In this competition the UK has some huge advantages – the most obvious being its political stability, its currency, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and (probably most of all) English Law, which is well understood and fairly applied. Other countries, with lower quality jurisdictions, compete on price -i.e. the corporation tax rate. For example, in Ireland it is 12.5% (with some sectors at 6%). In the USA it is 40%, most of the EU is around 30%. In the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and Grand Cayman it is 0%.

So, you may say, at 20% the UK is looking pretty competitive. Clearly it isn’t as many companies are choosing to domicile elsewhere. So what can be done? The Guardianista solution is to ban companies from doing this – a policy that has failed utterly and can never win as the UK government’s jurisdiction ends at the coast. Naming and shaming has limited effects, particularly for quasi monopoly suppliers like Manchester United and Google. And it is a serious problem as those companies that have avoided their corporation tax bill are better able to compete (their costs are lower and so they can reduce prices while maintaining profitability. The lower pricing should get them increased market share).

How important is corporation tax? The 2015 budget anticipates government revenue of £672 billion. Of this just £42 billion (6.25%) comes from corporation tax. If the government cut the rate to (say) 5%, of even 1% it is a reasonable bet that the resulting £36bn shortfall should be recovered from the effects of increased employment and increased onshore profit. More importantly, and this is the main Crickhowell point, it would enable small companies to compete on a level playing field with the multi-nationals.

Crickhowell is now licensing its Fair Tax product to other towns. Forget Land of My Fathers – Crickhowell is in the land of the just. I might be moving.

Corbyn – Saviour of UK Politics

For the media the election of Corbyn as leader of labour is the gift that keeps on giving; he even shares a nickname with one of their previous generous copy sources, Jeremy Clarkson.  As ever the pursuit of entertainment has missed the fundamental point, which is that Corbyn has probably rejuvenated Westminster politics and saved it from the blind alley that it was going down.  We should all be grateful – I am. Continue reading Corbyn – Saviour of UK Politics

I agree with Dave – TV debates are a waste of time

So the BBC and other broadcasters are upset that David Cameron is not dancing to their tune and not cooperating with their efforts to turn the election into a telethon (mostly at the tax payers’ expense).  I wish that they would drop the mock outrage and take a look at the reality. Continue reading I agree with Dave – TV debates are a waste of time

Who Gave The Broadcasters Authority to Regulate the Leaders’ Election Debates

So the current state of play is that Cameron won’t take part in the TV Leaders’ debates unless the Greens can, and OFCOM says that the Green’s can’t.

I am becoming increasingly concerned that the election is being run for the media, by the media. This is manifest in the decision being made by OFCOM rather than The Electoral Commission. Quite how we ended up with leaders’ debates escapes me; the chief reason I think was that they have them in the US so we should follow. That makes no sense to me (or I suspect anyone outside luvvie land). Nor is it consistent – they have the death penalty in much of the US.

Continue reading Who Gave The Broadcasters Authority to Regulate the Leaders’ Election Debates

Who’s Afraid of Jihadist Losers?

Under the banner headline “War on Freedom” today’s paper recounts yesterday’s murderous assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Shock, outrage and fear fill the pages. An attack on a satirical magazine’s offices is equated with an attack on the freedom of speech, and thus an attack on democracy. Without supporting the terrorists, nor diminishing the sadness, I do think that we need to maintain a sense of proportion.

Continue reading Who’s Afraid of Jihadist Losers?

Newsnight Induced Depression (or Fury)

I suspect that I am not the only member of Monday’s Newsnight audience to be profoundly depressed at the prospect of five more months of the irritating, cliché and sound bite riven drivel that passes for political coverage in the UK.

Continue reading Newsnight Induced Depression (or Fury)

Who’s Afraid of Fat Boy Kim?

The media seem to be getting awfully excited by an alleged cyber-attack on a bad film by (allegedly) the North Koreans. This has been extrapolated to a threat to free speech and an attack on the American way of life. Some group called the Guardians of Freedom has also threatened to unleash terrorist attacks on cinemas screening the offending film and some voices are calling for the “war on terror” to target North Korea. We seem to be having another silly season. First some facts:

The film (“The Interview”) is based on a plot to kill Kim Jong Un. Those who have seen it have rated it pretty moderate or worse. It is a work of fiction, ultimately produced by Sony.

Sony has had its computers hacked. The FBI has said that the hackers were North Korean sponsored, although its evidence is (according to those that understand this stuff) less than 100% convincing and the FBI’s language is restrained

The North Koreans have denied that the hack was them (but they would say that). The US has refused to run a joint investigation (presumably not wanting to share techniques and capabilities.

Elements of the US have now got a bee in their bonnet about freedom of speech, (which they interpret as the right to publish anything without facing the consequences). Some are asking for the war on terror to be extended to include North Korea. A group calling themselves “The Defenders of Freedom” has threatened terrorist attacks on cinemas screening the film, generating more freedom of speech fury, although quite who they are is elusive.

North Korea has started making threatening noises to US.

Coincidentally, or not, the North Korean internet was taken out of action for 24 hours or so.

The media is getting terribly excited at the prospect of further conflict.

Now, some perspective. The North Koreans may or may not have a few nuclear weapons, which it might or might not be able to deliver and which might or might not work. That does not pose an existential threat to anyone. They also have a large army equipped with 1980s technology that is outclassed by US and South Korean equipment deployed in the peninsular. While it is true that the North Korean regime is eccentric in its world view I find it hard to believe that even their hardest hard liner thinks that they will survive an armed confrontation with the US, and using nuclear weapons would not change that. I am therefore not losing sleep about wither the likelihood of North Korea attacking, nor about the consequences of that if they were daft enough to do it.

I am concerned about the way in which a minor event is being hyped. For sure the US defence industry always has an interest in the US (and its allies) having plenty of adversaries, and they have US$125 Billion of arms sales at risk whenever peace breaks out. That’s an awful lot of jobs and votes, which could explain how all of this spat has occupied so much of our newspapers, none of which has actually explained how or why the hack happened.

Is it too much to hope that the Christmas break will give us relief from the onslaught of speculation? Can’t they find something more interesting to write about? Or rediscover the joy of silence?

What is the Point of Russell Brand on Question Time?

Last night’s Question Time on BBC included Russell Brand (alleged comedian and “campaigner”) whose appearance was much hyped in anticipation of a battle between him and Nigel Farage. In the event the programme was interesting viewing, although Brand’s diatribes, long on abuse and gross simplification but short on fact, ideas or even well-articulated thoughts achieve nothing other than irritating the audience. One has to ask what on earth the BBC producers were thinking of. If there was a confrontation, Farage won it by miles by the simple, devastating tactic of providing factual answers to the audience’s questions. As one audience member pointed out, you may or may not agree with UKIP’s position on immigration but Farage has managed to get what was a politically taboo subject being debated sensibly in the mainstream.

Continue reading What is the Point of Russell Brand on Question Time?