Occupy Wall Street?

economu-could-be-more-fair I was going to write something about “occupy wall street” – I even found their statement, and was going to analyse it. But really all I was going to do was snark. So instead I’ll point you at Anarchists for good government
which has the benefit of being by someone who was there. I agree with it all. Principally, with the assertion that although people think something is wrong, no-one has any idea how to put it right. And secondly, with the observation that this helps unify the protests (and the implication that the protests would fragment if there was an idea of what to do).

Updates: well, we now have “Occupy SX” and they too would like the world to be full of fluffy bunnies [*] and everyone just to be nice to each other. But they too have no clue as to how to achieve this. More interestingly RP has some practical experience.

[*] I.e., not Rabetts :-).
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Case for High Speed Trains considered unconvincing?

Ripping off Timmy:

Laptops and mobile phones mean that at least a modicum of work can be done while travelling. So the value of time saved by fewer hours travelling should fall. In fact, we can almost certainly go further. Sitting with a laptop, a phone and a decent internet connection in a comfy seat on a train is, these days, almost as productive as being in a nice office in a comfy chair with a computer, phone and decent internet connection.

In which case the value of the reduced transport time for these very important people collapses down to almost nothing. Something which rather explodes the cost benefit analysis of having the fast trains at all for the benefits rely so heavily on the high value of the time of these very important people not doing anything.

In short, forget making the trains faster and just install decent in carriage Wi-Fi. We get the same benefits at vastly reduced cost: and what can be bad about that?

Having just travelled through the lovely near-Wendover countryside to Princes Risborough, I have a vague interest in this. But I’m also deeply suspicious of HST II. This looks to be one of those Ego / Boondoggle projects that are doomed to go ahead whilst other more useful things languish (example: running moderate speed sleeper services through the chunnel would have been far more use to me, and I suspect many others, that the big-willy fast trains, no matter how pretty and thrusting they may look).

I had a quick look at the HST II website, in the hopes that they might tell me why they were doing it. But all I found was them saying that ministers had told them to. So I’ll guess: this is a flight-replacement thingy. Well, maybe. But there are lots of problems: running high speed trains through peoples back gardens does rather tend to annoy them. And as Timmy points out, a rather more honest assessment of costs and benefits might well show that the costs exceed the benefits. High speed trains throw out lots of CO2, too (especially if you’re going wobbly on nukes), so it isn’t some majick fix for that problem either.


stophs2.org – The Other Side. I ripped off their logo. Pity they can’t spell.

Clegg calls for gross economic stupidity

I despair sometimes at the stupidity of our politicians. More and more it becomes obvious that the less they have to do with running the economy, the better. The latest stupidity is from Clegg: Clegg calls for RBS and Lloyds giveaway. The idea is that when the government sells its (i.e., our) stakes in RBS and Lloyds that it (i.e., we) were forced (i.e. decided) to acquire, then there should be some kind of bizarre complex free-share giveaway scheme, the biggest experiment in “shareholder democracy” since the Thatcher era of the 1980 as they put it.
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That UK budget report in full

Some fairly random thoughts on the budget.

* VAT up to 20%: excellent. Calculating 17.5% was always so tedious. Score: +1.
* Child benefit and public sector pay will be frozen – for no clear reason we (as in, our family) get child benefit, which seems silly. The Economist wanted to means test it, but that would be dull and employ yet more bean counters. Still, it might at least ensure that only those who need it bother to apply. Score: -1. Public sector pay: well, tough. I got no pay rise in 2008 and I didn’t see anyone sympathising. Score: +1.
* Personal income tax allowance: To be increased by £1,000 in April to £7,475 – don’t care. Score: 0.
* Capital Gains Tax: To rise from 18% to 28% from midnight for higher rate taxpayers – don’t care; not planning on selling anything in the near future.
* Fags, Beer and Fuel: no increases. Wimps. Score: -1.
* Buying off the boys in Green: bad. Failure to scrap Trident ditto. Score: -2.
* Pensions: some action, looks sensible: +1.
* Bank levy: looks like small beer, but presumably a sop to the “soak the bankers” lobby. Score: +1.
* Environment: The government will “explore changes to the aviation tax system” such as switching from a per-passenger to a per-plane levy. It will consult on major changes. – ha, rubbish. Score: -1. Failure to introduce carbon tax: -1.

I’m sure there will be loads of arguing about “hitting the poorest hardest” but there are enough sops in there that he can bat that away fairly easily.

We are told that Mr Osborne said the state now accounted for “almost half” of all national income which was “completely unsustainable”. and I find myself in agreement: the state is too large. This isn’t just because I now work for the private sector: it is because I get more reactionary as I grow older, like everyone else.

Average real terms budget cuts of 25% over four years – except for health and international aid. – sounds fairly serious. I wonder how they are going to manage that and what will come of it. Still, it made the markets happy and the chance of us going the way of Greece is reduced.

Overall score: -2. Good, I wouldn’t want to agree with a Tory budget, that would be a terrible thing.

Other stuff: football. Good to see the French being so stereotypically Gallic. Full marks. England seem to be on the way out, which will do no harm.

[Update: I forgot to mention my top tip for saving money: abolish Ofsted -W]

Zorita scents gravy

Every cloud has a silver lining, and it looks like Zorita is jockeying for some of the silver: the Future of IPCC apparently is to morph into one of those nice International agencies which pay so well and are headquarted in rather nice cities, staffed by… well, clearly by the likes of independent-minded folk such as Eduardo. As he says so wisely As with finance, climate assessment is too important to be left in the hands of advocates, or other scum like the current IPCC authors: sweep them all away and leave it in the hands of people who are prepared to admit their errors… oh, wait.

And I cannot resist a totally off-topic link to Eli’s Cthulhu Explains it All. Wonderful.

Speaking very vaguely of which (I mean, of being off-topic): why not read about Coverity?

Airbourne fraction, again

This was an ask stoat question, and probably a fairly easy one, so I’ll have a go.

First of all, what is it? AF (ie, Airbo(u)rne Fraction, is the proportion of human emitted CO2 that stays in the atmosphere, the rest being sunk in land or ocean. Now it is important not to confuse the “proportion that stays in the atmosphere” with “the concentration in the atmosphere” otherwise you get silly little skeptics running around thinking that “airbourne fraction is constant” means that CO2 has stopped increasing. Sigh. However, I see that last time I looked at this I was having to slap down the other side who seemed to think that AF was rapidly rising to 100%. Sigh #2.

Having poked around a bit after the recent Knorr paper, I find that skeptical science seems to have done a pretty good job on the story in general, so I don’t think there is any need to explain that side much more (or, you can have mt and Eli). But since I’ve started this post I’d better find something to say. And that is… two things:

First off, there does seem to be some “pressure” to find increasing AF. That it should increase doesn’t seem to be a strong scientific prediction, but it wouldn’t be very surprising given increasing human emissions and possible degredation of sinks. And if it was increasing, that make future CO2 predictions more exciting. Which brings me on to the second point:

As someone commented, AF itself isn’t a very physical variable. The real physical variables are the sources and the sinks. What we can measure fairly easily are sources (fossil fuel use well; deforestation harder) and the concentration. From those you can compute the sinks and the AF. Or you can try to estimate the sinks directly but that is imprecise. But now suppose you need to predict *future* CO2 levels (and if you want to project future climate change, you do need to). You can run your economic models forwards and deduce emissions, but modelling the sinks is hard (you can stuff them all into a coupled GCM with carbon model, and the Hadley folk at least can do that, but I’m not sure how accurate it is thought to be). So it is an awful lot easier just to use the constant scaling factor of AF to deduce future CO2 levels. And so you have this “tuning knob” and what value should it be? Since AF ~ 0.5, I think most people use a half, which seems about fair – you don’t know its future value accurately, but then you’re guessing at the emissions too, so it all washes out togther. But of course, if you knew that AF was going up, you could get to higher CO2 levels earlier. That would be bad, wouldn’t it?

[Update: per L in the comment “Some folks talk about GHGs running away a bit, what with all the forest fires and permafrost melting — this would also show up as an increased AF, wouldn’t it”. More easily, it would show up as yet another thing you can measure, the year-by-year change in CO2 levels. Which was what the earlier post, and its graph, was about. Which shows that nothing too wildly exciting is occurring.

ps: we’re up to comment ~9,800. Nearly at the majic 10k, for which there will be a Prize! -W]

Bankers bonuses

Ha. I wimped out of “bonii” cos I wasn’t sure of my grammar. Anyway: Bankers are this year’s terrorists, who were last year’s paedophiles, who were the year before’s witches. Which is to say, everyone appears to be convinced that they are deeply evil and the heavy hand of government is needed (although opinions differ as to quite how heavy). This is perfectly natural: whoever may have been responsible for the Great Financial Disaster that is, errm, having such huge impacts on us all, err, everyone is convinced that it certainly wasn’t them to blame. So if you’re a politician it can’t possibly have been a failure of regulation, so that means it must be the bankers fault, so they had better suffer.

Whilst this makes sense as politics, it makes no sense in the real world. The most telling reason is the excuse given for the need to all the G20 to do this at once, rather than for individual countries doing it if they feel like it: it would put their financial centers at a competitive disadvantage. Why would it do this? Because they wouldn’t be able to attract the top financial talent? Why would this put them at a disadvantage? Because for all the silly talk, the governments know that the bankers earn more for their firms and the coountries that they are based in than they cost in bonuses. If that wasn’t true, there would be no competitive disadvantage. Ergo, the entire argument is twaddle.

Having said that, there is (I think) a problem with the bonus system, which does seem somewhat out of control (though I don’t think it had much to do with the current Crisis). The correct people to address this problem are those people who are seeing some of their dividends diverted into bonuses and pay, which is to say the shareholders of the banks. In the UK, in a few cases, the majority shareholder is the govt, in which case they can do something and should, if that is what they believe.

Finance question

One thing that has puzzled me for a bit about the current mess is the intereaction between the Government and the Central Bank (Bank of England or BoE, in our case). So the government is raising money by selling Gilts, in quantities that I forget but of the order of £200b when I last looked. Meanwhile, the BoE is indulging in Quantiative easing, a process whereby it pumps money into the economy by buying various bonds, but mostly Gilts, of the order of £20b.

This appears, at least at first sight, to be pointlessly self-cancelling. The government is selling gilts to itself (unless we pretend that the BoE isn’ t an organ of the government – are we supposed to pretend that?).

On the other hand, perhaps the point is that only the BoE is capable of creating money out of nothing – maybe the government strictly defined has no mechanism to do this. So it is obliged to go through the slightly strange dance.