Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Six Ps

Burt Cockley (14), Ryan Duffield (12), Matt Dixon (5), Ben Cutting (33), Trent Copeland (51), Chris Tremain (6), Josh Lalor (6), and Nicholas Bills (2). This is the list of quick bowlers that England faced in their three warm-ups before Brisbane. The numbers in brackets are the number of first class games each has played.

In 2010/11 England made a virtue of playing serious proper warm-up matches against first class opposition. The Duncan Fletcher days of playing 12 or 13 a side in a glorified middle practice were over: proper preparation required competitive cricket against serious opposition. In their first game against WA, Steve Magoffin (101) opened the bowling; For South Australia Test hopeful Peter George opened up. For Australia A Peter George and Clint McKay were the main quicks. Australia's pace reserves were much thinner then than they are now, but this was a pretty experienced bunch - Cricket Australia were at least taking the warm-ups seriously.

In response to their thumping last time, Australia have evidently decided that there's no reason why they should provide England with competitive cricket outside the Test matches. News that the Alice Springs XI's pace attack is now going to be made up of the household names of Jayde Herrick, who hasn't played a first class match this season, and Simon Mackin, who hasn't played one ever, rather adds to this impression.

Fair enough and all that (though Australia shouldn't be too surprised if their warm-up schedule for the next series includes a trip to Weston Super Mare to play the Minor Counties), but it does provide a little context for why England looked a little rusty against proper quick bowling on a bouncy wicket.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Gabbatoir (again)

As the Aussies complete their seamless transition from poor losers to poor winners, a few thoughts occur following England's thumping at Brisbane.

The first is, inevitably, about Jonathan Trott. There are lots of better men than I to analyse what happened, and I'm not going to touch on his mental health, other than to note that saying he should toughen up is like saying that Pat Cummins should pull himself together (like Bruce Reid, for Twelth Man fans) and get over his stress fractures. More immediately for England there's the question of who should now bat at three. Ian Bell did the job pretty effectively when Trott was last unavailable, but he was so good at 5 in the summer that I'd be surprised if anyone's keen to move him. Which means that it's probably Joe Root who'll get pushed up the order. That'll make three different positions in about 10 tests, which is less than ideal...

The second is about what Brisbane means for the series. Well maybe not much. England haven't won the first test match in an away series against proper opposition since 2004. They haven't won at Brisbane since 1986. Australia's star performer was Mitchell Johnson, who blows very hot and cold. A week after destroying England on a trampoline at Perth in 2010, he was going at four and a half an over in Melbourne. Or alternatively, maybe it means a lot - England were battered on a hard bouncy pitch. That's happened before too. If Perth is as bouncy as last time then Australia should go at least 2 up with 2 to play, and it's a long road back from there.

I think on balance though it's best to be wary of reading too much into Brisbane. England were walloped in Ahmedabad in 2012, walloped by a team that were clearly playing to a plan that worked. They came back from that all right, and there's every chance they'll do it again.

Finally, I guess it's probably worth saying something about sledging. Australia have a recent track record of chirping loudly when they're winning, and going awfully quiet when they're losing. Loud sledging at Perth in 2010 was quickly followed by sheepish silence at Melbourne. A winning opponent not walking is an affront to the spirit of the game, an Aussie captain threatening a losing opposition no. 11 with a broken arm is definitely within the spirit of the game. Let's keep an eye on the rest of the series and see what happens...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

More austeri-bollocks

There's clearly something in the water over at Guardian Towers. Here's another by-the-numbers bullshit piece on austerity, using Cameron's Lord Mayor's speech as a hook. It's actually quite depressing ploughing through this sort of thing, but I'll pull out a couple of examples:
First of all, he insisted that "the biggest single threat to the cost of living in this country is if our budget deficit and debts get out of control again". Yet while the deficit rose to 11.2% of GDP in 2010, the markets that fund British debt never once thought the situation "out of control".
Well, no. Because the markets priced in a Tory election win and a commitment to sane fiscal policies. The rating agencies, in particular, were quite explicit on this:
"In the absence of a strong fiscal consolidation plan, the UK's net general government debt burden may approach a level incompatible with an 'AAA' rating,"
What does Mark Blyth think the real problem is?
A much more likely culprit for the drop in living standards is the fall in British real wages of over 5% since 2010 coupled with high price inflation.
"Coupled with"? It's been the relatively high rate of inflation that has caused the fall in British real wages. Nominal wages have gone up. This doesn't exactly inspire confidence in an economics column.
Second, when you have a deficit, you can either raise taxes or cut spending to fill the gap, and the coalition have favoured the latter.
The difficulty with this argument is that total Government spending has increased since 2010, and so has total Government tax revenue - the coalition has increased taxes twice as often as it has cut them.
And because of these efforts British government debt has gone up, not down, despite the cuts, from 52.3% of GDP in 2009 to 90.7% in 2013. This is hardly a surprise given that exactly this same pattern of cuts leading to more debt as the underlying economy shrinks has been the story throughout the Eurozone too.
Well, that's what happens when you have as your starting point an annual deficit of 11.5% of GDP. And, as you'd think Mr Blyth might have noticed, the underlying economy hasn't shrunk since 2010, and is in fact now growing at the fastest rate in the developed world.
We need to remember that the crisis that brought us here was a private sector crisis. Their debts landed on the balance sheet of the public sector through bank bailouts, recapitalisations and unlimited quantitative easing. In other words, taxpayers bailed bankers and the price was a ballooning deficit.
This really isn't true:
This also shows that the UK’s bank bailout wasn’t the main cause of the rapid increase in debt between 2007 and 2012. Some left-wing commentators claim that public debt, and therefore austerity, has been caused by massive bank bailouts. But considering that UK net debt rose by around 35 percent of GDP over this period, the 7 percent spent on the bank bailout, while significant, is nowhere near the whole story. Yes, the GDP collapse and rising debt were brought about by the banking collapse but they were not a direct result of the bailout.
I'm not sure I can face going on. Rather brilliantly, Blyth's only previous Guardian article was a piece arguing that Italy's protectionism, stifling labour laws and permanent deficit spending were a brilliant strategy sure to protect her from the financial crisis. Italy has now been in continuous recession for nine straight quarters. For extra credit, the piece argued that it was Spain's ultra flexible labour laws that were causing high unemployment. Which might come as a surprise to, well, anyone who knows anything about Spanish employment law.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Oh come on!

I was just about to write a post yesterday about the moonlighting waitress who so thoroughly misunderstood David Cameron's speech at the Lord Mayor's dinner the other night when I thought better of it. She's an unpaid intern who works in the evenings - it's not really fair to castigate her for misinterpreting a speech she probably only half heard. But now, God help us, Martin Kettle has doubled down on this idiocy in an article arguing that Cameron's speech lost him the 2015 election.

So, what was this epic political miscalculation that demonstrates the Tories' swivel-eyed advocacy of minarchism and permanent austerity?
It means building a leaner, more efficient state. We need to do more with less. Not just now, but permanently.
A good rule of thumb when determining how epoch-shakingly radical a speech or policy is, is to reverse the adjectives and see if it looks like a speech an opponent might make. In this case that gives us:
It means building a flabbier, less efficient state. We need to do less with more. Not permanently, but just for now.

Admittedly, in my more cynical moments I can imagine Ed Miliband thinking this, but even he wouldn't say it. It's as unremarkable a re-iteration of "we will cut waste and run a more efficient government" as I can think of, off-hand. And the examples he then produced to illustrate this drive for leaner government go to show that:
There are 40 per cent fewer people working in the Department for Education - but over 3,000 more free schools and academies, with more children doing tougher subjects than ever before. There are 23,000 fewer administrative roles in the NHS - but 5,000 more doctors, with shorter waiting times. So you can have a leaner, more efficient, more affordable state that actually delivers better results for the taxpayer.
This wasn't about welfare cuts, or cuts to the NHS, or education - it was about making the process of government more efficient. You'd have to be an idiot or a shill to interpret it any other way. Sadly, political life is apparently full to bursting with both.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I don't think I've ever linked to the People before. Is it a newspaper? Anyway, they've put together a list of 'wtf moments' from the Coalition, two of which go to underline the observed phenomenon that the British press haven't got the first fucking idea about economics in general and tax in particular, and the rest of which are oddly dull.
1. Today it was announced that Atos and G4s — two of the contractors that have come increasingly to supplant public services — paid no corporation tax in the 2012 tax year. That’s right, nothing, nada, zilch. That’s despite carrying out £2billion-worth of government contracts in the same period.
The news that a company that last year issued profits warnings, fired their chief executive, carried out quick asset sales to raise cash and incurred multi-million pound contractual penalties failed to be profitable in 2013 really shouldn't be so surprising. In fact, as Tim Worstall said, it's a good indication that the Government are driving a good bargain with their contract work, if its recipients aren't even profitable.

2. Ian Duncan Smith has steadfastly defended the policy known universally as The Bedroom Tax. Except, that is, today. On the day that the policy is due to be debated in the Commons, its primary architect is nowhere to be seen.
Well, "due to be debated" is a touch grandiose. It was an Opposition Day Debate. In other words any vote that resulted was non-binding and of symbolic value only. All it was was a bit of Labour grandstanding, and IDS almost certainly got more out of the conference on youth unemployment that he actually went to.

3 Nadine Dorries...
Oh please. A back-bencher who drifts in and out of the Tory party is somehow representative of the Coalition Government. That's the sound of a barrel being scraped.

4... Her Majesty’s Revenue And Customs can be swift and terrible in their revenge. If you’re a mega-corporation like, for example, Vodafone it’s all a lot cooler. You might think that the tax on the mobile phone giant’s colossal revenues would be, well, colossal. The figure of £6 billion has been mentioned.
Yes, by illiterates and morons.

It recently emerged that they paid ’an undisclosed sum’ to HMRC in 2009 as a sort of compromise. Days after the deal, Chancellor George Osborne was in India. Promoting a British company you may have heard of. Vodafone.
Large company in settlement deal shock. Also, George Osborne apparently Chancellor in 2009 shock. Of the two, the time-travelling Tory probably counts as the larger surprise.

5 It isn’t altogether clear what benefit accrued to Scottish businessman Adam Werrity...
Cor, there's a name I'd forgotten all about. Adam Werrity... I have to say though, it sort of underlines how relatively tedious the personal scandals of the Coalition have been. I mean, we've had the David Laws "man is gay" scandal, and the Adam Werrity "man is, um, oddly close to a personal adviser" scandal, and that's more or less it isn't it? The glory days of the Ron Davies badger incident or the Mark Oaten, er, glass table incident seem like a very long time ago.

Who to believe

What is it with the Guardian? Their chief economic leader writer read Modern History, as did their economics editor. Now another history graduate, Zoe Williams, thinks she's solved the problem of unaffordable energy - hyper-local renewable power.
Feldheim, in Germany, is the most evolved example of this in Europe, and possibly in the world: it powers itself entirely on wind, solar and biogas. All the financial investment is from the villagers, of whom there are 150. The numbers are slightly messed up now by its massive eco-tourist trade, but this much is clear: when you are a stakeholder you pay less and you use less.
As Tim Worstall notes, this would seem to reverse the usual relationship between price and consumption - if it's true.

The thing is, of course, that it really doesn't seem to be. Energy prices in Germany are the highest in the EU, largely thanks to the enormous subsidies that their renewable sector requires. Places like Feldheim and Wildpoldsreid are able to create an over-sufficiency in renewable generation, because the subsidies paid both by energy consumers and general taxpayers make it artificially profitable. Estimates of the cost of the Energiewende are estimated to run as high as €1tn.

You may approve of renewable energy, for all sorts of reasons, but if you are being serious you have to acknowledge that, at the moment, renewable power generation costs more than non-renewable. This is true whether the power stations or wind turbines are owned by a mean old corporation, or kindly old Frau Whatsit.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Slavery reparations

This is a story that comes and goes with fairly reliable frequency.
Now [St Vincent & the Grenadines] is becoming the perhaps unexpected centre of a pan-Caribbean move to redress one of the great horrors of the 19th century: the transatlantic slave trade.
I guess that something of a warning klaxon goes off there, in that the translantic trade in slaves was unilaterally abolished by Great Britain in 1807, making this much more of an 18th century horror than a 19th century one. Be that as it may, slavery is certainly a Bad Thing. I'm sure we can agree on that.
"It is the defining matter of our age," says the prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, as he peers out towards the Atlantic from the veranda of his family's secluded villa, in the grounds of an old plantation, on the main island, St Vincent. 
The outspoken 67-year-old, who often refers to himself as "Comrade Ralph", has been in office for almost 13 years. He says his attempt to seek not only an apology but money from those European powers that built fortunes through the trafficking of slaves across the ocean in front of him is his moral duty.
I don't have figures for all the European nations that were involved in the slave trade but, as a nation, Britain certainly wasn't made wealthy by slave trafficking - it was only ever a peripheral factor in the wider economy.
Stanley Engerman, professor of economic history at Rochester, has calculated that the contribution made by slave sale proceeds to the British economy in 1770 - at the height of the trade - was a mere 0.0054% of National Income.
There is also an inherent problem in litigating the actions of 300 years ago using the laws of the present day. Not only was slavery legal in the 18th century - it was ubiquitous. The Western nations didn't generally go off into the interior of West and Central Africa to capture slaves (although the Arabs did, over to the East) - they purchased their slaves from the likes of the Ashanti and the Dahomey kingdoms in West Africa - for everyone except the unfortunate slaves themselves this was a consensual trade.

If you look back through history, from the earliest beginnings to the dawn of the modern era, slavery was an ever-present. It was with the (extremely high-handed and very unpopular) intervention of the British in the early 19th century that the institution of slavery began to unravel. Working out what the crime is that requires compensation is not as straightforward as it might seem.
But last June supporters of the reparation movement were emboldened by a £19.9m out-of-court payment made by the UK to victims of British colonial forces in Kenya. Lawyers had argued that Britain was legally responsible for the brutal suppression and torture carried out against the anti-colonial group the Mau Mau in the 1950s.
Well, there are three points to make here too. The first (as the article acknowledges) that the victims of whatever torture happened in Kenya were still alive to make the claim and receive the compensation. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1833, so the last British slave is likely to have died more than 100 years ago. The second problem, not mentioned by the Guardian, is that in the 1950s torture was illegal - if British forces did indeed torture and kill prisoners, then they did so in contravention of their own laws - slavery was legal under most legal systems in the world. The third point is that the allegations in Kenya were made against the British state, for the actions of the state. In the Caribbean, the allegations are being made against the British state (inter alia) but the actions were those of private, non-state actors. They aren't equivalents.
Neither Day, nor Gonsalves, is prepared to speculate about how much they will seek in reparations. But Gonsalves refers to what he sees as a possible precedent. In 1833, after the abolition of slavery, the British parliament authorised a £20m payment to British plantation owners, the equivalent of £16.5bn today. This was deemed appropriate compensation for their loss of "property", meaning slaves. The slaves themselves received nothing.
Well, they received their freedom, which isn't exactly nothing. In fact, there's even a figure given for the precise monetary value of that freedom, to which you have to add the unquantifably greater abstract value of freedom itself. It needs to be remembered that the emancipation of slaves was not seen as some sort of great historical inevitability at the time - the French experiment with manumission had been reversed by Napoleon, and the great slave empires in Brazil and the Southern States were still in full swing.

I should also say that I see the British solution to a potentially very difficult problem, what to do with slave-holders, whose legal 'property' is being taken away, and whose livelihoods are being destroyed, was much better than the possible alternatives.

Slavery was a Bad Thing. The nation that did more than any other to end that Bad Thing (spending more actual money in the suppression of the Atlantic Slave Trade than it had ever earned in the trade itself) was Britain. The world should be ashamed of slavery, but I'm not sure that any nation in particular needs to apologise for it. I'm fairly certain that none of them should be paying compensation.

Friday, November 01, 2013

The endless joy that is Polly

Tim is quite right (obviously): Polly Toynbee is flat out wrong when she says this:
Equal pay day falls on 7 November, the day women stop being paid because of the gender pay gap. Forcing equal pay audits, so employers had to reveal how much less they pay women, along with rights for higher paid jobs to be part-time, might end the pay gap – which stands at 35.6% for part-time women.
The actual figures for the comparative full-time pay gap is (or was last year) about 9.5% - a continuation of a trend of diminishing differences. The largest factor in the gap is parenthood - women are more likely to either change jobs or reduce hours to facilitate child care. The part-time pay gap is actually negative - that is part-time women earn more than 5% more than part-time men. Polly must know this, she's just manipulating the figures to make her point.

Oddly, here is Polly a few years ago complaining that you shouldn't, in any event, "stupidly average up all jobs" in an effort to calculate whether one sector of society is paid more than another. This was because the TPA calculated that average pay for public-sector employees was about 8% higher than private-sector employees. In imitable style, she tried to unpick the (incontrovertible) evidence:

The facts are accurate, but the context makes it a statistical cheat.
This was a good effort from Polly, in that a sentence with two facts in it managed to get one of them right.