Greatest Time to be Alive

After Connor’s rather depressing piece… I just wanted to say.

This is the greatest time to be alive. For the average human, at least, in the history of humanity.

The world has never been better fed. Whether you’re a Congolese subsistence farmer or a land whale taking your mobility scooter down the aisles at Asda, the world has never had more food. Your odds of starving have never been lower. Thanks to a combination of improving crop yields from things like Norman Borlaug’s dwarf wheat and better fertiliser, you have the joint advantage of low food prices and high-calorie consumption per person. Food is cheaper than ever and more plentiful than ever. As GMOs become more widespread this will continue. The world can’t be fed on organic food alone, food prices would be far higher and ever more land would be needed to grow food. GMOs save the environment and save people from starvation. Thanks, Monsanto!

Connected to the above, the world has never been more prosperous. Poverty rates are collapsing, driven primarily by China and the wider rise of Asia, yet there has never been a better time to be the average person in a developing country.

The world has never been more healthy. Thanks to the rise of vaccinations, pumping mercury (amongst other scary sounding chemicals) into our children, the world has never been more disease free with many entirely eradicated in the Western world. We are also likely within a decade of completely eradicating Polio, the second disease humanity will eliminate after Smallpox.

The world has never been less violent. Your odds of being murdered have never been lower, from the highs of pre-state society, through to the spike in the 1980s, your odds of being the victim of a homicide have never been lower. Annoyingly this doesn’t include terrorism, but so long as you don’t live in Iraq, Nigeria, or Afghanistan, you’re basically safe here too.

The world has never been more peaceful (averaged over a few years). OK, I’ll admit, this one requires a caveat, but your odds of dying, or even being involved in, some manner of conflict (defined as one having more than 25 deaths in a year) have (almost) never been lower. When taken in a historical context, the shift is staggering.

Connor – the world is a better fed, more prosperous, safer, and more peaceful place than ever. There’s always more to be done. But we’re basically doing fine as a species. Next year will be better than this one. And the year after will be better. So chill out.

Trident & The SNP

The Scottish people do not want Trident. So say the SNP, ergo it must be true. They voted for the SNP to represent them in 56/59 constituencies (though given suspensions aren’t they now the 54?).

Anyway. Scotland doesn’t want nuclear weapons. It must be true, the SNP say so.

Nope. Scottish voters are basically evenly split at 43/42 in favour/against the deterrent (Source: What Scotland Thinks). Some could even point to the rise from 37% to 43% as a 16% increase in support for the deterrent in Scotland over the past year or so.

So, Scotland is split on the deterrent. Scotland’s MPs are not. The 54+2 voted en-masse against the deterrent, as did the sole Labour and sole LibDem MP. Fair enough. True the SNP MPs are all mindless drones unable to vote against the party line lest that +2 become slightly larger. Anyway. The SNP are out of step with the Scottish electorate. Because the SNP do not represent Scotland. As in any electoral system, they represent a view in Scotland.

Do the people who vote for the SNP care about Trident? Nope.  It comes tenth in a list of priorities, just after Constitutional Affairs & Independence. Source: What Scotland Thinks) But above Defence and Land Reform. So, if pushed Scots are relatively evenly divided on Trident but they have to be pushed pretty hard to actually care about it.

If Scotland voted for a 12% deficit, a new currency and to be outside both the EU and the UK (also known as Independence), would Scots still want the deterrent based in Scotland? Of course not! Scots hate the deterrent and it’s one of the few issues they vote on. Oh…

In that hypothetical where Scotland leaves the UK, voters are again split 41/36 on keeping/removing the deterrent from Scottish waters (Source: What Scotland Thinks). The rent on the base would likely be a valuable source of income to the Scottish Government.

The SNP are not opposed to having nuclear weapons defend them. They are in favour of remaining members of NATO and are fine with allowing US naval vessels with nukes aboard into Scottish waters. Their issue, as always, is with diminishing the UK, shirking our responsibilities, and attempting to drive a wedge between the UK and Scotland by insisting they are the one true voice of Scotland.

The SNP are not Scotland. They may represent most of Scotland at Westminster and form a minority government at Holyrood, this does not make them the sole arbiters of Scottish public opinion.

Trident Economics

I support Trident. I’m massively in favour of having the power to obliterate a significant portion of the world. 

But I find the reasons for supporting Trident that are espoused by some people, particularly those on the left, as thoroughly bizarre. 

“The construction and maintenance of Trident’s replacement will directly support more than 30,000 jobs… a failure to renew would lead to the “obliteration” of thousands of its members’ jobs…That is an economic catastrophe we cannot afford and one we cannot ask those communities to pay.” – Tom Watson – Guardian

I support Trident because it’s a safeguard against Russian and other aggression. I find it thoroughly bizarre to support a system capable of killing billions because it protects a few jobs. You may as well give those 30,000 people their lifetime earnings and save the rest if that’s your reasoning.

Be honest about the reason you support Trident. Because it anchors the USA in NATO and because it is the ultimate insurance policy.

Support Trident because it can destroy the world. Not because it keeps a few welders in work. 

Dream Team – New Cabinet

Theresa May will be the next PM. 

Who should be what in cabinet? 

Chancellor – Osborne/Hammond

Foreign – Osborne/Cameron

Home – Boris/Leadsom

Brexit – Gove/Grayling

Health – Hunt (just to carry on trolling)

Justice – Gove/Leadsom

DWP – IDS – so long as he has people who can think under him. Or Patel.

DCMS – Boris/… Someone

Education – Morgan

Infrastructure (new) – Boris/Boles

Rest leave as is
Cameron will likely not want to serve. He deserves a break. But his relationships would be valuable at Foreign. 

Infrastructure – department for transport, housing, with wide ranging powers and remit. To build strong relationships with pension funds. Should also take on infrastructure side of NHS/Education. 

Brexit – should obviously be a Leaver. And an intelligent and polite one. Gove best suited. 

White Smoke – We Have A PM

Theresa May is all but confirmed as the new PM.

She is by no means my ideal PM.  My ideal PM being me, as benevolent dictator for life. Her record as Home Secretary is largely illiberal. I would far rather DC had remained as PM with a new cabinet.

However, we now have a chance to get a new settlement on the EU as well as crush the Labour party forevermore.

This is a good day. For the economy, with much uncertainty removed. For the party, with the crazy option no longer available.

Theresa May for PM. Until I have a chance to begin my rise to power.

Leadsom Projections

Andrea Leadsom is the favourite of some diehard Brexiteers to become Tory leader. 

Most of these are not members of the Tory party. They tend to be UKIP members, who much like Greens and SWP members enjoy telling Tories how to be true Tories. 

Andrea Leadsom is someone no one had heard of until a few months ago. She had a high profile campaign but other than that has no experience. 

Despite her complete lack of experience and obvious inability to become PM she has the support of otherwise sensible people. 

I fear this is projection. Not worried about her capability but just looking for someone who thinks the exact same as them. Not concerned with anything bar looking for someone who will deliver (she can’t) exactly what they want (she can’t). 

Leadsom vs. Corbyn would be an interesting battle to see just how many seats the LibDems can win. A May-Corbyn battle would give the Tories a 300 seat majority in the house. 

If you want the Tories to deliver on their manifesto promises. If you want the Tories to be able to win an election and leave the UK, there is only one sensible candidate. Leadsom cannot win. She’s not ready. She’s not capable. 

Stop using Leadsom as a projection board for your hopes and fears. Examine her as a potential PM, not as someone who will tell you what you want to hear on every topic. 

Leadsom isn’t capable. As leader of the Tories or as PM. 

Post-Brexit Racism

I voted to leave.

I am pro-migration. It would not bother me if migration rose after the vote to leave the EU as a result of us being able to attract more people. Migrants tend to have lower unemployment rates, they tend to be younger and so healthier and so use the NHS less than the older ‘natives’. They are a massive net contributor to society and frankly, we need them to pay for the retirement of British people. That isn’t to say there are no issues around integration and so on but that’s a different story. Migrants are a positive contributor to our economy and society. I say that as someone who lived as an expat most of his life.

I was not happy with much of the rhetoric used in the campaign.
I was, and remain, happy with the result.

However, there has been a growing number of stories about the effects of the debate around how we approach racism within the country and the prevalence of racism within the country.

Being a white guy I have zero experience with racism. Possibly some positive racism, I don’t know.

So here’s the statistics on racism from 2011 – 2015.

HateCrimes

Source: gov.uk – Hate Crime Statistics

For some reason there were two different figures for 2013/14, I imagine due to changes in reporting. These are the numbers of hate crimes reported by month in England and Wales. 2011-2014 (under the first set of statistics at least) is largely flat.

One important thing to note is the rise in the number of hate crimes over the summer months. This could be due to more people being out and about, leading to more interactions. It could be due to people literally getting hot and bothered. It could also be due to football related violence around international tournaments. Though looking at it I can’t see a strong link for the 2012/2014 data around the last Euro championship or world cup.

Hate crime numbers have also been trending up over the past few years, this could be due to reporting differences, hence the large jump in the 2013/14 figures between the two datasets and between the 2013/14 and 2014/15 dataset. It could also be due to improved reporting.

However, the single figure I have for 2016 – that blue dot at 6152. That is from two weeks reported hate crime (doubled as it was a two week period). That is not down to heat, increased contact between people, or the woeful performance of the England team at the Euro Championships.

I am not sorry that we have left the EU. I just wish the campaign had focussed relentlessly on the positives for leaving the EU and not the xenophobia that got so much attention because Nigel Farage doesn’t know how to avoid a camera. I think we could have won on the positives alone. Or, rather, on the negatives of the EU as an institution. Not on the migration which has been such a boon to our society.

The Prime Minister and Theresa May (in her capacity as Home Secretary) should come out in support of stricter sentencing guidelines for anyone convicted of a hate crime. If someone can be jailed for six months for stealing water during the London riots, there should be harsh sentences for abusing Poles or Pakistanis or anyone else. We are, by and large, a tolerant nation. We need to promote that idea to the world.

That rise in hate crime is sickening. It needs to be confronted.

Indyref2: Four Country Lock

The SNP, along with various other parties and people insist the EU referendum should have only gone ahead with a four country lock. A way of saying that if Scotland voted to Remain whilst England, Wales and Northern Ireland had voted to Leave the will of the Scottish people should have decided the referendum.

Knowing support for the EU is higher (but only marginally) in Scotland than in the remainder of the UK, barring maybe Northern Ireland, this was a mischievous way for the SNP to attempt to ensure the UK remained in the EU whilst also attempting to drive a further wedge between Scotland and England.

What would this have meant in practice, though?

Constituent Part England (incl. Gib) Scotland Wales Northern Ireland
Population (m) 53.01 5.30 3.06 1.81
Percentage 83.90% 8.40% 4.80% 2.90%
Total Votes Cast 28,455,402 2,679,513 1,626,919 790,149
Leave Vote (m) 15,188,406 1,018,322 854,572 349,442
Leave Vote (%) 53.38% 38.00% 52.53% 44.22%
Value of Vote under 4-Country Lock 1.00 10.00 17.32 29.29
No. Votes Needed to Result in 4-Country Lock for Leave -960,704 321,436 -41,112 45,633

The explicit suggestion from the SNP and others is that a vote in England is worth a tenth of that in Scotland. That a vote in Scotland is worth approximately half that of one in Wales. That a vote in Northern Ireland is worth thirty times as much as one cast in the UK. The value of a changed mind in Northern Ireland is 20x that of one in England. That of one in Scotland 3x as much as an English vote.

Far be it from me to suggest that the SNP enjoy stoking division in their quest to irritate the English into letting Scotland go into a world of 10% deficits, but the explicit suggestion of the SNP is that the votes of the English are worthless. That the votes of one Northern Irishman is worth a thirtieth of that of an Englishman. The SNP may not believe the UK should exist, they’re wrong. But the suggestion that a Scot is ten times as valuable as someone from Cornwall is insulting. Until the SNP can persuade Scotland to vote to leave the UK, the UK votes on a one man, one vote basis.

Sir John Chilcot: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Liberal Interventionism

Today the inquiry into the British involvement in the Iraq War was published. Coming to some 2.6m words it is possibly the longest exercise in confirmation bias ever written.

I had some of my views on the war challenged. I was 14 when the Second Gulf War began so have relatively limited memories of what went on in the run-up to the war so I rely very much on accounts of those days.

I am in favour of intervention wherever there is a crisis we can stop. Where there is a vicious dictator we can destroy and when we can bring harmony where there is discord.

That does not mean to say I think the Iraq war was correct. We went in for the wrong reasons. The allegations about the WMD Dossier being ‘sexed up’ have been largely found to be false. So the intelligence was poor. This does not make our invasion better or worse. There were no WMDs. This is known now. If there was a conspiracy to say Iraq had WMDs it wouldn’t have been a particularly complicated matter to ‘discover’ some mustard gas in a bunker near Mosul but we shall leave that to one side.

Once we were in the war our mission was poorly executed. Our troops were ill-equipped. The de-Baathification of the country was mishandled, taking away vital security infrastructure and denying well-trained men a salary and purpose. I can’t really say much else on these fronts, these are lessons to be learned rather than reasons for or against the invasion of another country.

Lessons learned above. The reason for going to war was wrong. What would have been a better reason?

Saddam Hussein was, for lack of a better word, a c*nt. An awful individual who ruled his country with an iron fist. He killed many many thousands of Kurds, Shia, and Sunni for that matter. He started a brutal war with Iran that killed a million. He used chemical weapons and would have developed nuclear weapons had the Israeli’s not saved the world from that hell in 1981. The world is a better place without Saddam Hussein. He may have kept the tribes in Iraq in their place but he did it with bullets and gas. The world is better with him no longer amongst the living. Is Iraq safer? Probably not. The bombings over the weekend make that “probably” very tenuous, but a counterfactual against Saddam still being in place is impossible to know. If regime change, of a disgusting regime, had been the stated goal, if the post-war planning had been better executed, if the troops had been better equipped, we might not have shrunk from intervening in Syria when we should have – after Assad used chemical weapons. We could have dealt with North Korea before they developed the bomb.

There are vile regimes operating in the world. We have the power to do something to prevent genocides. Where we don’t intervene we are culpable. We should have intervened in Rwanda, in Kosovo (earlier than we did), in North Korea to destroy the vile Kim dynasty, in Iraq to destroy Saddam at the first Gulf War. Regime change isn’t something we should shrink from. There are vile regimes in the world. We are better than they are. We have the power to help. Whether we do it through economic pressure on the lesser evils, such as Saudi, Venezuela, and Russia, or through military might on the greater and more pressing evils. We are good, they are evil. That sounds simplistic because it is. A regime that gasses civilians, that imposes three generations of punishment for not crying sincerely, that hangs homosexuals from cranes is not one that we should allow.

Imperialist? Sure. Call me that if you want. Not living in the real world? Something I can justly be accused of. But it doesn’t make me wrong.

The Iraq War happened for the wrong reasons and was poorly executed. It does not mean the world would be better off if Saddam were still gassing his people.

Brexit: Economic Mythmaking

The UK is likely headed for a mild recession. Mild in terms of GDP but sadly not in terms of unemployment and the human tragedy.

There is a myth being developed that this is down to the Brexit vote or even due to the uncertainty caused by there even being a Brexit vote.

Growth Rates (%) 1960-2014

GrowthRates

Source: World Bank

The average length of an economic expansion in the UK since 1960 is 9.8 years, including the current period. Assuming, as seems likely, GDP expands by a marginal amount over 2016 falling into recession from Q3 onwards the current expansion will have lasted for seven years. Hardly an extraordinary departure from the average over the past 50+ years. The average length of a period of economic growth in the US and EU over the same time periods has been 7.8 and 10 years respectively. There is a cycle to economic expansions as with most other things and to pretend that any contraction in the UK is completely out of character is ridiculous.

OK – of course, there could be a connection to the Brexit vote and to the economic cycle right? Yes.

However, PMI Surveys for the services, manufacturing and construction have all been trending down since Q12016 or earlier. The heat has been going out of the UK economy since the early parts of the year. Employment growth has been similarly slowing since the start of the year (though here it can be at least partially attributed to marginal gains being hard to come by when near full employment.

The National Living Wage came into effect from the beginning of April and was predicted to lead to higher unemployment, accepted as a consequence of increasing pay for the lowest paid. So any upticks in unemployment in the coming months can be attributed more to the NLW than to Brexit.

 

The UK was more than likely due a mild recession. It is likely that the severity of the recession will be increased by the uncertainty around what Brexit means. But the idea that any recession is due to our decision to leave the EU is ridiculous.

 

 

The chancellor has suggested a cut in corporation tax by 5% taking the UK down to 15% by 2020 instead of 17% by 2020. Naturally, I’m all in favour of this but can’t help thinking the economy would be better served by taking a penny off employer’s NICs. Corporation tax cuts have been more than self-funding over the last parliament so maybe even better would be to do both.