Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2014 is going to be the best year in human history.

This time last year, I made some predictions: 2013 is going to be the best year in human history. It was, for most of the world at least. And 2014 is going to be even better, for all the same reasons.


How did I do with my prognostication?
The scourge of war is receding from human experience. Though they are still going on, they involve fewer combatants and kill fewer people. As people get richer, and pass through the dangerous middle-income phase, they have too much to lose by fighting.
Alas Mali and the Central African Republic saw crises rise to the level of war in 2013. The civil war in Syria the ongoing wars in Afghanistan continue to claim lives. There have, however been no big, new wars involving western forces. We missed the window of opportunity in 2012 to prevent the disaster in Syria, and it is now too late. I suspect letting Bashar al Assad win is now the least bad option.
Several states in the US have signalled the abandonment of the war on Drugs (well Marijuana at least)
One country, Uruguay, has fully legalised it. The logic of the War on Drugs is waning. Several successful politicians in North America have been caught using Crack and Cocaine, none of whom look like junkies. Dozens of people who clearly aren't drug-addled derelicts, self-arguing in underpasses, but who maintain busy and high-profile lives have "come out" as having taken Marijuana or Cocaine. It won't be long before such people no-longer have to pretend to have hated it, or for it to have been a response to an emotional trauma.

In 1963, "some time between the end of the Chatterley Ban and the Beatles' first LP" people started to admit they like to have sex, and not just for procreation. Rock & Roll became acceptable when in 1976, Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols said "fuck" on live TV, at a stroke rendering that nice young Mr (now Sir) Michael Jagger, respectable. Perhaps a TV cook with ample curves might be the person whom we can thank for ending the hypocrisy of the drug war. Unlikely. But someone's going to provide the moment. And soon. A wise man once said....


The world is still getting richer, even if the squeezed middle in the west isn't.
The giant emerging economies are creating wealth at a rate unprecedented in human history, by the simple expedient of abandoning the socialist choke-hold on creative economic endeavour.
India and China may have slowed, India especially so, but the truth holds. Their Governments have seen the fruits of economic liberalism and seen it work. India may regret electing someone who seems to be an unrepentant Hindu nationalist, Narendra Modi of the BJP in 2014, but it won't be for his economic policies which are far more business-friendly than the rather corporatist Congress party.
 The poorest parts of the world are the fastest growing. Even if inequality in the west is rising a bit, and that's debatable, global inequality is falling. 
This is still true, but less so.

So, to carry the game forward, here are some concrete predictions for this time next year.

Money & Business
The FTSE100 will reach an all-time high, for the first time since 1999, and will continue the bull-run. 7,000 will be left behind.
Thanks to tightening money, The Oil Price will fall below $100 and stay there. The Brent/WTI spread will narrow from 99/111.

UK Politics
The Labour lead will fall from 6-8%. UKIP will win popular vote in the European parliament elections, then their support will drift back to the Tories thanks to a strengthening recovery. Scotland will vote 'No' to independence. Ed Miliband will remain a worthless union stooge. The voter-repelling and emetic Ed Balls will remain shadow Chancellor, because his boss is a spineless dweeb, with shit for brains and "Red" Len McClusky's hand up his bum. Tories will post a lead, but I doubt it will be done consistently.

International
The Syrian civil war will not end, but Assad will regain control of much of the country, leaving an islamist insurgency. The world will continue to look the other way.
China's growth will slow. The rumblings of dissent new riches have smothered will start to grow louder. The Communist Party may seek to use Sabre-Rattling with Japan to detract domestic opinion from the looming economic crisis.
Something dramatic will happen on the Korean Peninsula.

Happy New Year

There you go. My posts have been sporadic in 2013 as I have less new to say. But I still enjoy writing from time to time, and it's nice to know my readers, both of you, are still out there somewhere and I hope, whether you come in from RSS or by a random websearch for stewardesses boobs (I still get a lot of hits that way, for reasons that are beyond me) you still think what I say is interesting, provocative, informative or entertaining.

Have a happy new year. And remember risk is to reward as hangover is to party.



Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A Christmas Adventure in Venice...

This is the view looking south-east from Venice, near St Mark's square on a damp Christmas morning, 2013 at dawn. You can see the spire of the San Georgio Monastery which reflects the Campanile in St. Mark's.


Spectacular and memorable to be there with almost no-one about. Not even the ubiquitous troupes of Chinese and Japanese tourists following a tour-guide with a flag.

I was heading East, to the island of Lido, which has Venice's only beach. It has in December, all the faded Grandeur of the British sea-front, and looking out to sea, I could see enormous container ships. Trade, once would have passed into the Lagoon to enrich Venice, but these ships will be heading for Trieste.

I half-expected to find a few like-minded hardy souls. I expected a flabby German, hearty Norwegian or Elderly British matron to be striding confidently towards the sea, bathing cap on, and towel under their arm.

I was alone. The beach as far as the eye coutd see, was deserted.


But having come this far, I had to give it a go. Yes. I was wearing budgie-smugglers.



The Northern Adriatic in December is much, much colder than the English channel off Brighton, a fact I found out about 2 minutes after this picture was taken. In fact, as shocks to the systems go, diving in is nearly equivalent to skiing through an ice-hole in Norway. A couple of minutes (optimistically) in the water was enough. Ice-cream headed and turning blue, I emerged from the sea to meet a family from Pittsburgh, who told me about their polar-bear club which swim in the Monongahela river on the first of January every year. 

It's on the to-do list.

Swimming in the Icy sea certainly makes the Christmas morning Belini and Panatoni more worthwhile . 

Merry Christmas from Venice.



Thursday, 12 December 2013

Gender Segregation in Universities

If you believe the hype, you'd think British universities are going to be routinely segregating by gender in order to appease islamists. Twitter is outraged. This is about new guidance from universities UK which suggests that some external speakers may be allowed to segregate their audience by gender. The libertarian in me says as no-one is going to be forced to attend such an external event, segregate away, as it's no skin of my rosy nose. It advises for example that segregation is left to right, not front to back, to ensure equal participation, but in the competing "rights" of equality of gender and religion, compromises should be available. Money quote:

"...Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system..."
Of course any speaker demanding gender segregation at a UK university is not being culturally sensitive. The kind of speaker who would demand such a policy doesn't care. Indeed the hue and cry will ensure more radical islamists do demand it; the ensuing publicity will be far more valuable than the speaking gig, whether or not the event goes ahead.

I would be unlikely to attend an event where the genders were segregated to appease a bigoted Islamist. But I wouldn't give them the satisfaction of making a fuss about it. And if you feel you need to go, the segregation demanded reflects badly on the speaker, but is sitting on the left really so bad?

We have become obsessed by trivial symbols. Is anyone actually going to be forced into "gender apartheid" in British universities as some more hysterical commentators have suggested? Or are you just going to have to sit where you're told to listen to a ranting islamist for an hour or so? Are we so insecure in our society that rational debate cannot overcome the antediluvian nonsense of these religious throwbacks?

"Live and let live" is the most important mantra of liberal democracy. Let's not give those who oppose it, the satisfaction of letting them think their ideas actually present a threat.



Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Ukraine

Insofar as the world's rivalries exist, generally were 'the west' win, the outcome is better for ordinary people. The Ukraine had a choice between the EU, which whatever its flaws has been a force for democracy and prosperity in post-soviet Europe, and the continued influence of Moscow's thuggish regime.

Thatcher or Regan would have stumped up the $30bn (chum-change in the grand scheme of things) or so needed to bribe President Viktor Yanukovych to sign an agreement with the EU which wound eventually have pulled the country from Russia's grasp. But a failure of nerve means Europe's largest country The country which suffered most from the famines unleashed by Lenin and Stalin, will not now turn its back on Moscow and embrace a brighter, freer, more democratic future looking west.

But because of a collective failure of nerve, perhaps due to the financial crisis, Moscow threatened, the west blinked and the Ukraine turned, and walked back towards a Soviet past. Moscow is strengthened. We are weakened.

When did we get so weak? So gutless? So insecure about the fact a democratic system is simply better than all alternatives? So unwilling to face down our less-than democratic adversaries?

The rise of China is not a vindication of totalitarian communism, but complete demonstration of its failure. The financial crisis was a much needed recession, not a "failure of capitalism". China's rise happened immediately they abandoned state planning. They have been totally and comprehensively co-opted into the western system. They cannot afford to step out of line. We can cut china loose, if necessary at the cost of a recession. They would suffer a revolution. Their leaders know this.

And the truth is, the west is richer and more powerful relative to Russia and its remaining post-soviet empire than its ever been. And we've already beaten China. And yet we can't stare down a failing, dying, alcoholic bankrupt old bear.

Everyone is better off when the west wins. Only the mewling, gutless "leadership" of western countries and their simpering left-wing cheerleaders cannot see it. Obama will go down in history as one of the worst presidents for this reason, amongst others.



Friday, 6 December 2013

What Chancellors Do and Don't Influence

The Commons hue and cry of the Autumn Statement has died down. It was clear that at some point growth would return, and when it did, Ed Balls would be left with egg on his face. And so it transpired. There is a problem with the Cost of Living, but it started under Labour, and isn't as bad as they make out now. Yes wages are falling relative to inflation, but there's plenty of other factors at play, as I pointed out to Andrew Neil, yesterday. Labour's narrative completely ignores things like changes to taxation which have offset it. Living standards fell in 2007,2008 and savagely in 2011 but have subsequently returned to growth.


For Labour to make a song and dance about Gas Prices is particularly egregious as most of the rise is due to either taxation or a rise in the wholesale price, neither of which the utility companies can do anything about. Good politics. Lousy economics. Of course this...


... is going to have a bigger positive effect on living standard than anything a chancellor might do. A strong pound, a result of the UK's economic stability (our debt is now cheaper to insure than the Americans' - AA not withstanding) is an unalloyed good thing, but this won't stop the BBC is going to start with its mercantilist wibble about exporters suffering.

The cycle of rise and fall in GDP is like breathing. Investment happens in 7-10 year cycles then there's a fallow couple of years as malinvestment is purged. Gordon Brown thought he'd ended boom and bust, but that turned out to be hubris. The mechanism by which 'the great moderation' happened, the Greenspan put, actually made the crisis when it happened much, much worse. Recessions are like forest fires in Mediterranean climates, not only natural, but vital to the regeneration of the species that live there. But if you try to prevent them, you allow build up a thick scrubby undergrowth that when it does burn, destroys the productive part of the wood.

So George Osborne is claiming credit for the recovery. He's as wrong to do so as Ed Balls is for blaming him for the stagnation post 2010. But that's a standard lie of politics, widely repeated because I think chancellors believe it themselves. But that does not make what Osborne is trying to do wrong. Every post-war recovery is associated with spending cuts, but if you listened to Labour, only state "support to the economy" can create growth.

The fact is state spending takes resources, not just tax, but people. If all the quality graduates are becoming social workers and diversity co-ordinators, they're not starting small businesses or working in manufacturing. It's no surprise that when the state stops hiring, good people find something else to do that doesn't involve standing in the way with a clip-board.

State headcount has fallen faster than at any point since demobilisation at the end of WW2. State spending is high, when you include debt service, welfare and pensions, but the discretionary bit is lower than at any point since (I think) the 1950s. And this is as it should be. Money transfers like pensions & welfare increase overall utility and don't take money out of the economy. Indeed the poor have a lower marginal propensity to save than the rich. The bit that does take money out of the economy, worthless state apparatchiks has fallen. The economy is bearing a lower burden of unproductive state prod-noses.

So you have commentators saying the recovery is unsustainable, that it's the wrong sort of growth. But these are the same people who said austerity was self-defeating and who confidently predicted a triple-dip. The truth is the economy's not that amenable, at least in the short term,  to manipulation by chancellors. And in the long run the economy's not even amenable to Federal Reserve Chairmen. This recovery will last a few years, then we will have another recession. And it won't be the chancellor's fault then either.

What this crisis and the recovery shows, as if any more evidence were needed, that economies function best when the state enables, but does not do, and otherwise keeps itself as out of the way as possible. Carry on George. You're doing a good job.



Beside the sea or in the city: the best locations for weekend breaks in the UK

When it comes to planning a holiday in the UK, regardless of whether you opt for a city break or a seaside holiday, there are a number of places to choose from.

The first thing you should consider is the time of year you wish to embark on this break. If it's a winter break you're after, two great options include a cosy hotel by the sea or otherwise, Christmas in the city.

London

There's nowhere quite like London at Christmas time, the lights are bright, the shops are brimming with an array of festive delights and the atmosphere is dazzling. Then there are the winter wonderlands to consider, which often comprise a myriad of open-air ice rinks, which take pride of place at Somerset house and Hyde Park every December.

As a capital city, London boasts a wealth of activities and entertainment. If you're planning your trip around Christmas time, then you'll be pleased to know you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to things to do. From an evening spent at the theatre to a romantic river cruise and dinner at a top-notch restaurant, there's an abundance to see and do when in London.

It's important to pack a good pair of comfortable shoes if you wish to sightsee by day, as there's lots of walking to do. It's also wise to pre-buy a travel card for your stay, as paying to use the tube each and every time can be both inconvenient and expensive.

It might be even worth booking a Superbreak New Year Break in London, which is definitely worth experiencing once.

Manchester

For somewhere a little closer to the North, Manchester is a great city break destination. This vibrant area boasts an abundance of attractions, comprising Christmas markets, the nearby picturesque Peak District, a bustling city centre, a number of renowned eateries, as well as a fantastic shopping scene. Regardless of age, there’s something to suit all here.

Scotland


Regardless of when you choose to visit Scotland, it’s always an area of picturesque beauty. It's rich in culture and national heritage and boasts natural glens, stunning scenery, secluded islands and medieval castles. Relaxing in the tranquil highlands whilst sampling the famous Malt Whisky is a great Christmas treat!



Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Labour's dishonesty on tax.

There are few things that annoy me more than watching Labour complain about a "tax-cut for the rich". The top rate of tax is higher under the coalition than it was for all but one month of Labour's time in office. The rate was raised as a nasty political ploy in order to trap the coalition. Labour raised a tax, knowing it would be damaging, simply so they could accuse the Tories of being "for the rich". I cannot think of anything more damaging than using the tax-system to score political points.

This is why Labour ruin everything, every time they get into power.

Never, ever let them get in again.



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