Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bigotgate: In pictures

Not everybody who is concerned about immigration is a bigot. This may seem an easy point to grasp, but to help I offer this illustration

In reality there is a continuum of concern and relaxedness, but we can take some moderate point on that scale to define the boundary of the green set.

Now it can be (and is) argued, particularly by people who are relaxed about immigration that by being concerned about it - going in the green circle - you are allying yourself with the bigots - blue circle. This is an effective argument for many people because it pushes buttons in the brain relating to tribal instincts not to ally with the enemy. The consequences of using this sort of argument is that it squeezes the green space in the above diagram, driving people who are swayed either out of the green circle or into the blue one. That is to say, it polarizes opinion. This, then is a very double-edged tactic.

I think it is high time we all did more to depolarize this issue, which in turn would make more room to listen to people's genuine concerns and preferences - whether justified by the facts or based on tabloid hysteria - and less room for the nazis.

Update: I should have mentioned that Mrs Duffy complained that "you can't talk about immigration". This is absurd - everybody is talking about it, including Mrs Duffy. However the sense that you shouldn't talk about it is real, and is a direct consequence of the squeeze on the green circle that I discussed above. The squeeze is intended to shrink the green circle by creating this sort of discomfort. Rather than being snotty about Mrs Duffy's complaint, we should recognise that she is feeling, but quite reasonably resisting, this divisive argument.


We can also show the set of lifelong Labour voters on the diagram.

Mr Brown and Mrs Duffy as far as we know both lie in the brown area - the overlap of the red and green circles. Given therefore their proximity, it is a disgrace for either to damn the other. This will cost Gordon Brown, and rightly so.

There you have it. But let's have one more picture.
Gordon Brown listening back to the "bigoted woman" recording.... on Twitpic

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hung parliament: Markets don't care after all

I almost feel sorry for the forces of Labservatism. The more they U-turn from #iagreewithnick, into attacking with all guns blazing, the more they reveal themselves to be utterly shallow and opportunistic. The best they could probably do is take the Lib Dem phenomenon on the chin and carry on as normal. But psychology demands otherwise.

Anyway I took a look at the FTSE 100 this morning to see what effect the increased odds of a hung parliament might have on share prices when markets open, after all the excellent polls of the weekend. This is what I saw.

OMG shares have fallen back to last Monday's prices. If this is "markets fear a hung parliament" it is a magnitude of fear that is indistinguishable from background noise. The Tories and their pet press are just scaremongering of course.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Greenpartywatch: the manifesto

Recently I blogged on the difficulty Greens have reconciling their disdain for economic activity with their policies on public services that seem to involve unlimited public spending. I concluded that by failing to support economic growth, the Greens would have to be, before too long, the biggest cutters of public services of all.

Their manifesto has now been published, so let's see if it challenges what I said.
In contrast, the Green Party is open about what we would cut, what we would defend, and about the fact that we need to raise taxation from 36 per cent of GDP in 2009–10 to around 45 per cent in 2013. This would halve the gap between Government expenditure and revenues by 2013–14 (as the Labour Government proposes) and progressively close the gap thereafter.
Wow. It's different, I'll give them credit for that. Increasing taxes overall by 20% is courageous, minister. Is it true that this would halve the gap between expenditure and revenues? Yes, if economic growth happens as forecast. Government forecasts, remember, rely on future increases in tax revenues due to economic growth.

But would that growth still happen under the Greens plan? Or would the 20% tax hike dampen it? Would the Greens' disdain for growth kill it off altogether before they even implement any policies? Is in fact a 20% tax hike designed to reduce growth? That would make some sense in a parallel universe of strange priorities.

And even if growth was unaffected, is this the right idea?
Unlike Labour, we would not focus on encouraging consumption but protect public services, spend on investment in the new green economy and create greater quality. Labour’s approach will sow the seeds of future crises by encouraging crippling debt and unsustainable consumption.
What seems to be said here is that money in your pocket is consumption and therefore bad, whereas public spending brings equality and is therefore good. And yet this consumption, we commit with the lucre in our pockets, is how we feed, clothe, and house ourselves. A tough challenge for millions of hard working people, who would pay more taxes under the Greens, however much they aim the bulk of their tax rises at the better off.

It's an understandable position. The Greens, like all parties, are pretty much middle class, and don't really get this, just as Paxo wasn't impressed at a tax cut of £300 for somebody on £8000 under Lib Dem policies.

And a lot of people on £8-20,000 don't use a lot of public services, face high food and fuel bills, can't afford housing, and aren't getting an awful lot for the taxes they pay. Equality through public spending can ring very hollow. The problem is a lack of consumption.

Now let's look at a few of these new taxes:
End the zero-rating of VAT on new dwellings, putting them on a level with conversions and renovations of existing dwellings, raising £5bn in 2010 and £7.5bn by 2013.
Oh, but won't this reduce the supply of housing when we could do with more housing really? (Although there is a policy to increase social housing.)
No longer offer zero VAT rating to financial services and betting duties, which are of limited value to the real economy, raising £5.6bn by 2013.

Gradually increase alcohol and tobacco taxes by about 50% to match anticipated increases in expenditures on the NHS, raising £1.4bn in 2010 rising to £5.6bn by 2013.
Ouch. Gambling, smoking and drinking all to be hammered. Won't the effect of this be just a tiny bit regressive? Not that the Greens are joyless puritans or anything.
Levy eco-taxes on non-renewables or pollutants, in particular pesticides, organo-chlorines, nitrogen and artificial fertilisers and phosphates. [amount not specified]
Tax on food. Who'll that hit most? Not all of these things are even big environmental problems.

I've not added up all the other tax increases but you can probably guess the sort of thing. I dare say the numbers add up to the promised(!) increased tax take, but ignore the economic impacts of all these extra taxes.

So was I justified in saying the greens would be the biggest public service cutters of all? Certainly if my reading of the economic chicken entrails is correct - and if it isn't the Greens should come back and fully explain their attitude to economic growth and its role in deficit reduction. And even if not they may be something even worse - the biggest ever cutters of consumption at all earnings levels.

That's not to say the manifesto is all bad. Some of the eco-taxes hit important environmental problems, and some of the extra public spending would be useful to many people. On the other hand a lot of it is more based on the Greens' peculiar sense of what is virtuous than any concrete environmental or social impact.

They are making a strong pitch for the hard left tax-and-spend vote. I expect this to fall flat because they do not understand the aspirations of the left, for working people to earn more, not less. Greens celebrate that wind creates many times more jobs per TWh/yr than other similarly priced forms of energy. That's almost equivalent to celebrating that those jobs are much lower paid. And the idea of economic progress through abandoning labour-saving technology would end with us all as dirt poor peasants. Would we peasants then still enjoy great public services? Nope.