Managing your finances

With Professor Patrick Minford*

*Well, you know, not really

patrick-minford

It’s not for nothing that it’s said that the happiest people are those with lots of money, and one only has to look at contemporary celebrities, like Marilyn Monroe or Howard Hughes, to see how undeniably true this is. For ordinary people, of course, grabbing that joy-inducing wealth can seem like just a dream, but it needn’t be that way. As Professor of Appalled Economics at Cardiff University, and front-runner for the lead role in the forthcoming straight-to-VHS mini-series Douglas Hurd: Dam and Blast, I’m here to tell you how a few simple drastic changes to your life can make your household a wealthier place.

Reskill your partner

If we think of household income as being equivalent to the GDP of an independent nation, with the in-work productivity of the members of the household equating to the total value of finished goods produced within a given period, then the Minford Principle states that H is directionally proportional to E, where H is household income and E is the combined earnings of everyone in the household.

The corollary of this theory is that if earnings increase then household income as a whole will also increase.

I know from bitter experience how reluctant your partner can be to give up their job, but they must understand that it’s for the greater good of the household. Encourage them to see it as a great opportunity to either improve their exiting skills or learn whole new ones. Perhaps they can get a job in a whole new industry that doesn’t even exist yet! I’m sure there must be many things like that, perhaps involving these new-fangled computers.

I have regularly encouraged all of my wives to periodically quit their jobs and retrain and, excluding the sad oven-related death of the 2nd Mrs Minford, following a long period of unemployment and depression, I remain confident that if I checked the figures it would show a net gain to my household income.

Regulation is the enemy of wealth

Increasing your net income isn’t the only way to make yourself richer. You can make what we economists call a real gain by spending less. Spending less can seem difficult, but what you won’t realise – unless you’ve worked in academia since the mid-70s – is that government regulation is effectively a stealth tax on all households. Think about it; who says you have to insure your car…the government, who sets meaningless standards for gas and electric installations…the government, who says that you can’t send your children to work cleaning chimneys…the government!

By drastically reducing these draconian and unnecessary regulations the average household can make savings of, on average, £40 per week. This means that, since the 1980s, my household has increased its real income by over £5 million! Even allowing for the unfortunate deaths of the 1st, 4th, 5th and 8th Mrs Minfords (respectively electrocuted in the shower, faulty brakes, broken heart and damn shower again) that’s a staggering net gain for me and my household.

Shop smarter, not better

Another great way to increase real income is to recognise that from moving away from markets controlled by the protectionist EU there are vast savings to be made.

For example, are you still paying those ridiculous Radio Rentals prices for your TV? Dave, down at The Dog-Fighters Arms can do you a top-of-the-range, full colour, 28” TV for a fraction of the price. And why throw away your money at premium stores like Lidl, when Dumpster Dan is selling perfectly edible food at knock-down prices?

Quality is rarely an issue, and only the 6th Mrs Minford has ever actually died as a direct result of food-borne parasites. Plus, of course, the benefits of the free market are that if, like me, your tastes are more refined you can still choose to shop at Waitrose or Harrods.

Gamble your way to prosperity

When many people think of becoming rich their thoughts immediately turn to a big lottery win. Of course the odds against winning the lottery jackpot are literally hundreds-to-one against. What many non-economists don’t realise is that you can half your odds of winning simply by buying two tickets. Buy three and your odds are thirded, etc.

The logical conclusion of this is what economists have known for decades – always put absolutely all of your eggs in one basket. The household that puts absolutely everything it has into buying lottery tickets is the household that triumphs over those run by short-sighted conservative policies.

Those naturally risk-averse, such as the 2nd Mrs Minford (shot by her loan-shark) and the 7th (won jackpot and ran off with a mathematician), will try to argue against this bold approach, but while they’re the ones gambling and I’m the one getting what I want it’s hard to see them as anything more than economic luddites.

That’s all for the moment, budget busters, but look out for my new 8-page column in The Daily Express and you can still catch me in repeats of Who Wants to Marry an Economist on the Dave digital TV channel.

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And the crowd went…why?

The stupidest thing I’ve seen today is this video, from last month.

If you can’t be bothered to click – and I’d argue that that’s the right position to take on this – a couple of Trump fans (both young white men, you’ll be surprised to learn) thought it would be fun to turn up at an anti-Trump demo and read out a speech made entirely of Hitler quotes, to see if the crowd would cheer.

Because the speaker did manage to achieve a smattering of what can only be called polite applause, the right have been gleefully sharing the video to prove…something.

Quite what the “something” is I’m not sure. That, deep down, everyone’s a fascist, maybe, or perhaps that people who oppose Trump are innately stupid. I’m sure it must have, at some point, seemed to prove something like that.

The first fatal flaw in this cunning plan is that Hitler was a populist. He didn’t pop up on the German political scene with a list of atrocities he wanted to commit and have everyone say, “Yeah, alright then”. He got into power by telling ordinary people what they wanted to hear, irrespective of whether those things happened to intersect with what he planned to do once in power.

UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Farage speaks during an interview with Reuters in London
A populist, pictured yesterday

He was also, and this may be controversial, not a nice person, and sometimes said things that he didn’t mean. Fortunately he’s dead and can’t sue me for this terrible defamation of his character, but you can easily see it for yourself. The Internet argument “Was Hitler a Christian/atheist” is so old that it not only pre-dates the Internet but also Hitler himself. If you find one of the 20-or-so billion threads where it’s been discussed you’ll be shocked to learn that there are a wealth of Hitler quotes supporting both sides. He said what he needed to say to get him what he really wanted. The absolute bounder!

The upshot of this is that you can’t just grab a Hitler quote and claim, “This is what he believed”. The corollary of that (and, to be fair, basic common sense) is that you’re on logically shaky ground to claim something is bad just because Hitler said it. None of the selected quotes particularly relate to fascism; none of them are about racial superiority, or any of the core attributes you’d associate with the Nazi regime.

As if that wasn’t already mild enough one of the quotes was altered by being prefixed with “Donald Trump seems to think that…”, which obviously changes the sense entirely.

trump-smug
1,000 year Reich, you say? Let’s see if we can get to 1,000 days first, eh?

The stupidest things of all, though, is that these trolls didn’t even have the intelligence to see their stupid idea through.

The first Hitler quote they picked isn’t a Hitler quote, and as it’s one widely used by the right to claim that Hitler was a socialist, and therefore socialism is the real evil, they must have seen it debunked before now.

The rest of the speech is then just a collection of contextless quotations. Hitler wrote and spoke extensively[citation needed], so if their goal was to get a reaction from the crowd why not present a coherent speech? People don’t cheer for a string of unconnected age-old quotes, unless they’re at a Frankie Boyle gig.

I suspect that, deep down, they knew that this wasn’t really a gag worth putting any effort into, and that those on the right would laud it anyway.

That’s pretty depressing, and even more depressing that they seem to have been right.

Depressing and deeply, deeply stupid.

Spannergate 3: The reboot

three monkeys

Film reboots are a tricky business. They must walk the line between changing too much (“Why didn’t they just make a brand new film?”) and changing too little (“What was the point of that?”)

Today’s Sunday Herald piece, Revealed: The unionist Twitter trolls who shame Scotland, sadly leans too far towards the latter.  Given the byline of the piece, and the Herald’s call this week for an interview with Brian Spanner, fans were surely expecting that this article would be the grand unmasking, so far missing from the Spannergate franchise.

sunday herald spanner

Instead they were treated to the mildest possible reheat of the original Spannergate outing. The same old, old tweets, the same insinuation that J K Rowling is somehow the property of Scotland, and is therefore not allow to make her own judgements about who she befriends on-line. the same weary determination to make this a unionist problem, rather than a social media one.

The new cast do little to disguise the reheated nature of this outing. Jill Stephenson’s cameo as Historywoman could have added some intellectual weight, but her brief appearance, in amongst the other new-comers – all of whom have more digits in their usernames than their follower counts – reduced her to just an out-of-context tweet.

All this article really has to add to the series it seems are a few typos that a good editor would have spotted and, coming as does a year and a half after the story it repeats, the mystery of whether The Herald is employing slow readers, slow typists or merely slow thinkers as its columnist.

The brief allusion to the original theory that there may be more than one person behind the Spanner account even makes it in, although it is so hackneyed now that one wonders if it was meant as a sly backhanded compliment, implying that Spanner’s output is too diverse to be the work of a single man.

That certainly isn’t a problem that Brian’s “counterpart” on the independence side, Wings Over Scotland, has, as virtually everyone who reads his pieces thinks, “This was written by a single man”.

Which brings us, finally, to the main problem with this reboot. Reboots work best when there is a solid reason for their existence, but this one is a transparently thin attempt to distract from in-fighting in the independence camp by trying to interest them in settling their differences and re-fighting an old battle instead.

That Spannergate III is so weak that it can’t even entice pro-Indy supporters to fight pro-Union ones is surely the most damning condemnation it can be given.

 

Scotland the not-brave-enough

saltire note

In this blog I’m going to talk about something a little outside of my comfort-zone; economics.

I did, briefly, study economics at A-level, back in the late 80s. Owing to having to make a stark choice between turning up for a key exam or going to my girlfriend’s house when her parents weren’t in I obtained an ‘unclassified’ grade. I stand by my choice and have no regrets, but I hope you will excuse any minor errors in my economic theory and write them off to teenage hormones 30 years ago.

On Tuesday Ben Wray, the Common Weal head of policy, published this article. It lays out how an independent Scotland should manage its currency policy in order to prosper outside of the remains of the United Kingdom. The thinking rests upon the premise that, “a government with its own currency can never go bankrupt as it can, without cost, produce more money”.

This allows the article to swiftly move past the issue of £13bn deficit that Scotland would face without rest-of-UK (rUK) support; it would simply print enough money to bridge the gap.

Obviously there’s a serious problem with this, and that problem is why the rest of the article is so tame.

Why stop with simply bridging the deficit? If you’re firing up the ol’ printing-presses it’s hardly worth stopping them after the first £13bn, is it? Why not keep them cranking until you can reward every indy voter with a personal windfall of £1m?

That may seem like a pipe-dream, but think about it – the currency is being produced at, literally, no cost. and pumping that money into the economy would free up jobs (by encouraging people to retire early), create new jobs (to support the spending sprees of the newly wealthy) and, you’re thinking, through VAT, fuel duty, alcohol & tobacco tax, massively boost government revenue.

Wrong! You’re still thinking too small!

The is a political and financial cost to collecting tax. People don’t like it and you need staff, some of them very highly skilled, in order to prise money from your populace. On the other hand, simply deciding how much tax revenue you need and printing that much has absolutely no political or financial cost.

Even that, though, isn’t audacious enough. Why limit yourself to only printing what you would have got from tax? Hospitals in Scotland could be like palaces, schools could be like…different palaces, the trains could be liked wheeled palatial residences, every public service could be the envy of the world.

Speaking of the world, why not properly put Scotland on the world map? Its booming economy, zero tax rate and wonderful public services will mean that it will become the number one destination for companies and individuals worldwide, and proud Scotland can have its pick of the potential immigrants. At the moment it’s content to be a small part of larger efforts in space exploration, but when the top rocket scientists are keen to make Scotland their home, and when hi-tech businesses seek out Scotland’s massive public subsidies, its world-class transport links to Berwick, its near-English-speaking workforce and its predictably mundane weather, and when $5Tn is just a matter of a few weekends overtime for the lads at RBS (who can also print off their own bonus) then why not set our sights on a 100% Scottish manned mission to Mars?

To bring ourselves back to Earth for a moment, Wary does explain mention that governments collecting taxes keeps inflation down, so a no-tax Scotland would need a different mechanism to achieve this.

The answer is achingly simple. Every year (I suggest on Scottish independence day) a new batch of all the money is printed, and notes from the previous year become invalid a week later. This gives the government complete control over the money supply, and stops selfish individuals hording their money, rather than keeping it moving through the economy.

If necessary, by printing slightly less than all the money, the government can even make inflation negative, helping to lower the cost of living for Scotland’s joyous population.

There you have it, then, by adopting Wray’s ambitious, yet flawless, scheme and by refusing to be bound by old-think on how money supply works it becomes possible to build a new Scotland. A Scotland with one foot in modernity, one foot in a brave new future and one swinging towards Mars, ready to kick it into the net of history.

What a goal!

Bouncy-Bouncy F**cking Content

On every trip to the cinema we see, just before the main features starts, its certificate from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). This is such a part of our normal experience that we barely notice it, yet it’s a symbol of one of the strangest, yet most successful, collaborations between government and private enterprise.

bbfc classifications

Despite the ubiquity of the BBFC’s familiar age-restriction symbols on DVDs and video games it is not a branch of government; it was found by – and remains funded by – the film industry itself. Even more strangely it has never had any legal authority to control what is seen on cinema screens around the UK. That power rests with local authorities who, via the 1909 Cinematograph Act, licence local cinemas and thereby hold in the ultimate say in what they can show.

The BBFC was formed in 1912, by an industry worried that if they did not self-regulate then a much more heavy-handed government censor would arise. Since then they have built a symbiotic partnership with local and national government; the local authority issues cinemas with their licence, a condition of said licence is that they only show films that have been classified by the BBFC and the studios work with the BBFC to ensure that their films gain the classification they desire, and pay them per film for their classification, while the BBFC keep Whitehall’s scissors far away.

The BBFC didn’t gain any legal status until 1984, with the Video Recordings Act, which made it illegal to sell a video in the UK if it did not carry a BBFC certification. This was a deft legal move by the government of the day. The legal path for taking a film producer or distributor to court involves the Obscene Publications Act (1959), which means proving that the work taken as a whole is likely to “deprave or corrupt”. The government of the early 80s saw a new technology that was rapidly spreading through homes in the country, and their route to preventing the sort of filth that Mary Whitehouse and her Festival of Light got so flustered about led them straight through many protracted court-cases, which would inevitably hang upon the broad-mindedness of 12 people picked at random for the jury.

The VRA solution put the decision making in the hands of the organisation that had been doing exactly that for more than 70 years and made the legal process as simple as, “Did you supply this video? Does it have a classification? Guilty!”

I mention all of this history, because the BBFC is to again have its remit expanded, as it is to be the body appointed to decide what is, or is not, a pornographic web-site, under the governments proposed new age-verification laws.

One one hand (no pun intended) this seems simple; if the BBFC determines that a site is pornographic then it must introduce a method of verifying the user’s age. Web-sites that are non-compliant may be fined, or the BBFC may force UK ISPs to block access them (and fine the ISPs if they fail to do so). Any site with the purpose of providing sexual gratification which contains material that they would classify as 18 or R18 (the classification used for adult videos, which can only be sold by licensed sex shops) will have to provide an age-verification mechanism.

The first problem with this is that some websites will contain material which the BBFC cannot classify as R18, because of UK law. While this includes material that we’re all happier without (child abuse, necrophilia, bestiality, etc.) it also includes a fairly arbitrary list of banned subjects, that were sneaked into the 2003 Communications Act at the end of 2014 and ignored, because they were unenforceable. This change will make them enforceable…so if you’re happily wanking away to a bit of face-sitting, spanking or female ejaculation then your days are numbered.

The BBFC is left with the choice of asking these sites to remove this content (which, in some cases, may be their entire raison d’être) or have them entirely blocked by UK ISPs. This is not the film industry, where the BBFC has always been on the inside, quietly advising on what would or wouldn’t get past their eagle-eyes at the classification stage. This is the BBFC as a straightforward ban/allow censor, a role they’ve spent all of their post-war years moving away from.

But this is just a manifestation of a subtler change. The BBFC has always been a fairly progressive force – the legal underpinnings that allow them to pass, say, Fifty Shades Darker uncut as an 18 this year haven’t changed since the days of black & white films. The BBFC exists to protect the film industry from the Obscene Publications Act and they have done so by skillfully reading what the public will deem acceptable.

rebel-without-a-cause-movie-star-news--2-720x500-blur
Ban this filth!

This ends now, as the BBFC is where it never wanted to be – up against the hard wall of legislation. The BBFC cannot unilaterally decide that, say, the UK public is ready for watersports. That will require an act of parliament (and I pity the MP who decides to introduce it). For 105 years the BBFC have been quietly pushing the bounds of what adults can watch, and now we’ve reached a point where they can no longer help us.

The biggest problem though is what a fundamental change to the BBFC this is. Their relationship with their previous content providers has been, as was mentioned, symbiotic. If you want your film shown in a cinema you have to take it to the BBFC. If you want to sell it on DVD in the UK then you need the BBFC certificate. And the BBFC charges a rate per minute to examine the material. Their customers come to them, and always have.

Their new client base doesn’t want their attention, isn’t paying for it and has hours – years – of content, changing on a daily basis, new sites rising and falling as quickly as the action in their videos.

I’m sure that on a site like PornHub it will take an examiner seconds to determine that it is a porn site, but determining whether it contains anything illegal under UK is probably weeks of work. Is there an appeals process? Determining if a site exists for the purposes of sexual gratification doesn’t sound like much more of a solid legal test than those in the OPA (and if you imagine this is always an easy determination then I respectfully point you to Car Stuck Girls, which looks and feels like a porn site, but doesn’t actually seem to contain anything that is pornographic, except presumably to those with extremely specialised tastes). How will the BBFC ensure sites keep on complying? Do sites that only list handy links to non-age-checking websites have to be age-verified? Are the BBFC going to be held responsible for every site that slips through the net, or every one that offers something which isn’t legal in the UK?

While it’s tempting to see these new powers as a natural extension of the BBFCs role they do then represent a sizeable shift away from their century-old business model, and one which drops them into a world they’re ill-equipped to deal with.

In fact, it’s almost as if this is a hasty, ill-considered, “think of the children!” knee-jerk reaction that tries to hammer a square peg into a round hole, simply because no other pegs are available. It’s enough to elicit a “fucking idiots” even from Mrs Whitehouse.

mary whitehouse

 

 

This blog is not available

This week I invited my reader to submit their essays giving a ‘hot-take’ on the casting of the new Doctor, with the promise of publishing the best one right here,  on the world’s number 1 spreadsheet/religion blog.

Unfortunately me and my team have been unable to pick a winner, so this blog will not be appearing.

doctor who sorry

I hope the rejection letters below do, in some small way, explain this inexcusable editorial lapse.

Dear Mr Think of the Children,

Thank you for your submission to the ‘Doctor Who Hot Take’ contest. We found your article well-written and passionately argued. Unfortunately, however, it seems that you failed to carry out a Google search for the term “male heroes”, which would have comprehensively disproved your central tenet.

Yours, etc.

Dear Mr Slave,

Thank you for your submission to the hot-take contest. Your interpretation of Doctor Who as a series where the viewer takes the passive, female role and waits to be terrified and have aliens ‘mansplained’ to them was both novel and well-reasoned.

However, your development of these themes rendered your article entirely unsuitable for publication on a family blog and, should they make the transition into reality, seem likely to cause you serious internal injuries.

Yours, etc.

Dear Mr Angry-of-Taunton,

Regarding your recent submission to the hot-take contest; although we did not set an absolute word limit we rejected your entry at around the 15,000 word mark (just as your 3rd wife left you), because you hadn’t yet mentioned Doctor Who and there was nothing to suggest you were ever going to.

Yours, etc.

Dear Mr Anti-SJW,

Thank you for sending us your hot-take. Unfortunately, owing to a 3-minute downtime on our e-mail account, it was found to be stone cold upon arrival.

Yours, etc.

Dear Mr PC_Gone_Mad,

Thank you for your detailed imaginings on directions that new Doctor Who story-lines may take. Unfortunately we feel that questions like ‘How much menstrual blood does it take to drown a Dalek’ and ‘Can you strangle and Ice-Warrior with a bra’ are ones which we cannot answer, although we are rather worried that our readers may attempt to.

Yours, etc.

PS Sorry to hear about your PC problems. Perhaps try reinstalling Windows.

Caan_mutant
Ewwww!

Dear Dr Whore,

Thank you for your extremely…inventive…entry. You certainly seem enthusiastic about the casting decision! However, we feel that the issues you raise would be better directed at the script-writers/the BBC wardrobe department/the police. Also, as pages 3-6 of your e-mail were stuck together, we had to reject your entry as incomplete.

Please DO NOT resend it. We’re happier this way.

Yours, etc.

Dear Ms Gal O’Frey,

Thanks for sending us your (very) short entry to the Doctor Who hot-take contest. While we agree with your sentiment (“Jesus, at least wait until she’s appeared in a episode before you decide, you pathetic man-babies”), we feel it’s hardly in the spirit of the thing.

Yours, etc.

Thank you to everyone for their entries. Almost everyone. Some people. God, we’re never doing this again!

The big heat

Is there a way to win?

There’s a way to lose more slowly.

It’s hard to escape this week the feeling that we’re all playing a role in an artfully directed film noir. The stifling heat-wave acting as a skillful metaphor for the stupefying complexity of Brexit; cheap fans recirculating hot air over the people recirculating year-old arguments; everyone hoping for the slightest breeze to bring relief.

Like the hard-boiled detective we stake out our mark, David Davis, watching the building across the street, looking for any clue as to what he’s up to in there, sweat on our shirt collars, a camera and a hip-flask our only companions. Slowly we’re starting to see the big picture. This isn’t a film with a happy ending. There are no goodies and baddies. Instead we’re caught in the cross-fire of two rival crime gangs; they hate each other, certainly, but that doesn’t mean that either of them cares for us.

may b&w
“From the minute she walked into office I knew that dame was trouble”

In fact we might have the sneaking suspicion that we’re nearing the point in the plot where one or the other sends their goons to beat us senseless, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to us.

First there’ll be a scene where we can’t sleep. We toss and turn, entangled in the unpleasantly damp sheets of tedious negotiations, before heading to the sash window and looking to the sky for relief. All this heat means that the storm must be coming. We can taste it on the air and convince ourselves that we can hear the distant rumble of its thunder.

may B&w2
“She had legs that just wouldn’t quit. Not just the legs, actually”

The director, of course, won’t allow the storm to break just yet. It as to wait for the climax of the film, when the McGuffin we’ve been chasing is almost within our grasp. That’s when the rain comes hammering down, and the drowsy daydream we’ve been living is violently washed away.

That’s when, torrents pouring down parched gutters, we must face whichever gang boss remains. First they’ll appeal to our reason, and ask us nicely to see things their way. If that doesn’t work then that’s when they up to stakes and the threats are unveiled.

corbyn B&W
“Made it, Marr! Top of the world!”

Then we find out what kind of story this was. Whether it’s the kind where the hero dies, or has a clever plan to get out of it all. Whether there’s any sort of ‘happily ever after’, or even a beautiful friendship. Whether it’s just the kind where the hero has to accept that they’re part of an imperfect world, and try to find morality not in being moral, but rather in recognising that they’re not.

But we won’t know until the storm breaks.

Until then, how can one sleep or work or think in this insufferable heat?