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Saturday, 28 September 2013

Golden Dawn dangers

The arrest this morning of the leader of Greece's Golden Dawn party may well precipitate the resignation of the party's MPs and a new election in Greece - but this may not aid the fascist party. The Golden Dawn is an authoritarian organisation with a high but secret membership amongst the police, security service and army; anti-libertarian and aiming for an all-powerful state, they would close down blogs, control the press and throw free-thinkers such as you and I in concentration camps.

Like a Hydra, the party has powerful members everywhere. Recently, a very senior Greek intelligence officer from the EYP (the National Intelligence Service), the equivalent of a Director in our own security organisations, was removed from post, and both the Greek Police and Army are suspected of training and arming GD members of a shadow paramilitary wing.  

It looks as though the Greek government are acting now either because they fear a GD coup to be imminent (or have been told so by the intelligence agencies of other EU nations and the US) or are acting now because they can't trust their domestic intelligence agencies or police to be loyal and useful. For Greeks there are now two choices - the same two choices that faced Germans in the 1930s. If they support GD whilst the party is still small and semi-legal, they could accrue protection and favouritism in the event of its seizing power; if they oppose it now, they could end up buried in a shallow grave in an olive grove. 

Whilst the Leader of GD may now be facing a short period in Greece's equivalent of Landsberg Prison, the question is how far GD members have penetrated the key offices and departments of state - and whether this is too far to be reversed. 

Friday, 27 September 2013

Patio doors win RIBA Sterling Prize

I can't disguise a bit of a chuckle this morning to see that architecture's prestigious Sterling Prize has gone to a practice that renovated a 12th century castle with patio doors. Those staying at Astley Castle can now fire-up their Lidl BBQs within sight of the 42" plasma. This must be the equalising tendency of the profession, which has long been committed to removing any sort of status from our public and ceremonial buildings.

We're more used to seeing Anglican bishops living in modern estate houses rather than in mediaeval palaces in the UK, but the same doesn't apply in Germany and Austria. The Pope has just given the German bishops a bollocking for their lives of luxury at the taxpayers' expense, and the sour old pusses are now contemplating with displeasure trading-down their E-Klasse Mercs for the sort of battered old Fiat driven by His Holiness.

In Germany the Church gets 8% in Bavaria and 9% elsewhere of all income tax paid by those declaring themselves church members - an arrangement envied by their Austrian cousins, who must pay an additional 1.1% income tax to the Church over their 'civil' income tax if they declare they are members of the Church. And yes the Catholic Church collects every cent - taking defaulters and debtors to court - to enforce the law introduced by Hitler and retained by the Republic. More and more Austrians are declaring to their local Gemeinde that they are Buddhists in order to avoid the impost.

Yes, I know it niggles, but are we really ready to see the Bishop struggling to light his barbie over the garden fence as his wife wipes fingermarks from the patio doors?

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Those Miliband Pledges in full ..

"Brothers and Sistas, Labour is best when it's Old and best when it's Bold. A Labour government in 2015 will deliver:-
  • We'll build two new super steel mills in South Wales and Sheffield, both clean-coal fired with full carbon capture, to make the steel to make Labour's Britain anew, and produce at least 2m tonnes of steel each year irrespective of world markets
  • All gas bills to be capped at 5/6d a week with the nationalised gas companies being made to give all their money to Hard Working Families
  • Every child will have a personal Nanny from the age of 1 year old. We will expand Nanny education in the Higher Education sector to allow 25% of all school leavers to train as State Nannies. Furthermore, we will equip them with both investigative and intervention powers to prevent harm to infants; this will include the power to taser any smokers within 25m of a child under 5.
  • A resurgence in railways, with the nationalisation of train companies to form 'Rail Britain', with porters and uniformed staff at every station, waiting rooms for the disabled and platform breast-milk fridges. In order to give a boost to a new nationalised 'Coal Britain' we'll reintroduce carbon-capture steam trains on all main lines and offer engineering apprenticeships to 14 year olds.
  • We'll force builders to build houses; each builder in Britain will be made to build one free house a year each to give away to Hard Working Families - so bite the bones out of that, Bob, you capitalist graspmonger! Oh yes, and this will include all the Polish builders here as well. 
  • We'll pay for all this with (a) a new tax on white waistcoats, expected to raise over twenty thousand pounds a year (b) our SofaSearch programme to look down the backs of the nation's sofas for bits of loose change (c) holding rich people upside down and shaking them. 
This programme of government is more considered and more mature than any labour manifesto since 1945. Mr Balls has kindly offered to allow Mr Grimble from the Bank of Toytown not only a ride in Noddy's car but a look at his books. Vote for me! Vote for Balls!"

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Graduate Premium

There's a deal of nonsense written about the graduate premium, generally by those who display an utter misunderstanding of what it means. Such a one is Aditya Chakrabortty writing in the Guardian today; "a man who comes out of university with a BA in history or philosophy will earn an average of only 2.3% a year more than if he'd gone straight into the labour market" he blithers, seemingly unaware that the premium refers not to graduate starting salaries but lifetime earnings. Sigh.

OK. Imagine a time-series graph with income on the left side and age 18 to 80 on the bottom. The graduate line will start low and stay low in the 20s, rising in the 30s and continuing to rise gradually until the 60s when it finds a plateau for a while before falling. A craftsman line - say a carpenter - rises sharply in the 20s into the 30s, starts to plateau in the 30s then starts to fall from the 50s onwards. The areas between the two lines represent the net financial lifetime difference in income - with the graduate showing a substantial excess. 

Any manual or craft trade will have an earnings pattern that mirrors the growth and decline of physical strength - a door fitter who can fit 8 doors a day on piecework in his late 20s will only be able to fit 4 in his 50s, unless it is a craft such as potter or silversmith that doesn't rely on physical stamina. All cerebral occupations will tend to reward experience and continue longer. The 23 year old chippie may wave his fat pay wodge at an equally-aged impecunious student but it won't last. 

The remarkable thing about the graduate premium that has surprised economists is that it was easy to understand in the days when only 5% of us went to Uni, but less easy to understand now; graduates still earn a lifetime premium (though lower than before), though 50% of new job market entrants have been to Uni. Explanations?

Monday, 23 September 2013

Brit Bubble + Jerry Jumble = Watch Out

The Mystreet property price index (yes, literally the 40 homes in my street) has been predictably active lately. From a 2007 mean index base of 100 asking prices dropped to 94 with the crash. By last year,2012, they were back at 100 and earlier this year one was sold at 104, marking a modest and realistic return of the market. This week, another's just sold at 115.5 - 15.5% above the 2007 bubble high, marking a new price-point for us all. This is now solid Foxtons territory. And it's a bubble. The couple of houses that have gone as upscale buy-to-lets since 2007 are now struggling to find tenants and it's only the anticipated effect of Osborne's mortgage subsidy and agents talking the market up that has acted like Viagra on price. I bought in 1995, at the bottom of the market. I think it's now time to sell before the bubble bursts.   

And Ambrose sets out in the Telegraph (£) the problems ahead for Germany; AfD didn't make it past the magic 5% in the end, but if Mutti is forced into coalition with the centre-left then Germany is set to become a lot more French - minimum wage, social subsidies and pension spend, all of which will damage her economic engine at a time when its already in danger of flagging. 

Which gives me my exit strategy; sell the house before the bubble bursts, then wait until the FX rate reaches €1.25 and bugger-off to an acre and five bedrooms somewhere more pleasant.