Blogroll Category: Current Affairs
I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 271 posts from the category 'Current Affairs.'
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The standard argument against grammar schools is that they confer privilege. Presumably the complaint is that if the academic are given an academic education then this is somehow unfair. At which point we've the news that grammars do not in fact confer such privilege. Great, so, let's have more grammars then:
Grammar schools do not help children achieve academic success, a UCL study has claimed.
Researchers also said attending a grammar school had no positive impact on a teenager's self-esteem or their aspirations for the future.
The study, by the UCL Institute of Education, comes weeks after the Government announced plans to pump £50 million into creating more places at grammar schools.
"Against the conventional wisdom, we find little evidence that gaining entry into a grammar school has a positive impact upon most aspects of young people’s lives," the study concludes.
"This leads us to an important conclusion: gaining entry into a grammar school may actually not be as important as many assume."
Professor John Jerrim, lead author of the study, said: "Our findings suggest that the money the Government is planning to spend on grammar school expansion is unlikely to bring benefits for young people.
"Even those children who are likely to fill these new places are unlikely to be happier, more engaged at school or have higher levels of academic achievement by the end of Year 9."
Co-author Sam Sims added: "Schools across the country are already hard-pressed financially. Our research suggests that the Government would be better off directing their money towards areas of existing need, rather than expanding grammar schools."
That is, of course, entirely the wrong conclusion to be reaching from the evidence presented.
The basic democratic deal is that we, the taxpayers and voters, get what we want. The restriction upon this is when what we so desire limits or impacts the rights of others among us. It's always, or at least should be, a negative restriction.
Spending money into order to inculcate privilege among the few would therefore be something that - potentially at least - shouldn't be one. But if that privilege isn't being created then the question becomes much simpler.
Do the people who pay the taxes, the voters, desire grammar schools? Yes, most certainly they, we, do. Given that there is no unfair privilege being created, as this research insists isn't, there's no reason to deny us all our wish, is there?
The finding that grammars do no harm means we should have more grammars.
The preconceived notion the British and Australian press brought to the story was “look at those funny foreigners."
A move by the Anglican Church in New Zealand to allow for the blessing of same-sex unions has led to a strong statement from the Diocese of Sydney.
A former Sussex vicar has been sentenced to 38 months imprisonment after admitting sex assaults on a young girl almost 40 years ago.
“Arise and shine for Jesus Christ,” the Province said this week as it launched a decade-long focus on evangelism and renewal.
The Anglican Archbishop of South Sudan has led five days of mediated peace talks between the warring parties in South Sudan.
It's astonishing quite how long people can believe things which just aren't so. Polly Toynbee is, rightly enough, casting around for some method of paying for the social care which an increasingly elderly population requires. In doing so she alights upon property - there's a stash of economic value which can be taxed!
The thing is though she's wrong:
Property is undertaxed in Britain so there’s symmetry and fairness in reaching into home values to pay for care.
Undertaxed compared to what? For as we've pointed out before Britain gains more of its tax revenue from property than any other OECD country. Vastly so in fact. The OECD average is under 2% of GDP, we're at over 4% of it. We gain 12.5% of our total revenue from it, the average is 5.7%.
Any comparison with that reality around us isn't going to leave the impression that we undertax property, is it?
It's not actually the being wrong which bugs so much. We have in fact told Polly this, directly, a number of times over the past decade. And yet still she insists upon what just ain't so.
The essence of a land value tax - this is without getting all Georgist about it, making it the single tax, or taxing away the entire rental value - is that it is the value added to the land by the activities of other people which is taxed. Mayfair land is worth more because 10 million other people have built London around it. Tax is going to come from somewhere, why not from that value created by the 10 million?
Our current system of land taxation, rates, doesn't work this way at all. Rather, it tries to tax the value added by the owner of the land, entirely a different concept:
Supermarkets could be owed as much as £300m because of an ongoing legal wrangle about the business rates paid for cash machines, which threatens to heap additional financial pressure on the struggling industry.
The Valuation Office Agency (VOA), which is responsible for administering business rates, issues an initial bill which retailers then check against the size of their shops, often resulting in a refund.
But these claims have been put on hold while a case about whether ATMs are part of supermarkets or not is fought through the courts. The Court of Appeal will hear the latest stage of the case later this month.
The VOA is arguing that ATMs located both outside and within a shop should be assessed separately for additional business rates, and that retailers should pay the business rates taxes on them in addition to their normal store rates.
ATMs are generally of value to the people passing by. They're also value that the holders of the land add to the environment about them. Not things which the society around adds to hte value of that plot.
It's an entirely different concept of taxation therefore. We want people to improve their own land to the benefit of the rest of us - why tax it therefore?
Land value taxation is the much better concept.
Harry Selfridge’s founding of Selfridge’s in 1908, brought with it one of the
largest and most profound shifts in British culture seen since the inception of
our nation. Not only did it change consumer culture, not only did it innovate in
areas where previously people were restricted in shopping habits, it also
brought with it a groundbreaking wave of liberalization, which helped lead to the
emancipation of women and the breakdown of class barriers.
The department store, Selfridge’s, was one of the first spaces to contain
separate male and female toilets in the UK. We take it for granted today, but
prior to the 20th Century, women were not commonly seen outside the house.
The barriers to their emancipation were extreme. Imagine a society in which
there were no places to go to the bathroom; where the limiting factor for travel
was the distance from your own home. Selfridge’s, by utilizing gendered toilets
for the first time, by locating near public transport links, became a place in
which women felt safe to frequent alone, or with other women. It was a place
they could be individually empowered. And this was revolutionary to the
emancipation of women.
Selfridge himself was also a supporter of the Suffragettes, and the wider
campaign in favour of women’s rights in the UK. Whether this was a gesture
utilized to enhance profits, or whether there was a genuine streak of early
American freedom and liberalism behind this decision is moot, the support of
the Suffragettes meant that when militant feminism came to the streets of the
UK, one of the few shops which weren’t targeted and vandalized was
Selfridge’s. A smart business decision, but also a noble cause to support.
Selfridge was also unique in the way he advertised his new department store,
spending millions on mass advertisement prior to even finishing the
construction of his store. In his advertisement, he emphasized a simple fact; his
store was open to everyone, no matter which creed or class. Selfridge’s was
one of the first places in the UK where the doors were open to all regardless of
class, and the aristocracy, middle classes and working classes all shopped and
perused alongside one another. This egalitarianism was also helped by the
removal of what previously was common in stores.
Previously in shops, there would be staff members employed to ensure that
customers were served as speedily and efficiently as possible. The emphasis,
from the business point of view, was that the more time workers spent with
actual buying customers, the more profit that would be made, and ultimately
anyone seen to be loitering or spending unnecessary time would be moved on
by members of staff on the shop floor. Selfridge removed these staff. He
allowed people to spend time in his store, taking in every element of every
display stall. For those with little money, this opened the door to a vast space,
filled with artwork, flowers and grand architecture.
Selfridge’s prided itself on technological innovation, being one of the first stores
to demonstrate the television in action, it sold revolutionary wireless radios, and
even, as a publicity stunt, was host to the plane which first flew across the
English Channel. People from working class backgrounds could come into Selfridge’s as if it were a museum, a showcase of what was happening in the
world, and a taste of what could be achieved. Harry Selfridge was a self-made
man, he battled adversity and hardship to climb to where he perched. He grew
up in rural Wisconsin, to a single mother, worked up the ranks in Chicago
before noticing a break in the market for American style department stores in
the UK. This drive, and the fact he was a self-made man, underpinned his
classless emphasis within his store. He wanted people to be inspired by what
was within, so that they too could reach for the stars and become all that they
might be. Many members of the public saw technology previously seen only by
the upper middle classes and aristocracy inside his store. Selfridge installed
plentiful lift shafts, at a time when the thought of moving straight up was
unlikely, inspiring thousands. In the first week of opening, Selfridge’s bought in
1 million customers, when the population of London itself was only 4 million.
The staff members in previous stores were treated much like the servants in
aristocratic homes. Many of them would live on site in accommodation above
the stores, in rather squalor conditions, with minimal pay. Selfridge did not
follow this pattern. He wanted his staff to enjoy working, and to pass that
enjoyment on to his customers, emphasizing customer service over efficiency; a
model that turned out to be more profitable. He paid his staff a higher amount,
so they could afford to live outside of work and commute themselves,
liberalizing the workers, setting an example to other stores, and changing the
way that people, who otherwise would have had very few rights, could live.
Other department stores saw the success Selfridge’s achieved and emulated it.
They precipitated an environment which encouraged female emancipation and
liberalization, and broke down class barriers. As Harry Selfridge himself said,
“the customer is always right”, regardless of class or gender. His take on
capitalism, his fight to succeed and profit above other stores lead to a greater
delicacy in customer service, a greater emphasis on care, and better treatment
Selfridge understood that capitalism is not a race to the bottom, because for
companies to succeed they need to please customers, and the greatest
weapon for change possessed by the masses is the power of the purse. We live
in a world today of immense wealth and technology that otherwise would have
been out of reach to the vast majority at the bottom of the ladder. Looking at
where society was in the past, and how far it has come to the present, should
lead to a great optimism about where it will go, and to its future state.
Capitalism and liberalism go hand in hand to bring about better living
conditions, higher pay, and opportunities and freedom for all. Every customer is
capable of creating profit, regardless of individual attributes, and can thus
command better treatment.
As JM Keynes noted, we humans just hate having our nominal incomes reduced. We're a lot less worried about falling real incomes through inflation and the like a long as nominals don't fall. This is something of a problem in a recession for that's exactly when real incomes should fall and also when we've not got much inflation.
The answer is to do as we have done, create a flexible labour market. Thus, in recessionary times we get falling incomes, not massively rising unemployment. This is exactly what did just happen in fact and is a great victory for that idea of the flexible market. Sure there was recessionary pain. But it was generally shared, not just dumped on the 10 or 15% who lost their jobs an thus everything. The rise in unemployment we did have was very much lower than we would usually have expected from such a fall in GDP.
Places such as Greece have had to have very much higher unemployment, very much more economic pain, in order to get those reductions in real wages.
At which point:
The fashion retailer Next is preparing to take a stand against landlords who grant rent cuts and store closures to rivals using a controversial insolvency process.
Company voluntary arrangements (CVAs), which allow struggling businesses to walk away from their liabilities, are sweeping through the retail industry as traditional operators reel from a downturn in consumer spending and the ongoing shift to online shopping.
Retail and restaurant chains including Byron, Jamie’s Italian, Prezzo, New Look and Carpetright have used CVAs to close hundreds of sites and cut rents on hundreds more since the start of the year. House of Fraser and Mothercare are among those ready to follow.
Like many healthy retailers, Next, run by Lord (Simon) Wolfson, believes that CVAs give an unfair advantage to competitors by allowing them to sever leases while better-run companies are forced to honour expensive commitments. New Look slashed rents by up to 55% on some of its stores.
Next has started demanding a “CVA clause” when it renegotiates leases. The clause says Next’s rent should fall by a similar degree if one of its neighbours in a shopping centre or retail parade achieves a rent reduction through a CVA. The move could have huge implications for the commercial property market if other healthy retailers start asking for similar clauses, leading to mass drops in rents.
One of the things which ails that UK commercial property market is that rent reviews within a lease are upwards only. Thus directly analagous to our nominal wages problem. There has to be considerable and sustained pressure for rents to fall. Meaning that the economy as a whole is less flexible than perhaps it should be.
Not something we need to do something about for as we can see something is already happening under simple market forces. But it is something we should be aware of.
Michael Curry is a superb preacher and a delightful man. And if everything wrong in the world could be put right by charm and beauty and wit, we would have nothing to worry about.
The zeigeit is gearing up for an increase in the taxation of the self-employed and it's worth noting the mistake at the heart of the basic claim. Which is that those who are employed through personal service companies pay less tax. This is both true and not true and the form of the truth makes a difference to what is being suggested:
More than 100,000 self-employed workers who are paid through companies could be hit by a new tax crackdown by the Government.
The Treasury has launched a consultation which aims to target people who are paid through a personal service company (PSC) instead of being on their employer’s payroll.
“This is unfair: two people doing the same job, in the same way, can end up paying very different levels of tax, depending on how they are engaged," its consultation document said.
The usual claim is that people only pay the corporation tax on the incomes they draw from such companies, not income tax which would generally be a greater amount. That is not actually how it works. Taxes on dividend incomes and those on employment ones are roughly the same, by design, once we piece all the bits of the system together. For high dividend incomes then pay more income tax again, over and above that corporation tax already paid. The total bite out of the income is, as we say, roughly the same.
Sure, maybe there's some bits to do at the margin but it's not a major difference.
Where there is a significant difference is with national insurance. Dividend income doesn't pay either - employers' or employees' - and that will be a saving. Given that there's a cap then a minimal rate above it of 2% on the employee's side, it's the employers' of 13.8% which is "dodged."
It's also true that when counting the revenue NI really is just another tax. The national insurance fund has been a fiction for generations now, the money just all goes into the general revenue pot.
However, from the point of view of the individual it isn't just another tax. For, with the payment of NI comes certain forms of social insurance. If you don't pay it you don't get certain things. We also have different classes of NI, each of which give access to different parts of the social insurance system. You'll not get unemployment pay if you're paying a light stamp for example.
Reform of the system might well be due - we've argued for many a year to simply abolish NI altogether and just have the one taxation system upon incomes. But it is still necessary to point out that much of this about personal service companies isn't really about tax dodging, it's about not purchasing state proffered services. Which does rather change the conversation, doesn't it?
Sermon preached by the Most Rev Michael Curry at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on 19 May 2018 at St George's Chapel, Windsor