Thursday, 7 October 2010

Less Than Half The World's Defense Spending

There's much blog chat about the extraordinary datum that more than half the world's defence spending is by the USA, as reported in this BBC story:
The US remains the biggest spender, accounting for some 54% of the total, having increased its military spending by $47bn in real terms, Sipri said.
But that percentage is not the USA's proportion of world defence spending. The true figure is 43%. The BBC's report is easy to misunderstand, but in context it's actually saying that 54% of the world's annual increase in defence spending (from 2008 to 2009) came from the USA. The data are in this table from the Sipri report the BBC report was based on.

I think the USA should spend much less on what is euphemistically called "defense", and so should the rest of the world. And I think journalists, including bloggers, should check original sources, even when using a report by the BBC.

Update: I posted a comment explaining the misunderstanding on one of the sites I linked to. Andrew Sullivan doesn't allow comments, so I sent him an email politely setting out the facts: he ignored it. He featured the same mistake twice more, so I sent two more emails which were also ignored. Sullivan should try reading this excellent advice to bloggers.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Land of the Free

Until the second Bush administration took up torturing prisoners, I was an admirer of the USA for its decades of civilization (since the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Therefore I hope that some of the material I've seen recently has been of a sort that's only recently existed.

A horrifying example, courtesy of Ta-Nehisi Coates is this, published in The American Spectator, an apparently quite reputable publication, unrelated to the similarly named British magazine. Be warned that it's truly disgusting. The writer accuses a woman, in the public eye because she's been wronged by someone whose politics he likes, of lying because she told the story in a speech of the lynching of her relative Bobby Hall in about 1940. And this story, he says, is a lie because whereas Hall was beaten to death by a sheriff and his deputies, that doesn't fall within some technical definition of a lynching I can't go on. Too much of the American right has simply lost touch with decency.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

David Laws

The commentators I read online seem mostly to think David Laws should not have had to resign - here for example is Matthew Parris. The arguments run along the following lines:

- he shouldn't have to resign because I agree with his views on public spending cuts
- he shouldn't have to resign because he was entitled to keep his relationship secret
- he shouldn't have to resign because he could legitimately have claimed more money had he chosen to arrange his affairs differently
- he shouldn't have to resign because he's a millionaire who didn't need the money
- he shouldn't have to resign because the regulations are wrong

Interestingly, no one has defended the argument that Laws' partner is not his partner under the terms of the regulations. In his statement, he said "At no point did I consider myself to be in breach of the rules which ... defined partner as ... 'one of a couple ... who although not married to each other or civil partners are living together and treat each other as spouses'”. Perhaps not, but he must have been aware that his interpretation was tendentious. He could have asked the Standards Commissioner in private for a ruling on this point. This moving interview is unambiguous about the depth of the relationship.

Only the second of the arguments I list merits consideration. And the answer is simple: Laws' should have stopped claiming the money in 2006 when the regulations were changed to forbid payments to partners. I doubt very much that this would have attracted intrusive comment. Or he could have made the relationship public and made a legitimate claim. What he was not entitled to do was ignore the regulations.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

A fairer tax

The ConDems tell us that they want taxation to be fairer. It is widely assumed that they will increase VAT, perhaps to 20%. But the Office for National Statistics has reported that VAT as a percentage of disposable income is paid disproportionately by people on lower incomes. The ONS explains that "those in higher income groups tend to channel a larger proportion of their income into savings and mortgage payments, which do not attract indirect taxes".

I suggest that instead of a VAT increase, the government should introduce a tax on mortgage interest payments (more precisely, i suggest a tax on all personal secured loan interest) at the same rate of VAT. This would have the following advantages:

- it would compensate for the regressive nature of VAT
- it would tend to suppress the sort of house price bubble Vince Cable warned about in a Commons question in 2003 (this question has been cited to support the false claim that he "predicted the crisis").
- it would raise relatively little money now, with interest rates so low, but increasing amounts as the economy recovers and interest rates rise. So it would give the markets confidence that the deficit will be reduced, without imperilling the uk's fragile economic recovery.
- the tax would be paid by mortgage borrowers currently enjoying a windfall gain from the extraordinarily low interest rates brought in to boost the economy.

It would be easy enough to collect, simply by making secured loans, including mortgages, unenforceable unless they are registered with HMRC.

Pay up Pompey

I posted this on Matt Slater's blog:


Portsmouth fans want to enjoy good results, like the FA cup win a couple of years ago, and disclaim all responsibility for the financial misdeeds that financed those results. But the two go together.

The proper thing for a fan to do is to withdraw support from a team that has stolen its success. Yes, I know that a true fan can't switch allegiance. But imagine if your wife stole large sums of money. Would you applaud her as she paraded the bling she'd bought with it? I disagree with Matt and everyone else who wished Portsmouth all the best for the FA Cup Final. They deserved to lose.

The PL and the FL need to take responsibility too. The priorities should be to stop leveraged buyouts and to stop uncontrolled debts to HMRC. So there should be a rule to stop any team starting a season in the leagues with debts above a certain proportion of their turnover. And a rule to stop any team starting a season in the leagues owing payments to HMRC that are more than 3 months overdue. There would have to be an exception to the first rule allowing teams with large pre-existing debts to continue, subject to a stringent agreed schedule of repayments.

The leagues were quick enough to bring in the rule about footballing creditors. So why are they sitting on their hands regarding the other financial problems hurting football?