* Posts by I ain't Spartacus

4334 posts • joined 18 Jun 2009

So what the BLINKING BONKERS has gone wrong in the eurozone?

I ain't Spartacus
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Re: https://projects.propublica.org/bailout/

Ken Hagan,

We're broke because we've had a recession since 2007. There are several factors to include in this:

Recessions means wages drop and unemployment rises. People retire early to avoid being unemployed too. Plus companies make less profit and pay less tax. In a global downturn you can't eaily grow exports to counter some of the worst effects. All this means we're paying out more benefits and taking in fewer taxes.

This is what's loosely called the automatic stabilisers. Government keeps on spending, and even increases spending, even though tax collections drop. But this keeps demand in the economy, and stops a recession turning into a depression. The government borrows, and waits until the benefits bills drops and the tax take rises again.

It's also the cyclical deficit. i.e. caused by the economic cycle.

Now we have the harder problems. The structural deficit. That which will still be there, even when the economic cycle has turned, and we're back to boom time again. This is a lot harder to measure, and allows for most shennanigans of producing figures to suit certain political arguments.

1. We've just had a nasty financial crisis. The City was paying something like 10-15% of our total tax bill at the height of the madness in 2007. That's not going to be happening again for a while, nor is it really desireable, given the risk of that sector to our economy. So that's many billions wiped off the tax take.

2. We were also having a property and construction boom. Construction was one of the biggest areas of collapse, and still hasn't recovered. That's another wodge of tax not coming in for many years.

3. Between 2002-2007 Labour ran deficits of between £30-£50 billion each year. These weren't catastrophic by any means, and probably would have been easy enough to solve had we only had a "normal" recession in 2008. But it was an extra deep one, with a side-order of banking crisis. So suddenly a government that might be spending say £60 bn on the automatic stabilisers has this extra wodge of say £40 billlion on top of that, plus the tax loss from construction and banking. Suddenly a manageable deficit is starting to look quite a lot more scary. When you're piling £150bn a year on a total national debt of £600bn - it starts to add up, and make people nervous.

4. North Sea oil output has been dropping by 1% of GDP per year for ten years now. Without that constant drop in GDP we'd have recovered much faster. There's never even have been talk of a double-dip recession.

5. Finally debt interest payments went from £20bn-odd to £50bn-odd now. That's another £30bn a year onto the government deficit.

Estimates in 2008 put the structural deficit at between £60-£90bn. So even when the recession was over, and all the jobs, benefits payments and taxes were back to normal the government would still be running a pretty fat annual deficit. The Conservatives decided that it wasn't worth the risk of doing nothing about this until the recession was over - as that might lose us market confidence, and so make interest payments higher, or even make it impossible for the government to borrow over £100bn a year - and force really sudden cuts. The counter-factual is impossible of course, we'll never know if they were right or wrong. But we've probably now got a better idea of what the structural deficit really is.

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Re: HOW IT WORKS *

Rolo Tamasi,

No. Exactly the opposite.

The casino farmers are the ones who wait until they've harvested their crops, before selling them. That can net them the highest profit, if yields are low, but can leave them with less if it's a bumper harvest.

The more cautious types sell their crops early - and let the speculators take the risk. They can sell for a guaranteed price, that covers their costs and leaves some profit margin - at the cost of missing otu on possible extra profit later.

If you hear interviews with farmers, this is something that they agonise about, then have sleepless nights about once they make their decision.

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Lloyds are now mostly sold. At a profit. I believe at the current rate the shares will all be gone by February. Assuming they don't sell much over the Summer holidays and Christmas. Quicker if they do.

HBOS are on the way to being sold. RBS, who knows? They've now accepted that they aren't going to stay an investment bank, and are now pruning that bit down drastically - as they just can't fix it. So now reality has set in with the board, it could be time to sell them off quite soon. Although we'll probably make a loss on them. But it still looks like we'll break even or make a profit on all the banks combined. And the Bank of England charged interest on the emergency loans, now all paid back, so that also made money.

And I suspect that QE won't be totally unwound, and that we'll write off at least a few tens of billions of government debt in 5 years time. You can't make a habit of this, or trust breaks down, but as a one off this will have no (or few) downsides.

The banks didn't have turnovers larger than GDP though. It was the size of their loan books that were so huge. And that's been drastically pruned.

The new banking regulation system isn't fully formed yet. Changes may still be made. But what we currently have is an extra tax on profits. This was a change in the last budget, as previously it wa a tax on the size of their assets, but this was felt to penalise Standard Chartered and HSBC - who do most of their retail business abroad. Remember that neither of those two had to be bailed out, and that the UK taxpayer isn't on the hook for their depositors abroad. Though it is a risk if they go pop, as we'd want to bail-out our bits. But Standard Chartered don't have a retail bank here. Anyway, that's sort of their insurance payment, to compensate us for the risk of having to bail them out again in 50-70 years time.

We also have the ring-fence rules. This means that the retail arm of these banks must have separate accounts, and separate assets. So if a bank like RBS needs help again, the government can just let it fall over, but rescue the retail bits like NatWest - and carry on running them as a going concern. This is one reason why RBS are giving up on investment banking. They can no longer use the resources of their retail bank to "invest" with (so called proprietry trading). Thus they have to borrow the money they need for the most profitable trading, rather than use their retail assets - which makes them a good deal less profitable. At this point, it may well not be worth the extra layers of management to try and have joint investment/retail banks anymore, and we may get a natural split, without having to legislate for it.

To be honest, this is still a bit pie-in-the-sky. After the massive shock that Lehman Brothers collapse wrought on the financial system, no one was going to kill a bank as complex as RBS investment arm. The counter-party risk and chaos involved would be too much. But it could be bailed out and wound down under control, with the retail arm easily sliced off and run as a going concern by the government - hopefully with minimal panic and disruption.

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Re: Rescue the banks or the bankers

A real profit or a "we bought Northern Rock for £1, wrote off a £Bn of bad debt and sold it to that Branson chap for £1m" sort of profit?

Even the "bad bank" bit of Northern Rock, that we didn't sell to Branson, is making a profit. Last time I looked, that loan book was something like 3% in arrears/default, so 97% were paying as scheduled. A lot of the CDOs that mortgages were packaged up as supposedly "guaranteed" a 95% repayment rate - and many (most?) of the UK ones seem to have made that. So they weren't worthless after all, it's just that no-one trusted the banks who'd stitched them together. And for good reason.

Ironically this could be a bad thing. If Northern Rock could be broken up for a profit, that means it wasn't bankrupt, and maybe its shareholders can sue the government for compensation - for winding it up when it was actually solvent but illiquid.

On the other hand RBS may well have actually been bankrupt (not just illiquid), but got bailed out anyway, because they were too important to let go bust. Their investment banking arm was so complex that their board thought it could be turned around and saved, up until last year. Now they recognise that it's just a big pile of poo, dragging the rest of the bank down.

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I ain't Spartacus
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That's all very well, but in the middle of the last decade, when the German economy was only growing very slowly, Eurozone interest rates were kept low to help the German economy to grow. This meant that the Irish and Spanish had problems with inflation, which led to real estate bubbles and banking crisis. It also led German banks to lend too much money abroad, as they were exporting well, but had fewer domestic investment opportunities.

Now the situation has turned around. Now the Eurozone periphery are crying out for a bit of inflation to help their economies, but oh no! Germany is doing quite well thankyouverymuch - and why should poor Germans have to suffer from unwanted inflation just to help other people in the Eurozone?

This is what's so infuriating about the Germans, their politicians and most of their commentators (and seemingly from opinion polls) their public. I've no problem with not wanting to bail out the Greeks. After all, Greece's crisis is Greece's own fault. But Spain and Ireland were running budget surpluses at the height of the boom. They just weren't enough to counteract the fact they had the wrong monetary policy. So they took the hit to support Germany then, where the hell is German support for them now?

And also, although the financial crisis was Greece's fault, they were given a bail-out that was piss-poorly designed by Germany, the ECB, and the Commission. The IMF technical department said it wouldn't work in 2010 - but got overruled by the French director Strauss Kahn. So actaully Germany are just as responsible for the current state of the Greek economy as the Greek government. Since they incompetently designed the Greek bail-out to get the Italians, Eastern Europeans (and Greeks) to subsidise the bail-out of their own banks. So they should fucking pay to help sort it out!

Plus, morality aside, Greece can't pay. It can probably pay half that debt back. 5 years ago, it could probably have managed two thirds. That difference is the cost of delaying the inevitable for so long. In a year's time, it'll be none. Those are the practical choices Germany has.

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Re: Germany really doesn't believe the last 60 years

Chairo,

15 years ago, when the Euro came in and I was living in Belgium, it was actaully cheaper for me to move money from my bank account in England to my Belgian one (including exchange rate costs) - than it was to transfer money to a friend in Germany. Even though Germany was supposedly sharing the same currency as me.

For some strange reason this wasn't considered important when they created the Euro, and was only fixed by the Commission jumping up and down on the banks in about 2002.

As you say, I couldn't have a UK style credit card either. I had a debit card, which took money straight out of my account, or a "credit card" which didn't take the money out of my account until the last day of the month - and then had to be paid in full, or I lost it.

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Re: HOW IT WORKS *

For the price of a few hundred billion in support, Merkel gave them time to disentangle themselves (at least, sufficiently to survive a Grexit). Now the banks are clear, the Greeks can go swivel.

Chris Miller,

An interesting point here Krugman (who I personally find too partisan), but is making a good point here.

Edited highlights by me:

As one German economist put it to Jared Bernstein, “How do you think the people of Manhattan would like bailing out Texas?” Fair point, and a non-trivial challenge, for sure.

Ahem. As it happens, the people of Manhattan did bail out Texas, big time. The savings and loan crisis, which was very costly to taxpayers, was mainly a Texas affair:

The cleanup from that crisis cost taxpayers about $125 billion, back when that was real money. As best I can tell, around 60 percent of the losses were in Texas. So that’s around $75 billion in aid — not loans, outright transfer.

Texas GDP was about $300 billion in 1987. So this was equivalent to giving — not lending, not even taking an equity stake — Spain 25 percent of its GDP to bail out its banks.

But of course Manhattan was never asked to bail out Texas; we had a national system of deposit insurance, and the big Lone Star bailout was automatic.

In as much as RBOS and HBOS are genuinely Scottish (probably not really as they'd move South if Scotland ever leaves the UK) - we did the same here. We bailed them out, because we're in a monetary union and it was the sensible thing to do. Obviously, being in a political union makes that much easier. But for a monetary union to work properly, banking needs to work properly.

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Boffins' audacious plan to blow up aircraft foiled by bomb-proof bag

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Devil

Only so long as the airlines promise not to pack us so tight that just sneezing causes one to join the mile high club...

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YOU! DEGRASSE! It's time to make Pluto a proper planet again, says NASA boffin

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Happy

Re: IANAA, but...

No. It can be a mad planet though. That will only change if we discover gold, platinum or diamonds there. Only once you're rich, do you qualify as eccentric...

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NASA: 'Closest thing yet to ANOTHER EARTH' - FOUND

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Re: Bank of glarhgx

You only want to borrow money from people who live at a constant 2 gravities, if you're really, really, really sure you can pay it back.

Otherwise you're liable to meet Ron from collections. He's only 5' tall, but he's 7' wide and weighs 20 stone of pure muscle. And he's only the accountant...

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BREAKING NEWS: Apple makes money

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Syriza were ahead of Troika budget targets, and running a primary surplus, up to June. The capital controls will probably have buggered that up, but they're as much the fault of the Troika as Syriza, and the ECB cutting off their banks was arguably illegal.

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SpaceX's blast shock delays world's MOST POWERFUL ROCKET

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Re: Reuse and price

Mars is different to the Moon though. The ship's just going to be too big to send on one rocket. You'll need more people, more shielding, more accommodation, more storage, more fuel, several landing craft etc.

I'd have thought the best method in the end will be to build some sort of ISS like truss (but stronger ovbiously), with an engine bolted to one end, and crew accommodation and whatever mission stuff you needed strapped along it. Then you could test it by going to visit an asteroid - or a mission to fix some of those useful satellites in L1 - and strap different payload to it for a trip to Mars. i assume we can find something worth visiting that's a quicker trip than Mars, to test out shielding, isolation, and the like.

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Re: A reality check

SpaceX doesn't have problems. Their first mission rocket has exploded. No-one else has a better safety record though. So as long as they don't make a habit of it, they have secure work from NASA and the airforce for years. Plus they appear to be cheaper than the competition, and have a strategy to become cheaper still, which still leaves them ahead for a few years, even if reusabiliy fails. They just need to win a bit more commercial satellite work. The Russians are having worse problems.

I don't know enough about Tesla to have an opinion.

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Re: Re-Use

The solid rocket boosters got parachuted into sea water every launch. Which is horrible for re-use, but the thing was supposed to be a shuttle, so they did it.

As they were also woefully under-powered, the shuttle main engines regularly got run up to 115% of power, every launch. Which can't have been good for longevity.

I also can't believe that metallurgy hasn't vastly improved since the shuttle designs were done in the 60s, in combination with SpaceX landing under power, on legs, on dry land, they ought to be able to save some cash. However, even if the engines aren't saving much cash, they're also recycling the rocket body, plus electronics. And if they can survive one launch, they should be reuseable for several.

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Being common is tragic, but the tragedy of the commons is still true

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Re: Logical management?

The Chinese government aren't long term thinkers. Sure they have a reasonable leadership strategy, of changing the top echelons every ten years, so they don't ossify. And they have five year plans.

But they based their whole development model on mercantilism. Which is known not to work long term. They repressed internal demand in the ecnomy, partly for political reasons I suspect, as they were worried about an assertive middle class wanting more power. This was done by artificially lowering exchange rates. In the short term this was great, as they could artificially boost their export industries, keep the economy growing fast and outcompete Western factories.

But, this isn't a viable long term strategy. Because you start buidling up huge profits. And you can't use them in your own economy, because you don't want the currency to rise, or the workers' wages to become uncompetitive. So you invest that money abroad, recycled back to the countries that are buying your stuff. Which you need to do, because you're running huge trade surpluses with them, and you're repressing your internal demand, so not buying their stuff from them, so they haven't got the money to buy your stuff from you.

So they borrow massively. And they borrow your profits. But eventually this comes to an end, with them having huge asset bubbles that pop, and recessions due to lack of demand, as many of their jobs have migrated to your economy. But you're now sad, as you've loaned them loads of money they may not be able to pay back. And now you've got a huge export industry with no-one to sell to, as you've helped crater their economies, but your internal market is under-developed. So you get deflation at home and abroad, and a financial crisis. See also the North-South divide in the Eurozone.

The Chinese have been scrabbling to deal with that clearly foreseeable crisis since 2008 - same as the rest of us.

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Your gadget batteries endanger planes, says Boeing

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Happy

I thought it was already illegal to carry LiON batteries

Sir, I am impressed at your technological advancement. My lion runs off the mains...

My coat you say? Why it's the one with the extension lead in the pocket.

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German police ARREST SQUIRREL for stalking woman

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No, humans are unlikely. Someone had been drinking the Caffreys...

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Ashley Madison hack: Site for people who can't be trusted can't be trusted

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Happy

Re: What's on the telly tonight love?

A friend of mine (hmmm, now there's a convincing way to start a story in this context...) had a bit of a car crash. At a classic car race, which is his hobby. He was then photographed grinning like a loon, next to his upside-down car.

I guess the adrenaline was still flowing. As he ended up as a rather fetching full page picture in Autosport.

One week later...

"Darling, have you seen this week's copy of Autosport?"

"Oh, sorry dear, it hasn't come." [quickly hides behind papers]

"OK, I'll pick it up from the newsagents on my way back from the shops."

"Erm. Oh. Erm. No don't do that dear. I'm afraid they erm haven't published it this week. Erm, they had a flood fire at the printing works you erm see."

Ooops.

Is this why racing drivers wear balaclavas?

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Re: "including users' sexual fantasies"

My management fansasies are of going to a meeting that only lasts 15 minutes, where everyone agrees on the objectives and helps each other to achieve them. Then has a nice drink afterwards - and fully cooperates as a team for the next 6 months. After which another 15 minute meeting is convened, if the project hasn't already been finished.

OK. I admit it. I'm a pervert!

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Re: Using words too lightly

Just Enough,

Quite. The self-righeousness on this thread is a bit sickening.

You might not approve of adultery. I don't. But it's not unusual. Over a third of marriages break up in this country, and one of the biggest causes is people having affairs. Ordinary people, who manage to screw up their lives or the lives of those around them. Then have a terrible time for a few years. This isn't some exotic sub-group, I doubt there's many people here who don't have a close friend who's had an affair - and it happens for various complicated (and all too human reasons).

This is painful enough for people to sort out, without some internet low-lifes sticking their oar in, and screwing things up even more.

What an absolute fucking mess. It's a shame people don't look at security beforehand, when they're holding this kind of sensitive data.

"latest among many companies to have been attacked, despite investing in the latest privacy and security technologies."

Who's betting they're now frantically looking for the receipt for their copy of Norton Antivirus, so they can take it back to the shop for a refund...

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Fragmented Android development creating greater security risks

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Megaphone

Re: Who cares

To answer your question the security reasearchers/companies/fear-mongerers care. That's why they constantly bombard these sites with press releases which say nothing of interest.

I saw a stat the other day that something like 20-30% of UK online banking activity is now done through mobile devices.

Google appear not to give a flying fuck about the security of their users, just so long as they keep getting the advertising revenue. At least when Microsoft released XP, mass use of the internet and mass virus outbreaks were relatively new to the world. And they started to respond reasonably quickly, with SP1, automatic updates, checks to make sure you were running anti-virus and the like. Then gave up on the whizzy updates to XP they were working on to re-write the whole shebang in a more secure manner. Vista was that disappointing for a reason...

This Android updates problem has been around for a very long time now. And I'm not talking about not getting latest shinies, but missing out on security patches for brand new handsets. And Google would appear to have done the square root of bugger-all about it!

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Bitcoin fixes a Greek problem – but not the Greek debt problem

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Re: QE

Chris 48,

A lot of those mortgage backed securities are in fact still operating at the less than 5% default rate specified. Most in the UK. The US may have had more of the crap ones.

There have been several funds making an absolute killing by buying them at hugely discounted rates, then paying a bonus to the mortgage holders to bugger off and remortgage with someone else, then using the money to buy more of the same - and go round again.

Northern Rock, who were doing a lot of the 125%, buy-to-let and self-cert mortgages, almost certainly shouldn't have been wound up. Not only is the bit sold to Virgin profitable, but so is the "bad bank" bit the government kept. When the final calculations are done in a few years time, they'll probably have been illiquid but solvent, and RBS insolvent - although you can't really blame the government for bailing out RBS anyway, given what happened with Lehman brothers.

One of the main problems was the banks dishonesty. Because they'd been packaging up some crap with some good stuff, and the instruments were so complicated, and trust in them had broken down - no-one had a clue what any of this stuff was worth. And no-one was willing to trust even those bankers who had good numbers to prove their packaged mortgages were still performing.

The problem with mark-to-market is that financial institutions get destroyed by temporary market panics. They're then forced to sell into a market crash in order to comply with regulations, that then makes the market crash worse and crystalises their losses.

The problem with mark-to-value is that the bankers are currently untrustworthy. And as an industry seem to have learnt very little from the recent crisis.

There's truth in the Central Banks pretending some bust institutions were only illiquid. Partly this is because the relationships between banks and regulators seem to have broken down. I suspect they just didn't have a "feel" for where all the banks were, and there was no time to find out. Just get them saved, and sort it out later. RBS was way too complicated, and even they don't seem to have understood just how fucked their investment banking arm was until last year. But on the other hand, panic is self-fulfilling. The stress-tests should give sensible Central Banks a much better idea of what their banks are up to. Except the ECB ones, which keep finding banks are OK - then watching them go pop a few months later. But I suspect they're scared of what they'll find, given the Eurozone still doesn't have a working banking resolution system.

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Re: QE

Tom 13,

QE isn't printing money. There's an important technical difference.

The economy is improving. We're in our 3rd year of decent growth. The U.S. longer. And that's better than the non-QE Eurozone. People are going to work. Unemployment is falling. In the UK we have the highest number of people in work ever. I believe that's not true in the U.S. though, where labour participation rates are still down.

There is no inflation. It's at 0% here. And low in the States. It never went all that high, and much of that was oil and food prices, not QE. Anyway, savers may whine at low interest rates, but the alternative was losing their principal.

The government are not fiddling the figures. I've seen no credible suggestion of that. If you disagree, then back it up with figures. Put up, or shut up.

We might go back into recession. There are still lots of global economic risks. However, not doing QE would have made the recession worse, and made bailing out the banks riskier and more expensive. It was the best of a bad bunch of options. And although it does have its downsides, many of the objections to it I've seen, have been economically illiterate.

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DaveDaveDave,

The answer is Target2. All inter-country transfers within the Eurosystem go via Target2 at the ECB. So any time any government steps out of line, the ECB can effectively turn off their access to the international payment network. Greece imports most of its food.

This is an even bigger step than cutting off Central Bank funding to the banks. It may even be illegal, as it amounts to kicking a country out of the Euro. But the European Court of Justice is notorious for backing the EU institutions, and the Treaties pretty much make the ECB accountable to no one.

On the other hand Greek ex Finance Minister Varoufakis wanted to fight. He said the Euro was unworkable. But for Greece to leave now was worse than staying in. He also, correctly, has said that this current bail-out will fail for the same reason the first two did.

His idea was to print Greek government IOUs, in the way California did temporarily a few years ago. This would keep the banks solvent, when the ECB tried to collapse them. They could also then default on their debts, but re-capitalise and nationalise the banks, while staying in the Euro. Then there would be time to negotiate, without artificial deadlines, and the groundwork would be progressively laid to re-create the Drachma, if they got no deal. Plus lots of court cases at the ECJ. Syriza rejected this as too confrontational.

I don't believe he planned to print Euros though. As that would be unarguably illegal. His plan was to let the ECB and Troika keep breaking the treaties, and hope the ECJ would finally stop them. Cutting off ELA to solvent Greek banks is a clear breach of the Treaties, by any sane reading if them. It's a Central Bank's primary job to maintain the financial system. Deliberately collapsing solvent banks definitely fails that test.

It would have been an unholy mess. There's no legal mechanism to leave the Euro. Let alone get chucked out. And default is not illegal. Bail-outs are, but they've had three of those already! Seems pointless to me. Those months of chaos would be better spent on introducing a new currency. To be fair to Syriza, they had no good choices. The Greek electorate won't leave the Euro, the Eurozone leadership won't offer a sane deal, that might actually work. So they'll have to implement policies that will make the 1930s depression look like a picnic, and hope the Troika wake up and realise what fucktards they're being.

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Re: QE

That, and exactly that is the problem. And you know what? Germany is trapped in this system just like all other countries as well. The effective income in Germany stagnated after the introduction of the euro while it went up nearly everywhere else.

Chairo,

This is true. But this was a German political choice. Haartz IV. They held down wages to boost exports. In a fixed currency system there's a name for this. It's called Mercantilism. And it's against Eurozone rules. By suppressing wages, the Germans boosted the competitiveness of their exports, while also restricting domestic demand within Germany. The downside of this is that capital builds up in German banks, but there's nowhere to spend it, as demand is low.

The banks had to pay interest on those savings. So they had to lend it to someone. There was insufficient appetite for borrowing in Germany, so the German banks recycled this money across the Eurosystem as loans to Spain, Greece, Italy etc.

But now Germany would like its money back. Understandably. But those countries can't pay Germany back, because Germany won't buy their goods, because Germany likes to run huge trade surpluses. The Eurozone solution to this has been to cause deep recessions in Southern Europe, thus massively pushing up unemployment and forcing wages down. This has destroyed internal demand, so now the Eurozone has a large trade surplus with the rest of the world - and those trade surpluses can be used to pay back debts within the Eurosystem.

Of course this causes deflation all across the world, as the Eurozone and China both push policies to repress internal demand and boost exports. The better policy would be a bit of inflation to help reckless debtors a bit and punish reckless lenders (but only a bit) - and allow wages in Germany to rise faster than those in the Eurozone periphery. Also structural reforms to make their economies more competitive. Although breaking up the Euro in an orderly manner would be the best policy choice of all.

If the Germans had stuck to the Eurozone rules, they wouldn't have done this internal devaluation. They also wouldn't have broken the Growth and Stability Pact in 2003 (without penalties). And they'd have been taking action to reduce their trade surplus once it topped 6% of GDP 6 years ago (also in breach of Eurozone rules). Now who was it who called the Eurozone "a rules based organisation"? Ah yes, it was Merkel. Repeatedly. And Schaeuble too. Repeatedly. And rather smugly. And I suggest, incredibly hypocritically.

This is one reason why Italy entered the Euro with a trade surplus with Germany, and now has a deficit.

Also it's causing the increase of inequality in Germany. As workers aren't getting the benefits of the export boom, it all goes to profit.

Separate currencies are great for dealing with this problem. Making people take wage cuts is difficult and painful. Wages tend to be sticky. It takes unemployment to push them down. But a currency devaluation does this to everyone for imports, but doesn't effect internal trade so much. So can cushion the effect.

Oh, one more thing - if you want to see what happens to a developed nation that overuses QE, look to Japan.

It's too early to tell. Japan's problem was allowing deflation to take hold in the early 90s. Their economy has stagnated ever since. This is what the Eurozone and ECB were allowing, until they finally announced QE this year.

Although they have allowed deflation to take hold in Italy, Spain and (most disastrously) Greece. And QE was designed to exclude Greece, who need it most.

Whether Abenomics will work, who knows. But Japan now has both growth and inflation, for the first time in 20 years. If they can get the economy to keep growing, then their debt is sustainable. If not, it won't be. Rather like Italy's. If the Eurozone can't meet its own targets, and give Italy 2% inflation a year, along with some growth, then Italian government debt will have to be written-down. Given that all the major Italian opposition parties are now calling for a Euro referendum, they may solve their problem by leaving. Unless the Eurozone start pursuing policies that work for everyone, not just the core.

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and then northern European countries ask their people whether to write off debts?

It doesn't bloody well matter what other Eurozone voters want. Or what they vote for. Greece can't pay its debts

The Greeks have just experienced what happens when you have a referedum on a matter your government has no power over. Although at least the Greek referendum (and government) was actually asking for something that was possible.

They couldn't pay in 2010 when the first bail-out was created. But rather than Germany and France re-capitalise their incompetent banks, who'd lent something like €160 billion to Greece between them - it was decided to "bail-out" Greece even though that was illegal under Eurozone rules. Using everyones tax payers. What this means is that Germany only had to lend something like €60bn to Greece, rather than €100bn to its banks (France's bail-out pretty much matched its bank exposure). The remaining €40bn was covered by the rest of Europe, although seemingly mostly by Italian taxpayers, as their banks hadn't lent much to Greece. The Italian banks incompetence was restricted to loaning money to Eastern European and Spanish banks that couldn't pay them back either...

This is the same model that was used in Ireland. Where Irish taxpayers were put on the hook for their banks, with the threat of Ireland being chucked out of the Euro if they didn't. Co-incidentally that was mostly German banks that got bailed out too. Obviously it's illegal to chuck a member out of the Euro, but the ECB told Ireland it would cut off funding to its banking sector, causing it to collapse, and forcing them to print their own currency to save them. The ECB used the same threat against Cyprus and Greece, except we can see they actually carried it out in Greece.

This bail-out failed in Greece. It broke the IMF lending rules, as it patently couldn't work. But the IMF made a new rule to allow it, to save the Euro. Probably a legitimate reason at the time, although I'm sure it didn't influence things that their managing director was French.

So in 2012 there was a second bail-out. This one was notinally sustainable. It was a fiction, as it required Greece to be paying back something like 4.5% of GDP per year for a decade. Also the last bail-out, having made the Greek government cut spending by 10% was only going to shrink the ecoomy by 5%. That caused a 10% drop instead. The 2012 bail-out did the same again, with the same result. The fictional forecast was wrong, and it resulted in a total loss of 25% of Greek GDP, 25% unemployment and 50% youth unemployment. Plus a massive spike in emigration. Oh and the debt to GDP ratio went from something around 130% of GDP to 175%.

Basically the Troika cooked the books in 2010 for sane reasons. Greece took one for the team, which given their cooking the books beforehand is fair enough. Then they came back to the deal in 2012, but still fiddled the figures. They had less excuse this time, and the IMF none. That bail-out was designed to fail, given the knowledge gained from the 2010 one. The IMF admitted so in 2013, when they admitted to miscalculating the Greek fiscal multiplier.

And here we are. Replaying the 1930s. It's the Fisher Paradox. The more the creditors demand that the debtor repay, the less they'll get back. As they destroy the debtor's economy, out of greed and stupidity.

And the Germans have the least excuse of any nation on earth for failing to learn the lessons of the Versailles war reparations and the deflation, depression and instability that this caused.

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Re: Greeks pay all their taxes?

Gordon 10,

Yes I've read the papers. And the IMF reports. And the unhelpful public comments of Christine Lagarde.

The fucking IMF waited until AFTER negotiations had collapsed and the Greek referendum was already underway to finally publicly say that Greek debt was unsustainable. And even then, that was a leak to the German press, probably from the Americans or some disgruntled soul in the technical department. Bloody Christine Lagarde was still coming out with crap like how the negotiations needed to have "adults in the room".

And even then that IMF report was trying to claim that everything was hunky-dory until the nasty Syriza came in and buggered everything up. Despite the fact that the IMF's own analysis from 2013 claimed that they'd got the first two bail-outs wrong, and that the the Greek fiscal multiplier was more than 1. This means that for every 1% of GDP the Greek government cuts spending or raises taxes - Greek GDP will shrink by more than 1%.

So the IMF were saying everything was OK until January, even though their plan called for 2% cuts to Greek government spending this year alone. When Greek growth was only predicted to be 1%, thus guaranteeing another recession.

They did finally publish that Debt Sustainability Analysis after it was leaked. And then Lagarde was at last weekend's disastrous Eurzone summit - and was there when the agreement was made. Having publicly said little about the need for debt write-downs. And then the IMF published their updated DSA that says that Greece needs even more help. But the deal had already been agreed! What the fuck is the point of that?

The IMF should be publicly beating the Eurozone ministers over the head for their incompetence and financial illiteracy. Then their public might see that the choice is to get maybe half their money back, or to bankrupt Greece and get none of it. There are no other choices. There is no magic reality where Greece pays back all its debt. Not now the Troika's last 2 plans have reduced their GDP by 25%.

The IMF's job is to tell truth to power, and be the bad guy. But they've only done that in Greece. For the Eurogroup, they've rolled over to have their tummies tickled. I'm sure it's entirely a coincidence that they've had 2 French managing directors since the Eurocrisis and a French chief economist.

Blanchard claimed that George Osborne was "playing with fire" by making spending cuts of 1% of GDP per year. The Greek bail-out has cut Greek government spending by 26% of GDP - and is asking for 2% more in spending cuts this year as well.

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Re: QE

You definitely need to check your facts on this one.

Greece didn't meet the criteria to enter the EU.

When telling someone else to check their facts, its first important to get yours correct. Greece indeed fiddled the figures to get into the Euro. And info and leaks from German government sources make clear that everyone was aware of this at the time. Italy didn't even come close to complying with the Maastricht convergence criteria, but was admitted as one of the original Euro members. The Euro was a political project, not an economic one. The idea was that ever closer union would fix all the known problems, it's just that no-one wants ever closer union anymore.

Anyway Germany and France also didn't meet the criteria, so the pension assets of France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom for example magically got included on the books as government assets, in order to make their government debt figures look better.

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Re: Politics not economics

Dan 55,

After saying the one word that ended war in Europe. NATO.

The EU was a manifestation of the desire of people not to have another war. I would say that the EU did do two amazing things though.

Compare Eastern Europe to Russia, and the non-EU ex Soviet states. Or what happened to the countries that tried to throw off tyrannies in the Arab Spring. Sure the Eastern Europeans were more advanced, better educated societies, but the help the EU gave them in building working democracy - with the carrot of EU entry was a wonderful foreign policy success.

I'd argue the other great success was letting Greece, Portugal and Spain in, so quickly after their dictatorships collapsed in the 70s. Acting again as an aide to building a democratic society.

Sadly the Eurozone leaders deliberately collapsed one Greek government and just tried to do the same to another. You could also argue that they hung on deliberately in negotiations with the last one, hoping to cause it to lose the election in January - so they could get what they wanted out of Syriza. Pasok are destroyed, Syriza and New Democracy could both be in quite serious trouble. If you break all the democratic parties in a country, who will you have left to negotiate with? And what the hell is the point of the EU then?

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Dan 55,

They ain't bluffing. I'd say it's pretty clear now that a majority of Eurozone governments would like to chuck Greece out, but haven't quite got the balls to do it. Also they have no legal mechanism. Though using the ECB to collapse the Greek banking system works perfectly well, as we've seen.

Hence they've offered Greece a deal that's so awful, they hope they'll leave of their own accord. And a deal that everyone knows won't work. In fact, can't work.

Sadly something like 80% of Greeks say to pollsters that they wish to remain in the Euro. So Syriza have rightly capitulated. Seeing as no policies are on offer that will work, the Greek depression will continue to grind on for another few months/years until common sense breaks out in the rest of the Eurozone and they offer reflation and debt relief. Or common sense breaks out in Greece and they realise that Euro membership under these terms means permanent 1930s style depression.

Sadly a third alternative is that Greek democracy breaks. There's an awful lot of extreme left and right parties in the Greek parliament. The Troika and electorate have been working their way through the centrist parties, chewing them up and spitting them out. New Democracy are in a mess, Pasok are virtually destroyed, Syriza might split in half over this - and who does that leave to govern the country? The Weimar system turned to Hitler because the Nazis and Communists between them could block all legislation, and they picked the wrong ones to try to co-opt into government, thinking Hitler was going to be controllable. Politics having broken down after a massive global downturn and unpayable foreign debt had led to deflation and mass unemployment. Sound familiar? The famous Weimar inflation was in the early 20s, but the German folk-memory seem to have forgotten the late 20s deflation crisis.

It is truly a horrible thing to watch for a student of politics and history. A policy car-crash of massive proportions.

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Re: Greeks pay all their taxes?

I'd say one problem is that the IMF got into bed with the Eurozone, and they've all just screwed everything up. All the effort has been made to make Greece pay back its unpayable debt. And continue to insist that this debt is sustainable - even if that means sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting LA LA LA.

So instead of focusing on reforming the broken Greek political system, they focused on cutting government spending and raising taxes.

Whereas an IMF bail-out, unencumbered by the North European economic illiterates, would have had fewer cuts and more reforms. Or if the Troika had been a bit more politically savvy, it would have had debt relief in exchange for desireable reforms. That would win some political backing within Greece.

So close a tax loophole, get €100m of debt written off. De-politicise the civil service, get €1bn. That way even with the party in power (New Democracy) that actually screwed the economy up in the first place, and is full of the politicians who were paying their mates to do government non-jobs in exchange for their votes - there would be massive political pressure on them to do necessary reforom.

The real tragedy here is that Syriza are political outsiders. They're not involved in the patronage networks in the same way. Although, as I understand it, they do have quite a few refugees from Pasok - who probably are. So a deal could have been done with Syriza, had the Eurogroup been willing to do a sane and fair deal, rather than fuck around and indulge in childish and vicious political grandstanding.

To back my point up, I link to a European think tank, pro-EU but pro-reform, and an article from Ashoka Mody. He was the IMF European Department boss and designed the Irish Troika bail-out. So he's no natural Syriza ally, or fluffy lefty. And he gives the Troika both barrels and says: They negotiated in bad faith.

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Greece has a printing press. Set up to do €10 notes. Each country prints some of the notes, but only one denomination. And the Y prefix is for those printed in Greece, not for Greek notes. The ECB then truck/fly them round so everyone has the right mix of notes for their country.

This was designed to be a common system, but watching out to stop naughiness. The German influence on the Eurozone rules might be guessed by the fact that all €500 and €200 notes are only ever printed in countries who speak German...

Anyway if Greece prints without permission, it's illegal. The money's counterfeit. And that really would be fighting talk. The rest of the Eurozone would cut off Target2 access to Greece and all its banks. So Greece would be out of the Euro - and I'd imagine would be chucked out of the EU. Remember there's no way to leave the Euro. It's not legal. When Greece is finally ejected or leaves (as I believe is inevitable) I'm sure they'll just change the law to let them stay in the EU. But there wouldn't be much goodwill for that, if Greece had been counterfeiting all of their currencies.

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Re: QE

Yet another anon coward,

As my last post was long, and to be frank becoming a bit of a rant (I'm rather angry about this whole Eurozone clusterfuck), I thought I'd post again on QE.

QE isn't quite money printing.

It's back to that difference between insolvent and illiquid. If a bank has loads of assets it can't sell (such as crappy old mortgage backed securities), but these are actually worth money if only people were willing to buy them, what does it do? Well it goes bust. No one will buy it's valuable stuff, so there's a run, it can't sell, it goes pop. But really it's not insolvent, it's not bankrupt. It's got the assets, it just can't turn them into cash. So it has a cashflow crisis, which needs solving. That's also true if you're holding loads of government debt, but everyone's scared the government are about to default, because they're running terrifyingly huge deficits.

But hooray! Central Banks to the rescue. They can print imaginary money, come along and buy loads of this stuff up, and hey presto! The banks have cash! They're now liquid, as well as solvent. Even better, why not buy some government debt as well, so that interest rates don't shoot upwards?

So you've increased the money supply. But you've taken assets out of the system in return. So it's not quite the same as money printing. You've swapped illiquid assets for liquidity. It seems not to be as inflationary as just printing cash. The other idea was "helicopter money". Give everyone in the country £1,000 and watch consumer spending rise. Although I believe when this was tried in Japan, most people paid down debt or saved it. So in recession even that may not generate sufficient demand or inflation.

Theoretically this can all be reversed. I'd say it might have been looked at as the stock market bubbles were bubbling away, as that's where a lot of this liquidity may have been going. But I'd assume the banks were felt to be too weak.

But reversing it is easy. The Central Banks just sell this stuff back to the market, and destroy the money they get for it. It's a tool for reducing excess liquidity other than raising interest rates. I imagine the Bank of England will find it useful.

I believe this will never fully happen. If it's not been too inflationary, and the Bank of England are holding say £150bn of UK government debt, why sell it back to the market and pay interest on it? I supsect that 5 years or so, a Chancellor will somewhat shamefedly mumble in his budget that he's writing it off - disappear that debt - and no-one will notice that our government debt has gone down by 20% (or whatever). You can do this once every 100 years and get away with it. Make a habit of it, and you risk Zimbabwe/Weimar inflation.

By the way, the Europeans also did this in 2011. The ECB gave the banks €2 trillion in loans. Of money they'd just printed from nowhere. Lending cash to solvent banks is what Central Banks are for of course. Except when they're deliberately fucking over Greece under German pressure (stopping ELA at the end of June to deliberately cause a bank run was a fundamental failure to do the one job that a Central Bank is there to do!). Anyway they just print that cash, then destroy it when they're paid back. And of course they take assets as collaterol. So it's QE by another name, but it was more temporary. However when you do it to the tune of €2 trillion, and encourage all banks to take it, it's still QE. If it quacks like a duck...

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Re: QE

Well growth in the US and UK has been much higher than the Eurozone average. And we did QE, and they didn't until a couple of months ago.

On the other hand, Germany's growth has been pretty similar. So I'd say it's a combination of deeply held beliefs and German "folk memory", and "I'm alright Jack". The places that risked deflation were Italy, Spain and even France. But the Germans didn't care so much about them. Of course Greece has deflation, and Eurozone QE was specifically designed to exclude them! That deflation is a policy disaster of the highest order, because:

Let's say the Greeks grow their economy at 1% a year and paid all the interest on their debts, but deflation was 2%. Then Greek nominal GDP growth would be -1%. So their debt to GDP ratio would actually get worse even as their economy grew, and so their debt would become ever more unsustainable. Which is why the first bail-out failed, the second bail-out failed and this third bail-out willl fail. Seemingly, Germans can't fucking count...

Another policy reason in general is that Germany lowered a lot of their wages in the boom. Haartz IV is the name usually given to it. This means that Southern Europe's wages were going up, while the German's weren't. Hence they became less competitive and the Germans more so. Hence the German trade surplus kept on growing. So in order to get the competitiveness back to something more level, you need wage cuts in Spain, Italy, Greece and France. But wages are sticky. It takes high unemployment to force them down. That's deflationary. So Eurozone policy is to force deflation on countries, it's called internal devluation. It's another disastrous consequence of sharing a single currency and not having exchange rates to take the strain of adjustment. QE would make that less effective.

As you might understand, the Germans feel that they've taken the pain, why shouldn't others. And who can blame them for not wanting to pay for Greece's over-spending? However before complaining of the mote in your brother's eye, you may wish to remove the log in your own.

By the way, that German internal devaluation while they already had a trade surplus is against the Eurozone rules. As are bail-outs. And for the same reason, because it creates massive distortions, which cause financial crises. However, no action was taken against Germany and France when they broke the Financial Stability Pact in 2003, and no action has been taken against Germany for running intra-Eurozone trade surpluses of more than 6% of GDP for the last 6 years!

But according to ze German government, "the Eurozone is a rules based institution" and people must be punished for breaking the rules. So long as they're not German of course...

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Google robo-car in rear-end smash – but cack-handed human blamed

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Happy

Is that the light that lights up when you have a KitKat?

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Hey, Spotify! Why do you internet companies hate competition?

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Re: Oh look...

Tom 38,

That's interesting. They don't do the same with their books and films services. I wonder if music will remain different, or if they'll try and become more of a platform-independent content company?

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Re: Oh look...

Apple won't have a monopoly. They don't have a monopoly of devices. I presume they won't be issuing an Android app for example. This is why they avoid government action on monopoly, even though they run a walled garden. At the time of their run-ins, Microsoft were on 95% of PCs. Apple have 20% of the global smartphone market (30%-odd in the US I think) - and less of the PC market.

The article also suggests there's a risk of collusion between Youtube and Spotifiy. Something I'm not knowledgeable enough to comment on - and also the risk of Google buying Spotify.

Finally the whole industry do seem to have quite a distressing habit of offering stuff for free to grow their service or to get advertising reveunue. And of course, what they're giving away for free is the artists' work. So I've got quite a lot of sympathy with artists who mostly aren't rich, when the technology industry keeps trying to find ways to make money out of what they produce, and then gets all sniffy and whiny when they complain and try to get compensated for their creative efforts.

It's good that musicians can make money by playing live, and I like live music. But I also like recorded music, and I like to hear from new artists. And that means that whatever market we evntually come up with needs to be funnelling money to those artists, so they've got the time to actually write and play their songs.

We have the same problem with news content. There's an awful lot of people who want to get the advertising revenue from hosting it. There's an awful lot of people who want to read it for free. But if we can't find a way to funnel sufficient cash to the right people, then we won't have professionals going out and collecting, collating, editing, fact-checking and producing our news content. And society will be the poorer for it.

Money ain't everything for sure. But sometimes the only way to get good quality stuff is to pay people to do it properly. Copyright is a way that society chose to organise itself to try and achieve this. You've got to feed the goose in order for it to lay golden eggs.

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iPod dead? Nope, says Apple: New Touch has iPhone 6 brains

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Interesting to have the downvotes, but no counter-argument. I could also have mentioned the Motorola G, which is only £150. And comes with I believe 16 or 32 GB.

My old hard disk iPod is on its last legs. After many years excellent service. The battery and storage on my iPhone 5 wasn't sufficient to replace it. Apple stopped the 80GB iPod, and the Touch doesn't have enough storage. I've got over 30GB of music now - and more than that in podcasts. That is laziness, in that I could keep unloading and loading podcasts on to keep the storage use down, but I can't be arsed. I want to have all my unlistened ones on the device, so it only needs synching with the computer when it's charged each weekend.

The conclusion I came to was to get a cheap phone with memory card slot as a replacement. But the battery on mine seems to be up to it, and memory cards are cheap. Just got to try Microsoft's software now. At least they've killed the frankly awful Zune - which made iTunes look like a work of elegant genius.

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It's also a lot cheaper than a phone - 16gb iPhone 6 is £539, 16gb iPod Touch is £159.

Interestingly that's what work just paid to replace my iPhone 5 with a Microsoft Lumia 735. It's only got 8GB of storage, but since it has a memory card slot, it can go up to 256GB for less than the price of the 64GB iPod Touch. While also doing the phone stuff - and probably having a longer battery life, comparing to the previous iPhone or my colleague's iPhone 6.

It's got a surprisingly decent camera - and does better as a phone - in that I get a signal and can make calls at home, which the iPhone could only manage by the windows.

The price of both of these and the iPads, show just how overpriced iPhones, and top of the range Androids, are nowadays.

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Crims and politicians using RTBF to scrub themselves from Google? Not quite

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Eventually society will catch up

At the moment everyone under the age of 25-30 has probably posted something compromising to Facebook, G+, Twitter or whatever. Either that or one of their friends has, and has left their privacy settings to "everyone in the entire world".

However most people in senior HR are older than that, and so don't have that experience of growing up with their mates online - and think it odd to see that sort of stuff. Presumably society will eventually catch up, and employers will be less surprised by this sort of stuff, or just everyone will have something compromising online so it won't matter.

Then, presumably at some point in the next 30 years, employers will become suspicious of your job application if they can't find a naked picture of you somewhere on the internet...

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Did MARS once have OCEANS? Curiosity discovers continental crust

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Perhaps?

Slartibartfast

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Epic Games, Epic Fail: Forumers' info blown into dust by hack

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Re: Sigh

What is it with all these websites demanding your date of birth, before you can register? I have had this from several restaurants, just to get money off vouchers from them.

They could at least just ask your age (for games / videos), after all they're only interested in if you're 12 or 18. And in the case of restaurants, what they actually want is your birthday, to send you a special birthday dinner voucher. Which is fair enough. I tend to stagger my birthdays, so I get nice dinner vouchers spread throughout the year from my local chains...

Obviously one can lie about addresses, phone numbers and dates of birth. But it would be better if websites considered security properly, and didn't bloody well ask!

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There should be one central silo of user data

I read those words, and my instinct is to shout, "Flee!"

And then run away, terribly fast.

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Neil Young yanks music from streaming services: 'Worst audio in history'

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Re: Of course...

In my experience, any music that you can even barely tolerate to hear on radio without running away (or sawing your own ears off), will sound good live. At least as long as it's played competently.

Although I can think of one exception to that rule. Having seen a pretty good Rolling Stones tribute act a couple of times. The second time I saw them was the day after I'd seen the actual Rolling Stones at Hyde Park - and suddenly they didn't seem so good anymore.

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Horrifying MOCK BACON ABOMINATION grown in BUBBLING VATS as ALGAE

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Happy

Mmmm. I'll have the same double-bacon sandwich. But I'll be extra healthy, by having a synth-bacon smoothie please. And if it tastes equally bacon-y uncooked, I'll also have a side of bacon salad. With baconaise obviously.

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Attention dunderheads: Taxpayers are NOT giving businesses £93bn

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Re: So can someone help me?

It's simple. If you're pirating music or films then you're funding terrorism.

However, if you're legally buying films and music, then you're funding cocaine and Bentleys for idle music execs.

If you're buying Apple, then you're being hypnotised by the reality distortion field and become a mindless consumer of cheap Chinese tat.

If you've read the article, and all the comments, then that's ten minutes of your life that you'll never get back.

My suggestion is to say "sod all this for a lark" and drink copious quantities of beer.

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Re: Interesting writeup

phil dude,

You're still wrong though. Even if you have done your research.

Who pays the tax is not the same as who suffers the tax. That's tax incidence.

I'll be paying out £20k to the VAT man in a few days. Sadly the company's cash, not mine. But neither I, nor the company, is actually paying that tax. Nor (at least to my knowledge) are any of the companies who we invoiced - and got paid that VAT money in the first place. We're somewhere deep a chain of business transactions, many invoices away from the poor customer - who actually gets to swallow that VAT bill. All of us bill it, all of us claim it from what we buy, and all of us pay the difference back to HMRC.

As another example it's widely considered in economics that companies do not bear the cost of Employers Contribution to National Insurance. They have to pay it of course. They also hand over the money for employees NI contribution and income tax - and deduct that straight out of the pay packet. But the assumption is that in two countries with identical personal taxation and economies, but one where no employers NI had ever existed, the same total amount of cash would get paid out in wages and payroll taxes, it's just that wages would be higher in the country without employers NI. That's the amount of money employers want to hand over to their staff, and that's what they'll pay, it's just the government is intercepting a bit more of it. Obviously when you change an already existing system, things won't change smoothly.

The same is considered to be true of business rates. Companies can afford a certain amount for their premises, and a working market will eventually bring them to roughly that. Because what markets do is to ration scarce resources. So if you're not willling to pay as much as other people, you won't get the shop you want. Or won't keep it for long. Therefore if the government is taking some of that cash companies have to spend on thie premises - that's coming from the landlord's share.

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Pluto revealed as KING of the Kuiper belt

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Questions Science Fails to Answer

What's going to happen in pub quizzes now? Or games of Trivial Pursuit? You'll need to look up the printing date to know how many planets there are in the solar system. And then resort to saying things like, "well it was 9 when I was at school."

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Hackers sell 79,267 Cloudminr accounts for ONE Bitcoin

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Re: Bitcoin - the currency of losers

How very dare you! I shall sue!

My online Bitcoin bank is perfectly safe and secure. Join Ruptcy Bank today! The bank that likes to say Yo!

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