Mark Wadsworth

This is a spare 'blog in case my main 'blog at isn't working

Category Archives: Logic

As Obnoxio says…

I’ve noticed quite often that lefties can be quite astute at describing concisely, what things actually are like. But when it comes to identifying the root cause and especially when it comes to fixing it, they get it completely fucking wrong.


Disproving your own argument

From The Evening Standard:

Mothers, stay at home for a safer, cheaper birth

There’s a secret ritual a couple of weeks after having a baby: you sit down with your NCT group and compare notes on the birth.

My session last year was in a Crouch End coffee shop where six shell-shocked new mothers relived various birthing battles. Most of the salient details were hair-raisingly similar: chaotic, rude midwifery, lots of drugs and medical intervention, shoddy aftercare. Three of us ended up having emergency C-sections.

But one tale stood out – the home birth. Sure there were hairy [sic] moments, but these were comedic rather than life-threatening… Other friends who delivered their offspring at home have similar tales: very few stitches, barely any drugs and midwives treating them with respect.

Unless all those emergency Caesarians were entirely unnecessary, I’d say hats off to the NHS for identifying the potentially riskier births, wouldn’t you? If those three mothers who ended up having a Caesarian had insisted on a home-birth, heck knows what would have happened.

Reader’s Letter Of The Day

From yesterday’s FT:

Sir, In Screws’ death is final shock horror story (July 8), Matthew Engel states that the News of the World has been walking the fine line between half-truth and lies for 168 years.

That is indeed an acute observation and characterises accurately the kind of reporting employed by the tabloid press when it comes to the European Union. For far too long tabloid papers have been allowed to misreport the EU and the effect of its policies. Newspaper owners and editors, for their own reasons, have gone on misinforming the public with headlines full of myths and sometimes outright lies.

In some cases they have gone as far as to influence government attitudes towards the EU, and the admission from the UK prime minister and the leader of the opposition of the extent to which some papers were allowed to have a stronghold on political classes speaks volumes.

For that reason it is paramount that the inquiry into press industry standards looks, among other things, at the way the press reports on something as important as the UK’s membership of the EU. If we are to clean the press in Britain we may as well rid it of its obsession for euromyths.

Petros Fassoulas, European Movement, London EC1, UK.

Tabloid refers to the paper size, so strictly speaking all English newspapers are now tabloids, except the Telegraph and the FT (IIRC).

Anyway, I quite agree with him, if all newspapers reported accurately what the EU was really like, we’d be out by the end of the year, whether the politicians wish us to stay in or not.* Of course there are good things about the EU, but if it’s 20% good and 80% bad, and we can keep most of the good bits and avoid nearly all the bad bits by leaving (at the small cost of the French trying to impose a few new bad bits on us), well what’s the problem?

* The Ian B theory is that UK politicians in general and Whitehall civil servants in particular absolutely love the UK being a member state of the EU, because they can use the EU as a Trojan horse to impose their own ‘vision’ on the great British public using the excuse that it’s all about EU harmonisation. He’s quite possibly correct, but that’s still an argument for leaving, isn’t it? As he points out himself, we’d be doing all the other member states a huge favour into the bargain. Win-win!

Bizarre photograph in The Metro

What were they trying to hide on the left hand side?

C-cksucker Blues

It turns out that journalists working for Rupert Murdoch routinely gave cash to police officers for inside info to use as the basis of their articles. It is broadly agreed it is a gross dereliction of duty, borderline corruption etc. for a police officer to accept such payments.

Which reminds me of the Gillian Taylforth saga: the only really hard (sic) fact to emerge from her libel action against The Sun (the weekday edition of The News Of The World – both of them are Rupert Murdoch newspapers) was this:

Here was one of the best-known stars of EastEnders [a British television series] suing over allegations that she and her lover, a wealthy businessman with a criminal record, had been having oral sex in their Range Rover when they were spotted by a policeman… The couple’s case was not helped by the fact that Mr Knights signed a caution admitting the offence of indecency after being taken to the police station.

It struck me at the time that the only way The Sun could have found out about this was if a police officer told them, no doubt in return for cash in a brown envelope – there were no other witnesses. Unlike criminal convictions in an open court, the details of cautions (= an admission of the alleged offence in exchange for charges being dropped) are not made public.

So while Ms T lost her libel action (the court appears to have decided that, as a matter of fact, she did give Mr K a blow job, and telling the truth is absolute defence against a defamation case), isn’t there a police officer somewhere who ought to be locked up and/or have his pension rights taken away etc?

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (139)

Trooper Thompson in the comments to KLN #98

Secure property rights are necessary for progress in all manner of ways. (1) Land ownership is not a protected state monopoly. (2) The state justifies its existence by (amongst other things) claiming to protect our property rights. (3) In fact it can play the part of aggressive invader (one example: Diego Garcia). (4)

Land is not a creation of man, but land bears the same relationship to man as the fruit he gathers. He mixes his labour with the land, and thereby gains a property in it. (5) This property he can sell. I do not grasp the Georgist distinction between land and all other things. No doubt you can refer me to an earlier chapter.(6)

1) Agreed. Motherhood and apple pie.

2) Yes it is. Without a state there can be no land ownership and without land ownership there can be no state. Otherwise, why would there ever be such a thing as ‘border disputes’ where two armies battle for the right to decide who ‘owns’ a certain strip of land?

3) Agreed. And states do very much protect property rights; which includes state-protected monopoly rights. For sure, there are ‘compulsory purchase orders’ from time to time, but the government doesn’t do this for fun.

4) Doesn’t that contradict his statement at (2)?

5) Well yes of course. If our hero buys an empty plot suitable for a house, and he builds a suitable house at a cost of £100,000, then under a Georgist view point, he has ‘property in’ i.e. owns the first £100,000 of the total value of the land and buildings. The rest is location value and was generated by ‘society in general’.

It’s the same as if you buy a car for £10,000 and park it on your drive. The car belongs to whoever paid for it (or built it), and if you were to sell the house inclusive of the car, £10,000 of the selling price relates to the car and not the land/location. The car, like the building, is a separate concept to the pure land/location.

6) This is the nub of TT’s argument aka ‘punching a tree’, I’m sure I have done a chapter on it, but let me advance another example to illustrate my point:

a) A farmer owns all the land from the outskirts of a nearby town all the way up to the edge of a cliff along a nice bit of coastline, which is assumed to be a solid cliff not liable to erosion. He sells off a fifty yard wide strip along the cliff edge which is parcelled up and holiday homes, chalets, beach huts etc are built along it.

b) This involves a fair bit of expenditure, but however humble these huts or chalets may be, they command a vast premium over the actual build cost because they have the nicest views. The farmer will collect the bulk of that location value as a windfall profit, let’s call it a million quid for sake of argument.

c) Unfortunately, the engineers and geologists were wrong, and a few decades later, a whole chunk of cliff, fifty yards wide collapses and falls onto the beach. The location value of the strip of land which the farmer originally sold off is now £nil, as it’s just a strip of boulder-strewn beach which is flooded at high tide (and thus belongs to Crown Estates anyway)

d) Following further inspections, the engineers and geologists conclude that there was a particular fault line, that the newly exposed cliff face is much more solid rock and unlikely to be eroded (and insurance companies are happy to take on the risk). What happens to the location value of the land that has effectively moved fifty yards closer to the beach and from which you can now enjoy the views?

e) The location value of that strip must now be a million quid, so the chalet owners’ loss is the farmer’s gain; he can sell off another strip for a million quid and the whole cycle starts again. He has in no way ‘mixed his labour with the land’ to generate a million quid profit, it is pure windfall arising from the destruction of land and buildings ‘owned’ by others.

f) Thus location values depend on people and views and so on, as long as the views are there and there are people prepared to pay for it, the location value cannot be destroyed and is to some extent independent of the physical land.

Car Park Fun

I had occasion to walk past the car park at my local Tube station recently, and observed the following:

It is 40 paces x 30 paces big = 1,200 sq. yards.
It’s well laid out, there are five rows of ten cars = 24 sq yards per car (this is about the bare minimum you need, because at least half the space is used for the access bits).
Charge per day = £4.50.
£4.50 x 5 working days per week x (say) 51 working weeks = £1,147.50
£1,147.50 divided by 24 sq yards = £48/sq yard/year.
The house we rent at the other end of the High Street is £22,500 a year including Council Tax and it’s a 500 sq yard plot = £45/sq yard/year.
I’ve uploaded my spreadsheet as a Google Doc which assumes we replace all existing taxes with LVT. The first step was to divide required receipts by the number of square acres of developed land in the UK (about 2.4 million) which gives us £31/sq yard/year on average.

Then, to reflect variations in land values round the country, I made the rate in each local authority area proportional the average recent selling price of semi-detached houses in each area. This worked out at £47/square yard/year for my local authority area (which just scrapes into the top decile. For comparison, Blaenau Gwent is at the bottom at a princely £12/sq yard/year).
UPDATE, on the way home I paced out the plot of the café-with-offices-above and back garden which I frequent, that’s 500 sq yards as well, and the VOA website tells me it has a rateable value of £29,500, i.e. the Business Rates are about £12,000 a year, which would double under full-on-LVT (in place of Employer’s NIC, VAT and corporation tax), which very conveniently works out at £48/sq yard a year as well.
Just sayin’, is all.

The Daily Mail outlines the advantages of Land Value Tax

From The Daily Mail (our new weekend paper of choice as it has the best weekly TV guide):

Take a short trip on the metro to [Athens’] cooler northern suburbs, and you will find an enclave of staggering opulence. Here, in the suburb of Kifissia, amid clean, tree-lined streets full of designer boutiques and car showrooms selling luxury marques such as Porsche and Ferrari, live some of the richest men and women in the world…

One of the reasons [the inhabitants] are so rich is that rather than paying millions in tax to the Greek state, as they rightfully should, many of these residents are living entirely tax-free. Along street after street of opulent mansions and villas, surrounded by high walls and with their own pools, most of the millionaires living here are, officially, virtually paupers.

How so? Simple: they are allowed to state their own earnings for tax purposes, figures which are rarely challenged. (1) And rich Greeks take full advantage. Astonishingly, only 5,000 people in a country of 12 million admit to earning more than £90,000 a year — a salary that would not be enough to buy a garden shed in Kifissia… (2)

With Greek President George Papandreou calling for a crackdown on these tax dodgers — who are believed to cost the economy as much as £40bn a year (3) — he is now resorting to bizarre means to identify the cheats. After issuing warnings last year, government officials say he is set to deploy helicopter snoopers, along with scrutiny of Google Earth satellite pictures, to show who has a swimming pool in the northern suburbs — an indicator, officials say, of the owner’s wealth.

Officially, just over 300 Kifissia residents admitted to having a pool. The true figure is believed to be 20,000. There is even a boom in sales of tarpaulins to cover pools and make them invisible to the aerial tax inspectors. (4) ‘The most popular and effective measure used by owners is to camouflage their pool with a khaki military mesh to make it look like natural undergrowth,’ says Vasilis Logothetis, director of a major swimming pool construction company. ‘That way, neither helicopters nor Google Earth can spot them.’(5)

But faced with the threat of a crackdown, money is now pouring out of the country into overseas tax havens such as Liechtenstein, the Bahamas and Cyprus. (6)

1) Yes, getting people to declare their incomes honestly is difficult, and even if they did, a tax on incomes still has huge dead weight costs…

2) … but working out the value of land that people own is relatively simple.

3) The DM confuse ‘cost to the economy’ with ‘the government collecting less in tax than you’d expect’ and use the “s” word, but hey.

4) They haven’t learned the lessons of the Window Tax. It’s entirely unnecessary to know exactly what is built on any plot of land to work out the location value of the land to within a tolerable margin of error (certainly by Greek standards), it doesn’t matter whether an individual house has a swimming pool or not (and if you wish to make swimming pool owners pay more in tax, then it’s easier to slap a tax on mains water usage).

5) Most pictures on Google Earth are several years old, it’s too late to try and camouflage your swimming pool now.

6) So what? A lot of that money will come flowing back to pay the LVT bills, won’t it? And if not, the Greek can recover the tax arrears by selling off the plots of non-payers or renting them out. Which, coincidentally is more or less the opposite of their plan to sell off even more state-owned land.

But no doubt, all these millionaires will manage to track down a Poor Widow or two to use as a human shield: surely it’s far more important to allow them to live out their days in peace than try to plug the budget deficit or anything?

Explaining the Poggendorf Illusion

According to Wiki’s entry on The Poggendorf Illusion“To this day, it is not known why this illusion happens. There are many theories about why this simple geometrical illusion occurs, but none proposed gives a satisfactory account for all the conditions under which it diminishes or appears. It could be that the human visual system is extremely poor at interpreting the path of diagonal lines, although it is not understood why.”

Nope. It’s quite simple really – you have to remember that you have two eyes, so if there is an obstruction between you and whatever you are looking at (Wiki’s entry uses a diagonal line, but it’s easier to explain with a face) your left eye can see part of the face which your right eye can’t, and vice versa. But the obstruction looks more or less the same to both eyes.

So, because it is the face you are concentrating on, your mind will try to stitch together as much of the face as possible, so what you [think you] see is (from left to right) the part of the face as seen through your left eye, the obstruction, and then the part of the face as seen through your right eye.

There are degrees of this – if the obstruction is much closer to the face, your mind will not attempt this trick and if the obstruction is considerably nearer to you than to the face you are looking at, you will actually see the face correctly and two semi-transparent images of the obstruction. Ultimately, the effect is most noticeable if the obstruction is exactly half way between you and the face you are observing.

As examples, imagine you are at a barbecue party at seat diagonally opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, and there is an umbrella pole exactly half way between you. If you keep one eye shut, or if you took a picture with a camera, what you would see is the upper picture, but if you have both eyes open, what you [think you] would see is the lower picture.The difference between the two is that in the upper picture, I just laid a white strip over the picture, and for the bottom picture I tore the picture down the middle and separated the two halves by about half an inch. Despite the fact the lower picture is “wrong” it does not look any less natural than the upper picture.

If we substitute ‘diagonal line’ for ‘face’, your mind plays the same trick – it shifts the left hand half of the line to the left and the right hand half to the right, thus the dotted line which would join up the two parts of the diagonal line would be flatter than the diagonal line. So we are used to seeing things slightly “wrong” and this is why in the Wiki example, it looks as if the black line on the left lines up with the blue line on the right.