God Help Us All

Peter Hitchen's is on point in his latest Sunday Diary:

"And then mark that the pretext for this bizarre rocket attack was an unproven claim that President Assad of Syria had used poison gas.

Yes, unproven. The brutality of Sisi and the Saudis is beyond doubt. They didn’t use gas, but our leaders’ outrage at Assad’s alleged gas attack looks a little contrived if they keep such company.

Also what happened to the rules of evidence? Many people have written, spoken – and now acted – as if the charge was proven. Why the hurry?

Now, Mr Assad is not a nice person. I have been writing rude things about his bloodstained and wicked regime for years."

Can't disagree with a word of this - it is saying a lot when Hitchen's analysis is not so dissimilar to that of arch-youtuber loon Paul Watson and yet remains the most apt.

There are 2 likely consequences of the behaviour of the West in this:

1. Despots the world over challenged by the West will simply thumb their nose at them: we ignore the most aggressive, cruellest of belligerents; from Duterte to Kim Jong Un the key to avoiding western intervention in your own little fiefdom is to either overtly challenge the "evil" West or subvert it with a smile and state visits but ultimately not changing a damn thing about your behaviour to your own people; you invite western intervention, as proven by Saddam, Gaddafi, and very soon Assad, by complying with their demands.

2. The "centre" cannot hold: do we really believe Clinton would behave any differently in this situation? And if Trump isn't willing to try something else what does that mean for voting in any real change?

Everywhere we look, whether it is an encroaching spy-state, social media clamping down on "fake news" or even the slow motion corruption of Western public structures, from police seizure rules to the general "fuck-off" loop of challenging the petty injustice of the state do we really see modern western values as something worth supporting anymore? The article is by Peter Hitchen's for God's sake.

In all of this it is worth remembering the story of Mohamed Bouazizi:

"According to friends and family, local police officers had allegedly targeted and mistreated Bouazizi for years, including during his childhood, regularly confiscating his small wheelbarrow of produce; but Bouazizi had no other way to make a living, so he continued to work as a street vendor. Around 10 p.m. on 16 December 2010, he had contracted approximately US$200 in debt to buy the produce he was to sell the following day. On the morning of 17 December, he started his workday at 8 a.m. Just after 10:30 a.m., the police began harassing him again, ostensibly because he did not have a vendor's permit. However, while some sources state that street vending is illegal in Tunisia and others that Bouazizi lacked a required permit to sell his wares, according to the head of Sidi Bouzid's state office for employment and independent work, no permit is needed to sell from a cart.

...Bouazizi, angered by the confrontation went to the governor's office to complain and to ask for his scales back. The governor refused to see or listen to him, even after Bouazizi was quoted as saying, "If you don't see me, I'll burn myself." Bouazizi then acquired a can of gasoline from a nearby gas station and returned to the governor's office. While standing in the middle of traffic, he shouted, "How do you expect me to make a living?" He then doused himself with the gasoline and set himself alight with a match at 11:30 a.m. local time, less than an hour after the altercation."

This single event precipitated the Arab Spring; a single act of despair and destitution in the face of petty corruption which led to the overthrow of many autocrats in the middle east as well as introducing many worse.

Are we really so sure we aren't getting towards this in the West?


Chickening Out

Having chickened out of entering the IEA's Richard Koch Essay Competition* I will instead list my 5 top policy changes that I feel would best improve conditions for the UK people's in the shortest amount of time:

1. The "Bow Tie": Adaptive Negative Income Tax (ANIT)
This was actually the title of my essay and was nominally advocating a Negative Income Tax system albeit with some twists to encourage work instead of treating it like the dole; in essence work that paid below the tax free income region (call it £15k) would be topped up in my Tax Scheme based on the number of hours worked: for instance if you worked 5 hours a week the base NIT income (£8k) would be topped up to £9k per annum (pro rata); at 20 hours a week it would be topped up to £12k. The advantage of this is that voluntary work and entrepreneurial start ups could hire staff with no minimum wage precluding job creation and the regulatory impact of hiring staff would also be soaked up ; training, effort and keeping busy could be rewarded in both business and the voluntary sectors. Children would also be eligible for the ANIT but at a much reduced rate in order to cover the sunk-costs of education and healthcare and the rump would be payable to the parent until adulthood/emancipation (see point 2).

Dwell on this for a second; we could have local charitable groups like a citizens action fund which would coordinate road clearing in heavy snow to get Britain moving along the back roads in winter or organise meal making and home visitations for the weak, infirm and lonely elderly; an internet startup could sink their resources into getting their SME off the ground by registering their business in order to sign off on their staff to work pro bono, acting as valuable experience and training or getting friends and family to buy-in to your vision.

This also has one additional advantage: it puts the DWP completely out of work as every function could be managed by HMRC and local government; combined with a zero-base policy rethink of taxation and government spending this would do wonders for productivity and employment.

2. Transferable Tax Free Income
I wrote about this some years ago before I had even heard of negative income tax and to this day it still seems strange that it hasn't been adopted; it's almost like the government can't trust us to organise our own tax and household affairs. 

The idea is relatively simple; the ANIT is transferable all the way up to the tax free income bracket of £15k; what could be worth £12k to a spouse working 20 hours a week would become £15k to the other, enabling one to raise children and/or keep house, one of the hardest jobs in existence. The effects could be extended to the ANIT value of children too so higher-earning parents would see a larger proportion of their income retained or a balance so the non-working spouse had a separate income, in any case the arrangement of tax affairs would no longer be the remit of the rich and powerful; it would be habitual for the poorest and least well off to the middle classes to be self-starting and supporting too and glue families together to tackle problems.

3. A Regressive Business Inequality Tax
It is right for business owners who take a risk on new ventures to claim the rewards for doing so as Stephen Crowder so eloquently put it in this take-down of the legacy of the Obama administration and Bernie Sanders tax plans. However, it is entirely possible that the less scrupulous bosses out there might take advantage of underpaying their workers at the expense of their own income and so I would like to see variable income tax brackets for business owners who abuse the ANIT system based on the net income difference between employer and employee (not entirely dissimilar to what Corbyn was somehow mutterin recently here**). For instance if an owner of several chicken shops is using no-pay ANIT to not pay staff but is receiving a net income of several million (after inventory and payroll if any) then there is something wrong with that; this becomes less of a problem as a business expands and becomes profitable because so too would the income of all staff; it would only start to become a problem again when a business goes large or mega-sized by which point you are in the top tax bracket anyway. In any case this policy should be kid gloves and only designed to stop predatory use of the ANIT to supplement low pay and poor conditions for a profitable business so the inequality metric would be large.

4. Revise Public Sector Salaries Downwards By De-taxing Them, Making The Change Neutral/Small Pay Rise
The average public sector salary (as of 2011) was £28,802; adjusted for tax take and NI the net income on this is £21,727 - so why not make that the salary and make the value tax free? We could adjust give every nurse, doctor and street sweeper in the country a 5% pay rise (again we could regressively target this to increasing the lowest salaries whilst not changing the highest) making the average £22,813 then not bother recycling a chunk of it through the tax system, which would start to seem more like a make-work scheme; the cost of payroll for the Public Sector would go down as would this internalised tax take - likely this would be Pareto efficient as it would eliminate the recycling of tax income from the public sector.

5. Evolve The National Insurance Scheme into a National Savings Scheme
I envision something similar to this or even this expanded to cover healthcare and old-age maintenance costs; in essence a tax-free savings pot that could pay for long-term illness and old-age costs that could be transferred to different savings funds and allow people to payout for health insurance. Yes we would have to include a safety net for the most extreme cases and something that would mitigate the costs of pre-existing condition but the effect would be to put the individual more in control of their funding. Monies would be used to pay for health insurance, pension plans or even as a kitty to pay for entrepreneurship and business building and taxed (if at all) accordingly. The ANIT would be the ultimate protection against destitution in old age.

*: combination of writers block, laziness and work and child related issues.
**: (note to self: burn close and shower profusely to rid self of dirty feeling citing a Corbynista idea, well, kind of citing it, but, you know, making a better go of it)