It is Obvious

Chris Rick has got altogether too much to say

Archive for February, 2011

I wonder

Posted by chrisrick13 on February 25, 2011

It is obvious: it only takes good men to do nothing for evil to prosper.

Not my words.

There was a time in the first Iraq war when the defeated Iraqi troops were streaming home down a valley overflown by allied planes.  The Americans call it a turkey shoot.  It was certainly fish in a barrel.  They couldn’t do the slaughter that Saddam would have done without compunction were roles reversed, and let them retreat.  I thought at the time that they should have leafleted the area and told the troops that any moving vehicle would be obliterated, and walking humans would  be unharmed.  This would have efectively disarmed Saddam.  He might well have just bought more arms, but the southern Arabs would probably have succeeded in their uprising.  Then the uprisings were not supported by the west (or anyone else).  Had they been I wonder whether we would have waited 20 years for Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and the others that will follow.  Was that why Saddam was left?

I wonder now, today, what would happen were there some active support for the revolts?  Would we see more?  Saudi Arabia comes to mind.  China? Russia? Venezuela?  Scotland?

We are in dangerous and uncertain times…but I don’t think that it is any different to the past thousand years, certainly the past two hundred.

I have written much about triggers making predicting an impossible task.  I have already pondered if certain events were triggers, but they were not.  I wonder now whether a street trader setting fire to himself in Tunisia is the trigger.  If triggers are impossible to predict I wonder if analysis of a certain state of affairs would reveal that it was vulnerable to a trigger and thereby allow prediction based on a vulnerability to triggers and the probability of one happening.

It is obvious that we really do not know enough information about what governments are doing ‘behind the scenes’ to make accurate statements about what is actually happening and why.  We can only speculate.

As for the line of Arab countries, it matters now because of oil, but it soon won’t.

It is obvious: it only takes good men to do nothing for evil to prosper and there is a lot of that going on.

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Local Hero (6)

Posted by chrisrick13 on February 23, 2011

It is obvious: the obvious stuff is all around us.

Dr Albert Bartlett – the emeritus Professor of Physics at Colorado University.  (‘Emeritus’ means unpaid, I just found out.)  He is a charming and unassuming man.  He is one of my heroes because of a lecture, he has given many times, that can be seen at:

He has a lifetime of achievements – been there and done it all, can well be said of him.  As he is emeritus he clearly has money!  He is 88 so all that he talks about is not going to affect him.  In short he has no vested interest in what he is talking about.  Such provenance makes what he says worthy of a listen.

His lecture is a calm, lucid, explanation of his theme.  It is absorbing viewing.

I won’t spoil it with a summary.  I will say that he talks in the general area of curves that are followed to their natural end.  This is something that I have campaigned against endlessly in this blog and elsewhere.  However it is consideration of what happens when the curves are not followed that is, let me grasp for some appropriate words, sobering, frightening, terrifying, thought provoking.  All of his theme is around the rule of 70.

There are many, many good words in his talk, all of them in the right order.  I offer my favourite:

We cannot let others do our thinking for us.

I wished I had his command of words.

It is obvious: the obvious stuff is all around us, but it often takes masters to make it so.

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Local Hero (5)

Posted by chrisrick13 on February 23, 2011

It is obvious: they are out there

Shaun Richards, better know as Notayesmanseconomics writes every weekday at 11:00 (ish) on all things economic (and other stuff)  It is immensely well informed, logical thought.  He tells it like it is and constantly poses uncomfortable questions.  I would pay serious money to see him interview King, Trichet, Brown or anyone of a dozen others whose shortcoming he constantly highlights.  Alas, a dream.

It should be compulsory reading for everyone in the country every day.

It is obvious: they are out there – just lucky when you find one.

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I love a good dictator

Posted by chrisrick13 on February 23, 2011

It is obvious: things only happen when someone suffers pain.

For years Europe and the rest of the world has slumbered while a set of dictators have ruled in a band across the top of Africa that stretches through the Arab countries, bumped down by democratic Israel, did do Iraq, does Iran and across to China with only a small diversion for India.  Indeed most of the world runs on dictators so it is not much of an observation.  I still find it amusing that the most despotic of dictatorships or one party states always include the words ‘peoples republic’ when they clearly are not.

The other amusement I find is that Gadaffi Duck (as Reagan called him) a totally off the wall despot is in charge of a country with no foreign debt and a huge sovereign fund that is invested for the good of (probably Gadaffi) but likely, eventually, for the people of Libya.  As bad as things are in the UK with the economy I know which country I would rather live in.

The other amusement is the security council trying to condemn what Libya has done to its population.  Both China and Russia veto any harsh words for the simple reason that they both have done, and know they will need to do the same in the future, and want to reserve the right to do it again.

Now the fuse has been lit in the west of this band and it is spreading.  There will be huge dislocation, but very quickly stability will be achieved and not much will be different to the way it was a month ago…but it will be a little different.  Why is that?  I have said much in the past that communism will be defeated by Macdonalds and and Levi.  I will now add the internet or just put that on its own.  It will be difficult to deny information to any population in the future and get more so as time goes by.  Information is a great leveller and the speed of its transmission can bring down whole countries and especially dictators.

It is obvious: things only happen when someone suffers pain and sometimes it is the bad guy.

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Invest, invest, invest

Posted by chrisrick13 on February 16, 2011

It is obvious: you are in control.

I have looked at investing and come to the conclusion that you should invest in yourself.  Investing in gold, or shares, or bonds, or property is full of problems and unknowns.  In short there is lots of risk and getting it right is not easy or simply will just be a matter of luck.

This does not mean that you should not try to acquire assets.  A house is a good place to start…or maybe a home is a better description.  Not an investment vehicle.  It has to be maintained but even if you don’t have a job you can do it yourself.  Trying to hold a decent amount of cash so that you can replace the broken fridge/car/tv/computer/heating boiler is worth doing.  Holding cash in general for an emergency is worth doing.  Beyond that trying to save for a pension is certainly worth doing…but not as important as you might think.

I recently had my bathroom tiled.  The guy who did it was 70.  He has all the work he can handle.  He is thinking of retiring, but I know he won’t until he can’t physically do the job.  He has a house in Spain and has made pension provision.  However he has not taken it and likely won’t.  He is earning more than he ever did and he has the summer off every year.  By being fit, healthy and having skills in demand and a good grasp of those skills he is making much more than his pension would be paying him and enjoying doing it.

I have said that I think that the energy industry is the place to acquire skills…I wonder if I will put my money where my mouth is?  But acquiring skills you must.

There is another leg of investment I have not yet mentioned.  When I was young(er) I could eat anything I wanted and never put any weight on.  In common with nearly everyone at that stage in their life I thought I was excused the rules of dieting.  Then came a point where I had an injury and reduced my physical exercise for a long period and my body decided at the same time that it could acquire fat by simply looking at food.

I decided, eventually, to do something about it and have been losing weight.  I have done it by eating a little less each day, eating healthier food, and exercising more.  It has taken 2 years but I have lost over 2 stone and still counting.  I am 12stone and some large number of pounds with a target of 12stone and not very many pounds.  There are a lot of improvements in my body not least of which is that my injured knee has stopped hurting.  I hope it is because I am hammering it with less weight.

What I have been doing is investing in my health.  Will I live forever…I don’t know but it will just seem like it (ha ha).  Will I increase my lifespan?  Possibly and even probably.  What I will do though, is to increase the velocity of my death.  Instead of going into a long slow decline able to do less and less, I should run along, not much changed in my abilities, until something comes along and finishes me off quite quickly.

This answers the second leg of my strategy.  I intend to work as long as I can provided the work is there, provided I can get it, provided I can do it.

This strategy works well.  The pension provision I have to make is small so I have my ‘pension money’ to spend when I am younger.  The pension money I do accumulate has less time to cover so I can afford the Ferrari and a serious drugs habit.  Of course this is all kicked over if you do get something with a low velocity of death.  Something nasty that means you linger for a long time unable to do much.  That is perhaps the only reason pension companies exist.

A lot of what you are is dependent on your genes so my next bit of advice is to choose your parents carefully.

That just leaves me to think about if the work is there.  It is that which leads me to bleating in this blog about the economy and the way that getting good, reliable information is so difficult.  Whatever happens to this country, or this world, there will be those who are on the plus side and those on the minus side.  Each one of us has the capacity to influence that in the right direction.

It is obvious: you are in control, much more than you might think.

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Right between the eyes

Posted by chrisrick13 on February 15, 2011

It is obvious: there are two sides to every argument

I saw a caring academic on tv today.  He was talking about money and economics in relation to old people and other mainly disadvantaged groups.

The interviewer said that at least if interest rates went up then pensioners would stop suffering as the return on their investments would rise.

He pointed out that this was not the case.  For many they have had not had enough money to live on.  So they have been using the capital rather than the interest.  When interest rates go up they will have no capital left on which to earn interest.  It never occurred to me.

This interlude of low interest rates has put many pensioners into permanent poverty.  It is being followed by decent levels of inflation so that any assets they do have will be reduced in value to virtually nothing.

It is obvious: there are two sides to every argument, often both are very bad ones.

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You can’t touch me, I’m part of the union.

Posted by chrisrick13 on February 15, 2011

It is obvious: there are some dangerous people about.

Today I heard Brendan Barber of the TUC talking about inflation.  He signalled that there would be action to maintain his members’ standard of living under the effects of inflation.  I think this an empty threat but it does show his mindset.  He did say two other interesting things:

1. Our members have a right to a decent standard of living.
2. We need to secure a growing economy.

I would like to know who he thinks gave us that right and what he means by the word ‘decent’.  I suspect that most of the population of China, India, Brazil, and Africa (the best part of 3bn of the 5bn on this planet) would consider even the poorest in this country to have a decent standard of living.  Anything we do will be competing with these countries and their labour costs.  What are the chances of these people working hard and improving their standard of living against the chances of us increasing our standard of living?

Maybe he means that we should have the same standard of living that we have had over the last 10 years?  That is a period of time when we added nearly £1tn to our personal indebtedness and spent it.  I wonder where he thinks we are going to get the next £1tn of loans from.  Indeed much of that indebtedness came from selling houses to people prepared to commit to 30 years of spending more than 50% of what they earned to buy a house.  Indeed we are in a position at the moment where we as a nation are actively stopping young people from stepping on to that treadmill essential for houses to maintain the value that has been borrowed against.

His second point about a growing economy was also interesting.  How much have I banged on about growth and the impossibility of keeping even 2% growth over any sustained period simply from the mathematics.  I am waiting for the day that someone in power talks about a sustained economy that exists with no growth.  I wonder if it will ever be before one is forced on us…which may not be too far away.

I read another interesting ‘fact’ yesterday.  It has bearing on our ability as a nation to do anything.  Since 2006 nearly 2m people emigrated from the UK.  Most of those went to English speaking countries or Europe.  You will know as well as I that to get into the likes of Australia, Canada and USA you have to have significant skills and money.  So we lost 2,000,000 skilled people.  People who had been invested in by the UK with degrees most likely, and who had significant experience.  They each took in excess of £100,000 with them which is over £200bn.  Is that the basis to build our economy on?  Why did they leave?  I wonder if Brendan Barber has any commentary on that number?

It is obvious: there are some dangerous people about and they all seem harmless on the surface.

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There, but for the grace of…

Posted by chrisrick13 on February 14, 2011

It is obvious: there are few in this country get it.

I have been trying to find a pithy way to illustrate to people in casual conversation why we have got cuts.  Over a pint in the pub, or a coffee in the cafe, and I have to say here, we have found a cheap place, I cannot enter a long discourse of subtle arguments.  I want people to understand well enough that they can make their own decisions.  Perhaps if enough people do know then I won’t keep hearing drivel on the tv especially from the instant experts the BBC keeps finding.

The starting point is the difference between debt and deficit.  That is easy enough.  But then I really need some way of describing what will happen if we don’t cut the deficit and then ultimately the debt.

One of the angles I thought of was to say that the interest we pay each year on our debts is enough to pay the NHS and defence budgets.  However given the levels of personal debt and how it has been acquired I’m sure that would only strike a chord with 30% of the population…who realise already anyway.

Today though it suddenly hit me, late as ever, that we have some very good models.  I can point to Greece, Portugal, and Ireland as accurate models of what will happen to us in just 4 years if we don’t cut the deficit.  Greece is perhaps the best example as it is closest to severe failure as a state.  As time goes by I will be able to sagely point to Greece and say: that will be us without the cuts.

I have tried to detach where we are from how we got here.  We are all responsible: we voted in Labour and we spent.  It is our collective fault.  Another one of my aims has been to try to quantify exactly what happened during the Labour government.  I have never voted Labour and see no prospects of hell freezing over but I also have severe doubts whether the conservatives would have done that much better.  I don’t have time or the knowledge to find and analyse statistics scattered over the internet.  Then my saviour comes along.

There is a book called Gordon is a Moron.  Clearly it is biased, but it does have a lot of numbers in it.  I managed to pick a copy up for 24p.  I’ll do some highlights in a couple of weeks.  (By-the-by I don’t think Gordon is a moron…I think he did it all very deliberately.)  The epilogue is very depressing reading.  However I have just dipped in and pulled out two bits of information.  Because of the tax credit system a single parent working 16 hours a week on minimum wage earns as much as two person family also on minimum wage working 116 hours a week.  Tax credits being a hugely complex instrument that few understand or know how to work.  The other I bumped into was Brown’s Bottom.  Against advice from just about everyone he sold many tons of gold at the lowest price in many many years.  Had he sold today then we would be in excess of £50bn richer.

It is obvious: there are few in this country get it.  Not long now though.

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Who loves ya baby?

Posted by chrisrick13 on February 11, 2011

It is obvious: I am self interested.

Any rational creature has self-interest at its very centre.  If it didn’t then it would not survive to put its genes back into the gene pool.  Potted philosophy, easily defeated by considering the actions of a virus.  I am questioning why I write this blog.  Part of it comes from designing software.  It is all very well to visualise a solution in your head, but it is the physical writing down and description of that design that requires large numbers of micro-decisions that force you to investigate all the problems and not gloss over them.  It also allows clear communication to other people.

I am not trying to scatter strident words into the universe.  I am not trying to influence people.  I am not trying to make a living with my eloquent (sic) words.  I am self-interested.  I am trying to work out the best things to do so that I can have the life I want at a cost I am prepared to pay.  Alas, most of the things that I might be interested in require that I accumulate money, or at least enough money.  So I am very interested in making the most of such assets as I have.  That comes down to considering the economics of the UK a lot of the time. I am coming to a number of conclusions…most of which are not much help to me!

I think that accumulating assets and maintaining their value will be very difficult.  Therefore I have focussed on the phrase ‘invest in yourself’.  By this I mean that it is a better strategy to keep working rather than to accumulate assets and live off them.  To keep working in hard times, and we will have plenty of those, means that I will have to acquire skills that keep me in demand.  Those skills will have to have a rarity value at the same time as a large demand, or at least a demand that far exceeds the supply of them.

I can stay within software, but I thought that I ought to consider other areas, 40 years of writing software is perhaps enough.  I have mentioned that I think working in the alternative energy industry is a likely candidate.  I also think that working at the level of the individual house is where the growth will be.  Working in a wind farm or nuclear power station is not a valid option!

However there is another factor I have to consider.  Is the UK a good place to live?  Will it change much over coming years?  Whatever the state of the UK I have to consider places that might be better.  There are a few candidates: Canada, Norway, New Zealand.  (Why couldn’t they be Jamaica, The Seychelles, and Mauritius?)  There may be others.  As good as the UK is it is a dinosaur.  A T-Rex has bitten the tail off and is about to start on the hind legs but the pain messages have not yet arrived at the head for it to make an appropriate response.  There is still time, but not much.

I will keep the blog updated with any conclusions I might arrive at.  It is not yet time to buy a lot of tinned food and a shotgun but there are a lot of easy things that can be done that will be easier and cheaper done now rather than in the future.

It is obvious: I am self interested, the trouble is, so is every one else

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Predicting events in the past

Posted by chrisrick13 on February 11, 2011

It is obvious: politicians are not stupid.

There was a deal of raising of eyebrows when Ed Milliband chose Alan Johnson as shadow chancellor.  There was some discussion over why Ed Balls, a much better qualified candidate, did not get it.  Johnson performed adequately, and that is about the best of it.  Then he resigned and Balls came in.

Cameron asked at PMQs why, if he was so good, he didn’t get the job in the first place.  I waited for the well informed technical assault on Osborne…but it did not happen.  There were a few appearances on tv with a sneering Balls making comments on the inadequacy of the Conservative economic policy.  Whenever he stood up and attacked the government Osborne, or anyone really, stood up and swatted him away as the architect of the mess we are in…to which he has no answer.

It seems to me that at least in the House of Commons everyone is well aware what a mess Labour have made of this country.

So it turns out that Milliband made an inspired choice of Johnson as shadow chancellor.  He was someone who had to get an economics primer to read so he could do the job.  He was absolutely squeaky-clean of any implication in the economic mess engineered by Brown and his team…of which Balls was a key member.  He could not be so easily swatted.

It was inspired of Milliband to choose Johnson and even more inspired to replace Johnson with the ‘obvious choice’ for the job who has now turned out to be less effective than his predecessor.  This is easy ground for Milliband to lose as they were bound to lose it anyway.  He will be able to re-shuffle in a while and get someone he wants in the job for the run-up to the election.

I am not one for political comment, though I will take every opportunity to snipe at the left when they do what they have done in recent times to this country.  This is about the mastery of political chess.  Milliband, or his advisors, are clearly smart.  I suspect Osborne is relishing the budget and Balls’ attack after the speech.  It will have all the effect of trying to beat someone to death with a feather.  But now I have fallen into the trap of predicting events in the future – I am usually so slow on the uptake that I can avoid that.

It is obvious: politicians are not stupid, they simply make their mistakes in public.

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