Thursday, 3 January 2019

It's Electric!

I had an electric car once. The range was pathetic... the cord only stretched about 50 feet. An oldie but nevertheless still illustrative of a truism, that although electric cars may be the future, it will be a future quite different from the one advertised. There may yet be inductive charging while in motion, kerbside hook-ups every fifteen feet and the opportunity for some to charge up for free at work, but the electricity has to be reliably generated somewhere.

And about that reliability thing: until we get 24/7 sunshine, or constant, not-too-weak/not-too-strong wind we have to generate that electricity by, you guessed it, fossil fuel, because much of the world has turned against nuclear. So, the real power behind electric cars is not clean, fresh, free-to-harvest renewables, but good old coal and gas. Add in the cost of mining all that toxic cadmium and other expensive, exotic metals and it is almost certain you can show that cough for cough, electric cars are more environmentally harmful than diesel

But long before we get to the stage when environmentalists begin to campaign against electric cars we need to spend a whole bunch of cash just to make electron-propelled transport viable. Where do you live and where do you work? Do you have a nice driveway where you can recharge? Or, like far more of the population, do you need to park across the road, in the next street, or just in a different spot every evening because, muh, congestion?

Who is going to build all the power stations needed? It has been widely reported that China builds a new coal-fired power station about every three seconds, yet in the UK we get one new nuclear plant every fifty years. And how is all that electricity to be distributed; who is going to build the infrastructure? You guessed it, not us. The Germans and the French already seem to own our power market anyway, so hey, let’s throw more of our capital away in pursuit of what still seems, to me, to be an improbable dream.

Why the push for all-electric transport then? Well, obviously it is whatever form of climate change we are trying to reverse this week. And if energy usage is the bogeyman, why increase it? Turning fossil fuel into motive power, heat, light, etc is more effective if you cut out the middle man of costly (to build, maintain, manage and bill for) energy networks which merely increase complexity. This introduces efficiency losses at each stage of the process: extraction, transport, conversion , distribution, etc  and adds administrative costs as the bureaucracy of the systems involved each take their slice.

Drax power station in South Yorkshire converted to the ‘carbon neutral’ wonder fuel known as biomass some years ago. Not only is this more expensive, but it is ultimately more polluting, especially when you take into account the supply chains and deforestation involved in the base fuel. Drax is built pretty much on top of a massive source of coal, which it used to burn. If the Chinese and the Germans are allowed to get away with coal-fired, why do we have to pay for what they produce from afar when we have it right here?

Faced with rising costs, British consumers of electricity have been economising and their adoption of more efficient devices, low energy lighting and a bit of common sense is paying dividends. The electric car might be a shiny carrot of a pseudo-incentive, but we have always responded quicker to a beating and the big stick of electricity tariffs has been pushing our usage down for years. It was reported this morning (BBC World Service news) that we are now using less electricity in the UK than in the eighties and that our thrift has been more influential in this than the combined ‘contribution’ of both wind and solar power.

Plug into a nearby taxpayer's wallet and she's ready to go... 

So, the experts’ solution to our future energy needs is to increase our demand for electricity? And to do this they will add extra taxes into your electricity bills? Doesn’t this sound rather like the sort of things a drug baron might do - increase dependency, push up the price? Are those in control really a part of the solution at all, or rather the largest part of the problem? By all means buy an electric runabout today, but suggest your kids look into coal, oil and gas for future careers... just in case.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

The Company Store

Money. It’s a funny old thing isn’t it? In an ideal world we would all have work which suited us, paid enough to allow us to spend our non-working time as we wished and have enough left over to fund the nicer things in life. Free, world-class healthcare for all, decent roads, affordable public transport , a legal system accessible and fair to everybody and an education system which produced balanced, thoughtful, useful future contributors to this blissful status quo, whether academically gifted or not.

But we don’t live in such a world and money, well it’s a tricky blighter, isn’t it? Where does it come from, for a start? And who does it ultimately belong to? This, I believe was the crack into which the otherwise sane and grounded Labour MP, Jess Philips, inserted her crowbar in a late entry to the most stupid tweet of the year competition.

Now, such a statement is not only factually incorrect in so many ways, it is also laughably na├»ve and ordinarily, you would expect the masses to descend, hooting and laughing, but an alarming number of players leapt in to defend her. She was trying to say – I generously think – that we all put in and we all take out and that it is entirely fair that some put in much more than others and some, deservedly, take out more, but that only works in the imaginary world of the first paragraph. David Vance challenged her assertion and was offered this myopic explanation by somebody else who clearly doesn’t grasp his brief:

It is an entirely rosy view of socialist style economics whereby the failings are hidden behind flowery words and peace and love and all the stuff you just can’t make a profit on, yet sound like the sort of lovely things we should all say to each other. But here’s the thing: If all that you receive is paid from the state coffers – not just benefit claimants but every single public sector employee – including MPs like Jess – then anything you pay back out of that makes literally zero contribution to the coffers.

Let’s do that in simple numbers. I give you a hundred pounds, you give me £30 back in tax and National Insurance, then after you spend the rest I get back another £14 in VAT. You have contributed literally nothing to my stash of cash (I’m £56 down) but Jess and Jonathan will thank you for your £44 contribution. This is the Ponzi system on which our society exists, but we don’t seem academically equipped to challenge; ‘we all pay tax’, my arse.

The thread carried on into the new year with this lucid but incorrect appraisal by the newly minted economist Jess and my reply to it – much as outlined above - attracted all the opprobrium you would expect from the similarly deluded. 


I particularly enjoyed Mark’s contribution, for which I am truly grateful – it can be tricky keeping up the small minded prick persona.

Now, I quite like Jess Phillips. She is down to earth, clearly concerned and engaged and is absolutely a force for good in the world. But the politics she espouses are where it all grinds to a shuddering halt. Labour – under any leader – is a recipe for economic cataclysm. Begin pretending that we are all contributors and it is but a short step to conclude we must also all be entitled to receive. Which brings us back to this: where does the money actually come from and whose does it belong to, really? Go on, ask yourself...

The ones who got rich from the gold rush were those who sold blankets and shovels. In many economies especially that of the EU-run UK, the appearance of success is created by churn, a steady recirculating of cash. We only possess it for a while and we only have the illusion of control over it. So, unless you have savings - real, they-can’t-touch-it-or-devalue-it savings - the reality is that the company store owns it all; in the biggest gamble of your life, the house always wins. It has taken me over forty years of full-time work to finally appreciate the truism that work is, indeed, its own reward. I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

2019 and all that

The Chinese famously have a calendar which amuses the west – 2019 is the year of the pig, by the way - but more importantly, ignores it. During the Chinese New Year celebrations which officially run from February 5th, until the 19th in accordance with the lunar cycle, many businesses close down as celebrants pay homage to who they are, what they believe in and how they traditionally feast.

This year is the opportunity for we British to redefine our identity. In three short months we will see whether or not we have a strong enough belief in ourselves to force a recalcitrant establishment to do as bid. We will discover whether we have the resolve to come out as independent, or whether, as Remainers believe, we should be ashamed of ourselves and must cower before the might of faceless lever-pullers in Brussels. I’m not holding my breath, but this – despite all protestations otherwise – is why we voted for Brexit.

The last two and a half years have been an unending attempt to convince us otherwise with all the tricks of statecraft, economic prestidigitation and a ceaseless parade of lies and obfuscation brought to bear against a phenomenon they simply don’t understand. Don’t they realise that as much as anything else Brexit is about a rejection of all this chicanery? Among the noise, the one text that both sides have repeatedly used to explain society in 2018 is 1984.

Words can mean whatever you wish them to mean. ‘Lose’, for instance has become defined as ‘we weren’t really ready’. ‘Ever closer union’ really means ‘more rights for workers’. And ‘Withdrawal Agreement’, bizarrely, means ‘associate membership at twice the price with none of the rights’, as far as I can tell. Legal advice seems to advocate both for and against May’s capitulation, entirely depending on what you believed in the first place. We are truly in Newspeak territory here, where every ‘fact’ is also an anti-fact and every ‘truth’ a lie.

The real fireworks are yet to come...

As for New Year resolutions, like birthday candle wishes they rarely come true unless the intent and opportunity is already there, so I have no plan to realise any outlandish ambition, embark on an unfinishable project, or make any doomed predictions as to how the year will turn out. Instead I will simply reaffirm my basic rules for life in the light of recent events:

·         Following Gatwick dronegate and other misreported idiocies I resolve never to believe a mainstream news item ever again.
·         In similar vein I will question the motives and agenda of all news presenters and channels.
·         Until it happens I won’t believe Brexit will happen.
·         And as for work/life balance, it is around 80/20 at the moment. I’m sure, with a bit of effort, I can get that up to 90%!

Have a happy new year!