Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Which countries in Africa will get their act together?

November 7, 2017

That is the question. On a continent of 55 nation states, there is not going to be a ubiquitous economic revolution. The polities range from bonkers to transformative, and pro-growth NGOs and rich-country governments waste a ton of money trying to work on transformation with the uncommitted and the incapable; in those instances, donors should stick to mitigation. However there are leaders in transformation — Ethiopia and Rwanda stand out — and there are other countries that might get in the game. The following article, from The Herald in Zimbabwe, gives a snapshot of some of the issues (note that the paper does not claim that Zimbabwe itself is in any danger of making progress).

Africa is now primed for a Green Revolution

Aliko Dangote

ON the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, told investors: “Agriculture, agriculture, agriculture. Africa will become the food basket of the world.”

Prime weather conditions, acres of empty space and well-established agricultural sectors averaging 33 percent of GDP, all make Dangote’s statement more than plausible. Yet, Africa’s thought leaders and businessmen have been emphasising the importance of agriculture for quite some time, and to date, familiar problems remain.

According to a World Bank estimate, the African agriculture sector could be worth up to $1 trillion by 2030, but lack of technology, lack of investment and an ageing farmer population all put this figure and Dangote’s vision into question. Only in the past decade or so has the sector seen a sustained development effort, but more needs to be done.

Vision versus reality

Agriculture is positioned at the forefront of nearly every African government’s development plan. The received wisdom is that rapid economic development comes from developing smallholder farms, evidenced by Europe, North America and Asia’s historical development.

Africa has about 33 million farms of less than two hectares each, accounting for 80 percent of all farms. Rather than create large commercial farms, many believe that by increasing the yields of African smallholdings, and by ensuring manufacturing capability to improve and extend value chains, Africa can retain its agricultural wealth, reduce imports, and profit from a surplus of goods in the market.

Speaking at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2017 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Joe Studwell, author and journalist, said: “I put it to you that smallholder agriculture is not just important; if you want to transform your society quickly there is no other way to do it.”

In 2003 the African Union echoed this belief and adopted the Nepad Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which aimed to revive agriculture by addressing numerous issues as well as pledging that each African country should dedicate 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture.

Faced with substantial budgetary constraints, not all African countries have been able to allocate 10 percent, but progress has been made most recently by Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, who gave $200 million to coffee and cocoa farmers to meet the CAADP requirements and become a net exporter of food.

Other notable public endeavours include Ethiopia and Nigeria establishing an Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) to coordinate activities between government ministries across central and local governments, and Rwanda exceeding CAADP expectations by giving more than 10 percent of its budget.

However, policy often lags behind vision and commitment and many countries still have vastly underdeveloped sectors. Dr Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), said: “We are starting to see African governments beginning to get their act together but there is still work to do.”

Public-private partnerships fill gaps

At the top of the AGRF 2017 agenda was the importance of using public-private partnerships (PPP) to fill the space left over by government incapacity.

During a panel talk at the conference, Liberia’s outgoing president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, commended the cooperative model: “This forum comes at a time when Africa is more coordinated than ever, in its policies and strategies, and this synergy bodes well for the collaborative approach needed for a successful green revolution.” Many argue that if African governments can better present Africa as a viable emerging agricultural market, then foreign investment and technological know-how could greatly benefit smallholder farms.

Forums like the AGRF work well in bringing together various stakeholders in Africa’s agribusiness landscape, and some important deals were made. The Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA) was formed at the forum and includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and USAID. The partnership earmarked up to $280 million to increase incomes and improve the food security for smallholder households in 11 countries by 2021.

Maslaha Seeds Limited and Syngenta committed to a $1 million investment in increased rice and seed production, while BlackPace Africa Group committed to multimillion-dollar deals to develop potato processing in Nigeria and Rwanda, and Kenya’s Agricultural Finance Corporation settled on investing $2 million in lending to potato farmers – all of which illustrates the usefulness of the private sector in meeting demands.

Pressing concerns

Africa’s agricultural and agribusiness limitations are many and include both the way goods are grown and the way value is added. In a report released by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience (CABI) at AGRF 2017, the fall armyworm – a large worm that spreads rapidly and destroys crops – has now infested 28 African countries. The worm feeds on more than 80 crops and can cut yields by up to 60 percent, raising a substantial threat to agricultural output. CABI estimates that the financial cost of the worm in just 10 of Africa’s maize-producing countries could be as high as $5,5 billion a year.

Although many farms are starting to use new technologies to counter environmental concerns, such as disease-resistant seed strains, environmentally friendly pesticides and improved irrigation, yields remain significantly under their potential. Finance is also a sizeable barrier to the upsizing of smallholder farms, as financial institutions rarely find agricultural projects bankable in Africa.

As Kalibata explains: “Banks are not in the business of losing money. It becomes about how viable smallholder farms are as entities that can hold and pay back money; that is what enables farmers to access finance.”

As an alternative to banks, more innovative methods of financing smallholdings are beginning to emerge, especially with the ubiquity of the smartphone and the greater connectivity of farms.

A young farmer at the conference said: “We need to find other channels of getting access to finance, we need to start working with other farmers to save money and borrow from other groups.”

Urbanisation and an ageing farmer population are also a concern, causing a quickly depleting workforce. The average age of Africa’s farmers, who account for two-thirds of employment, is 60 and the youth in many rural areas leave for urban centres at home or abroad.

“You need to stop talking about making agriculture sexy and cool to young people, what needs to happen is to actually make it a business and to focus on young people who are taking the choice of investing in the sector,” continued the farmer.

Finally, many raw commodities are being exported across the world and much of their potential value gets lost in the process. As the UK’s Lord Boateng said: “The global cocoa market is worth $100 billion, Africa gets 2 percent of that because we don’t process and manufacture chocolate products in Africa.” – New African magazine

Another reason to go in to academia

September 21, 2017

This is a wonderful story from today’s South China Morning Post. The only slightly annoying thing is that if they wanted unctuous propaganda masquerading as scholarly endeavour, why didn’t they come to me? I am not saying that I am cheap, but I am absolutely available. My PhD has cost me a fortune.

Have you tried singing ‘Oh, Xi Jinping’ to the sound of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’? It is mildly humouring.

……………………..

Chinese universities encourage professors, students to post online content that promotes ‘socialist values’

Content that influences public opinion with ‘correct thinking and culture’ given same weight as academic papers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 6:43pm

UPDATED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 7:00pm

 

China’s top universities are encouraging academics and students to write online articles promoting socialist values, with some offering authors the same academic credits they would get for papers published in journals.

The policy, which follows calls made by President Xi Jinping late last year for academics to become advocates of socialist values and firm supporters of Communist Party rule, has upset some people in the world of academia.

According to a notice issued this month by Zhejiang University, content that is widely circulated online, that shows “core socialist values” and influences public opinion with “correct thinking and culture” now carries the same weight as an academic paper – whether it is in the form of an essay, video or animation.

Content that is posted on the websites and social media platforms of party mouthpieces such as People’s Daily and Xinhua would receive the most credits, the notice said.

“Many professors object to it, saying they do not want to be used for politics,” a PhD student at the university told the South China Morning Post.

“No one is stupid here. The policy is aimed at getting the most intelligent people to say positive things about the country,” said the student, who asked not to be named.

The new scheme is being run by the university’s party committee, he said.

Zhejiang University, which is based in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, is not the only seat of learning offering incentives to those who toe the party line. Jilin University in northeastern China is also handing out credits to faculty members whose propaganda is published on state media websites and major commercial news portals.

Propagating the country’s achievements on “mainstream foreign media” also counted as an academic achievement, the university said.

A professor at Jilin, who also requested anonymity, said the new policy had yet to affect his teaching or research work.

“I’m holding onto my own academic standards,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen in the future. A good society should have voices of opposition.”

Shanghai Jiaotong University and the University of Electronic Science and Technology have launched similar schemes, while a number of other schools have promised to follow suit.

The online propaganda drive came soon after inspectors from the party’s discipline watchdog in June named 14 top colleges as being “too weak in their political work”. That announcement followed a nationwide programme of inspections.

Both Zhejiang and Jilin universities were accused of failing to implement a strong system for ideological work.

China is keen to boost the global rankings of its universities and attract the best talent from around the world, but critics have said its efforts were being undermined by too many controls on academics.

In recent years, Beijing has tightened its restraints on higher education, warning of the spread of “Western values” on campuses and sacking lecturers it accused of being critical of the party.

In a speech to universities and colleges in December, Xi said they must become the “strongholds of the party’s leadership”.

Ying Biao, Zhejiang University’s party propaganda chief, said the new scheme was a way to help achieve Xi’s goals.

“We want to … encourage all teachers and students to tell the China story well, to spread China’s voice and to produce more positive views and comments,” Ying told People’s Daily.

According to the Zhejiang PhD student, due to its distance from Beijing’s political centre, the university traditionally enjoyed more freedom than many others and attracted a higher number of liberal scholars as a result.

However, the new policy was likely to encourage young researchers to produce propaganda work rather than academic papers in their bid to get on, he said.

“At least the old people are still here, and they are hard to move,” he said. “But I don’t know how things will be in 10 or 20 years.”

 

 

TAP: proper crap

September 11, 2017

Air Portugal (TAP) may not be the absolute shittest airline on earth, but it tries hard.

On Monday last week I turned up at Heathrow for a flight to Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. The Gates’ and Rockefeller Foundations had very kindly bought me a Business Class ticket to go speak at the 2017 African Green Revolution Forum. I was sent the ticket details about a week earlier.

At check-in, however, the agent said that TAP had not completed the issue of the ticket because it wanted to do a ‘credit card check’. With which card had I paid?

I replied that like most people who travel in Business Class I had not bought my ticket myself. It was purchased for me by the travel secretariat of the AGRF, which I believed was based in Nairobi. If TAP wanted to do a credit card check, shouldn’t it have done one with the travel secretariat a week earlier when the ticket was ordered?

No answer. A phone call ensued between the check-in agent and the TAP office where someone was demanding this random check. I had thought there might have been a payment problem with the credit card, but the agent said this was not the case. TAP just wanted a random, at-the-airport credit card check with a Business Class passenger who had no idea which card had been used for the transaction.

After the call, the agent asked me if I was prepared to pay for the ticket on my card, since there was really no time to chase down the travel secretariat in Nairobi. Figuring that Gates and Rockefeller were good for the money, which was about £1,800, I said yes, because I didn’t want to miss the flight.

By now, however, 20 minutes had gone by and the computer system had automatically shut down the flight’s check-in. Increasingly frantic, the check-in agent started calling numbers of TAP back-office staff asking if they could take my payment over the phone and re-open the flight to allow my boarding pass to be issued.  There were long discussions and calls to other numbers. At half an hour before take-off, I figured I was not travelling.

Just then, however, the senior TAP manager in the airport sauntered past. The check-in agent explained the situation. The manager picked up the phone, called the TAP office, and instructed them to issue to the ticket, charged to the original card. Then he told the check-in agent to walk me through security to the gate. We set off 26 minutes before take-off and arrived about 15 minutes before take-off.

It was all very weird. And it was only the beginning of TAP’s plans to fuck up my week.

The plane was 25 minutes late getting to Lisbon. It was a connection of only about one hour, and security in Lisbon seemed horribly slow and incompetent, at least by the standards of Heathrow or Stansted. A rather nervous woman from TAP who didn’t quite seem to know what she was doing was delegated to round up seven ex-London passengers and get them on the flight to Abidjan. Once we boarded the plane, having seen the chaos in Lisbon airport we asked the crew explicitly whether the check-in bags were on the flight. They assured several of us that they were.

Given that the airport is not huge, and the ground staff had about 50 minutes to make the transfer, there was no reason to believe the bags had not been loaded. Heathrow had loaded my bags in 26 minutes.

The flight was interesting. It was on a Airbus A320, which has a maximum range of about 6,100km (I make no claim to precise figures here; I am going by a quick online search). Lisbon to Abidjan is 6,000km. In other words, TAP was using a short-haul aircraft at the limit of its range.

The result was that, with a Business Class ticket, what one actually got was a Premium Economy seat. There was no greater seat width than an Economy passenger, just a bit more leg room and perhaps a few more inches of recline. The Irish gentleman next to me agreed that this is a business model that Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, would have a wet dream over.

Only two people served the Business section. They closed a curtain after take-off, and took what seemed to me the longest time I have ever experienced to get a meal ready. There was no drink for Business either before take-off, or immediately after. One person serving Business knew what she was doing; the other was clueless and appeared to be being trained on the job (another innovation for O’Leary). All these facets were exactly the same on the way back.

We arrived at Abidjan at about 1030pm. We watched as the baggage carousel rotated for about 90 minutes. No luggage appeared for the London passengers.

After five hours, TAP in Lisbon must have known that the baggage had not been loaded. TAP, as I later confirmed, has an office at Abidjan airport. But no one appeared to inform or help their luggage-less customers.

Instead, we had to register our missing bags (French language only, which was difficult for some passengers) with the general airport lost luggage office. We then took our chances with some pretty aggressive taxi drivers at about 1230am, arriving at the hotel just after 1am.

I arrived at the hotel with the following clothing resources: T-shirt bearing image of large pineapple; expensive jacket; brown corduroy trousers; sweaty boxer shorts; smelly socks; Danish boating shoes. I also had a green jumper in my backpack, but could not think how to make use of it in the tropics. Luckily, I knew the boss of one of the Lost Luggage Seven, and this person lent me a shirt for the start of the conference at 0745.

The conference, probably the key development event of the year for Africa, was full-on, but in the course of the day I managed to a) skip out to a French department store and buy pants, socks, trousers and a shirt for dinner with the vice president and b) track down a number and email address for the TAP office in Abidjan.

In the course of that day, no one from TAP attempted to contact the passengers.

A lady in the TAP office emailed eventually after I called her to say that they had located the luggage and it would not arrive until Wednesday, as there was no flight Tuesday. So would they bring it to the Sofitel, where we all were, I asked? No, she wrote, we would have to go to the airport and get it ourselves at 1030pm on Wednesday using our own transport.

I was the only person in the group who had managed to track down the TAP office, so at least I was able to tell three others whom I had contacts for what was going on. At no point, the whole week, did TAP contact anyone. Even though they could have done so via the original bookings, or via the email and phone numbers we left with the airport Lost Luggage office. They did not give a fuck.

I emailed TAP to ask if I would be compensated for the £150 I had spent on clothes and toiletries. The reply was vague, saying only that I should come to the TAP office. I checked Google Maps. It was half an hour away across town. I would not have time to go there before Friday, and then only if I was lucky.

On Wednesday we went to the airport, waited around for 90 minutes, and eventually got the bags. By a somewhat crafty manoeuvre I managed to recover not only my two bags but also that of the guy who lent me the shirt, who had essential work stuff to do that evening.

I had asked TAP if they would send someone from their office to assist us at the airport that evening and they indicated not. They were as good as their word. We saw no one from TAP all night.

At 4pm on Friday I got my first free hour of the working week and decided to go to the TAP office, if only to complete my anthropological and ethnographic research. The email about reimbursement said that I needed to bring my passport to the office, nothing else.

At the office, about 10 minutes in to a conversation with the woman who had been emailing me, she clarified that the most TAP were going to give me was US$100. In our correspondence, she had consistently refused to address whether I would be repaid the purchases of clothes for which I have no general use. Adding in the US$20 I was paying the hotel for a car that brought be to the TAP office, (because I couldn’t face doing this is an Abidjan taxi after working a 60-hour week), plus the Abidjan taxis that I had taken to do the clothes shopping earlier, I was now out US$200. Plus the AGRF had paid at least US$50 to provide a hotel car to take me to the airport to collect the luggage because it was so embarrassed by TAP’s behaviour (for which, of course, the AGRF has zero responsibility).

In order to get the US$100, the lady asked if I had the lost baggage receipt from the airport. Of course not, I said, because they take it from you when you get your bags back.

The lady said I should have taken a photograph of the receipt with my phone’s camera before handing it over. I agreed that I am an utter moron. However, since I had a copy of the TAP email correspondence with me, the lady had to concede that she had never stated that I should have or bring a copy of the lost luggage receipt.

The lady started to talk with her colleague, who assumed that I did not speak French. I don’t speak great French, but I had mainly chosen not to speak French in the TAP office because I wasn’t clear why I should do anything helpful to a firm that is so contemptuous of its customers. The woman who only spoke French appeared to be the senior person in the office. She made a call to someone apparently more senior than her. She noted that I was a Business Class passenger and referred to me as ‘impatient’.

I smiled. The French-speaking lady said to the English-speaking lady to get a photocopy of my passport. The photocopier was less than two metres from the French-speaking lady, but she did not make the copy herself. Instead, she called the office boy to make the photocopy.

At length, they gave me the US$100.

I had one last question: of the seven people from London whose bags were lost for two days, how many had come to the TAP office to claim US$100? The two ladies conceded that no other passengers had come.

Like me, other passengers would have had to find the TAP office by searching, get the correct phone number after discovering the one given online is wrong, work with a driver to locate the office (the address alone is not enough because the office is inside a small shopping arcade, while no directions are given online), and then found time during the working week to get to the office.

As I drove back to the hotel to get a beer after a very long week, I wanted to reach a reasoned conclusion about TAP, Air Portugal.

My conclusion was that the business is run by Mother. Fuckers.

Still, the key thing is that you can always find a positive. Check-in was a shambles; actually, it was worse. The Business Class seat was not a Business Class seat and hence a total rip-off. The service was slow and half the TAP employees did not know what they were doing. Lisbon airport security was pure Third World. Baggage handling was Third World. The loss of luggage for two days when they could have re-routed it faster if they wanted is off the spectrum for abuse of clients. And our treatment in Abidjan was frankly inhuman.

On the other hand, I did like the tin that the socks, ear plugs and eye mask came in. It is both original and recyclable.

TAP tin 2017

More

In case you have never seen it, here is SNL’s Total Bastard Airlines sketch. I guess that European airlines, TAP (and Alitalia) excepted, are more civilised than American ones, so we have no European equivalent.

I will be saying Bub Aye to PAL. Perhaps you should too.

 

 

 

 

 

China: GDP-per-capita US$8,123

July 6, 2017

Liu Xiaobo & wife 0717

 

Later, following the death of Liu Xiaobo:

James Palmer in Foreign Policy with a thoughtful overview.

Jerome Cohen on the legal aspects of the Chinese Communist Party’s abuse of Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia, and its impressive hypocrisy.

Novelist Ma Jian writes about Liu Xiaobo on Project Syndicate.

Which part of this will end well?

November 20, 2016

trump-abe-trump-tower-1116little-trumps-and-abe-trump-tower-1116

I can understand why Trump was elected, just like I can understand why Dirty Duterte was elected. But other than a salutary lesson for metropolitan liberals in both the United States and the Philippines, I’d like to feel that the punishment has some limits.

These photographs of Abe’s visit to Trump Tower suggest that the punishment will involve a minimum of a thousand cuts. Ouch one.

One of the very worst?

April 19, 2016

I am loath to post the following article from today’s Guardian because it concerns a woman who is subject to sexist abuse. However I cannot help feeling that Marissa Mayer’s compensation at Yahoo for doing zero (okay, less than zero) for shareholders is one of the most egregious cases of rewarding failure that we have seen. She had nothing to do with the investment in Alibaba 10 years ago that is the only reason that the share price has recovered somewhat of late. The money she personally will have stripped out of the business by the time it is sold is grotesque. And the only people who should be more ashamed than her are the board members who let her do it.

From The Guardian:

What’s the price of failure? For Yahoo’s boss Marissa Mayer it could be about $137m. Bids are now in for the ailing tech company – and no matter who gets it, Mayer is set to be one of the biggest winners.

Mayer has taken home $78m since she was installed as CEO in 2012, according to stock analytics firm MCSI; if she’s dismissed from the company after a buyout she’s set for another $59m, based on the terms of the company’s most recent proxy statement.

Mayer’s performance pay and vested options peaked in 2014 at $48m (double the previous year’s salary). Yahoo has yet to finalise this year’s pay package so the final figure is yet to be determined, but few are expecting her to take home just her base salary, in excess of $2m.

Despite the company’s fundamental problems – it has lost the ad wars to Google and Facebook and bet billions on new businesses that have failed to take off – Yahoo’s share price is still in better shape than it was when she started. The rally in the stock price is entirely due to its holding in Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company.

Shares are close to their mid-2014 levels, in fact, and that probably means Mayer is owed further cash.

Mayer has benefitted from a low “strike price” for her stock options. In 2014 it was $18.87 – and the day those options were granted, 27 February 2014, shares were worth more than twice that.

On Monday, Yahoo’s share price closed at $36.52. History suggests that Mayer will be entitled to buy those shares at a price far lower than that. Although her strike price for 2015 has yet to be released, it is expected later this month. Given that there are bids open for Yahoo’s core assets, however, experts say that filing may be delayed.

While nothing is cut and dried yet, the smallest amount Mayer could make at the company is about $80m if she receives absolutely no more of her long-term incentives.

“Until the new proxy is out it isn’t really possible to say how much Mayer will ultimately end up making, or to what extent she will be entitled to any additional severance amounts,” said MCSI’s Ric Marshall.

Marshall is MCSI’s executive director of environmental, social and governance research at the firm and he says much of the eventual compensation depends upon the decisions of the board: “What you can’t say is how the committee will evaluate the performance and what percentage of the original target they will deem as having been met,” Marshall said.

Investors see the board as unduly supportive of Mayer. One group, Starboard Value, asked that the entire body be replaced with members of its own choosing.

There is reason for shareholders to worry: Starboard thinks that the net value of the “Yahoo stub”, that is to say, Yahoo without its stake in Alibaba, is worthless. With the amount of money a purchasing company would have to pay Mayer to leave in the event of a change in ownership – $59.3m in numbers adjusted for share price from the company’s most recent proxy filing – Yahoo’s value by Starboard’s reckoning would be negative.

“The firm buying her knows all about this,” said Alan Johnson of compensation consulting firm Johnson Associates. “They’re not going to pay for it. That’s coming out of the hide of Yahoo’s shareholders – everybody’s got that in their spreadsheets. They look at this as another sunk cost, like a bad lease.”

In a word, Starboard is afraid shareholders may end up having to pay someone to haul Yahoo away.

Marshall told the Guardian he’s seen that happen in the past. “It has been proven more expensive to sell a company because of the change in control than it is to just bankrupt it.” He hopes it won’t be the case at Yahoo, he said.

 

Easter in Italy

April 6, 2016

Norcia 1

Norcia 2

I won’t pass any comment.

These two were taken in Norcia, in the south of Umbria.

The Thin Controller

March 21, 2016

Osborne weight loss

George Osborne, who I used to call The Fat Controller, has become the Thin Controller after eating less and running more. But he is still Sir Topham Hat, insensitive nemesis of poor Thomas the Tank Engine (and all other members of the working classes).

In case you missed the Thin Controller’s latest, last week he decided to reduce taxes for the rich and the middle classes at the same time as chopping a further £4.4 billion over five years from the budget to support disabled people. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that 370,000 people with a disability would lose an average of £3,500 a year. This comes on the back of an already-implemented big squeeze on various direct and indirect forms of welfare support for the disabled.

Most of the groundswell of anger at the Thin Controller — he has already abandoned the disability benefit cut in a standard ‘oh my god, what have I done this time?’ volte-face  — focused on his increase to the level at which higher earners begin to pay the 40 percent income tax rate. However this change has at least the merit of rewarding middle class work.

What gob-smacked me in the Thin Controller’s budget was the decision to make big cuts to already ridiculously low rates (compared to income tax rates on work) of Capital Gains Tax (CGT). Britain is fast becoming a rentier society, but the Thin Controller’s determination to turn us into some proto-feudal squirearchy seems to know no bounds. He cut the lower band of CGT from 18 percent to 10 percent, and the higher rate from 28 percent to 20 percent.

The old rates do remain in force for profits on one’s second, third, fourth and fifth, etc homes (i.e. for non-primary real estate). However the adjustment is a huge bung to the share- and bond-owning leisure class, of which I regard myself as an aspiring member. Thinking today about whether I should not perhaps take the next three months off and go on safari, I decided to check the HM Revenue and Customs web site and learn more about the Thin Controller’s commendable policy to encourage my indolence. Here is what I found:

<Policy objective>

<The government wants to create a strong enterprise and investment culture. Cutting the rates of CGT for most assets is intended to support companies to access the capital they need to expand and create jobs. Retaining the 28% and 18% rates for residential property is intended to provide an incentive for individuals to invest in companies over property.>

This statement has three great qualities. First, it is pure gibberish. Companies (the supposed subject of the second sentence) do not pay CGT, they pay Corporation Tax. Second, it is dishonest. Following from 1., what the Thin Controller really means is that he wants to support the stock-owning rentier class, who don’t need to work because tax rates on passive capital invested in shares and bonds were already low, and are now even lower. Annoyingly, he can’t actually say this, but we know who we are. Third, the statement is misguided. This is because no British rentier with half a brain is going to invest much of their unearned capital in British companies when the Thin Controller has created such an anaemic growth environment. One gives one’s capital to American companies like Apple, Amazon, Skyworks, Gilead, Amtrust Financial Services, American Express, American Tower, Verisk Analytics, and so on. (Disclaimer: oh yes, I own them all.) And then one pays sod all tax to the Thin Controller on the profits. Of course, in the final analysis this doesn’t matter because the Thin Controller doesn’t need the tax because he’s dismantling the welfare state.

Got it?

 

On journalism

March 17, 2016

Tombstone cover

Yang Jisheng, author of Tombstone, a forensic account of the Great Leap famine that killed 30-40 million Chinese, just won a prize given by the Nieman fellows in journalism at Harvard. So he has written them a nice little piece on how he thinks about journalism. Of course the Chinese Communist Party wouldn’t let Yang go to America to collect the prize…

I cannot upload the Harvard page directly into WordPress because the typeface is not supported. So click here to read an English translation of what Yang wrote, or to find a link to the Chinese original. If you are a journalist you might want to print the document and stick it on the bathroom wall.

 

Siberia

March 2, 2015

On the way to town from Krasnoyarsk airport, I ask the lady from the foreign ministry about the only two buildings I plan to set foot in in this city in eastern Siberia: the hotel, and the conference centre.

‘Beautiful,’ she says.

‘Beautiful?’ I repeat. ‘Do you mean the hotel is beautiful, or the conference centre is beautiful?’

‘Everything is beautiful,’ she clarifies.

We enter the city and I am conscious of the sound of people eating breakfast cereal, loudly, outside the car window. The eating stops and starts again each time we stop and start at a traffic light. After a while I realise that this is in fact the sound of the little nails on the car tires that enable vehicles to have traction on ice.

Arriving at the hotel, the nice lady from the foreign ministry insists on helping me to take my luggage to the room. We enter. ‘Let me see how your view is,’ she says. She pulls aside a curtain and peaks out: ‘Very good.’

Later, I take a photograph that approximates to what she was looking at.

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It is thus that I arrive for the XII Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum, of which the 2015 theme is Economic Integration with Asia (Mr Putin, you remember, having fallen out with everyone in Europe).

Since the organisers have invited many more people to speak than there is time for, I am asked to reduce my remarks to a maximum 15 minutes. That equates to about one minute for every thousand kilometres of round-trip travel, but still constitutes top billing. After the Plenary Session, there is a High Level Luncheon, to which very few people turn up. One of those who does speaks loudly into his mobile phone as I am asked to say a few more words.

I am not sure that I understood anything that was going on at the conference.

Possibly, people in business were intimating that the central government does not do much governing.

Fortunately, the bigger point turned out to be that there was time before I left for the foreign ministry lady to give me a tour of key Krasnoyarsk beauty spots.

Paramount among these is a hill with a very small, windmill-shaped church from which Krasnoyarskians enjoy panoramic views of their city.

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We were at this Elysium on a Friday, which is one of the days (along with Thursday) when people like to get married, since it allows for the requisite three- or four- day weekend of drinking.

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Descending to the city, we stopped at the bridge over the Yenisei (one of the Three Great Siberian Rivers, along with the Ob and the Lena), which is so famous that it appears on the 10-rouble note. (That equates, following the latest devaluation, to the 10 pence note.)

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Not far from the bridge, the Soviet-era water pumping station is being restored for the benefit of future generations.

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At the other end of town, the second-most famous beauty spot in Krasnoyarsk is another bridge. The foreign ministry lady told me that in the summer romantic couples stroll across it in droves.

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You just have to try to imagine the droves.

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Naturally enough, there was another wedding couple there.

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Nearby is a triumphal arch erected in 2003 to celebrate the 375th anniversary of the city’s founding. (This appears to be the first anniversary to be architecturally commemorated.)

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The arch will make French people think of Paris. As a British person, my favourite landmark is the iconic Krasnoyarsk time-piece known as Little Big Ben.

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There is a train from Krasnoyarsk to Moscow. It takes three-and-a-half days.

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I travelled by plane, which takes just five hours. To Moscow.

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As I was leaving, I noted in the VIP lounge of Krasnoyarsk airport that management has been quick to amend the map on the wall to include Crimea and its administrative centre, Simferopol. I wondered whether the contractor has yet prepared a piece for the eastern Ukrainian (should I say Western Russian?) region of Donbass.

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I hope you find these images of the best sights in Krasnoyarsk useful. Before my visit, Internet searches under terms such as ‘Krasnoyarsk best sights’ failed to elicit anything.

 


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