Thursday, November 20, 2014

Catalogue of Surreal Moments During Taxing Times

Tax attorney used IDs of dead children to avoid taxes  (18 Nov 2014)

Tax officials wrongly calculated their own performance to make it look as if they had recouped nearly £2bn more in unpaid taxes than they actually had, MPs have revealed in a highly critical report into HM Revenue & Customs.
The spectacular blunder meant HMRC’s performance was massively overstated in its 2011-12 and 2012-13 annual reports, and as recently as May this year in a separate publication about its achievements, the Public Accounts Committee has disclosed.
MPs slam the taxman blunder & catalogue failures

UK House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts Report: HMRC’s progress in improving tax compliance and preventing tax avoidance (18 Nov 2014)

G20 takes first step to tackle anonymous company ownership  (17 Nov 2014)

Tax traffic lights 2014: Country rating system on tax (17 Nov 2014)

HSBC's private banking arm accused of tax fraud by Belgium  (17 Nov 2014)

Tech hub: France becomes new tax haven for R&D firms  (18 Nov 2014)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How can Scandinavians tax so much?

Henrik Jacobsen Kleven has a new JEP piece on that question., here is one short excerpt:
…these countries also spend relatively large amounts on the public provision and subsidization of goods that are complementary to working, including child care, elderly care, and transportation. Such policies represent subsidies to the costs of market work, which encourage labor supply and make taxes less distortionary…Furthermore, Scandinavian countries spend heavily on education, which is complementary to long-run labor supply and potentially offsets some of the distortionary effects of taxation…

The paper makes numerous other good points.
By Besley and Persson, here is a related JEP piece on why developing economies tax so little.  And here is a recent piece on whether Sweden can become a fully cashless society.  By the way, the full issue of JEP is here.

Losing to Win


Abstract: We study an infinite horizon model of political competition where parties face a trade-off between winning today and winning tomorrow. Parties choose between nominating moderates, who are more viable, or partisans, who can energize the base and draw in new voters which helps win future elections. Only moderates can win in equilibrium and so the winning party fails to invest in its base and has a weaker future. Hence the longer a party is in power the more likely they are to lose, a pattern that finds strong support in the data. This dynamic also creates an electoral cycle where parties regularly take turns in power.
The paper is here (pdf), Kai’s job market paper on Tiebout competition and minorities is here (pdf), it covers how mobility can lead to a race to the bottom when it comes to protecting the rights of minority workers.

Recession Stories

Definition of recession is when your neighbour loses a job / depression starts when you lose a job ...


The model also predicts that recessions accelerate the decline in routine occupations—firms prefer to destroy routine jobs during a downturn, when the opportunity cost of restructuring is low. This acceleration can account for recent cyclical changes of the labor market: routine job losses are concentrated in recessions and the ensuing recoveries are jobless.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lobbying Used to Be a Crime

How leading Tor developers and advocates tried to smear me after I reported their US Government ties Pando Daily. Mechanical typewriters. Cloth ribbons. It’s the only way.

If there’s one way to summarize Zephyr Teachout’s extraordinary book Corruption in AmericaFrom Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United, it is that today we are living in Benjamin Franklin’s dystopia. Her basic contention, which is not unfamiliar to most of us in sentiment if not in detail, is that the modern Supreme Court has engaged in a revolutionary reinterpretation of corruption and therefore in American political life. This outlook, written by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the famous Citizens United case, understands and celebrates America as a brutal and Hobbesian competitive struggle among self-interested actors attempting to use money to gain personal benefits in the public sphere.
What makes the book so remarkable is its scope and ability to link current debates to our rich and forgotten history. Perhaps this has been done before, but if it has, I have never seen it. Liberals tend to think that questions about electoral and political corruption started in the 1970s, in the Watergate era. What Teachout shows is that these questions were foundational in the American Revolution itself, and every epoch since. They are in fact questions fundamental to the design of democracy.
Teachout starts her book by telling the story of a set of debates that took place even before the Constitution was ratified — whether American officials could take gifts from foreign kings. The French King, as a matter of diplomatic process, routinely gave diamond-encrusted snuff boxes to foreign ambassadors. Americans, adopting a radical Dutch provision banning such gifts, wrestled with the question of temptation to individual public servants versus international diplomatic norms. The gifts ban, she argues, was evidence of a particular demanding notion of corruption at the heart of American legal history. These rules, ‘bright-line’ rules versus ‘corrupt-intent’ rules, govern temptation and structure. They cover innocent and illicit activity, as opposed to bribery rules which are organized solely around quid pro quo corruption.



Novel Life

It’s OK to say, “I’m working on a novel”; it’s inadvisable to say, “I’m working on my novel.” The distinction interesting, but is it an art project? NSW Parliamentary Stories;


Smile, You’re Speaking Emoji: The Rapid Evolution of a Wordless Tongue

Emotional Symbols emojis rapid evolution

E.O. Wilson has tried to explain everything: racism, overpopulation, cooperation, religion. Now he’s taking on the meaning of life Meaning of Stories

anonymised by analysing router information, research indicates The Stack

Few things are as melancholy, as bittersweet, as freighted with mortality as an inscription in an old book no longer owned by the dedicatee Morality

This time a month ago on the Reading group, we were hunting for the meaning of “Kafkaesque”. We were marvelling at its many applications and at just how often - and with how many subtle and not so subtle variations – the term is used and abused. But now that George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is our subject, I realise that musing over the meaning of “Kafkaesque” is little more than wandering in the foothills. It is a diversion for amateurs. It is a dipping of toes into shallow waters compared to the deep black plunge that is attempting to define “Orwellian” Orwellian

If beheadings in 2014 seem shocking in their cruelty and theater, that is exactly the point, suggests anthropologist Frances Larson. Larson has researched the meaning of beheadings for a new book, “Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found.” The book addresses the political and cultural meaning of human heads—which she says are, upsettingly, “simultaneously a person and a thing”—and how, throughout history, they have been displayed as tokens of power and even collected. Though “Severed” was finished before the ISIS beheadings began, it is, unfortunately, newly relevant now. “Decapitation is the ultimate tyranny,” she writes Beheading is ultimate tyranny

Man Singh

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi today presented the Man Singh Trophy, a prized possession of Sikh regiment battalions, to his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott at the War Memorial here to commemorate his visit.
In his first engagement in the Australian capital, Modi, accompanied by Abbott, arrived at the War Memorial early morning  
The trophy originally in silver was presented to the Officers’ Mess 14 (King George’s own) Sikhs in the year 1919.
The officers of the battalion, who served in the unit during the First World War in Egypt, Gallipoli, Sinai and Mesopotamia from October 1914 to May 1917, had made it in commemoration of the gallant actions of their soldiers during the First World War.
The Trophy is named after Man Singh who was recognised as a great soldier for his qualities of character, professional skill, sheer physical prowess and agility.
Approximately 6 feet and 4 inches tall, Singh was said to be so strong of limbs that he was able to jump over high wire obstacles and broad ditches comfortably.
Man Singh trophy war memorial

A watchman stands next to heaps of sacks filled with paddy at a wholesale grain market in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh, Saturday. India's inflation dropped to a new multi-year low in October, helped by slower annual rises in food and fuel prices, intensifying pressure on the central bank to cut interest rates to encourage spending and investment needed to boost growth.Image


Once upon a time historical biographies were written by men and were mostly about (‘Great’) men: from Plutarch and Suetonius on the grandees of the ancient world, to Vasari on the artists of Renaissance Italy, Boswell on Johnson, Aubrey’s Brief Lives, Carlyle on Frederick the Great, Morley on Gladstone, Trevelyan on Garibaldi and Churchill on Marlborough. Many still are. I think of Ian Kershaw’s authoritative life of Hitler or Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Stalin, for example, or Jonathan Steinberg’s Bismarck and several recent (or imminent) books about Napoleon and various US presidents (not to mention the many biographies of leading cultural figures by Michael Holroyd, Richard Holmes, A.N. Wilson, Peter Ackroyd and others). No doubt the trend has been boosted by this year’s First World War centenary and the appearance of new studies of men associated with it: Guy Cuthbertson’s Wilfred Owen or the third and final volume of John Röhl’s biography of Kaiser Wilhelm.  Historical biography

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Longevity is a function of lifestyle

Researchers Got A Big Surprise When They Sequenced The Genomes Of The Longest Lived People Business Insider (David L). No magic gene, which suggests for a lot of people that longevity is a function of lifestyle.

This Is the Left’s Confidential $100 Million Plan to Win Back the States Mother Jones. The $50 million it spent in 2014 looks to have been wildly ineffective, so why should throwing more money at this strategy produce better results? Plus I hate exaggeration: “largely unknown” does not equal “confidential”.


Tragic Stories

Dusk, that most beautiful moment
With no pattern.
Millions of images appear and disappear.
Beloved people.
How unbearable to die in the sky.

~   Creating kamikaze

That's a prerequisite of the disaster movie: someone to hate. There has to be a character on whom we can unload all our animosity and accusation, the Designated Arsehole (DA for short), because disaster movies are about the best and worst of human nature.
In Airport, it's not the bomber played by Van Heflin but Rathbone, the cranky passenger from Hell played by Peter Turgeon. When stewardess Jacqueline Bisset wrests the bomb off Heflin's lap, Turgeon interferes and gives it back, enabling him to detonate the bomb Tragic Stories

William McPherson has a Pulitzer Prize and no money. He isn’t wretched-of-the-earth poor, but he’s poor. Here’s how he reached that status... Paupers

Whatever the reason – Twitter trolls, libel laws, political correctness – the literary feudis in decline. And the culture is worse off for that... Agree to agree

In the early 50s, German-Jewish philosophers began returning to Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin, Heidelberg. Jürgen Habermaswas a young man at the time. He remembers it well... German

The narrowing of history. Ever more scholars shed light on an ever more obscure past. When did historiography become an esoteric art?... Standpoint

G20 Stories Putin Siberian Isolation

Why is reason important? Leon Wieseltier explains: “We need not be a nation of intellectuals, but we must not be a nation of Idiots

Over the more than four centuries from the time of Ivan the Terrible, Russia expanded an average of fifty square miles per day.
That is from the extraordinary new Stephen Kotkin biography of Stalin, titled Stalin.  The first volume of 949 pp. brings the reader up only until 1928.  A lot still happened after that. Now it is India's and China's turn to take over the land down under - Australia as naive in 21st century as some of the Mittleuropean clans in 1st century ;-) soil is everything!

Putin stands far away from Abbott in this group photo. (AAP)
Putin stands far away from Abbott in this group photo
G20 leaders line up for group photo. ( Russia enacts ‘draconian’ law for bloggers and online media BBC) 

World leaders have wrapped up the first day of the G 20  summit with a working dinner and performance at Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art.
Earlier, US president Barack Obama used his address University of Queensland students to pledge a contribution of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help developing nations deal with climate change.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has urged world leaders to speak from the heart, rather than a script, at this weekend's summit

Thousands of delegates and helpers are fitting in nicely with the Aussie drinking culture, cooling down with beers in hand.
 G 20 Stories

For Australians it's not so bad - most of the time - to be so far away, so overlooked, so seemingly insignificant as to almost never factor in major international news. The lifestyle makes up for it.
But occasionally, there's an awkward, pimply youth moment so embarrassing that it does sting. Like when 19 of the world's most important leaders visit for a global summit and Prime Minister Tony Abbott opens their retreat Saturday with a whinge (Aussie for whine) about his doomed efforts to get his fellow Australians to pay $7 to see a doctor.
And then he throws in a boast that his government repealed the country's carbon tax, standing out among Western nations as the one willing to reverse progress on climate change - just days after the United States and China reached a landmark climate change deal Observations

The Path to Power WSJ. 150th anniversary of Sherman’s march through Georgia

Friday, November 14, 2014

Students outsource essay writing: Judges Cooking Up a Storm

NSW universities are in damage control following a Fairfax Media investigation that revealed hundreds of students across the state were engaging the services of an online essay writing business.
On Wednesday, the Herald exposed an online business called MyMaster, run out of Sydney's Chinatown, that had provided more than 900 assignments to students from almost every university in NSW, turning over at least $160,000 in 2014 Universities in damage control after widespread cheating revealed

Notes from kids-


We Need Someone to Judge the Judges

We Need Someone to Judge the Judges
The process for investigating federal judges is opaque, secretive, and incredibly hard to set in motion, with 99 percent of complaints dismissed.

Extreme Wealth Is Bad for Everyone-Especially the Wealthy

Extreme Wealth Is Bad for Everyone-Especially the WealthyMichael Lewis, New Republic. We said this before inequality was a hot topic: Income inequality is bad for rich people too


Exclusive: As cities struggle, Scranton in Pennsylvania to triple a local tax Reuters 

The Romantics feared the cold rationality of scientists –what would become of wonder? Their fears were Misplaced ...

Mind-control device lets people alter genes in mice through power of thought Guardian. Lambert: “Note last para, the real point….”

Walmart Memo Orders Stores to Improve Grocery PerformanceNew York Times. Lambert” “Soviet style shopping"

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In praise of Information Sharing at Water Coolers: Prescient Prophecies

“Yes, there is an inevitable darkening, or sobering, that comes with the increasing realization that life is a tragedy, which entails, however, no need to banish gaiety. Painters know that there is nothing like black to bring out the best in other colors—the pinks and whites and oranges. It makes them dance.”

~ Peter De Vries, quoted in Douglas M. Davis, “An Interview with Peter De Vries” (College English, April 1967)
In praise of gossip. Behind-the-back chitchat and the exchange of juicy tidbits are what makes society possible. Stories like 'when will he stop having affairs in the office' are priceless. Information Sharing Session

Whether tapered, snout-like, or hooked, the Jewish nosedisplays a remarkably diverse history in Christian art... The Nose

“There lurks perhaps in every human heart a desire of distinction, which inclines every man to hope and then to believe that nature has given him something peculiar to himself. This vanity makes one mind nurse aversions and another actuate desires till they rise by art much above their original state of power and as affectation in time improves to habit, they at last tyrannise over him who at first encouraged them only for show.” How numbers on facebook change our behaviour

Steve Jobs and Elon Musk Are Silicon Valley’s Most Inspiring Figures

Formidably erudite, faintly manic, and impossible to shut up, Slavoj Žižek is a cult figure. At least he’s self-aware enough to send-up that Status

Fact and fiction blur in tales of tax avoidance  (10 Nov 2014)

Whistleblower accuses several Irish politicians of tax evasion  (10 Nov 2014)

“I’ve waited my whole life for this moment.” Twitter

Hearing criticisms of your own beliefs is essential to form a considered opinion. The right to be offended is a vital right – and it’s under threat... Folk

The November issue of Words without Borders is now up, with a focus on: Contemporary Czech Prose, as well as some 'Writers on Education'. 

Poor Hans Kafka. Everything he wrote, including a story about a beetle and a man, was overshadowed by the work of his neighbor Franz... Hans Kafka

I’m not sure how much of a write-up I can give you of Kathryn Schulz’s marvelous book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error since, if you recall, I borrowed it as an ebook from my library and was reading it on my Kindle when it decided to no longer highlight things


Mafia Restaurants

A new chain of themed restaurants catches on in Spain.