UK Election Numbers

I have swiped some facts to digest from UK Twitter people I follow. I give RBCers four data points and invite any chewing over of them and the election more generally in the comments.

Fact one: Below the headlines, The Greens and Lib Dems increased the breadth of their appeal.

• Conservative vote rose in 390 seats and fell in 244

• Labour vote rose in 21 seats and fell in 609

• Green vote rose in 389 seats and fell in 20

• Lib Dem vote rose in 568 seats and fell in 41

Image result for british voting

Fact two: the magnitude of the Tory win over Labour is understated by the seat count. Here are the constituencies in which the Tory vote went up by at least 5000:

Mansfield +8092; North Norfolk +8044; Thurrock +7915; Leicester East +6383; North Devon +5962; Bassetlaw +5463; Cannock Chase +5318; Dudley North +5066. In contrast there isn’t a constituency in the entire country where the Labour vote increased by at least 5000.

Here are the seats where Labour lost 9500 votes or more: Finchley & Golders Green –9595; Jarrow –9657; Falkirk –9786; South Cambridgeshire –9876; Barnsley E –9951; Doncaster N –9971; Leicester E –10026; Barnsley Central –10178; Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford –10971; Wentworth & Dearne –11805; Bassetlaw –13402. Again, this contrasts sharply with the Conservatives who had no seats with such a massive vote loss (Their worst was -5098 in Maidenhead).

Fact three: In 1997, the UK conservatives had a dreadful election, garnering only 30.7% of the vote. But they have increased their vote share every election for 6 elections in a row. Here is a trivia question for politics nerds: has any other party in the developed world had this kind of run in the past quarter century? I can’t think of one, but the hive mind may know what I don’t.

Fact four: 220 of the just elected MPs are women. This 34% female representation is the largest in British history.

Executive Order

I have posted the Executive Order signed by President Trump yesterday.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. It does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion. The Executive Order directs that agencies charged with the enforcement of Title VI consider the non-binding definition of anti-Semitism adopted on May 26, 2016, by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance which provides that:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

The Executive Order goes on to provide that “the ‘Contemporary Examples of Anti-Semitism’ identified by the IHRA, to the extent that any examples might be useful as evidence of discriminatory intent.” I don’t know whether the Executive Order only means to include the examples currently identified or whether, if the list expands, subsequently added examples will be automatically incorporated into the Executive Order.

I hope to be able to add some additional comments this evening.

(Note: The link to the IHRA definition is to that organization’s website. Later today, I will put the definition on the server that I use for linking to documents and, one that has been accomplished, will edit this post.)

Annals of nudge: British company cars

A small change in UK tax may tip large effects.

This post would be wonky if I could be bothered to do a deep dive into the rococo tax rules for company cars in the UK. Try this. But for once the tl;dr is enough.

For reasons I do not, like Cervantes (footnote), care to go into, the British tax code makes it attractive for employers to offer company cars to middle-rank employees as a perk. The company owns or leases the car and lets the employee use it for private travel and work alike. The employee pays tax (Benefit-in-Kind, or BiK) on the imputed value of the benefit for personal use, on a scale.

The typical split looks like this:

  • Company – ownership; book and residual value of the car; depreciation; insurance; breakdowns; maintenance; road tax; choice of the list of available cars, sorted by status.
  • Employee – fuel; BiK tax; choice of car from the restricted list, according to status.
  • Some employers offer fuel too, which is taxed as a separate BiK.

The result is that 35% of new cars are company ones, about 830,000 of them a year. Add to this the true fleets (rental companies, police, etc), and a remarkable 57% of new cars (pdf) are bought by companies, not individuals.

The story is that the shell-shocked British government has found the time to introduce a reform, from April 2020. This will make the BiK use tax more strongly dependent on emissions. It’s a steep progression now, from 9% to 37%. The rate will now fall to nil for BEVs.

Bank of America /Merrill Lynch have done the math and issued a shiny report with lots of pretty graphs (not public, but they sent it to CleanTechnica). The method is confusing, and the analysts do not provide a summary of costs to the company as opposed to the employee. As far as I can see, the takeaways are:

  • For employees, the BiK changes and cheap electric fuel make for very large savings in choosing a BEV or PHEV – up to 22 times less outlays for a Tesla 3 (£659) against a BMW 3 series petrol (£15,137) over three years, a common life of a company car.
  • For employers, the low maintenance costs of EVs are still outweighed by the higher purchase price, so that the total three-year cost of ownership (TCO) of the BEV or PHEV is still somewhat higher than that of a comparable ICEV for 10K miles a year. The significant savings to the employee mean that the total joint TCO is similar. The TCO becomes significantly lower (12% – 32%) for a high-mileage fleet use of 20K miles, including fuel costs.
  • The employer can now in many cases offer a higher-value package to the employee for less outlay with EVs, appropriating (unless they are dumb or unusually altruistic) a large share of the tax break. (My inference, not BoA’s.)

Here’s the cognitive beauty of this setup, which makes it a great nudge: nobody is acting under sticker price illusion. The employee doesn’t pay any part of the purchase price, and has no reason to consider it. For their employer, the analysis is done by professional HR and finance people who are automatically looking at TCO. (By this I understand purchase price plus all running costs and depreciation; Bank of America confusingly exclude the first.) Their decisions have to be justified by the data. Company secretaries and lawyers will start muttering about “fiduciary responsibility” if the Board does not pursue the cost saving. The effect is supercharged if the employer leases rather than buys the vehicles. Car TCO is just a significant side-issue for most employers. For leasing companies, TCO is the heart of the business. They will very soon be offering EV contracts cheaper.

It’s a pretty safe prediction that the company car market in the UK will shift strongly to electric vehicles from next April. That’s before taking account of competitive new models like the VW ID.3, improvements in the charging network, further moves towards ULEZ zones in city centres, and censorious pressure from teenage children inspired by Greta. The new sales will probably stimulate emulation sales to envious neighbours, some with their own Greta fans.

Does this extend to true fleets? Police have their own use requirements and are culturally conservative. Rental car companies are less so. However, they are in a rather similar position to standard company-car employers, in that it’s the renter, not the owner, who gets the benefit of the low fuel costs. The number of renters who ask for an EV is still, I would guess, quite low from lack of familiarity. But this too will change, more slowly.

The incentives here are specific to the UK and the same effect won’t be seen in the USA. But there are still many US fleet operators who are likely to be more receptive to TCO pitches than Joe Average in the dealer’s lot. That’s how electric buses are taking over, in site of the sticker premium.

Oh, yes, RANGE hiss hiss. The distance from London to Edinburgh is 402 miles: Brits see this as a major two-day expedition calling for a week’s planning with furrowed brows, as historian John Keegan puts it. A 250-mile Tesla 3 Standard meets all reasonable range needs in Britain. Distances in the US West are of course greater – but the population of Wyoming is 577,000, barely more than Sheffield (553,000). It’s absurd to let the needs of a handful of rural Real Western Men determine the framing of transport policy in a country where 80% of the population lives in cities, towns and suburbs and the average commute is 16 miles.

The EV revolution is happening, much faster than most people think. This chart leaves out e-buses, which have 90% of urban sales in China , and e-tuks, which putter below the statistical radar, but are >1.5m in India alone. For cars, the growth in sales in 2018 was a not exceptional 65%. It will be lower in 2019 because of a large hiccup in China, but the trend is unstoppable.

Footnote

The immortal opening sentence of Don Quixote:

En un lugar de La Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo, de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.

My Pet Peeve

As those who read my posts know, one of the reasons that I post source documents is that I don’t think that people should have to rely solely upon a report summarizing a court opinion or a statute even if I am the author of the summary. Thus, I believe that the practice of linking to source documents should be the rule rather than the exception for all news media.

I am not alone here. Today, the Lawfare Blog announced that, going forward:

Lawfare’s readers [will have] direct access to the primary law underlying the issues discussed on Lawfare. Lawfare readers can now click on references to legal authorities cited in Lawfare’s articles to go to the full text of the opinion or statute, published on Casetext.

The full text of the announcement is here. (I have pdf’d the page and uploaded the pdf here. A perma.cc link to the page is here.)

While the larger newspapers, such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, have increasingly been linking to source material, their practices are not consistent. Smaller news outlets virtually never provide links. Yet, the marginal cost of downloading source material, storing it on a news outlet’s server, and adding a link to a story carried online is trivial. I rather suspect that the rationale is something like: “We’ve been doing it without links for [fill in the blank] number of years and we see no reason to change now.”

Let me both make a suggestion and ask a favor of RBC members. Whenever you see a story on a court case, a proposed bill, or a statute and there is no link to the source, send an email to the reporter. Ask the reporter to send you a link and suggest that a link to source material should be provided in all similar stories. Perhaps sooner or later they’ll get the idea.

Denial of Stay in McGahn Case

Judge Jackson has denied the request for a stay in enforcing the House subpoena directed to Donald McGahn. I have posted a copy of the memorandum opinion.

One part of the opinion seems to me to clearly be directed at thwarting the use of appeals to simply delay the process. The Court distinguishes the McGahan case and, by extension, all of the other cases attempting to defeat subpoenas directed to the Trump Administration, from the opinion in Comm. on Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives v. Miers (Miers
Stay Opinion)
, 575 F. Supp. 2d 201, 204 (D.D.C. 2008). At page 6 of the slip opinion, the Court notes:

Miers was a case of first impression, whereas, now, two federal district court judges have addressed the same legal issues concerning both the authority of the federal courts to entertain a disputed subpoena-enforcement claim brought by the House Judiciary Committee after a former White House Counsel refused to testify before Congress in response to a valid subpoena; and also the President’s assertion that senior-level presidential aides have absolute testimonial immunity. And both judges rejected the Executive branch’s contentions—a track record that had not developed at the time that the D.C. Circuit considered the stay motion in Miers.

And, on page 16 of the slip opinion, the Court states:

[T]he fact that the issuance of a stay of McGahn’s testimony would
impede an investigation that a committee of Congress is undertaking as part of an impeachment inquiry is yet another distinction between the instant circumstances and those that existed when the D.C. Circuit stayed the district court order in Miers.

Emphasis by the Court.

If the Courts continue to enforce the Congressional subpoenas and refuse to delay their enforcement, Senate acquittal will no longer be certain.

Don’t Know Much Biology

Apparently, Republican state legislators in Pennsylvania are attempting to rise to the level of ignorance of biology displayed by their counterparts in Ohio. Specifically, they have introduced House Bill 1890 that requires health care facilities that possess “fetal remains” to cremate or inter the fetal remains.

The proposed statute defines “fetal remains” to mean a “fetus expelled or extracted in the case of a fetal death.” The term “fetus” is not defined. Rather, the proposed statute defines “fetal death” to be the “expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of conception which shows no evidence of life after the expulsion or extraction.” Thus, the statute ignores the difference between an embryo and a fetus. According to the Merck Manual, an embryo is not considered a fetus until “the end of the 8th week after fertilization (10 weeks of pregnancy).”

At least one study has calculated that “15% of the documented pregnancies ended in first trimester miscarriages per pregnancy.” Further, “current research showing about 50% to 60% of miscarriages are the result of random fetal chromosomal abnormalities incompatible with life.” (Endnotes omitted.) Somewhat different statistics are presented by the National Institutes of Health which finds that “[i]t is estimated that as many as 26% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage and up to 10% of clinically recognized pregnancies. Moreover, 80% of early pregnancy loss occurs in the first trimester.” (Endnotes omitted.)

Pennsylvania House Bill 1890 is nothing more than a ham-handed attempt to impose specific religious beliefs. It simply ignores the biology of human reproduction. As this paper finds:

A synthesis of many large-scale studies from the last 15 years unambiguously confirms the Wood-Boklage-Holman hypothesis that abortion is an intrinsic and overarching component of human reproduction. It is the most common outcome of conception across a woman’s lifetime and the predominant factor controlling age-specific variation in human female fertility. To reproduce, a human female cannot forgo a high risk of abortion, and to have a large family it is virtually impossible to avoid multiple abortions. Modern birth control with access to elective abortions, markedly reduces –rather than increases– the lifetime number of abortions a woman produces.

Note: As used in the paper the term “abortion” refers to any any early termination of a pregnancy whether by miscarriage or by intention.

Oh, yeah, one other thing. The proposed bill is unlikely to raise GOP support among women.

A bad climate chart

Bad in two senses. From a recent post by Kevin Drum with the scare headline “The World Is Giving Up On Climate Change”, a chart from the reliable FT:

Looks terrible! But Kevin truncated the FT chart – the 2019 bar label has the important subscript “H1”. (FT article, paywalled – trust me, I got a sneak view somehow, and it’s definitely there.) The all-year total won’t be great, but it will be fairly close to last year’s ca. $290 bn.

Why would Drum, normally a thoughtful and careful blogger and a chart maestro, make a silly mistake like this? I suggest it’s motivated reasoning. Drum has locked himself into the untenable positions that the energy transition requires large and very unlikely changes in lifestyles, that existing technologies are too expensive, and that the only hope is massive R&D to find something much cheaper. These three positions are nonsense (see for example Jacobson, Blakers, Breyer (pdf), or for the tl:dr capsule, me). To defend an untenable position, you grasp at straws. Look, the FT says renewable investment is collapsing! Only it isn’t.

The chart does tell us a less dramatic, but still real, bad news story. Renewable investment was growing fast until 2011, then the boom stopped and spending has been stuck on a plateau. The effect has been mitigated by the continuing falls in the prices of wind, solar and storage. Lazards give a 10 year decline to 2019 in the costs of wind in the USA as 70%, of utility solar 89% (13th survey of generation costs, pdf, page 8); they don’t supply a trend for storage, as the use cases are so varied, but do note a fall in costs. Price trends are global. So annual renewable installations have been growing in GW terms, only not as fast as they should.

This is not what Econ 101 would lead us to expect. When a technology steadily gets cheaper than its rivals, the rate of adoption should speed up, as investment shifts from higher-cost incumbents to cheaper newcomers enjoying economies of scale and learning. Following the classic logistic curve, the rate of substitution eventually slows as you near saturation, but renewables are only near that today in a few small countries (Norway, Denmark, Costa Rica).

We have to ask: what happened around 2011 that flipped renewable investment from growth to stagnation?

It certainly wasn’t a halt in technical progress or a global recession
– the GFC was essentially over by then. I can see only one
candidate: the victory of austerity policies over Keynesian ones.

This was driven by ideology over good economics, and supported by some very sloppy analysis (as with Rogoff’s debt limit argument). The austeriacs won because their message was congenial to financial elites, and required cuts in public spending and transfers to the working classes. As in the 1930s, the victory was temporary, and a new wave of populist right-wingers (Trump, Johnson, Abbott) rose to power who don’t care at all about financial orthodoxy. But it was for a while complete enough to secure a rollback in the incentives that had enable the rapid growth in renewables of the 2000s. Germany led the way with the EEG “reform” of 2012, and was followed by Spain and the UK. Renewable investment only restarted in Spain last year, with a socialist minority government and a determined environment minister.

This is not a complete explanation, and does not account for the Chinese  cutbacks, which came as late as 2018. Xi is probably not a fan of Alesina and Rogoff, and Chinese policy firmly supports growth and full employment. However, fears of the unsustainability of renewable subsidies can also arise in a controlled economy. In the USA, the self-blocking design of the Constitution and the spectacular incompetence of the Trump Administration have limited the rollback to largely symbolic changes like the waters regulation.

There is another suspicion, which fully applies to China. The fossil fuel industries are large and effective lobbyists for their businesses, to which the renewable transition is an existential threat. It would be astonishing if their minions did not use the austeriac arguments to hand, with superficial academic credibility, and playing to the prejudices of the policymakers they are dining with. Some fossil fuel tycoons – notably the Kochs – reinforced political lobbying by shoring up congenial academic research, notably the Kochs’ support of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in, importantly, Washington. And is Harvard squeaky clean here, with its massive investments in fossil fuels and a lax policy on donations?

Don’t forget that the fossil people had and have a large direct interest: the subsidy rollback was specific to renewables, and the old subsidies to fossil fuels, buried deeper in the tax code, escaped unscathed. The change was a reverse Pigovian tax, a public policy in favour of pollution.

Someone joked that there are two theories of history – cockup and conspiracy. Cockup is the default, and works for some major events like the French and American Revolutions and the start of the First World War. But conspiracies are sometimes real and effective, as the careers of such luminaries as Lenin, Hitler, the Kochs, and bin Laden attest: all the way back to John of Procida, the likely mastermind of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282. I have a pet theory that the seizure of Brill by the Dutch Protestant Sea Beggars in 1572, nominally following the closure of Dover to them by the English to placate Spain, was in reality a deniable black op of Francis Walsingham’s.

I can’t prove the hypothesis that the energy transition was kneecapped by a conspiracy of fossil fuel lobbyists using bogus austerity arguments. But it’s worth investigating.

If that’s so, a suitable sanction for the perps could IMHO be life in a gulag, somewhere like here.

Antarctic icecap. Photo credit

Disproportionate you say? What’s proportionate for the crime of procuring genocide for hire?

The Ohio Anti-Abortion Bill

H.B. 182 introduced into the House of the Ohio General Assembly by Republican members has attracted a good deal of negative press because it outlaws the termination of an ectopic pregnancy unless the procedure “is intended to reimplant the fertilized ovum into the pregnant woman’s uterus.” However, we owe a H/T to Charles Gaba who has pointed out in May that H.B. 182 does far more and is more onerous than just that one provision.

First, H.B. 182 defines the term “abortion” so broadly that it includes the use of IUDs and the use of such drugs as Levonorgestrel (the active drug in the morning-after pill).

Then, the bill would both prohibit both state and local government insurance policies in Ohio and any insurance policy issued in that state from providing coverage for “abortions” as that term is defined in the statute. (Presumably, the use of separate provisions for government provided insurance and all policies of insurance is to make the provisions severable, so that if the blanket prohibition against any insurance coverage is judicially overturned, the government-employee insurance prohibition might still withstand scrutiny.)

Finally, even if an abortion is allowable under the statute, a burdensome reporting requirement is imposed on any physician who performs the procedure before the physician is paid with “state or local funds.”

I have posted a copy of H.B. 182 with markups highlighting the issues noted above.

Query: Does anyone think that this will drive women to vote Republican?

The two-way street

A standard Israeli till receipt:

The text is on the right, as Hebrew is written right-to-left. The numerals are on the left, written left-to-right, as is standard with Arabic numerals.

Wait a minute. Arabic text is also right-to-left. So why do its numbers go the other way?

Because they were not originally Arabic but Indian. The attribution is not incidentally at all controversial. The two eminent mathematicians who popularised the system in the Muslim world around 830 CE, the Persian Al-Khwarizmi (who gave his name to algorithm) and the Arab Al-Kindi, entitled their treatises respectively On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals and On the Use of the Indian Numerals: no concealed attribution there. The decimal point was the work of an earlier Iraqi Jewish scholar, Sind ibn Ali. A full treatment of zero had arrived quite late in India, in the work of Brahmagupta (628 CE).

India used and still uses a lot of different scripts. But the common ancestor of many is the Brahmi script adopted by the Buddhist emperor Ashoka, reigned 268 to 232 BCE. Brahmi is left-to-right, and so are its numerals.

Brahmi script on Ashoka Pillar (circa 250 BCE), Wikipedia

The first widely used alphabet was the Phoenician, around 1200 BCE. It was right to-left. You have to ask: why would anybody have chosen this unhandy scheme? Unless you are left-handed: a small minority (around 10%) of most populations, but sometimes they get to be kings, high priests, merchant tycoons or tennis champions, in a position to get their way. But both the main earlier non-alphabetic scripts, Mesopotamian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphs, run left-to-right, so it’s an odd choice. The Archaic Greeks switched direction back at the same time as they democratised writing, including for bawdy inscriptions on winecups.

It’s controversial whether Indian alphabets had a Phoenician ancestry – some Indian scholars argue for a purely subcontinental origin – but it’s likely. At all events, early Indian scribes followed or paralleled the majoritarian Greek choice of left-to-right, and Ashoka set it in stone.

For numbers, there is no particular advantage in one direction over the other. To evaluate a positional decimal number, you have to count outwards from the decimal point in both directions. Right-to-left and left-to-right are mirror equivalents. The direction was determined by the non-numerical script it was embedded in.