Maryland Tax Update

This is an update to my previous comments here.

Today, I filed written comments in opposition to Maryland H.B. 61 that would exempt large amounts of retirement income from Maryland state income tax.   My initial comments, with all attachments, can be found here. Included as an attachment is an updated chart that was linked to in my previous posting.  I went over my calculations and found several to be incorrect.  The skew in favor of the wealthy was not as bad as I had previously calculated, but was still quite significant.

After I sent off my comments, the Tax and Policy Note on H.B. 61 was posted.  The calculations in that note will undoubtedly kill the bill since, over five years, there will be billions of dollars of revenue loss.  I then sent a second letter to the Committee.

In a sense, H.B. 61 is a prelude to the bill that the Governor has introduced, H.B. 342.  That bill also exempts broad swaths of pension income, but tempers the cuts somewhat by capping the exempt income to $50,000 and limiting the full benefit to individuals making less than $100,000.  In due course, I will be commenting on that bill as well.

The point is that the bulk of the incentives to save for retirement provide benefits that are weighted heavily toward the wealthy.

Weekend Film Recommendation: The Innocents

Many an eerie film has been described as a “spine-tingling” experience, but few live up to that description literally for most cineastes. The movie that did that to me more than any other, giving me physical shivers like a bucket of ice down my back, is this week’s film recommendation: The Innocents.

Producer/Director Richard Clayton’s 1961 art house thriller demonstrates that a skilled director can jangle nerves without spattering the screen with blood. Clayton started with ideal source material: Henry James’ psychological horror masterpiece, The Turn of the Screw (Although the film’s title comes from William Archibald’s prior effort to adapt the novel to the stage). But Clayton was wise enough to bring in a modern master, Truman Capote, to write most of the script. Capote kept the best elements of the Victorian English novel and suffused them with Freudian overtones and a dose of American Southern Gothic, rotting blossoms and all.

The plot sounds deceptively unoriginal on the surface. A wealthy man uninterested in two child relations (Michael Redgrave) hires a sheltered, rather jejune woman (Deborah Kerr) to be their governess. She moves in to care for them in a Gothic mansion, and the children at first seem wonderful. But strange passions and mysterious events arise which plunge the woman into a terrifying experience. The film, like the novel, leaves the central question of the plot a matter of some ambiguity, making it almost as enjoyable to analyze and discuss as it is to watch.

I don’t know how the 40-year old Deborah Kerr was cast as the lead in this film (unless her governess role in The King and I typecast her), because James’ governess character was originally conceived as a naive woman barely into adulthood who had never been away from home before. Yet Kerr turns in one of the best performances of her storied career, steadily unraveling before our eyes. To the extent the film is interpreted as portraying the psychologically deleterious effects of loneliness and sexual frustration, a 40-year virgin gave Kerr lots of material with which to work her magic.

Astonishingly, the veteran Kerr is matched step for step by the riveting acting of a 12-year old, Martin Stephens. He was already a star in Britain, based in part on his similarly unnerving turn in Village of the Damned. His role here is even more challenging because not only does he need to mix childlike moments with menacing ones, he also has to convey sexual awareness well beyond his years. He manages it all brilliantly.

This is also an amazing looking film, with the gardens and house exteriors (Sheffield Park), and the custom built interior sets contributing to the atmosphere. Even more important is the camerawork of superstar cinematographer Freddie Francis. From the very first shot, he pulls off an impressive array of visual feats, including blackening the edges of many of his interior shots to create a claustrophobic effect, as well amping up the central lighting when needed to get depth of field shots in CinemaScope’s otherwise flat look. Without spoiling the movie, I will just offer that the images from the most frightening scenes of The Innocents have stayed with me forever.

This movie didn’t quite land with audiences or critics when it was released. It was too arty and reserved for fans of more typical horror films of the period, and too traditionally haunted house bound for the arty set. I’m not going to embed the trailer for this reason, because all it does is show that even a major studio with a big promotions department could not figure out how to effectively market The Innocents. Fortunately, as magnificent films sometimes can do, The Innocents gained a larger and larger following as the years went by, until today it deservedly wins a place on virtually every “best horror films of all time” list.

Cannabis news round-up

2019 marijuana laws in review and 2020 projections. What to expect from federal marijuana legalization in 2020. Federal marijuana reform will get another Congressional hearing next week. Where 2020 Democrats stand on marijuana. More dogs falling prey to THC poisoning. Mixed legality of marijuana on state, federal levels leaves gun owners in limbo. Legalizing marijuana may lead people to have more sex.

Alaska marijuana products found contaminated with unapproved pesticides. A Santa Ana, California cannabis shop says its new business model beats bans in other cities. Federal Reserve Bank examines Colorado marijuana industry’s growth.

Illinois new marijuana law is reason to hope America can eventually get legalization right. Illinois shops run out of marijuana just six days after start of legalization. Illinois marijuana dispensaries sold more than $10.8 million worth of recreational weed in the first five days of sales. Illinois marijuana legalization pretty uneventful so far for police. Governor Pritzker knows what angry Illinois taxpayers need: legal weed. Illinois pardons are a reminder of the scale of marijuana arrests, past and present. Using marijuana Illinois is legal—but it can still get you firedIllinois legal marijuana & firearm permits. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot addresses legal marijuana. Plan to license Chicago recreational marijuana consumption sites stalls. Now that marijuana is legal in Illinois , there are pot amnesty boxes at Chicago’s airports.

Paducah, Kentucky law enforcement uncertain of effects of legal Illinois marijuana. A St. Louis guide to legal marijuana in Missouri and Illinois. Town of Beloit, Wisconsin police issue first citation involving legal marijuana from IllinoisGovernor DeWine doesn’t think Ohio should legalize marijuana, even if nearby states have. Illinois legal marijuana and the Kansas black market.

Even with legal pot sales, Vermont black market could stay strong. Ten predictions for the Massachusetts marijuana industry in 2020. Connecticut legal marijuana votes likely in legislature this year despite earlier doubts. Rising challenges for Rhode Island legalized pot. Formerly anti-marijuana congressman Joe Kennedy III cosponsors comprehensive legalization bill.

Marijuana legalization measure officially qualifies for South Dakota 2020 ballot.

Arizona voters may get a chance to vote on marijuana legalization (again) this November. What MedMen’s exit from Arizona marijuana market means for legalization In 2020.

Supporters continue to push Indiana lawmakers to legalize recreational marijuana.

The future looks green for marijuana in TexasCampaign funding fight fuels push to legalize recreational marijuana in Florida. Legalize marijuana amendment should be kept off the ballot, Florida GOP leaders tell state Supreme Court. ACLU opposes Virginia governor’s marijuana decriminalization plan—for now.

Marijuana Legalization in the US: A Social Injustice. Recreational Marijuana Legalization and Changes in Marijuana Use and Cannabis Use Disorder, 2008–2016. Health considerations of the legalization of cannabis edibles. Legalization of marijuana should come with a public health campaign.

Legal pot takes a bite out of beer consumption in Canada. Top Mexico senator says marijuana legalization will be a priority this year. Changing how society views cannabis use can boost industry innovation.

Nail, meet wood

Update: building in engineered wood is taking off

Remember the satisfying thunk when you strike a nail squarely with a strong hammer blow and the nail sinks an inch into wood? Few metaphors are as sound and accurate as “hitting the nail on the head”. Forgive the boast, dear readers, for a post Mike O’Hare and I made here five years ago proposing more building in wood as a way of cutting carbon emissions. There is a nifty new technology (engineered wood beams and panels) that makes it much easier; trees fix carbon, and using the wood in structures extends the sequestration for decades.

Dave Roberts at Vox has a long new post up  making essentially the same points. With more recent data, he has better and higher estimates than ours of the potential savings in carbon emissions. The other news is that things are beginning to move, as wood is transitioning from a handful of bespoke prestige projects to routine use in large buildings.

I thought the trendsetter would be New Zealand, which is heavily forested and has innovative wood structural engineers. But it’s small (4 million population), remote, and does not export much timber. No, it’s Canada; specifically British Columbia, the centre of the large Canadian forestry industry.

A mundane timber-framed 18-storey block of student rooms, Brock Commons, in Vancouver. The concrete stairwells are presumably required for fire safety.

BC has changed its building code to allow 12-storey wooden buildings routinely, and its code has been copied in the rest of Canada. Three are 500 mid-size wooden buildings under construction across the country. The new standards have spread to China and now much of the USA. US building codes are a local or state responsibility, but they often rely on common models, which now allow engineered wood.

The caveat to the RBC paean is that to get the full benefit, the forest management has to be based on forests that are (1) sustainably managed (2) second-growth. In BC, the timber building movement runs into nuanced criticism from defenders of the splendid old-growth forests. There is no inherent conflict here: engineered wood can perfectly well use fairly small pieces of lumber, such as those you get from smaller second-growth trees (in parts of Europe, eighth-growth), or 40-year thinnings, glued together in factories into panels and beams of the required size. But the lumber industry is what it is, and greater demand poses a threat to old growth worldwide unless its appetite is restrained by firm government and honest regulation. This will be a battle in the Pacific Northwest, and an even bigger one in tropical Africa and South America.

Endnote 1: the inventor of cross-laminated timber

Dave Roberts credits Austrian Gerhard Schickhofer, a professor at Graz Technical University. Alpine forestry is necessarily conservative; prevention of landslides and avalanches has priority over wood yield, and you don’t see clear cuts. Hillside trees tend to be small. This environment encourages a frugal approach to wood use, and lamination is a natural extension.

Endnote 2: Notre Dame

As you all know, the roof of the great Notre Dame cathedral in Paris burnt down in a huge fire in April last year. The roof above the vaulting was supported by massive oak beams, so many that they were known as “the forest”. There were no firewalls or sprinklers in this huge drafty space, an ideal system to keep the flames supplied with oxygen. The rebuilding fund has money: but what to do about the roof?

A very French grand débat has started over this. Suggestions include the wacky (a rooftop open-air swimming pool, an all-glass roof). Nobody will listen to our views but it’s fun to join in anyway.

The baseline restoration scheme is “just as it was before”, including the 19th-century iron central spire. Taken literally, this requires replacing the Forest with new oak beams. Where do you find the trees? The oak forests of France have shrunk since the 12th century, or the 9th when the acorns that generated those beams fell. There are fine oaks like these planted by Colbert to replace those he cut to build warships for Louis XIV – trees that have preservation orders on them. Even in a good cause, felling a thousand of them is not on.

What makes the problem more tractable is that the Forest was not generally open to visitors before the fire. It should be culturally possible to innovate. I’d go for a technically modern roofspace, using a steel space frame or engineered wood, and preserving some of the surviving blackened timbers as a memorial. The space could be made partly usable for religious or cultural purposes, assuming you could put in lifts.

IRAs and SEPs–Tax Subsidies for the Wealthy

Last year, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan introduced into the Maryland General Assembly a bill entitled the “Retirement Tax Fairness Act of 2019.”  The bill had a five-year phase-in.  The fiscal note to the bill projected that over that five-year period the exemptions under the bill would cause a $178.6 Million loss in state revenue and an approximate additional loss of $111.15 Million to local jurisdictions.  (The fiscal note only calculates the loss to local jurisdictions in the first and last years of the five year period.  I calculated the approximate loss by dividing the loss to local jurisdictions in the last year, dividing it by the loss to the state in the last year, and then multiplying the result by $178.6 Million.)

The bill would have exempted from Maryland state tax income from (i) individual retirement accounts (“IRAs”) and annuities under IRC § 408, (ii) Roth IRAs under IRC § 408(a), (iii) simplified employee pensions under IRC § 408(k), and (iv) ineligible deferred compensation plans under IRC § 457(f).  Intuitively, I knew that exempting income from the first three categories was bad public policy.  After all, all of the growth in value over the amounts contributed in all three categories had already been tax-deferred.  And, except for contributions to Roth IRAs, even the contributions to these plans were made in before tax dollars. (I address IRC § 457(f) below.)  Thus, for the most part, the assets in these plans were derived from tax-free contributions and the appreciation in all of the plans had never been subjected to income tax.   I also assumed that the financially well-off held a disproportionate share of the assets in these plans.

The bill did not make it out of committee and died when the legislative session ended.  However, a bill containing similar provisions has been introduced into the 2020 legislative session.

IRAs and SEPs are widely believed to be the “pension for Everyman” (or, if you prefer, “Everywoman”).  I began to wonder: How skewed toward the wealthy are these plans?  I was quite shocked to find out that the answer was “Really, really skewed.”  I was able to locate statistics from the IRS based upon income tax returns filed for tax year 2016.  I have prepared a chart, available here, that shows the results of my calculations.  (The URL to the portal for the IRS source statistics is set forth on the chart.  I used three tables from the IRS.  I have uploaded the tables here, here, and here.)

This chart shows that in 2016 only 6.45% of all taxpayers made IRA contributions.  While 77.26% of all taxpayers were eligible to make such contributions, only 8.35% of those eligible actually made contributions.

By the end of 2016, only about 19.88% of taxpayers had money in IRAs or SEPs and the average market value in those IRAs & SEPs was only a little over $35K.  The real eye-popping numbers, however, are those that show how skewed toward the wealthy IRAs and SEPs are.

Only about 155,625 taxpayers reported income in 2016 of more than $1M.  They represent only 0.0762% of all taxpayers.  However, the market value of their  IRAs and SEPs was, on the average, $235,274 and represented 5.25% of the total market value of all IRAs and SEPs.   Taxpayers reporting income of over $100K represented 4.66% of all taxpayers.  Yet, they held 60.46% of the market value of all IRAs and SEPs.

Stated simply, as to IRAs and SEPs, the Maryland proposal would exempt from Maryland state and local income tax wealth that has, for the most part, already escaped taxation.  The primary beneficiaries would be the wealthy.

Oh, yeah, I promised a discussion of ineligible deferred compensation plans under IRC § 457(f).  I can’t find precise statistics as to these plans, but it is clear that the beneficiaries of these sorts of plans are already quite wealthy.

IRC § 457(f) provides a deferral of income under certain non-qualified deferred compensation plans operated by a state, political subdivision of a state, and any other tax exempt organization.  Who are the beneficiaries of such plans?  Highly paid personnel of colleges, universities, foundations, and hospitals such as executives, doctors, and, of course, college athletic coaches.  Not exactly a group in need of special tax breaks.  Unlike the bill introduced last year, the bill introduced in the current session excludes IRC § 457(f) plans from tax-exempt distributions.

The statistics concerning IRAs and SEPs open the question of whether the rules pertaining to exemption should be either repealed or radically modified.  While the IRA/SEP provisions are widely viewed as being egalitarian, in operation these provisions disproportionately benefit the wealthy.

 

A Parable on Immortality

Some years ago (it might be as many as fifty) I read an article in a scientific journal (it might have been Science, The American Scientist, or Scientific American), which I believe was written by a Nobel laureate in physics from Asia (perhaps India) – as you can see, at my age details get obscured. It was the scientist’s acceptance speech.

The author wrote of a conversation between two dragonfly eggs, attached to a reed below the surface of a lake. They noticed that eggs on other reeds floated to the surface and then disappeared, and they told each other that, when they rise to the surface they would get back to the other and tell it what lies above them.

And then, of course, one of them floats to the surface, shedding its egg sac, its wings unfurl, and it flies off, never to return to make good on its promise. That is, it is basically a parable about one’s mortality and hope for immortality.

Is there anyone who has heard of this, or how I might go about finding it? Google failed me in this search.

Cannabis news round-up

Marijuana tourists mean more visits to California emergency rooms. California agency eyes tax on marijuana by potency.

What happens to the Illinois weed black market when recreational marijuana goes legal Jan. 1st? As recreational pot is about to become legal in Illinois, Pritzker administration warns it will crack down on “bad actors” who affect medical cannabis availability. Advocates warn immigrants against buying legal weed in Illinois. Illinois emergency rooms prepare for legal marijuana. How marijuana prohibition blocks people of color from getting into the Illinois legal cannabis industry. Black Caucus chair again threatens vote on plan to delay Illinois recreational pot sales until July 1st. Legal recreational marijuana sales to begin Jan. 1 in Chicago Illinois after City Council ordinance fails. Weed smoking would be okay in Chicago cigar shops, hookah lounges and elsewhere, under Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s new plan. Rock Island County, Illinois States Attorney on recreational marijuana.

Hard times ahead for Michigan marijuana businesses.

Massachusetts marijuana stores allowed to resume sales of some vaping products. Dozens apply to open marijuana businesses in now-legal Maine. Rhode Island Senate leaders won’t support marijuana legalization in upcoming legislative session

Marijuana legalization petition approved in North Dakota
Don’t try to buy marijuana in Illinois and bring it back to Wisconsin. Wisconsin balks at legalizing marijuana. Oklahoma activists take first step to put marijuana legalization on state’s 2020 ballot.

Legalizing marijuana in Texas could adversely affect real estate. Kentucky lawmakers proposes bill to legalize marijuana, use money to fund public pensions.

Pennsylvania is using the vape crisis to try to legalize weed. New Jersey lawmakers vote to put marijuana legalization on state’s 2020 ballot. New Jersey marijuana legalization: Give voters a decriminalization ballot option. NYPD union chief claims that lax marijuana enforcement killed a college freshman. Cuomo hires Rhode Island official as marijuana czar.

Key Senate chairman lays out possible marijuana banking bill changes. GOP Congressman knocks his party for failing to pass marijuana reform.

Opioid prescriptions down in states with legal marijuana, study finds. Is marijuana linked to psychosis, schizophrenia? It’s contentious, but doctors, feds say yes. Generational divide proves to be a major factor in marijuana legalization debate.

From Canada legal high, a business letdown. Lesotho wants to send its legal marijuana all over the world. 

Can the House Block Trump’s Power to Pardon?

President Trump has now been impeached. Does he retain the power to pardon? Presumably, if he does, he could pardon his alleged co-conspirators–Giuliani, Fruman, Mulvaney, etc.–and thus allow them to lie with impunity without regard to the perjury laws.

A 2018 comment by D. W. Buffa on the Brookings site argues that the original intent of the Framers was to suspend the presidential power of pardon during any period in which the president was impeached. (The link to the Brookings original posting is here. Per the previous discussion on this blog concerning possible link-rot, I’ve pdf’d Buffa’s comments and posted them here.)

Buffa argues that the text of Article II, sec.2, wherein the president was given the “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment”  acts as a bar to the president’s exercise of the pardon power while he is impeached. (Emphasis by Buffa.)

He does not rely merely on the text, however, but goes further and discusses the colloquy between George Mason and James Madison at the Virginia Ratifying Convention. Mason was concerned that:

If [the president] has the power of granting pardons before indictment, or conviction, may he not stop inquiry and prevent detection?

Madison saw the problem, but believed that the text of the Constitution provided an escape hatch. In responding to Mason, he said:

There is one security in this case to which gentlemen may not have adverted: if the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty; they can suspend him when suspected, and the power will devolve on the Vice-President. Should he be suspected, also, he may likewise be suspended till he be impeached and removed, and the legislature may make a temporary appointment. This is a great security.

I have pdf’d a copy of the colloquy between Mason and Madison, highlighted the pertinent portions, and posted it here.

Contrary to the conclusion drawn in the Brookings posting is the conclusion set forth in Snopes from  Michael McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, that “no basis for it whatsoever” exists for the proposition. [pdf of the Snopes posting.]

Buffa’s argument may not carry the day, but McConnell is clearly wrong in asserting that there is “no basis” for the proposition. That said, however, even under the Buffa formulation the House would have to affirmatively vote to suspend Trump’s pardon power and, as yet, has not done so.

Does anyone know of any additional scholarship on this issue?

Cannabis news round up

California marijuana tax hike puts future of legal market in spotlight amid worries over state industry’s viability. California cannabis industry sending SOS to state leaders. California officials side with marijuana company in new fight over home deliveriesCalifornia threatens landlords of unlicensed pot shops with prosecution. 

A serial tech entrepreneur is trying to create an Amazon-like platform for legal marijuana. 

Massachusetts made wrong decision in legalizing recreational marijuana.

Recreational marijuana goes on sale Jan. 1—legal weed is three weeks away. As businesses apply for right to sell legal weed in Illinois, social equity a top concern. You can apply to run an Illinois recreational pot shop starting Tuesday. Here’s how, where and what you’ll be able to buy in Illinois. Questions remain weeks until marijuana legalization in Illinois. Weeks before recreational marijuana is legal in Illinois, 5 things Northbrook residents should know about it locally. Chicago Police Department releases marijuana facts video on where you can, can’t smoke. Your pocket guide to Illinois legal weed. 

Recreational marijuana sales in Michigan exceed $1.6 million in first 8 days. Indiana prepares for possible influx of pot from Illinois and Michigan, considers decriminalizing small amounts.

Legalizing marijuana has majority support in Kansas, poll finds. Rep. Ryan Winkler discusses the push to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota. Iowa Senate leader: Raise tobacco age to 21; no to legalized marijuana. Wisconsin lawmakers seek to legalize marijuana amid concerns. 

Over 65% of Florida voters want recreational marijuana legalized.

Denver turned marijuana into money for after-school programs. Other cities are taking note. Colorado will get help improving marijuana energy efficiency from National Governors Association. Conservatives host forum opposing legal marijuana in Estes Park, Colorado

Brexit post-mortem 1 : the Comedy of Errors

A lot of things had to go wrong.

“There is a great deal of ruin in a nation” (Adam Smith). The (pro tem) United Kingdom is bent on finding out how much, with Boris Johnson sweeping to a large election victory on a mendacious promise to “get Brexit done”.

In fact, all that’s certain is that the withdrawal agreement (text here) he negotiated will be signed and on January 31 the UK cease to be a EU member, and I an EU citizen .

But under this agreement (Articles 126 – 132) there will be a transition period in which all EU laws and rules still apply. For all practical purposes except decision-making the UK is still in, for a while. The period is set to end on 31 December 2020 (§126), but may be extended for up to two years by common agreement (§132) – but only before 1 July 2020. Johnson has promised not to ask for such an extension – but since neither the EU Commission nor independent experts believe a trade agreement can be finalised in 11 months, there are plenty of Perils-of-Pauline cliffhanger deadlines coming up. The risk of a No Deal crashout is still very much present.

Who’s to blame? There is a lot of it to share, in a corollary to Smith’s aphorism. Here is Inspector Wimberley’s short list of suspects, in rough chronological order.

1. Press barons: Murdoch, Dacre, etc. For decades, they have fed the British public a consistently biased diet of news on Europe, painting the Brussels institutions as a hostile foreign Them not the framework for a competitive common project like the World Cup. They have kept this up to the present day.

2. The BBC, failing out of cowardice and bothsideserism to act as a corrective to the biased press.

3. Farage and UKIP, who supercharged euroscepticism with nativist propaganda against refugees and immigrants.

4. David Cameron, who called a second referendum on EU membership in a bid to silence the UKIP threat to Tory heartland seats; worded it sloppily, as a vague unicorn aspiration not a concrete policy choice; and made no effort to extend the franchise to a million Britons abroad, excluding me and two of my children.

5. Putin’s FSB and its useful idiots who manipulated the referendum by exploiting social media for propaganda.

6. The British electorate, by falling for the con, three times.

7. Theresa May, for invoking Article 50 and triggering a withdrawal countdown without a negotiating strategy.

8. The DUP (hardline Ulster Protestant Unionists) for supporting May’s Article 50 invocation. You can’t blame them for not foreseeing the exact course the complex Irish border issue would take, but you can blame them for not realising that withdrawal inevitably sets up a clash with the Good Friday Agreement and creates grave risks to the Union – the main reason they are in Westminster.

9. Sinn Fein, for not taking up the seats in Westminster they regularly win, because they won’t take the oath of loyalty required of all new MPs; so the DUP’s folly went unchallenged.

10. Remainer backbenchers in the Commons, both Tories and Labour, and their ultimately ineffective leaders (Grieve, Soubry, Kyle, Umunna, etc). They had a clear majority, and managed to score one tactical victory in the Benn anti-No-Deal bill, but never got their act well enough together to secure a second referendum. Both Tory and Labour rebels were wiped out in Thursday’s election. Consolation prizes for principle and effort, but in politics, as Yoda said, “there is no try”.

11. Jeremy Corbyn, whose personal hostility to the EU prevented Labour from ever taking the clear Remain stance that large majorities of its members, MPs and voters wanted, and for pursuing the impossible dream of an electoral mandate for a hard left agenda at the expense of an entirely winnable second referendum. Also for being a sanctimonious North London 1970s lefty pacifist vegetarian stereotype and sucker for anti-semitic conspiracy theories.

12. Jo Swinson, leader of the LibDems, for not making an electoral pact with Labour at the start of the campaign out of a reasonable distrust of Corbyn and an unreasonable hope in an election triumph. She lost her Scottish seat to the SNP, and her party half its previous seats (though it increased its vote).

13. Boris Johnson, liar, womaniser, fat cat, and completely unprincipled demagogue. And his mad Svengali Dominic Cummings.

It strikes me that most of these are but-for causes. Leave out 2 (BBC), 9 (Sinn Fein) and 12 (LibDems), which are unlikely to have made a critical difference. The election wasn’t a close result. The Remainer backbenchers (10) at least tried and morally can’t be blamed. That leaves eight causes, for each of which you can make a strong but-for claim. If any one had gone very differently the UK would not be in this mess.

Any more?

That’s a philosophically disturbing conclusion. Summing over the many possible timelines since 2000, most end up with the UK still a member of the EU. The train wreck was just bad luck.

There is another reading, though.

(Stand by for next episode)