When it comes to council tax, some honesty about cuts would be nice

I have a rather old-fashioned left-wing attitude to the current debate over cuts and services. It’s this: if you’ve run out of money for services which you’ve said for decades are vital, don’t cut them. Make us pay for them. Go on, grow a pair and put up taxes, and explain why that’s important.

In the long run, of course, that isn’t going to happen. The conversation just now is all about cutting back the Leviathan of the state – there’s a pretty good Economist section on it this week, and some of what is said in unarguable. If the government’s spending the equivalent of more than half of a country’s GDP, that just feels wrong. And if public sector workers really are retiring to a life on the Costa Brava in their mid-fifties, that feels wrong too. On the ground, it’s easy to see a new generation of senior public sector managers in their 30s and 40s who grew up under New Labour’s prescription of professional competence and reform, who believe that anyone taking money out of the public purse unfairly is somehow defrauding society. They’re the ones who’ll change things.

But I would just like to point out a broken bit of this conversation. Today, I received Lambeth’s council tax leaflet. There’s a picture of the cover to the right of this post. And what does it boast?

“Council tax frozen for third year!”

That’s it. That’s the only message from the cover. And it’s like a missive from a different world. Inside, the council explains that their central government funding is being cut by £79 million over three years, and that just makes me want to scream: “Why the hell are you not raising council tax then! Blame it on the government! Explain what services it protects! GROW A PAIR!” Everything about local government funding is driving me nuts. The fact that house prices haven’t been rerated for TWENTY YEARS, for instance. How can that possibly be fair or efficient?

So, if you want to close a library, look me in the eye and explain to me why you didn’t try and raise the money to keep it open. Show me now. Because the way we’re going, deficits are always only going to be about cuts, and never about taxation.

Jenkins: cut the armed forces. All of them.

I find myself in the once-in-a-lifetime position of agreeing with Simon Jenkins:

I say cut defence. I dont mean nibble at it or slice it. I mean cut it, all £45bn of it. George Osborne yesterday asked the nation “for once in a generation” to think the unthinkable, to offer not just percentage cuts but “whether government needs to provide certain public services at all”.What do we really get from the army, the navy and the air force beyond soldiers dying in distant wars and a tingle when the band marches by? Is the tingle worth £45bn, more than the total spent on schools? Why does Osborne “ringfence” defence when everyone knows its budget is a bankruptcy waiting to happen, when Labour ministers bought the wrong kit for wars that they insisted it fight?

via My once-in-a-generation cut? The armed forces. All of them | Simon Jenkins | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Turkey: better than the euro

Turkey can afford to keep tax rates unchanged “for the foreseeable future” while other European governments struggle to repair the damage done by the financial crisis, Ali Babacan, economy minister, said on Wednesday.His comments reflect Turkey’s pride in weathering last year’s turmoil without bailing out any banks or seeking help from the International Monetary Fund. In contrast with much of the European Union it aspires to join, Turkey won recent upgrades to ratings of its sovereign debt after setting medium term fiscal targets it is likely to beat in 2010.

via FT.com / Europe – Turkey proud to keep current tax rates.

Markets in everything: Discount babies

The paper found that price does play a significant role in choosing a child to adopt—perhaps enough to overcome racial bias. But for the black child market to clear, prices must fall further. The paper finds the cost of adopting a black baby needs to be $38,000 lower than the cost of a white baby, in order to make parents indifferent to race. Boys will need to cost $16,000 less than girls.

via Markets in everything: Discount babies | The Economist.

OMG, this budget deficit has got to go. LOL

I’ve been thinking about this as the opening shots are fired in what is clearly going to be the first Twitter election, where any issue that can’t be boiled down to 140 characters won’t play. 140 characters is enough room for a slogan or a meretricious appeal; it’s not enough to say anything more useful. In that sense Stalin would have loved it. Lincoln not so much.

via And Another Thing: I’m dreading the first Twitter election.

You know it’s true

And yet, as I say, higher U.S. productivity is not the main reason for this prosperity gap. Comparing America with the richest European countries, output per hour worked is not that different. In levels of productivity, Europe’s most successful economies have caught up. Then why are they still so much poorer? Because Europeans work less. A higher proportion of the U.S. population is employed, and Americans work longer hours. Effort, not efficiency, is why Americans are richer.

via National Journal Magazine – U.S. Versus Europe: No Winner.