If Tube drivers are paid too much, don’t blame capitalism or the free market


If you think Tube drivers are overpaid, you don’t understand how capitalism works.

That’s what Stephen Bush says in the New Statesman anyway.

Even by London standards, Tube drivers do earn a fair whack. The starting salary is just a few pounds shy of £50,000 a year and that can rise to £60,000 once you’ve got your feet under the table. Other perks include a 36 hour week and 48 days of paid annual leave. Compare that to an average wage for Londoners of £35,000 and you can see why some would think Tube drivers are overpaid.

Stephen points out that there are plenty “left-wing arguments” why Tube drivers are paid so much, but he’s found an even better “right-wing” one. Capitalism.

There’s no such thing as an overpaid worker in a capitalist society. There’s just what the market decides people are worth. Tube drivers have something almost everybody in London wants, are difficult to replace and do a job not many people want to do.

Apparently, if you don’t get that, you don’t get capitalism, but something tells me that it’s Stephen Bush himself that doesn’t understand how capitalism works.

Capitalism is an economic system in which capital goods are in private or corporate ownership, investments are made by private decision, and where the prices, production and distribution of goods and services are determined by competition in a free market.

Love it or loath it, that’s what capitalism is, and how anyone can square capitalism with how London Underground operates beats me.

Capitalism did give us the London Underground, and it remained entirely in private hands until the 1930s, but in 1948 it was nationalised and has remained in public hands ever since. The current operator, London Underground Limited, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London, the statutory corporation responsible for most of Greater London’s transport network. Transport for London is, in turn, a local government body subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of three billion pounds a year and controlled by a board whose members are appointed by the Mayor of London. In short, about as close to a capitalist enterprise as West Ruislip is to Epping on the Central line.

It is true to say there is no such thing as an overpaid worker in a truly capitalist society, but Tube driver jobs are not available on anything like a free market basis. Wage rates are thrashed out between a state run business and trade unions. And thanks to a deal between Transport for London and the drivers’ union, ASLEF, any vacancies for drivers are filled by people already working for London Underground. Jobs are only offered externally when posts remain unfilled and in practice that means not very often. This actually means we have no real idea if it’s a job many people want to do or not, but at £50,000 a year, I’d be genuinely surprised if there was a shortage of takers.

And what exactly is it that Tube drivers have that everybody in London wants? They don’t own the London Underground or the trains they drive. If they did, they would be, er, Heaven forbid, capitalists.

Now there’s an idea.

Why Government Intervention In The Market Is The Real Reason Patients Are Denied 5p Breast Cancer Pill

patientsAccording to the front page of today’s i newspaper, big bad business is at it again.

New research has shown that a life-saving breast cancer treatment costing only five pence is being denied to patients “because pills aren’t profitable enough for drug firms”.

The obvious takeaway here is that Big Pharma won’t even get out of bed in the morning to save people’s lives if there is no money to be made in producing cheap pills.

But wait a minute. The article behind the headline tells a completely different story. One of government intervention in the market adversely affecting the public good.

The fact is that these pills are already being made by drug firms, albeit for the treatment of osteoporosis. Presumably doing so is “profitable enough” and whether they are consumed by those with osteoporosis or breast cancer won’t change that.

No, the real reason for the market’s failure to meet an obvious demand is government intervention in said market.

It turns out that patients are being denied these cheap pills for no other reason than the government hasn’t licensed them for use in the treatment of breast cancer. It has nothing to do with lack of profitability and everything to do with “the sometimes lengthy and costly process of securing a licence for the drug to be used in a new way”.

The i newspaper has got the wrong end of the stick. Big bad business isn’t at fault here. Big bad government is.

Skype Want Me To Prove That I’m Not Korean

kim-jong-unMaybe it’s my hairstyle.

Maybe it’s the way I murder Gangnam Style on Just Dance 4.

Whatever the reason, Skype are convinced that I’m Korean.

I discovered this when I went to renew my Skype number a few weeks ago. Instead of being directed to the usual payment page, I was taken to a Korean language page. I tried a few times, but always ended up on a Korean language page.

Foolishly, I thought that it would be as simple as asking Skype for the correct link so that I could renew my number, but life is rarely as simple as it might be.

My first issue was making contact with Skype. For a communications company, they don’t make it easy. Despite specialising in voice and video calls over the internet, you can’t actually contact Support by phone. Apparently, you can email them, but despite spending what seemed like an eternity looking around their website, I never found out what the Customer Service email was. That left Chat. Now, Chat I did find – thanks to a helping hand from Mathew Riches on Twitter (despite having a Twitter account themselves, Skype UK don’t reply to tweets from mere customers).

And this is where the whole episode gets rather surreal.

Skype will only give me the correct link for me to renew my Skype number if I can prove I am not Korean. Otherwise, I’ve to use the Korean language page.


This is what I was told by not one, but two customer service advisors, one of whom went by the name of Cinderella (I’m not making this up).

Why can’t you just give me the link to the equivalent English language page, I asked? Because you might be Korean was the answer.

The fact that all of my Skype activity is via a UK IP counts for nothing. According to Cinders, I could simply be masking my IP and my true location, Korea.

The fact that all payments made to Skype over the last how many years have originated from the UK means diddly-squat too. I could simply be a Korean with a UK bank account.

No, Skype needs irrefutable proof that I’m not Korean before allowing me to use an English language page to renew my Skype number. They want me to email them copies of identification that prove that I’m British.

Really? Just to get access to an English language payment page?

Maybe, I’m living in North Korea after all.

Why Nominet Has Got It Wrong About The Royal Mail And Bad Actors

With far less fanfare than you might imagine, the UK domain name space is going to be revolutionised this week. From 8am on Tuesday the 10th of June, Nominet will allow you to register shorter .uk domain names for the very first time.

It will still be possible to register and use .co.uk domain names, along with .org.uk, .me.uk and all the other domains ending in .uk that currently exist, but as well as georgemarshall.co.uk, for example, it will now be possible to register georgemarshall.uk.

The new .uk domain names come with their own set of rules and regulations, but none so strange as the following:

“We have decided not to allow the use of a PO Box as an address for a registrant or as an address for service, as we were informed that this could create a significant loophole for ‘bad actors’ to exploit.”

Bad actors? Don’t worry. Nominet aren’t having a dig at the Joey Tribbianis of this world. Or at least, I don’t think they are. It’s more likely they mean bad actors in the legal sense: criminal types.

You should be worried, however, if you run a legitimate business that uses a PO Box and that trades online because this will affect you.

What I would like to know is what this significant loophole is, who informed Nominet of this loophole,  and on what grounds was it accepted as valid? Because from where I’m standing, there is no loophole that PO Boxes afford bad actors – and if there is one, it applies equally to all addresses.

PO Boxes are provided by Royal Mail and when you apply for one it is made very clear that Royal Mail will:

“disclose your full street address to enquirers. Do not use this service if you do not want your address to be revealed.”

That’s not what bad actors want to hear.

You also need to supply Royal Mail with two of the following when applying for a PO Box (documentation must not be more than three months old):

a bank or building society statement
• a telephone bill (but not mobile)
• a utility bill
• a council tax bill
• a driving licence (paper counterpart)
• a mortgage statement
• a tenancy agreement

Again, not really music to the ears of bad actors.

These checks by Royal Mail go well beyond any that Nominet asks its Registrars to make when allowing a customer to register a domain name – and yet Nominet are allowing the use of a Registrar’s address as an address for service for customers. Bad actors take note!

What’s more, Nominet are apparently allowing .uk Registrants to use private mail forward services that provide a street address. Such services are under no obligation to disclose addresses to enquirers and often go to extraordinary lengths to hide the identity of their customers. Here’s some of the attractions of working with The Post House for example:

“You can change your forwarding address instantly, as often as you wish, via your secure control panel and, to further protect your privacy, The Post House does not retain a record of any previously registered addresses.”

“The Post House does not require any proof of identity and will never ask for your real name. You are only ever identified on our system by your unique mailbox address… and payments are made via Paypal to maintain your anonymity.”

You could drive a double decker bus through loopholes like that – and yet Nominet have chosen to focus solely on PO Boxes.

And it’s not as if “bad actors” don’t use street addresses anyway. Fly-by-night operation are renowned for taking an office on a short-term lease, fleecing the public, and then disappearing with all the money before anyone knows they have shut up shop. That presumably makes street addresses a significant loophole. Will Nominet take steps to outlaw their use too?

Even stranger, if PO Boxes are such a concern when it comes to bad actors, why are Registrants allowed to use PO Boxes when registering .co.uk domain names? In fact, I’d be really interested to know what level of complaints Nominet has received since its formation in 1996 with regards to Registrants using PO Boxes compared to those using street addresses.

I’d also be really interested to hear what the Royal Mail think about this, but the real losers here are the large number of people who are entitled to work from home – as long as they don’t use their residential address as a business address. This is a common condition placed on those renting residential property. For them, a PO Box can be a lifeline that allows them to trade without jeopardising their tenancy while knowing that their mail is being handled by one of the most trusted companies in the UK today. Nominet hasn’t given them a second thought when rushing to close this “significant loophole”.

Banning the use of PO Boxes is nothing more than unnecessary red tape – and that’s the last thing British businesses need at this moment in time. In any case, we already have something in place to deal with bad actors no matter what address they use. It’s called the law of the land. 

Time to think again, Nominet.

Will the book, Why Do Only Fools And Horses Work?, ever be published?

9780953593224Why Do Only Fools And Horses Work? seems to have had more release dates than your average prison wing. This is completely my fault, as the author and publisher, so many apologies for the changing publication dates.

This book should have been published months ago. The original planned book would have been, but while working on it, I was always drawn to one of the negative comments that was posted about my previous book, Get Out While You Can. It concluded:

“Do not believe anything in this book – do the opposite and go for Plan A.”

This really surprised me. As in REALLY surprised me.

Plan A, for those who haven’t read Get Out While You Can, is:

Plan A. Work hard at school, secure a good job, set your sights on promotion, climb the corporate ladder, live happily ever after.

Reality check for Plan A. Work longer and longer hours just to make ends meet, being condemned to a life of wage slavery, drowning in sea of debt, the poverty of mind and spirit, existing to work.

In Get Out While You Can, I presented an alternative, my Plan B, which gave an introduction to how I (like many others) have carved out a way of making money online.

What struck me wasn’t that the reviewer was questioning my honesty (comes with the territory!), but that he could see no alternative to Plan A. As if we were put on this planet for one purpose and one purpose only: to work “for a living”.

I wanted to know why so many of us accept that for 40 or more years of our lives we have no choice, but to work, even if that work fills us with dread each and every working day.

The more I thought about this, and the more I read, the more I came to what for me was a startling conclusion: it’s time to down tools and become a capitalist.

That’s not something I thought I would ever say or believe. I was born in Ruchazie, Glasgow, and am from a working class family.

Writing Why Do Only Fools And Horses Work? has challenged much of what I held to be true, even while pursuing an alternative to Plan A. At times, it has felt overwhelming, to the point where I have had no choice but to take three steps backwards so that I could take one sure foot forwards into what, for me, was new territory. It has consumed so much of my time that other projects have been put on hold, but that just emphasises how important I believe this book to be.

It is now very close to being finished and will be published in October, 2015. I genuinely believe it will be worth the wait.

Why Nick Clegg’s “Worker’s Bonus” Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Pieter Brueghel the Younger's Paying the Tax (The Tax Collector)

Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s Paying the Tax

I was pleased to hear Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, calling for another increase in the amount people can earn before having to pay income tax.

In the current tax year (2013-2014), the personal allowance  stands at £9,440 and it will rise to £10,000 in April, 2014. Nick Clegg now wants it to rise to £10,500 in April, 2015 (he’s rather cheekily calling it a “worker’s bonus”, but it is really nothing of the sort: the Government would just be taking less money out of your wage packet than it did previously).

Since coming to power, the Coalition Government has repeatedly increased the personal allowance, something that should be applauded. In 2010, the personal allowance was just £6,475. Next year’s rise to £10,000 is a definite step in the right direction, but not even Nick Clegg’s proposal of £10,500 is as high as it should be. Until is exceeds £12,500, for example, there will be people earning the minimum wage who will still be paying income tax.

For me, a starting point would be to have the bottom 50% of UK taxpayers paying no income tax at all. That suggestion isn’t anywhere near as ambitious as it sounds. In 2012-2013, the Government collected about £150 billion in income tax, but the bottom 50% of taxpayers contributed only around a tenth of that figure, a little over £15 billion. So we are talking about the Government receiving £15 billion less money. During the same tax year, public spending in the UK came in at just under £700 billion. £15 billion is not much more than 2% of £700 billion so if you are willing to reduce that spending by just 2%, hey presto, half of all current payers could be excused income tax.

Please don’t tell me that there are no more cuts to be made. Public spending has ballooned in recent times despite all the talk of austerity. In 2004-2005, it was £492 billion, in 2000-2001 it was £341 billion, but here’s what’s been happening to public spending in the UK since the financial crisis of 2008 hit home:

2008-09 £630 billion

2009-10 £672 billion

2010-11 £692 billion

2011-12 £694 billion

2012-13 £674 billion

So much for the “public spending cuts” we keep hearing about!

And the projections for the next few years?

2013-14 £720 billion

2014-15 £731 billion

2015-16 £745 billion

2016-17 £755 billion

Public spending for 2012-2013 shows a slight drop on the previous year, but the trend is very clearly skywards. Between this tax year and next it is expected to balloon by a further £46 billion – three times what it would cost in lost revenues to remove the income tax burden from half of all tax payers and to put £15 billion back into the pockets of those who actually earned it.

So, how about it Nick? A pledge to see half of all tax payers pay no income tax by the end of the next Parliament?

The Council That Spends £10,000 A Year Removing A Cone From A Statue


Duke Of Wellington resplendent in cone

It never ceases to amaze me the lengths councils will go to waste money.

In Glasgow, right outside the Gallery of Modern Art on Royal Exchange Square, stands a statue of the Duke of Wellington on a horse.

As statues go, it’s just another statue of an old dead guy, but what gives it a unique Glasgow twist is that Duke is nearly always wearing a traffic cone on his head! No matter how many times the Council remove it, someone puts it back on again!

Last week, news broke that Glasgow City Council wanted to spend £65,000 renovating the statue. Most of that money was to be spent on building a plinth for the statue to sit on to make it harder for anyone to clamber up and put a cone on the Duke’s head. It’s apparently to do with that old chestmut, “health and safety”, and to reduce the cost of removing the traffic cone on a regular basis.

All the Council would be doing by building a plinth would be adding to the danger of placing it there, not removing that danger. As any Glaswegian will tell you, you could put the statue on top of a plinth as high as the column in George Square that the Scott Memorial totters on, and it would still have a cone on its head.

Following a public outcry, the Council has backed down on its plans to build a plinth, but what really stinks is the revelation that it costs the city £10,000 a year to have the cone removed on a regular basis! That’s right, the Council claim it costs them £100 every time they remove the cone!

Given the levels of deprivation and poverty found in the city of Glasgow, it beggars belief that a Council, and a Labour run one at that, would think it a good use of their stretched resources to spend £100 a shot removing a cone from the top of a statue – and then to repeat that folly 100 times a year.

If it ever needs removed in the future, I know a windae cleaner who will do the job for a fiver, but the point is the cone doesn’t need removed. It should be left exactly where it is. It is part of the city’s rich culture, a tourist attraction, one of the “top 10 most bizarre monuments on Earth“. It puts a smile on the faces of passersby and you can’t put a price on that these days.

Leaving it be would also remove the danger of someone having to clamber up the statue to replace it and would save the Council £10,000 a year.

Smiley faces all round.