Saturday, 2 February 2013


The Most Serene Republic of Venice

Plagues of oars came to found you.
Fear and skill combined with the sea
To raise a haven from the wars:
The safe, the beautiful and the free.

Buildings grew up to ground you.
First huts on stakes, near boats;
Then palaces, churches, everything proud
To show off the state that floats.

Men and metal tried to sound you
Amidst gold's shimmer and lagoon mist;
But you brought the noise to them.
So the world feared St Mark's wrist.

Monarch and pope wished to hound you:
Partly for your soul, mostly for your lands.
Despite all your markets, thought was free.
You rode all anger, trusting in salty hands.

Pride came to abound in you,
As houses sank behind the paint.
Pageants joined gambling on the water,
While the life of trade grew faint.

Then came one to astound you.
Rip up the rotten materials, fallen minds
And take half the world with him:
Those who cheer as the Republic unwinds.

Now many eyes grow round you,
So weary of sight and of sea.
The tide is now against the city;
A final veil for its finery.

Monday, 6 August 2012

These Three Words

Sometimes he whispers it,
Sometimes it is yelled:
From floor to floor
Of this happy, hearty house.
I always hear it:
From storey to storey,
Around the smallest table,
As we read our own books
And create a common fable.

Sometimes he looks it,
Sometimes it is aimed:
From his eyes to my mind
In a quickly fired gaze.
I always see it:
From portrait to photograph,
In a card he has made,
But mostly in my vision
With a smile that cannot fade.

Sometimes he bakes it,
Sometimes it is eaten:
From the plate to the finger
In a delicate haste.
I always taste it:
From the mouth to the tongue,
In a rush or in time,
The food and its savour
Is made dexterously sublime.

Sometimes he sprays it,
Sometimes it is wafted:
From the bedroom to the garden
Lifts the aroma of our life.
I always smell it:
From his head to the air,
Or in a bath that surrounds us,
As we both drift out of care
And into each other’s focus.

Sometimes he signs it,
Sometimes it is flying:
From his heart to my wish
In a sudden embrace.
I always feel it:
From my spirit to his will,
Through thought acting on space,
As darkness moves aside
To show us face to face.

Something of a work in progress, I was trying to get a stanza for each of the five senses.

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Voyagers

We creep towards your light.
As the aliens you already know:
Sometimes in pairs, ready to fight,
Mostly alone in a dark, slow flow.

Not yet part of your talking zoo,
Already somewhat subject to fate.
We’d look forward to meeting you,
If we could in our current state.

It is a long and arduous trek
Through time, much more than place:
At journey’s end, we come on deck
With your reconfigured face.

We sail through nine months of night
To meet either your terror or delight.

Sometimes you wake up from a dream & find yourself looking at a common event from a right angle to how you're used to seeing it. This poem comes from one of those incidents.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Never try to write about tax... part two.

A long time ago, in a land far away, I suggested that a negative income tax might be a better safety net than the minimum wage and benefits.  You can find the original post here.
Negative income tax is associated with Milton Friedman, but was originally the idea of Juliet Rhys-Williams. It has been advocated by both left and right, often depending on whether it is combined with progressive or flat taxation.  Generally the form it takes depends on what its supporter is trying to achieve. A negative income tax could be seen as non-ideal theory for libertarians. It is an admission that some form of tax is necessary, that the practicalities of life mean some goods have to be paid for collectively.  In my case, I differentiate between essential and non-essential goods.  Since the essential goods are the basis for a genuine market and cannot be allocated with in it, even my ideal society needs some form of tax revenue.  I’m interested in negative income tax because of its’ potential to support part-time jobs and volunteering. I believe we are moving away from a culture of full time employment. Rather than lament this, I cast it as an opportunity to create what I call the fulfilled economy.

The demise of full employment provided by forty hours a week jobs is happening; whether we like it or not. In 2010 there were 380,000 less fulltime posts and 72,000 more part time posts.  The fulfilled economy is a way of turning what is currently a calamity into a gain. Part-time work that is currently viewed as under-employment will become the ordinary level of employment, with most people having more time to devote to hobbies, volunteering, etc. However, the negative income tax will ensure that the new norm of part-time jobs does not compromise the basic living standards and individuality of lower income earners.

The fulfilled economy is similar to the big society, but I have never liked the term big society. It means very little & could just as easily refer to a land of giants.  I prefer the term fulfilled society because of the dual interpretation of the world fulfilment. Firstly, fulfilment is a synonym for completion or full take up, of employment for instance.  A fulfilled area cannot grow unless the nature of what needs fulfilling changes. Secondly, fulfilment can be connected to contentment and the idea of a flourishing life expounded by Aristotle.  The fulfilled economy is an application of both meanings. There is no slack for traditional full employment because the full time labour market is fulfilled. However, changing to a part-time economy supported by a negative income tax leads to greater fulfilment of the second kind, since people have more time for volunteering and individual pursuits.

In the UK, we currently have working tax credits, but these are nothing like a negative income tax, as they are often not awarded to those with the lowest paid employment, due to eligibility being based on hours worked as well as income. Working tax credits are weighted towards full-time employment, rather than part-time employment. For example a single person (no children) needs to work over 30 hours to qualify. If they work under 16 hours they get Job Seekers’ Allowance, but must be looking for work alongside their part-time job (once again showing the emphasis on full-time rather than part-time employment). So what if someone is working between 16 and 30 hours? They don’t qualify. That’s right; they get less money for working more hours than someone able to claim Job Seekers’ Allowance! This is quite awkward, considering the economic trend towards part-time jobs and the impossibility of everyone being employed for more 30 hours. It also creates a disincentive for working in retail and other sectors that tend to offer jobs with these hours. There are further problems with confusing awards for those with children, a time lag and various administrative issues which are compounded by what happens if a claimant has been overpaid.

 In addition, people getting Working Tax Credits are stigmatised as benefits claimants, when really they are workers who are not being paid a living wage. The fact that their wages need a top up suggests that they are not being paid the true market rate for their labour, as the employer has not provided for the costs of maintaining their ability to labour. So Working Tax Credits are evidence that we do not have a genuine free market in labour. The labour market is distorted because it does not have a genuine floor. The ratio of unemployed people to vacancies is so high that there are many individuals prepared to take any wage, rather than have no job. Also the incomplete provision for essential non-market goods in the UK distorts the wage negotiations of participants in the labour market: who rocks the boat at work if they think they will lose their house, their transport and most of their ability to get a new job?

The major question about any negative tax system is where to set the changeover from negative to positive taxation. This threshold could be predicated on the average UK income, the UK minimum wage or the UK living wage. The minimum wage is £6.08 an hour or £12,646.40 a year, assuming full-time hours (often not the case with a minimum wage job). The living wage is £7.20 anhour, but £8.30 in London.   Based on full-time hours the average living wage for a year would be £17,264 in London, £14,976 elsewhere. What is needed is a full analysis of how much each of these would cost if they were used as thresholds.  It is possible that all these wage settings could be accommodated by having a neutral tax band of £12,000 to £22,000 a year.  This would mean those on less than £12,000 a year would receive a sum of negative tax and income tax would only apply to those earning more than £22,000 a year. The general UK average wage is£26,200*,  so there should still be a large amount of people paying tax.  However, I have found it very difficult to get hold of breakdowns of the UK’s tax revenue from different income brackets. This data is essential for working out a threshold for negative income tax that will still give the country enough revenue. If anyone can find this data, please comment below as I would really appreciate it.

The lack of data means there are unanswered questions, which is one reason why it is taken me so long to write this post.  For example: how much should those over the threshold be taxed and should this involve progressive rates (higher rates of tax the higher the level of income)? Answering this would involve working out how much tax revenue is currently coming from individuals on these incomes and projecting how much this would be under different forms of negative income tax (allowing for tax avoidance and evasion, etc). Next, we need to know how much revenue is needed to pay for the negative tax for people below the threshold. This brings me to the next question, which is whether the negative tax should make up the income all the way to the threshold?  Again, data is needed on how many are currently below the threshold income.  Also, there will be concerns that there should still be an incentive for someone to work, rather than be completely unemployed. For instance, individuals in low paid or voluntary work could be brought up to the full income threshold; those in no type of work would only be brought up to 75% of the threshold. It may also be necessary to create disincentives for working excessive hours, to encourage the transition to the fulfilled economy. Of course, the effect of such hours on a person’s work-life balance may already be a disincentive! 

*This figure is a median rather than a mean average. The mean is higher than the median due to the distortion from the highest percentile of earners.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Witch

He spoke to us with a frown:
Last night her hair was brown,
Today it is angelic gold. 
Whence comes this transformation?
I think we should be told.

At dawn her arms were covered in hair,
Now, miraculously they are bare.
I spied and saw her make a spell
With a box that hummed and burnt.
What is this craft she has learnt?

Her face has hardly any wrinkles
Though you'd think by now she crinkles.
Yet I saw a full needle placed in her head,
And I have heard that it is poison.
So she's a witch if she is not dead!

Things that distract the Snarkery

1. Moving house.
2. Losing your job due to company finances for the third time in five years.
3. This website: