Monday, May 23, 2011

O golfe lidera a desobediência civil!

Já se sabia que as empresas de golfe queriam ter uma taxa de IVA especial de 6%. O que não se sabia é que essas empresas recusam-se a pagar a taxa actual, e pagam aquela que querem ver instituída. Ou seja, a taxa legal é de 23%, mas eles pagam 6% na mesma. Sim, só porque lhes apetece. O DN, como já é habitual, prefere usar o eufemismo: Golfe teima em pagar 6%. Se fosse eu a "teimar" pagar uma taxa inferior á legal, chamava-se a isso fraude fiscal, mas para os senhores do golfe é apenas teimosia. Da mesma forma que um pobre é louco e um rico é excêntrico, ao crime dos ricos chama-se teimosia.

Ou não? Será isto a aristocracia a liderar a desobediência civil.? A dar o exemplo à revolta popular? Sigamos então o nobre exemplo. Recusemo-nos a pagar qualquer IVA a mais de 6%, e, em espírito de desobediência civil, ocupemos os clubes de golfe (que certamente serão solidários à causa): espetamos as tendas no meio dos greens, fazemos as nossas latrinas nas armadilhas de areia, e tomamos os nossos banhos nos lagos. E se nos disserem para sair...teimamos em ficar.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Iceland's big thaw - Learning from the Vikings

“Everyone was working for the banks — from the physicists to the philosophers,” one Icelander told me. I met two women in their mid-20s who said that when they graduated from college, virtually all of their classmates were jockeying to get into finance (...)

When money was easy, he said, “innovation was at a minimum in the country.” The prevailing sense was that it was a waste of time to invent things yourself when you could just “buy innovation from someone else.” The boom, Gudjonsson concluded, “made us lazy thinkers.”(...)

(...)when Iceland’s economy hit rock bottom, and the entire country was seized by panic — was also his son’s 16th birthday. “I went up to my boy, and I had already congratulated him on his birthday, but then I said, ‘Congratulations, you will now be able to live in a society which is closer to realizing what it is.’ ” I pressed Grimsson, asking why exactly he was so happy for his son. “After this,” Grimsson replied, “he had a much better chance of growing up to be a real person instead of a vapid airhead.”

Iceland's big thaw - (NYT)

We can learn from these Vikings. For years now we have a lamentable brain drain going on. A whole generation of physicists turned quants, earning a living through ruinous voodoo mathematics; literature majors in outbound sweatshops selling fraudulent investments; philosophy majors speculating in real estate - a whole people eagerly emulating a certain presidential candidate with a dead hamster on his head and another inside it. At an even more insidious level, those who nominally remain in creative professions feel obliged to spend a lot of their time nursing stock portfolios and worrying about market strategies (guilty as charged). How can you not? As everyone does it, you feel you must do it just to stay in the same place! Now that finance is a byword, Icelanders have a chance of putting their creative brains to use. Meanwhile,  in the EU and the USA, it is still in finance, the stock market and the banks that we stupidly set our hopes. Perhaps we need The Big One to come and hit us sooner rather than later.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


"(...) But its fall was announced by a clearer omen than the flight of vultures: the Roman government appeared every day less formidable to its enemies, more odious and oppressive to its subjects. The taxes were multiplied with the public distress; economy was neglected in proportion as it became necessary; and the injustice of the rich shifted the unequal burden from themselves to the people, whom they defrauded of the indulgences that might sometimes have alleviated their misery. (...)The severe inquisition which confiscated their goods, and tortured their persons, compelled the subjects of Valentinian to prefer the more simple tyranny of the Barbarians (...) They abjured and abhorred the name of Roman citizens, which had formerly excited the ambition of mankind (...) and the Imperial ministers pursued with proscriptive laws, and ineffectual arms, the rebels whom they had made. If all the Barbarian conquerors had been annihilated in the same hour, their total destruction would not have restored the empire of the West: and if Rome still survived, she survived the loss of freedom, of virtue, and of honor."

-E. Gibbon, The decline and fall of the Roman Empire

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Great Firewall of Europe

Again, Europe must compete with China, this time on internet censorship. I'm sure we'll do well on that front.

The new world order seems best illustrated by the wholesome image of comrade Mao french-kissing Mr. Rockefeller. Most assuredly their puppies will be lovely.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

More Samba in Alfama

Sodansusamba, Sodansusamba....

While C. and I sat at one of those cosy, minuscule bars in Lisbon's Alfama, these two characters (she brasilian, he Portuguese) sat down and filled the room with beautiful brasilian music, free of charge, to an enraptured audience. "Was that too loud?" - the guitarist asked the black barkeep after a more enthusiastic moment, to which she smiled a "no, that's fine", and joined in around the players. So much talent to go around, why do we need to fly the same packaged performer-millionaires around the world so we can pay small fortunes to be packed like devoted rats into stadiums and have our eardrums ruptured by canned music?  


I'm becoming too grumpy. This blog needs some drawings urgently.

You are gonna be screwed. In compensation, I am gonna screw you.

Portuguese journalism at its best: You are going to be screwed, but don't worry: in compensation, I am going to do the some screwing.

Specifically: The anual tax for having a home will go up. In compensation (according to how the DN newspaper uses the word), the one-time tax for buying a home will go down. Meaning: The state will squeeze you out of your home, and in compensation it will make it cheaper for the guy who takes your home from you when you are desperate enough to sell for peanuts.

The IMF/EC/ECB wants more renting and less owning. But wait, if a house is rented, it still has an owner. What they mean is that the owner won't be you.

Let's use the word compensation in a sentence, kids:

The VAT over milk is going up. In compensation, the VAT over golf courses is going down. (True story!)

In the mother tongue:

Segundo o DN, O IMI (o imposto que pagamos por ter uma casa) vai aumentar, mas está tudo bem porque
"esta subida vai ser compensada com uma diminuição do imposto sobre as transacções onerosas sobre imóveis (IMT), antiga sisa, pago pelos contribuintes no acto de compra da casa."
Isto não é a minha especialidade, alguém corrija a minha ignorância se for o caso, mas parece-me que:
Sendo que o IMT é um imposto sobre as transacções de imóveis, pago pelo comprador, parece-me difícil que "compense" alguma coisa à típica família que todos os meses vai pagando o seu empréstimo, e que, anualmente, vai pagando um IMI agora mais elevado.

Talvez "compense", no entanto, os especuladores que nos próximos tempos achem por bem adquirir imóveis vendidos ao desbarato por essas mesmas famílias? As medidas acordadas pela "troika" pretendem desincentivar a compra de casa e incentivar o aluguer. Tudo muito razoável, mas pensando bem, se há casas para alugar, alguém será dono delas. Parece-me bem que o novo jogo é cada vez termos menos donos, cada um deles com mais casas. Talvez por isso seja adequado aumentar o IMI (e em simultâneo retirar os benefícios fiscais) para espremer os actuais donos, ao mesmo tempo que reduzimos o imposto que os novos compradores terão que pagar para recolher o "sumo" dos espremidos.

É um exemplo de "tu vais perder, mas não te preocupes: em compensação, eu vou ganhar".

Outro exemplo icónico desta definição da palavra:

O IVA sobre o leite vai subir, mas esta subida vai ser compensada pela descida do IVA sobre os clubes de Golf.

ps: Actualmente existe uma isenção de IMT para quem compre um prédio para revenda no prazo de três anos, o que já favorecia os especuladores, daí que me pareça que o propósito desta medida será facilitar a vida a quem pretenda adquirir imóveis para fins mais pemanentes. Following the money, smells like a concentration of rentiers.

Get your cadmium rice while it's hot

"We must compete with China!" - is the mantra that justifies all.

You want to get payed for overtime? WE MUST COMPETE WITH CHINA!

Vacations? CHINA!

Healthcare?? CHINA!!

Minimum wage??? CHINA!!!!

In this spirit, I impatiently inquire when I may expect the arrival of our recycled buns, paraffin eggs, cadmium rice, boraxed pork, and generally poisoned food. 

You want food that won't kill you? Are you insane? WE MUST COMPETE WITH CHINA!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Never Enough

"In 2007, the top 1 percent of all income earners in the United States made 23.5 percent of all income -- more than the bottom 50 percent. Not enough! The percentage of income going to the top 1 percent nearly tripled since the mid-1970s. Not enough! Eighty percent of all new income earned from 1980 to 2005 has gone to the top 1 percent. Not enough! The top 1 percent now owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Not enough! The Wall Street executives with their obscene compensation packages now earn more than they did before we bailed them out. Not enough! With the middle class collapsing and the rich getting much richer, the United States now has, by far, the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any major country on earth. Not enough!"

-Sen. Bernie Sanders, Huffington Post

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Time to be agressively irresponsible

If  I owe 100 thousands to the bank, I am in trouble. If I owe 100 billions, the bank is in trouble.

First, this is not a moral tale, no matter what German rethoric would have us believe. Both the lenders and borrowers have been irresponsible, yet the burden is all put on the latter, with the former expecting a profit. Portugal is not being bailed out. Portugal is being forced to bail out German banks.

But what can we do, our leaders say? We have no choice but to submit!

What we can do is use our weakness as a strength. Put the gun to our own heads. Demand actual help from the ECB, or else... or else we will default, and start a process that brings down first Spain, then the whole EU (and the country that matters, Germany), right along with us. We need and we can hold the EU hostage. What we need is to elect a political force from outside of the usual circle of "responsible" parties; someone that can be "credibly irresponsible". That is why I am voting for the communists in the coming election. Not because I am a communist, but because we need someone that scares the shit out of Merkel and Trichet.

Why are we, instead of using the cards we have, begging for IMF loans at the price of our independence and our future, to ensure smooth sailing for German banks? There are only three possible answers: either our politicians are ignorant of our strenght, or too cowardly to use it, or...their interests are simply not aligned with our own.

All three are probably true in some measure, but the last one is the most important: the austerity measures, the destruction of the social state, are not their concessions to the necessity of the crisis. Rather, the crisis is the excuse to replace the social state by the society they want: not "free market", which they mock, but rather a guilded age of crony capitalism, with monopolists in charge of the market and an incestuous poltical class that ignores us all as rabble. Sadly, we are back to the fights of 100 years ago. Happily, just like 100 years ago, we do not have to stay defeated.

It is time to be agressively irresponsible.

Intrepid Germany to the rescue of Intrepid Germany

From the "Like, Duh-uh" department at The Economist
Is Germany bailing out euro-area countries to save its own banks? (no, it's the puppies and rainbows)

If the euro zone were an old-fashioned family, Germany would be the stern father telling his wayward children to go to bed early and not to spend all their pocket money at once. It has resisted efforts to ease the conditions attached to the bail-outs of Greece and Ireland, and is insisting that Portugal (...) also gets licked into shape

Sovereign defaults would entail much more than just a haircut on German banks’ government-bond exposures. It could easily lead to a slew of bank defaults—and corporate ones, too. German banks are owed twice as much by banks in the three bailed-out countries as they are by governments. 

(...)compared with the potential costs of full-blown default, the amounts that Germany and other countries are likely to put into the three bail-out packages look like excellent value (...). The rescuers need not be quite so sanctimonious.

Adam Smith vs the mercantile class

The last post reminded me of an obligatory Adam Smith quote (if you want to rebuke the faux free market advocates - who think free markets are good for us little people but not for the rich - I know of no saner and more incisive helper than Mr. Smith, who loved the markets but knew their failings well):

In reality high profits tend much more to raise the price of
work than high wages.(...)
Our merchants and master-manufacturers complain much of
the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby
lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say
nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent
with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They
complain only of those of other people.

-Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (chapter IX, last paragraph)

A rising tide lifts all yachts

Prosperity in Germany means only prosperity for the owners of capital:

German Workers Might Get Pay Increases, Call In the Central Bank!

Saturday, 30 April 2011 08:31

The NYT reports that the low unemployment rate in Germany might allow workers to get higher wages, which could put upward pressure on the inflation rate. The only sources cited in this story are Jean-Calude Trichet, the head of the European Central Bank, Rainer Brüderle, the Economics minister for the conservative German government, and Jörg Krämer, the chief economist at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. It would have been useful to include the views of someone who believes that German workers should see pay increases.
Real wages in Germany have barely risen over the course of the last decade, even as productivity has grown by close to 2 percent a year. This has led to a shift from wages to profits. It has also meant that German labor costs have fallen relative to labor costs of the countries like Greece, Portugal, and Spain. The only way that trade between Germany and these countries can become more balanced (as long as they remain in the euro) is by having some combination of higher labor costs in Germany and lower labor costs in the peripheral countries. For this reason, higher wages for German workers would not just be beneficial to these workers, it would also be an important part of the re-balancing needed within the euro zone. It is remarkable that this obvious point is never mentioned in this article.
It is also worth noting that this article uses misleading unemployment data. It gives readers the official German unemployment rate of 7.1 percent. This measure counts part-time workers as unemployed. TheOECD measure, which uses a similar methodology to the United States, shows that Germany has an unemployment rate of 6.3 percent. There is no excuse for not using the OECD measure since it is readily available and provides readers with a more accurate assessment of Germany's labor market situation.