Free market vs nationalisation? It’s a delusional divide

This autumn’s UK party conferences triggered reminiscences about the old political debates from the 1970s and 1980s. Jeremy Corbyn wowed his new Labour Party supporters with a call for full-scale nationalisation, including of the rail, mail, water and energy companies. In response, senior Tories used their conference speeches to assert the merits of the ‘free market’, under the inspiring mantra of ‘no return to the 1970s’. Theresa May used her infamous leader’s speech to declare that ‘the free-market economy, for so long the basis of our prosperity’, is under threat, and needs defending.

As a great 19th-century thinker remarked, history repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, and second as farce.

Read the full article here.

A successful industrial strategy requires letting zombie firms die

As the government considers its industrial strategy white paper, due later this year, it must first break free from blinkered thinking.

While doubtless well intentioned, the familiar policies under discussion so far – additional public infrastructure investment, more state-funded research, and skills enhancement, with a particular focus on management training – are not sufficient to bring about a new industrial revolution.

The flaw in this approach is that none are new practices – and even as they have been operating, Britain’s productivity trap has been getting worse. Repeating what hasn’t been working is not a good route.

Read the full article here.

Ten Wasted Years: The Crash One Decade On

This summer has seen the start of the discussion about the 10th anniversary of the financial crisis. It’s a discussion that will continue through to autumn next year. To recap, it was on 9 August 2007 that the French bank BNP Paribas announced that the ‘complete evaporation of liquidity in certain market segments of the US securitisation market’ had ‘made it impossible to value certain assets fairly’. This blunt admission by BNP Paribas that it could no longer price, and therefore redeem, investments in three of its funds triggered a breakdown in trust between financial institutions.

As a result, the wide diversification of repackaged debt around the financial system, which had previously been heralded as sound ‘risk management’, backfired. No one seemed to know which bundles of paper were worthless, so none could be relied upon. Credit markets began to freeze up.

Read the full article here.

We have nothing to fear but the fear of Brexit itself

British people are being told that there are two ways to approach Brexit, and they have to choose between them. An ideological way or a pragmatic way. Guided by formal principle or by practical necessity.

Catherine Barnard, professor of European Union law at Trinity College Cambridge, described the apparent options as follows: ‘You either have to prioritise sovereignty and domestic control, which has very significant economic costs; or you have to be more pragmatic and put a priority on your economic interests. A decision will have to be taken.’

So this is a stark choice, apparently, between sovereignty and economic livelihoods. The implication is that people shouldn’t be so stupid as to bring on economic deterioration resulting from a stubborn attachment to something as pretentious as wanting to ‘take back control’ over their nation and lives.

It is important that we cut through this presentation of Brexit. Read the full article here.

 

Sorry, Corbyn, but ‘anti-austerity’ is not enough

Another unexpected election result, this time brought about by Theresa May’s patronising, ill-considered and visionless campaign, invites traditional as well as new thinking. And when an election outcome is inconclusive, it becomes even easier to read into it your own established opinions. One interpretation, as suggested by Labour Party figures in particular, but also by some Tories, is that this was a vote ‘against austerity’. Of course, many people have in recent years been experiencing more sharply the material effects of our longest economic depression. But it is fanciful to assess the result as a positive vote against austerity.

Read the full article here.

May’s industrial strategy will fail unless it clears out zombie firms

My opinion piece for City A.M. arguing that in order to generate a new dynamic for economic growth, government has first to stop propping up the zombie economy. The application of many regulations, of government spending and procurement policies, changes to insolvency rules, easier monetary policies – all these and more have acted to support incumbent businesses. The full article is here.

Foster new sectors

I have submitted a Response to Questions 1 and 2 in the Green Paper Building our Industrial Strategy (Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, January 2017). The submission can be read here.

This is part of a collective submission from the Institute of Ideas Economy Forum called ‘Go for Growth’, available here.