The crash 10 years on

The most telling contemporary observation about the ‘worst financial crisis in global history’ (to quote Ben Bernanke, who was chair of the US Federal Reserve when the crash hit in 2008) is that its causes are unresolved. It is true that the financial crash brought about a recession 10 years ago, but it did not trigger the fundamental weakness of the real economy. Slowing productivity growth across the mature economies can be traced back to the early 1970s. It was from that decay within production that the rot spread, gradually, unevenly, but steadfastly. The financial crash was simply one of this decay’s most serious manifestations.

Despite the shock felt in 2008, it is striking how little has changed in economic terms since then.

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No Deal is nothing to fear

Rocketing food prices, medicine shortages, gridlock on Kent’s motorways, administrative and economic chaos… No doubt we’ll hear many more of these scare stories about the potential consequences of Britain leaving the EU without a deal as the Article 50 talks continue to go nowhere fast.

People who are stuck on the status quo and disdainful of democracy are hoping to scare the rest of the population into staying in the European Union. Change, they scold, is too dangerous to countenance because, well, it’s about changing things. As a counterweight against all this hooey, there are three truths we need to set against all the alarmist prophecies.

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Trade wars cause real wars? It’s not that simple

President Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminium tariffs is counterproductive for the US economy in several ways. It will increase import costs and hit US businesses and consumers. It will cause tariff retaliation from other countries, thus restricting America’s export sales. But, more importantly, it will inhibit economic advancement. Tariffs are anti-growth and hold back economic renewal at home. They shield domestic companies from engaging in the long-term investments needed to grow productivity. And in today’s depressed conditions, they act to reinforce stagnation.

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Philip Hammond’s ‘Tiggerish’ delusions

A few months of better productivity figures and a whole 0.1 per cent upgrade in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s growth forecast for this year is not much to be positive about. Yet under instructions from the prime minister, chancellor Philip Hammond presented a more upbeat, ‘Tiggerish’ side of himself at his first Spring Statement, and announced that there was ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ in Britain’s elusive recovery from the financial crisis of 10 years ago.

It didn’t take long for critics to accuse the chancellor of complacency.

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After Carillion: we need to end zombie capitalism

The liquidation of Carillion, Britain’s second largest construction company, is extremely worrying for its 43,000 workers and their families worldwide, of whom 20,000 live in Britain. This big government contractor going bust means damaging disruption not just to its own employees, but also to its many suppliers and their employees. And it is bad news, too, for the many more thousands relying on Carillion for their pensions. Unfortunately, though, much of the initial political and media reaction has been too narrow to learn the lessons from this calamity. The state has been propping up business and making life more precarious for workers.

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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.

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