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.

Read the full article here.

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.

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.