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.

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.

We need big, bold economic thinking in the Brexit era

It was predicted that UK chancellor Philip Hammond’s final spring Budget would be low-key and short on exciting announcements. Cautious and careful was the expectation. Leaving aside for a moment the row over tax increases for the self-employed, these expectations were broadly met. But that doesn’t mean the Budget was an insignificant event.

The Budget provided a revealing insight into the current state of politics.

The article is here.

The economicisation of a depoliticised public life

In my forthcoming book Creative destruction I describe the way that economic policy has been depoliticised since the 1980s. The fatalist perspective associated with Margaret Thatcher’s TINA – ‘there is no alternative’ – applied as much as anywhere to the workings of the market economy. The acceptance of TINA indicated the demise of left-right political contestation for changing and improving society through differently organised economic systems.

Politicians of all stripes embraced this TINA outlook and reduced the scope of economic policy to managing the economy. The primary goal was ensuring stability. Much of this management function was assigned to technocrats, including souped-up regulators, expert-led commissions and central bankers. This outsourcing by politicians of their economic responsibilities to unaccountable bodies and institutions reinforced the conservationist, status quo orientation of economic policy that has proved so damaging to economic performance. Pro-stability measures have tended to stunt the functioning of creative destruction and helped entrench our zombie economy. Continue reading