When the next crisis comes, don’t blame the central bankers

President Trump’s tweets criticising the Federal Reserve bank, and the European Central Bank, draw attention to how prominent central banking has become over recent years. Central banking’s high profile today marks a significant shift from earlier times. Central banking used to be regarded as a necessary activity that most people knew existed, but few could get that excited about.

Increasingly over the past three decades the central banks have attained a much more prominent role, not only in the US but across the mature industrial countries. This has had nothing to do with changes to the calibre of central bankers, or to the development of new banking techniques. Instead, it was primarily a response to the exhaustion of Western politics that became more evident from the second half of the 1980s.

There are three important features of central banking in modern mature economies. First, the misleading fallacy of central bank ‘independence’. Second, the associated sheltering of politicians from responsibility for the economy. And third, the waning efficacy of central banking.

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How to help British Steel workers

News broke last week that British Steel had been placed in compulsory liquidation, putting 5,000 jobs at risk. This has sparked debate on what to do about the ailing British steel industry and the people impacted upon. The best, and most honest, way the government can help the employees is to let failing steel plants go under and sponsor all the people affected during the transition into better and more lasting jobs that they should be doing much more to help create.  Read the full article here.

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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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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