Monthly Archives: September 2013

Help to Work is a both familiar and unfamiliar. Familiar in the sense that it will comprise a relatively small group, mostly men, many in post-industrial towns. It is unfamiliar in that we know too little about why the very long-term unemployed leave JSA, and what makes them do so in the first place. Read more

When Isaiah Berlin said “there is a shoe – in the shape of populism – but no foot to fit”, he was probably not thinking of a cowboy boot.

This week Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican with a love of buckaroo heels, stood on the Senate floor for more than 21 hours decrying “Obamacare”. The marathon session was futile. But it was a sign of the Tea Party darling’s ascent and of the cantankerous movement’s influence over both houses of Congress. Five years after the financial crisis, Mr Cruz’s brand of populism threatens to shut down the US government. Read more

Ed Miliband is not the only political leader to recognise the importance of rising energy bills. But in promising a price freeze he now “owns” the issue. The move tells us a lot about the Labour leader – including how he would govern if he became prime minister. Read more

There might be better ways to spend the money. The policy is also subject to political considerations. (Obviously.) But to see universal free school meals as only a political ploy is to ignore evidence suggesting otherwise.  Read more

It is Tuesday morning in Surrey Quays Tesco and Bobbi is about to lose her husband. We wait in the queue for our copies of Grand Theft Auto V, the most anticipated video game since Grand Theft Auto IV. With an estimated production cost of £170m, the latest installment from Rockstar North has a bigger budget than many movies. Its release is being treated as a cultural event. For Bobbi, it means Andrew will be distracted until the end of the year. Read more

I never thought I would say this but Barack Obama could have learnt something from George Osborne. When the chancellor pursued Mark Carney to be the next Bank of England governor he did so in a way that was persistent, obsequious and stealthy. In contrast, the White House’s approach to perhaps its most important economic decision of its second term has been marked by a lack of conviction and political nous. Not for the first time, an introverted White House ran aground on an extroverted Capitol Hill. Read more

Vladimir Putin has an op-ed in The New York Times reassuring Americans that he is on their side. Its cuddliness brought to mind the west’s wartime image of another Russian leader. I am surprised this one did not sign the piece Uncle Vlad. Read more

Reading the latest government-sponsored report on the benefits of the High Speed 2 railway brought to mind the louche, smoky genius of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The engineer was much more than a salesman but he had a talent for persuading sceptics of the necessity of his dreams. This month, the coalition government is busy reasserting the case for the HS2 project, which has come in for criticism for its rising costs and dodgy evidence base. George Osborne and Nick Clegg have spoken in favour. But HS2 could do with a Brunel. Read more

Looking at the above chart, it is telling how cyclical the relationship has been between an increase in public spending and the fall in public support for further increases in taxes and public spending. For example, the increase in public spending during the second and third terms of the last Labour government coincided with a fall in support for tax rises and further spending, which reached a nadir in 2010. There is a lot riding on whether this cyclical pattern will return as spending cuts persist through the next parliament.  Read more

I believe there is nothing wrong with homosexuality. I think that premarital sex is just fine. That neither of these beliefs would count as controversial today is a sign of how Britain has changed since 1983, the year I was born and of the first British Social Attitudes Survey. Read more

In his speech today, George Osborne made two arguments in defence of his economic policy. First, that there was no an alternative. Second, that there is no alternative.

In the past few weeks the opposition’s case against the chancellor has shifted emphasis from the existence of a recovery to its nature. The overall picture may be improving, his critics admit, but it does not feel like that for many people. Policy must change to ensure an improvement in “living standards”, the argument goes. But Mr Osborne chose not to accept the premise. Instead, he repeatedly argued that the same approach (albeit with some amendments) that “worked” for the macroeconomy will also deliver on a micro level. Read more

In the UK, the House of Commons vote to reject action revealed these gaps through a baroque display of incompetence. In the US, the House of Representatives could be set to affirm these divisions. And given that the House is inherently more attuned to US public opinion, it might show us something about American society, too. That is unless Mr Obama can persuade Congress otherwise. Read more

Universal Credit is the government’s flagship reform to the benefits system. It is also in complete disarray, according to a National Audit Office report released on Thursday. The document is perhaps the most scathing NAO verdict I have read on a large public project. Read more

In today’s Guardian, Ed Balls admits that “at last economic growth is returning”. As my colleagues George Parker and Chris Giles note, this is a sign that the political debate over the recovery is changing from when will it begin to “who will own it?”

The answer to that is presumably George Osborne and Mark Carney. But there is another, subtly different question that will also be asked: “who will experience it”? Read more

On January 1 1993, Czechoslovakia split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The two new states opted to keep a monetary union. Thirty-three days later that union collapsed. Over the next five years, exports from each country to the other quickly fell as a share of total trade. Economists cite this as a dramatic example of the “border effect”, the lack of trade and capital flows between two areas due to a territorial limit. In a paper released on Tuesday, HM Treasury suggests that it also provides a warning to Scots: they will be poorer if they vote for independence and for a formal border to be established near Hadrian’s Wall. Read more

Margaret Hodge, chair of the House of Commons public accounts committee, is turning her attention to the looming sale of Vodafone’s 45 per cent stake in Verizon Wireless to Verizon. On Monday, the trenchant critic of corporate tax behaviour said that “if Vodafone are manipulating the rules to avoid paying their fair amount they should think again”. The UK tax paid — or not — by multinational companies is a sensitive political topic. Ask Google and Amazon. Or Vodafone. What might Ms Hodge be referring to in this case? Read more

In 1972, the Scottish National party launched a campaign poster featuring a photograph of a forlorn old lady beneath the slogan: “It’s her oil”. Four decades and 3.5bn tonnes of North Sea crude oil production later, Scotland is preparing for a vote next year on whether it should become independent for the first time since 1707. The SNP’s case is about more than oil – but it is central. Those after analysis that goes beyond tendentious snaps of women in their dotage should read Gavin McCrone’s guide to the economics of the referendum. Read more