Monthly Archives: October 2013

Money can’t buy you love but it can buy you a Beatle’s family home:

John Lennon’s first home was sold to a US buyer for nearly half a million pounds. Read more

The table is featured in a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think tank, on Scotland and taxation. (The original is here.) In this world, among other things, taxes on labour and transactions would be reduced, and distinctions of business size and investment type removed. Bad side-effects of economic activity, such as carbon emissions and congestion, would be taxed directly, rather than indirectly or not at all. Read more

There is no obvious middle ground between building all of HS2 and not building all of HS2. The estimated benefits are higher over time and the further it goes towards Manchester and Leeds. And if the money is not spent on HS2 a large share of it will still have to go on increasing capacity. So far at least the opposition has accepted the argument that HS2 is the best way to do that.  Read more

The chart shows the resident populations of London’s inner boroughs and the City, as well as the daytime flows in to or out of these areas (2011 data). Westminster, for example, has a net influx of about 800,000 people; Lewisham has a net outflow in the several thousands. The daytime population of inner London is 68 per cent higher than the resident population, according to the think tank. Little wonder that any suspensions of train services can have a significant effect. Read more

Among other things, the paper offers a broader context for stagnant real median incomes in the UK and the US. If current trends continue, or accelerate as many believe, “we should not be surprised to find that the median individual in the ‘rich world’ becom[es] globally somewhat poorer”, Prof Milanovic writes. I also wonder whether London is acting as a something of a microcosm for the trends described in the paper. Read more

When he was mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus hired 420 mime artists to control the Colombian capital’s horrendous traffic. When the city faced water shortages, he appeared on television taking a shower and turning off the head while he soaped himself. To highlight the extent of violence against women, Mr Mockus launched “Night for Women”, encouraging men to stay at home and mind the kids. Hundreds of thousands of Bogotá’s female population turned out in a mass display of public safety. Oh, and the former mayor was also fond of dressing up in a costume he called “Supercitizen”. Read more

Grangemouth is stuck in the middle. About half way between Edinburgh and Glasgow, the town is nestled in the centre of Scotland. But it is caught in time as well as place. Over the past century, Scotland’s economy has pivoted from manufacturing in the west to finance and oil in the east. Grangemouth, a manufacturer of oil products, has helped the Falkrik area to bridge this historical divide. A vast labyrinth of pipes 4,000km long atop an area the size of 640 football pitches, it makes for some bulwark. Read more

At what should have been called Prime Minister John Major’s Questions, David Cameron announced that the UK government will review the “green charges” found in energy bills.

Although it is vital to separate the political signal from the noise, Ed Miliband’s energy bills pledge has created a cacophony. Mr Cameron’s review is his clearest response to date but it is important to understand the role played by green charges in this matter. Read more

Prime Minister’s questions are often more fruitful when they are asked of an incumbent’s predecessors. This afternoon, Sir John Major called for a windfall tax on Britain’s energy companies. A Downing Street spokesperson says it is an “interesting contribution” from the former Conservative PM, who is not one to speak rashly, but that there are “no plans” to introduce such a levy. Hmmmm …. Read more

Barack Obama’s two presidential campaign teams used voter databases, digital marketing, social media and targeted advertising to help him win election in 2008 and 2012. It was probably the most technology-savvy campaign in the history of politics., in contrast, is fast becoming one of the biggest technological debacles in the history of public policy. Mr Obama has called for a “tech surge” to fix the problems with the online health system. Read more

Martin Taylor, external member of the Financial Policy Committee, is one of the sharpest writers on matters financial. His speech last night in Wolverhampton caught the eye for the quote in the headline, coming in the wake of data from Rightmove suggesting that London house prices had risen 10 per cent in the last month, and other claims that brick-and-mortar madness has taken over the capital.

The short speech is worth reading in full. It is not a hand-washing exercise. I thought the most revealing line was: “We are fast becoming the most fashionable backstop in town”. Chancellor George Osborne is relying on the Bank of England to prevent the worst possible consequences of his policies. (There is a parallel here to how politicians view schools – a panacea for all the ills caused by social policy.) I read Mr Taylor’s speech as a note of uneasy acquiescence on behalf of the FPC, rather than a relinquishing of duty. He also rightly emphasised what may happen to borrowers when interest rates finally go up. I hope that the FPC is stress-testing the British public’s housing dreamsRead more

Has the UK government struck the right strike price in its nuclear deal?

Provisionally set today – a decade before generation is expected to begin – at approximately twice the current wholesale price of electricity over 35 years, this is perhaps the biggest single hedge this government will make. Read more

Whenever there is a discussion about problems in the energy market, it tends to concentrate on one or two aspects. This, along with a lack of transparency, prevents a comprehensive understanding of the market’s flaws, contributing to mistrust. Price freezes are a crude instrument but their popularity shows the depth of the public’s anger. Yet, as Mr Miliband well knows, intervention like this must be followed by genuine reform. This must tackle the real Big Six problems in the market. Read more

Social mobility is public policy’s equivalent of unified field theory: an abstract, controversial idea that seeks to unite different explanations about the state of the world. Its slipperiness has also helped it be an aim of governments of every hue. Read more

On Wednesday morning, the National Audit Office published a report on government efforts to increase UK exports. Under the coalition, foreign policy has acquired a greater emphasis on trade and investment. The government has two targets for 2020: to double exports to £1tn from £500bn in 2012, and to have 100,000 more companies exporting than was the case in 2011. Here is how the first one is going.  Read more

Niall Ferguson has written 7,400 words about himself and Paul Krugman. This afternoon, the New York Times columnist responded. His “acolytes” have had a go. Prof Ferguson’s criticism is directed at Prof Krugman but he also implies an ideal of the public intellectual. And this conception is incomplete. Read more

If you alight at Hackney Central railway station, there is a good chance you will slope on to the platform amid one of London’s glorious human hodgepodges. There will be first and second-generation migrants, white working-class people, scraggly bearded-hipsters, advance armies of gentrifying families – and dozens of Chinese shoppers. Rather than pay high prices in central zone one, this latter group – middle rather than upper-class Chinese tourists – have come east for the retail outlets of Burberry, Pringle and Aquascutum that are nestled outside of the London Overground station. Following the liberalisation of the UK’s rules for tourist visas, there will probably be more Oyster Card adventurers. Read more

The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, by Angus Deaton, Princeton RRP£19.95/$29.95, 376 pages

The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives, by Sasha Abramsky, Nation Books, RRP$26.99, 355 pages Read more

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has been awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. The reaction has been “quite negative”, according to a Guardian summary. In part, this is because the prize did not go to Mallala Yousafzai. It is anti-climactic when the celebrators of Mandela, Walesa, King and Gorbachev opt for a faceless bureaucracy. The award also feels like an incentive for future efforts rather than a celebration of past endeavours. Read more

Halfway from default is still a long way from sense. On Thursday, John Boehner, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, met President Barack Obama to discuss temporarily raising the debt ceiling. In exchange, Mr Boehner wants the government to stay shut and to begin broader budget negotiations. “I would hope that the president would look at this as an opportunity and a good-faith effort on our part to move halfway — halfway to what he’s demanded,” he said. Read more