Wednesday , October 21 2020
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Chris Dillow: Stumbling and Mumbling

Stumbling and Mumbling is a personal blog of Chris Dillow, an economist who spent eight years with one of Japan’s largest banks. He blogs about British politics and provides thoughtful analyses on the British economy and sports.

Stealing “libertarianism”

What exactly is libertarianism? I ask because of something Janash Ganesh says about Trump: His populism tends more to the libertarian than the repressive. The mask-spurning, the cavalier gatherings, the call to not let the virus “dominate”: it is personal freedom to which the president has shown a heedless attachment. Now, the notion that Trump is a libertarian will come as news to the families of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or the 829 other people killed by the American...

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On feudal exploitation

“We have abolished capitalism in Poland. Now we must abolish feudalism.” So said Michal Kalecki in the 60s. I suspect that western economies today face a similar task, as feudalism is still rife. By this, I don’t mean merely that we have the high inequality and low social mobility that characterised feudalism, nor that immigration controls are a form of feudalism in that they ensure that one’s life chances are determined at birth. Instead, I’m thinking of modes of exploitation. We must...

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Savers, capitalism & self-interest

Do people vote in their own material interests? I ask because of the decision last week by NS&I to cut interest rates to almost nothing. In doing so, it is only bringing its rates into line with market rates. Which tells us two big things. One is tha the pandemic has exacerbated a long-term downtrend in interest rates. The second is that from the point of view of savers (let alone anybody else) the government is not borrowing enough. One reason for NS&I’s decision is that it was...

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Blaming the voters

In the Times, Matthew Parris wrote: "this Prime Minister is ultimately our [the electorate's] fault." I tweeted that this was absolutely right, but got a little pushback. I should therefore elaborate. What I and Matthew meant was that Johnson is not doing anything unexpected. He is merely living down to what everybody knew about him. As Matthew wrote: There was never any reason for confidence in Boris Johnson’s diligence, his honesty, his directness, his mastery of debate, his...

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Conceptions of politics

There is a great and overlooked political division today – between those who think policy matters, and those who think it doesn’t. Here are some examples of what I mean. First, Ed Miliband’s speech on the Internal Market Bill was that of a man who thinks a consistent policy would be a good thing. He is exercised by the fact that a man who greeted the signing of the Withdrawal Agreement as a “fantastic moment” now regards it as “contradictory”. Johnson, however, seems to attach no...

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The Hayek question

Thatcher was right. This is my reaction to reports that Dominic Cummings regards Brexit as a way of getting out of limits on state aid and so enabling the government to funnel cash towards the UK’s own future big tech companies. The problem with this is that, as Thatcher said, the state cannot pick winners. Corporate growth is largely unpredictable. “The stochastic element is predominant” concluded Alex Coad in one survey. “Corporate growth rates are random” found Paul Geroski in another...

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On press freedom

In The Enigma of Reason Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber argue that the main use of reason is to justify and explain conclusions that we have arrived at sub-rationally. Some reactions to Extinction Rebellion’s blockading of newspaper distribution centres seem to me to illustrate their point. For example, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said their action “damage[s] our democracy”. Johnson said: “A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account.” And...

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On Marxist Tories

In one respect, the right-wing conspiracy loons are right: Marxists have captured some of our major institutions – the institutions being the government and Tory party. I say this because of the campaign to stop us working from home and to get us back into offices. Such a demand is justifiable only if you take a very dark opinion of capitalism. Those who have faith in capitalism see upside in home-working. Andrew Sentance tweeted: Why are so many people focussing on the negatives of...

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Clarity – who needs it?

Tim Pitt calls on the government to set out “a renewed Conservative economic philosophy.” I’m not sure this is wise. Having a clear philosophy requires you to think, which is not a self-evidently good thing in life or in politics. Worse still, it gives people something to disagree with, and so invites party disunity. Constructive ambiguity can be a good thing. I say this because a new Conservative economic philosophy requires the party to answer loads of tricky questions. Here are a few....

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Tories against Thatcher

Be careful what you wish for. This old saying applies to us lefties. For years, we’ve wanted to see the end of Thatcherism. And we’ve now got it. And it’s an ugly sight. I say this because of Johnson’s campaign to end working from home and get us back into the office. This is anti-Thatcherite in two senses. For one thing, Johnson is contradicting two of Thatcher’s favourite principles – that “you can’t buck the market” and that managers have a right to manage. Many big employers are happy...

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