Tuesday , September 22 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.

Angry Brexiters

Brian Cox asks a good question: The thing I don’t understand about these Conservative MPs is that they are such angry people. They haven’t done badly out of Britain - they aren’t on the receiving end of their own policies. And yet they want to smash everything up. The EU, The Union and now their own party. It’s no coincidence that many of those he has in mind such as Rees-Mogg and Johnson - though we might add Farage and Banks – come from posh backgrounds. We know that our...

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Beer, & economic determinism

Devarshi Lodhia has a nice piece on the decline of the pub. I wonder, though: to what extent are the social and cultural changes that have contributed to their decline a product of raw economics. My chart shows what I mean. It shows that since the mid-80s the price of beer in pubs has doubled relative to its price in shops. Today, for example, you can get 12 cans of Lager at Tesco for £8.50, which means that a pint of beer is 4.2 times as expensive in pubs as in shops. 30 years ago, it...

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Contrarians in public life

What role, if any, should contrarians play in public life? This is the question posed by the appointment of Sir Roger Scruton as housing tsar despite (or perhaps because of) his unconventional opinions on eugenics, date rape and gay rights. The issue here is not a left-right one. We could ask the same question of John McDonnell: does his support of the IRA disqualify him from office? In fact, for me the analogy is a quite close. Both men have valuable ideas. McDonnell’s ideas on fiscal...

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Stabilization policy with ignorance

Eric Lonergan’s good discussion of fiscal rules has triggered an intemperate debate about MMT. For me, though, it poses a question: from which fact(s) should thinking about macro policy begin? For old-style Keynesians, the fact was that labour markets could not be relied upon to clear. For new classicals, it was that people were rational maximizers. I want to suggest a different fact – that recessions are unpredictable. Prakash Loungani has shown that both private and official forecasters...

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Not wearing a poppy

I agree with Harry Leslie Smith. I too am increasingly disinclined to wear a poppy. The thing is that the nature of national remembrance has changed. For the first 60+ years after it began it was personal for pretty much everybody. Well over a million British soldiers and civilians were killed in the two world wars. Almost everyone therefore had lost a friend or family member. And everybody knew old soldiers who remembered the horrors of war and often still bore the mental and physical...

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The triumph of the liberal technocrats

Brexiters have something in common with anti-pornography campaigners. That’s the idea that struck me whilst reading Alwyn Turner’s account of the failure to establish public harms that result from porn. What we have in both cases are failed attempts to translate arguments into consequentialist terms. The best case for Brexit is an intrinsic one – that it’ll give us a sense of independence and sovereignty. When its advocates try to argue that it’ll also make us better off, they make fools...

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Halloween, finance and ideology

Our tastes are seasonal. As winter approaches, we eat less salad and fish and more stews, and I for one listen to less swamp pop and more Leonard Cohen and Townes Van Zandt. What’s true of music and food is also true of appetite for risk. This increases in the spring but declines as the nights draw in: for centuries, May Day has been a celebration of hope and optimism whilst Halloween marks fearfulness and anxiety. All this is obvious. And it has an obvious implication – that stock market...

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Not debating diversity

Was Mill right? This, ultimately, is the question raised by the argument over whether centrists should debate with rightists whether diversity is a threat. Mill thought that: [Mankind’s] errors are corrigible. He is capable of rectifying his mistakes by discussion and experience. Not by experience alone. There must be discussion, to show how experience is to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument: but facts and arguments, to produce any...

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Our feeble intelligence

I don’t have cancer. I know most of you don’t give a damn about this, but it highlighted for me an under-appreciated fact - of just how limited a role intelligence plays in our life. A week ago, I had a slightly alarming symptom I hadn’t experienced before. I thought it might be a side-effect of some eye-drops I’d been prescribed the day before, so I rang the doctor, expecting to either get the prescription changed or be told not to be such a big jessie. Instead, I was sent to hospital to...

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Echo chambers: a defence

It’s become fashionable to decry “safe spaces” and echo chambers and to call instead for cognitive diversity. Instinctively, I agree: cognitive diversity is one counterweight to the tightly bounded knowledge and rationality that afflict us all. In this context, then, I’m pleased to see a recent paper (pdf) by Ole Jann and Christoph Schottmuller which defends echo chambers. To see their point, consider what happens when a rightist says a government can’t raise much money merely by taxing...

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