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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.

Labour’s public opinion dilemma

To what extent should Labour accommodate itself to public opinion, and to what extent should it try to change it? This fundamental question is posed, perhaps inadvertently, by Jess Phillips in an interview with the Times. She says that people didn’t trust Labour to deliver the many promises in its manifesto: People in working class communities know that you can’t always have everything. They know that this week you’ll put the money away for your holiday, next week you’ll put the...

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Conservative arguments for radical ideas

In my previous post, I used a rhetorical device which I think leftists should copy. This is that we should use conventional, orthodox economics to reach radical conclusions. The point here is that we don’t persuade people by telling them that their worldview is wrong and by demanding that they change the ideas of a lifetime. We are more likely to succeed by showing them that their ideas are consistent with things they might not have considered. Here are some examples of what I mean.  -...

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Wages vs social value

Today is the 23rd anniversary of the death of Townes Van Zandt, who is now universally regarded as one of the greatest songwriters ever. And yet during his lifetime he made very little money. Even in his best years he got less than $100,000 from song-writing royalties, and for much of his life he might well have earned more from the oil drilling rights bequeathed by his rich family than from his music. Which vindicates a recent tweet from Cameron Murray: Actions that have social...

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Yes, the BBC is biased

Over the weekend we saw two related examples of BBC bias. One came from Emily Maitlis, who said: So often people read conspiracy into a thing when it’s really a confluence of cock-ups. Sensible people, however, do not allege any conspiracy at the BBC. Instead, we have other concerns. Some are about incentive structures: which mistakes does it regard as mere cock-ups, and which as more serious offences? Another is that journalists, like all professionals, are prone to...

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A case for collective leadership

The debate about who should be the next Labour leader begs the question: should there be a single leader at all rather than a leadership team? There’s much to be said for the latter*. For one thing, a good leader must do several jobs. They must develop policy; unite and inspire the PLP; win the votes of older Northerners without alienating metropolitan liberals; and motivate and recruit activists and organize an effective ground campaign. (The latter is important: Labour cannot win a...

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The failed marketplace in ideas

The “marketplace of ideas” is failing. That is the message of Stefan Stern’s complaint that, in this election even more than others, lies seem to be winning. Of course, Stefan is right to say that politicians have always been economical with the actualite. But there is, surely, a big difference between Johnson and, say, Thatcher. Whilst we lefties hated much of what Thatcher did, we only rarely thought she was lying. Being a liar was the least of Thatcher’s sins. But it is the essence of...

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The Tories shrinking class base

One of the great changes in public opinion during my adult lifetime has been the collapse in Tory support from younger people and the ABC1s. For example, a recent YouGov poll (pdf) found that whilst the Tories have an overall lead of nine percentage points, they trail Labour by 57%-21% among 18-24 year-olds and lead by only 39%-36% among ABC1s*. By contrast, in 1992 – when their overall lead was very similar - they led 54%-22% among ABC1s and trailed Labour by only three points among...

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The power of recall

The other day, I heard the Stranglers’ Strange Little Girl for the first time in ages, prompting me to recall having an Indian takeaway in a friend’s Morris Oxford somewhere off the Clarendon Road on a sunny evening in 1982. I wonder: does this help explain why older people are more hostile to the Labour party than younger ones? My response to that particular song was of course idiosyncratic. But it is nevertheless typical. All of us have Proustian madeleines – cues that prompt us to...

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Challenging rightist illiteracy

Grace Blakeley raises an important issue, of how the Labour party can best answer the question: “how are you going to pay for it?” I fear that her answers, though, are a mix of the good and bad. First, the bad. In saying that “the arbiters of economic credibility” claim that borrowing to invest doesn’t work, Grace is constructing a straw man. All sensible economists know, as Simon has said for years, that fiscal austerity at zero interest rates is a terrible idea. For this reason, I...

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Labour’s corporate tax plans: a half-defence

Who really pays corporate taxes? This is the question posed by Labour’s plan to raise £30bn (pdf) from extra taxes on companies. These plans run into the problem that several studies have found that, ultimately, it is workers who pay a hefty chunk of such taxes. Michael Devereaux and colleagues have found that, in European countries, workers pay 92% of extra corporate taxes. A study of Germany alone has found that they pay around half (pdf) of them. And a US study (pdf) has found that...

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