breaking news from the world of ideas

by Peter Franklin
Monday, 24
January 2022

California Governor: my state is looking ‘third world’

Gavin Newsom is finally admitting there is a problem

One might expect the Governor of California to praise his state at every opportunity. But here’s what he had to say last week: “What the hell is going on? We look like a third world country.”

It wasn’t a gaffe. His words were spoken directly to camera. Given the backdrop, it was hard to disagree. In recent weeks, the Los Angeles railway system has suffered a looting epidemic. At sites across the network, goods wagons have been broken into and ransacked. Thousands of discarded, empty packages have been left strewn over the tracks, adding to the chaos. 

In the best traditions of the political photo-op, Newsom decided to lead a clean-up operation. Quite how long he was personally picking up the trash I don’t know, but it was long enough to be filmed by the media.  ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 19
January 2022

If Russia invades Ukraine, Germany must pay the price

Pipeline politics have undermined Europe's strategic advantage over Russia

A pipeline of natural gas from Russia to the West is also, in effect, a pipeline of money from the West to Russia. Neither side can cut off supplies to the other side without cutting itself off. 

It’s a co-dependent relationship that has helped to keep to peace for decades. Pipeline politics has been especially helpful to the countries between Russia and Germany — and, in particular, Poland and Ukraine. 

A briefing from the Bruegel institute includes a map showing how key pipeline routes cross Polish and Ukrainian territory. In the absence of alternative routes, Russia wouldn’t be able to invade either country without running the risk of losing vital energy export infrastructure. This is especially important for Ukraine, which lacks the protection of NATO membership.  ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Monday, 17
January 2022
Seen Elsewhere

Why the poor don’t move to richer cities

The economic rewards of big city life have not been shared equally

This may come as some surprise, but there’s more in the Government’s in-tray than an empty bottle of wine. For instance, there’s the housing crisis — which remains very firmly unsolved. 

To be fair, this isn’t just a British problem. Even in countries with liberal planning policies and a lot more space to build new homes, there is still the issue of affordability in prime locations — meaning the global cities where millions of people live and work. 

For a lucky few, the inflation of urban land prices has brought massive profits — but what sort of impact has it had on the rest of society? By way of an answer, Noah Smith draws attention to a brilliant piece of research by the economists Rebecca Diamond and Enrico Moretti.  ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Friday, 14
January 2022

The richest 0.00001% in America are getting richer

Just 18 individuals held more than $50 billion in wealth last year

The division of society between the richest 1% of the population and everyone else has become a common way of conceptualising inequality. 

However, 1% is still a very large group. For instance, in the UK it comes to more than half a million people or over a quarter of a million households. According to Simon Lambert of This is Money, an income of at least £120,000 is required to make the cut. That’s a great deal of money for most people, but not an extraordinary level of wealth.

In a new paper, the economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman look at a rather more exclusive group — the richest 0.00001%. In America, this means “a group that includes 18 individuals with more than $50 billion in wealth in 2021.” ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 12
January 2022

Bill Gates offers a non-answer to lab-leak question

The billionaire gave a weirdly content-free statement to Devi Sridhar

Very few private individuals have had a bigger impact on the global fight against the Covid pandemic than Bill Gates. Through the work of his foundation, the tech billionaire is a major player. What he has to say on the issue is worth our attention.

However, his Twitter “conservation” this week with Devi Sridhar is more interesting for what he doesn’t say. You can read the whole thing here, but the key bit comes when Sridhar asks Gates a “tough question”: “where do you think SARS-CoV-2 came from? What data do you want to see? And is this information important to preventing future spillovers & pandemics?” ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Monday, 10
January 2022

Lord Frost’s way forward is back to the 1980s

The former Brexit chief chooses to ignore Britain's productivity crisis

Lord Frost — the ex-Brexit minister who staged his own exit before Christmas — is now telling the  Tories what to do in an interview with the Mail on Sunday. 

The way forward that he advocates is in fact back to the 1980s and the Thatcherite golden age: “We need to get the country going economically again and that means free markets, free debate and low taxes.”

He’s certainly right that we need to get the economy going again, but as part of the “free debate” about that, I wonder if he has any explanation for this:  

The UK's productivity performance between 2010 & 2019 in international context: in the OECD, only Greece & Italy did worse. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Friday, 7
January 2022

How many years behind the US is Britain?

A new system tell us the answer — economically, at least

America is rich. Per person, the US economy produces significantly more than most European economies do. 

One could simply compare GDP per capita figures to show this, but there’s another, more interesting, method. Using recent rates of economic growth, it’s possible to calculate how long it would take for a poorer economy to become as rich as the richer economy is now.

Thanks to a new website, you can get the answer instantly. It’s the creation of Oliver W. Kim — an economics PhD student at Berkeley. Called The Mountain to Climb, it allows to the user to compare any two countries. 

For instance, compared to American GDP per capita in 2019, the British economy won’t reach the same level until 2037. So, on this measure, the UK is 18 years behind the US.  ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 5
January 2022

Why Starmer, not Johnson, could fall in 2022

For the first time in years, Labour has plausible alternatives

At the end of 2021, the consensus was that Boris Johnson was in deep trouble. Keir Starmer, on the other hand, was in a stronger position than at any time since he became Labour leader. 

But after Starmer’s big speech yesterday, I’m not so sure. For a start he fumbled his lines. At one point he struggled to remember the third of the three values that the speech was all about — “security, prosperity and um er um and er er [nervous sip of water] um and respect”. 

📺 WATCH: Keir Starmer forgets one of his 3 "key values".

— Olaf Stando (@olafdoesstuff) January 4, 2022 ...  Continue reading

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