Lincoln Drill Hall

Lincoln Drill Hall
Lincoln Drill Hall

Sunday, 29 March 2020

How do we pay for it all?

The Chancellor has so far earmarked £200bn to bailout business and support individuals. This in in the context of total public expenditure approaching 900bn. There is a comparison with the bailout of the banking system in 2008. I think there is also one with the  two world wars where we paid whatever was needed, to quote the then Chancellor Lloyd George in WW1. We met the cost by increased taxation and borrowing. I explore this further in my blog piece on the comparisons with 1914-18 and 1939-45.
There is a difference. We are now paying people not to work, rather than work in the armed services or in the manufacture of war materiel. It is thus less wasteful. We are not consuming millions of tons of iron and steel in making tanks, ships and aircraft, or brass and explosives in makIng shells..
There remains the question of just how it will be paid for and Philip Inman offers some fascinating thoughts in The Observer. He dismisses yet more austerity and looks toward taxation. Raising taxes on individuals will reduce the amount they can spend and so further depress the economy. He adds this, which to me would seem to be key  :

“Unless, that is, the taxes are applied to households that save more than they spend, or target wealth. This is desirable, though unlikely, even from a free-thinking chancellor. Sunak is still a Tory, after all, and unlikely to sanction any attacks on core constituencies such as wealthy and older voters.”

Military historian and former editor of the Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings, said on Radio 4 that his (our) generation have been extraordinarily lucky. We should put our hands in our pockets rather than leaving it to younger and future generations.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

It takes a virus for us to come clean on the shape of the economy

In 1914 government was worried that the war would lead to unemployment. In the event the whole nation came together to produce the munitions the army needed.

In 1939, all parts of British industry met the varied and massive demands of the armed forces. 

In 2020 the economy is largely based on services and, with the coming of Covid-19, consumers are deciding that they don’t need those services and the government is advising against social contact on which many services are based. We therefore face unemployment rather than people working at full tilt. This is totally  different. In parallel with the domestic service economy, there is an economy based on the consumption of largely imported products with deliberately short lives to encourage repeat purchasing.  Will it expose the 21st century economy as a con, or can we return to an economy where we each serve each other but without the manic need for never ending consumption?

The crisis is offering an insight into the actual shape of the economy. In this article in The Guardian, Richard Partington underlines the massive significance of the hospitality industry ‘Britain’s hospitality industry contributes more than £120bn a year to the economy and is worth more than the automotive, pharmaceuticals and aeronautics industries combined. More than 3.2 million people work in pubs, restaurants and other outlets, making it the third-largest sector for employment. A further 2.8 million work in the wider supply chain. In an economy no longer dependent on people making things, we are dependent upon them buying services. When they are told to, the knock on is dreadful.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Book Reviews

I was speaking about this year's Lincoln Book Festival and the great authors we have lined up. It made me think as my interviewer asked me about the book I enjoy. In 2008 I wrote a number of book reviews when I was studying for my MA in Professional Writing and I posted them on the blog I now use for my military books. I have now moved them, and subsequent reviews, to this more general blog.
I was struck by two books in particular: Engelby by Sebastian Faulkes, which I thought then and still think was masterly, but also Revolutionary Road. There are already some later reviews on this blog and I plan to write some more reviews in the future. At the end of this blog I have placed links to some of those reviews now over ten years old. Some a very short, and some rough and ready; some perhaps shed light. One is on Middlemarch, which is very brief, and I am intrigued by its link to my own book on William Smith Williams who recognised the genius of Charlotte Bronte. He was friends with George Lewes the partner of George Eliot whose portrait hung on William's office wall.
Here are those links:
Revolutionary Road
In Cold Blood
Notes from an Exhibition
Ordinary Thunderstorms

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Concentrated wealth is bad for an economy

The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few is a drag on any economy. Such wealth is saved in the form of nonproductive assets. In contrast, wealth more widely distributed is circulated within the economy to the benefit of most if not quite all.
Quite why I had seen this as a 21st century phenomenon, I don’t really know. It was the case in 19th century Britain, but many of those with wealth then invested it in industry which in turn created employment and, to a degree, distributed wealth. 
In her masterly book, the Team of Rivals, Doris Kearny Goodwin tells of the Southern states of America before the abolition of slavery. ‘Slavery trapped a large portion of the Southern population, preventing upward mobility. Illiteracy rates were high, access to education difficult. While a small planter aristocracy grew rich from holdings in land and slaves, the static Southern economy did not support the creation of a sizeable middle class.’
In contrast of the Northern states, she sees a land ‘teaming with bustling, restless men and women who believed passionately in progress and equated it with growth and  change; the air was filled with the excitement of intellectual ferment and with schemes of entrepreneurs.’
I can’t help seeing a parallel with 21st century Britain, where we are told that employment is at an all time high but so much is part time and low paid, and that wealth is again concentrated in the hands of the few and invested in empty London penthouse apartments. 
Schools in poorer areas, for all the efforts of teachers, are not enabling upward mobility. Our public schools, great educational establishments though they are, are overwhelmingly the preserve of the wealthy whose children go on to Oxbridge and well paid jobs.

Are we so different from pre-civil war USA?

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Cutting income tax - again

Sajid Javid has told how he would have cut income tax had he presented the forthcoming budget. Labour proclaimed in their manifesto that they would increase taxes for the rich.
Who is right?
Well, look around at our public services: hospital waiting times, schools closing early to save money, the disappearance of sure start, the number of people without homes, the growth in food banks...the list goes on.
The point is very simple, if we want public services we must pay for them. Mrs May was right, there is no magic money tree. However, JM Keynes was also right that governments can borrow to pay for infrastructure which in turn will provide income to workers who will spend and so increase economic activity and hence tax revenue. Wealth spread widely is like manure, it aids growth without killing the young plants.
The choice of project is important. Green energy rather than a third Heathrow runway; better rail links in and to the north rather than HS2. Council houses, schools and hospitals, rather than roads.
The knock on from infrastructure spending alone will not cure the crisis in public services, but in the long term it would help. The answer is simple albeit unpopular, most of us need to pay more tax.
There are lessons from history. The UK led the world in the 19th century, but then had to meet the cost of two world wars massively increasing public debt. The banking crisis didn’t cost lives, but, by bailing out the banks, government debt increased as if there had been a war. UK Government responded with austerity; it could have borrowed to finance infrastructure as the US did under Obama. Will it now? Adair Turner, writing in 2015, still has much of the answer.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

My sadness on ceasing to be a European citizen

I wake on 1 February 2020, with the same leaden feeling in my gut that I had on that dreadful morning of 24 June 2016.
Last night in Lincoln fireworks lit the sky above one of the city’s poorest estates. I truly hope that those people, who have invested so much hope in leaving the EU, will not be disappointed. For that has been at the heart of this whole debate, a great number of people have missed out on the prosperity the EU brought ; that was wrong. It is also ill conceived to think that unfair allocation can be put right by reducing our national income as a result of losing trade with EU countries.
My relationship with Europe is both deep and personal. I struggled to my French O Level, but, in my twenties as we were joining the EEC, I attended evening classes at L’Institute Francais in South Kensington. I used my hard won language skills as a young auditor with clients in Paris and Nice. I then took my Bar Exams and took European Law as my option. Maggie and I went to Brussels in 1979/1980, on the Price Waterhouse European exchange programme, with Sally as a toddler, visiting Germany, Holland, Luxembourg and France.
The European Union has given the priceless gift of peace since the end of WW2, but so much more.
I am and will always be European.
Graffiti from Moria Refugee camp in Lesvos
Some more thoughts from Ian McEwan

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Why Art Matters

The arts don’t exist in isolation. The study of music can make you a better mathematician. Anyone performing on a stage will grow in confidence.

But for me, it is all about story. Human beings have always told stories, from the time when we lived in caves. Stories help us to understand who we are, why we are here. They help us address the big questions; they have power to heal.

Just look at some of the earliest stories that have been passed down: those in the Hebrew Bible, the stories of Homer, the Odyssey and Iliad. These are all written by people trying to make some sort of sense of it all.

Stories come in all shapes and sizes. They can be oral, face to face; they can be in a book, but also in theatre, in pantomime, in musical. They can be in film, on television, in video and computer games. They don’t need to be in words; stories are there in paintings and music.

People tell me that anyone can write a book and that is true; but can everyone write a book, a play, a film script that will engage and communicate?

Telling stories well is a gift, but also a craft, an art that the demands the long hours. The result is massively worthwhile. It matters.