Looking ahead to 2017

Well, no one can accuse 2016 of being boring.  I managed to get the big calls right – I predicted back in November 2015 that Trump would become president, and thought that Britain would vote to leave the EU (in both cases, reluctant urbanites were up against an enthusiastic (and angry) countryside, and the countryside won).  But when your predictions align with your preferences you probably can’t claim too much credit!

Europe

Looking ahead to some of the political events of 2017, it’s harder to have a sense of the likely outcome.  Proportional representation systems like Italy’s are designed to prevent meaningful change, so the effect of the recent constitutional referendum on Italian politics (which tends to be all froth and no substance) is likely to be limited.  France’s presidential elections pose a greater chance of political disruption.  Although it’s hard to imagine the National Front actually winning the election, as with Trump and Brexit there is once again the potential ... Read More

Social Immobility

Gregory Clark, The Son Also Rises (Princeton University Press, 2014)

When I first came to Britain ten years ago, one of the things that struck me about British society was the extent to which social class is physically manifested. As the classic sketch with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett suggests, you literally do look up to the upper classes. Princes William and Harry are both 6’3″, and that’s not unusual: go to any an upper- or “upper middle”- (i.e., rich but not titled) class gathering, and you will be hard-pressed to find anyone of below average height. Similarly, for someone of average height, it is striking to walk around some of the more deprived neighbourhoods in the UK and find that the average height is noticeably shorter. Lamarckian inheritance notwithstanding, the correlation between height and class in Britain suggests that there could be a significant genetic component ... Read More

Why can’t we all just get along?

Dylan Matthews has a brilliant post up on the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog where he’s taken a piece written by liberal Jesse Myerson for Rolling Stone and rewritten it as a conservative wish list, while keeping the underlying policies the same. The five policies are (liberal / conservative):

  1. Guaranteed jobs / Making welfare recipients work for the government
  2. Universal basic income / Replacing welfare with a single payment to all taxpayers
  3. Government land ownership / Land-value tax
  4. Nationalisation of US businesses / Sovereign wealth fund
  5. Nationalised banks / Enterprise investment banks

While Dylan uses his post to show how important tribalism is in politics, it also highlights what I think is a more fundamental division in politics: pragmatism vs idealism. All of these policies fail, at least in the way they’ve been presented, either because they are politically untenable or because they grossly oversimplify all of the underlying issues:

  1. ‘Make-work’ programmes are inevitably inefficient, because if the ... Read More