Reinventing Liberalism – The Economist

Last week’s Economist, on its 175th anniversary, has a ten-page essay on  Reinventing Liberalism for the 21st Century.

If, like me, you’ve sometimes struggled to join the dots between the classical liberalism of, say, John Stuart Mill and the snowflakey, leftish liberalism that seems to be growing in US, and now UK, universities, this is an essential read. It offers a history and diagnosis of what is wrong with liberalism today, the challenges that need to be addressed – immigration and refugees; the social contract; China, Trump and right wing populism in Europe – and a call to arms for radical, liberal changes.

Set your Sunday aside and read the full essay, here.

 

Image: The Economist

Level playing fields and the realities of retail

Patrick Hoskings, Financial Editor at The Times, writes a rational and thoughtful column on the realities of British retail (free registration required, I think).

The unpalatable truth is that online retailers by and large are winning not because of their tax advantage but because they are producing a better service compared with many traditional shops. Technology has transformed the business of remote shopping. Buyers can glean far more product information and advice with a few clicks of the mouse or swipes of the phone than they ever garner from an assistant in a physical shop.

For some merchandise, the shop is fast becoming an absurd anachronism. The very idea that a business would still assemble a narrow range of products in a not very accessible room miles from the ultimate buyer’s home and put an under-trained and under-informed youngster in charge seems as quaint as a cash register with a bell that goes kerching.

Accompanying the ongoing Death of the High Street is a chorus of wailing for a level playing field. But, whenever people call for “fairness”, we need to check our objectivity.

In truth, we all vote with our wallets.

 

Photo by Alexandra Kirr on Unsplash … which I recognise as Daunt Books in Marylebone, London.

Hayek, Popper and Schumpeter – @TheEconomist on the Viennese economists

Three exiles from Vienna and their responses to totalitarianism.

Part of the Economist’s Schools Brief series, this is a great essay on the influential Viennese exiles.

Today the Austrians are as relevant as ever. Autocracy is hardening in China. Democracy is in retreat in Turkey, the Philippines and elsewhere. Populists stalk the Americas and Europe: in Vienna a party with fascist roots is in the ruling coalition. All three would have been perturbed by the decay of the public sphere in the West. Instead of a contest of ideas, there is the tribal outrage of social media, leftwing zealotry on America’s campuses and fearmongering and misinformation on the right.

Of no direct relevance, Vienna was recently ranked as the world’s most liveable city. It is certainly, beautiful, elegant and civilised.

And, of course it was the inspiration for a great song…

 

Image: National Portrait Gallery

The truth about trickle down – Thomas Sowell

A valuable explanation of how capitalism works from Thomas Sowell. It has nothing to do with wishful thinking or “trickle-down” thinking:

Those who imagine that profits first benefit business owners — and that benefits only belatedly trickle down to workers — have the sequence completely backward. When an investment is made, whether to build a railroad or to open a new restaurant, the first money is spent hiring people to do the work. Without that, nothing happens.

Money goes out first to pay expenses first and then comes back as profits later — if at all. The high rate of failure of new businesses makes painfully clear that there is nothing inevitable about the money coming back.

I came across this on someone’s blog. A hat-tip is due, but I can’t remember where I saw it.  Sorry.

Read the full piece, here.

 

Image: CapitalismMagazine.com

The Medieval gig economy? @HistoryToday

History Today has a piece by David Long on the employment status of the average priest in Medieval times.

As various professions like Law were emerging, the Church was well established as a career of choice, easily overlapping power in the secular and spiritual worlds. A young priest from a well-heeled family could afford a good education and a professional role as a prince (or at least senior manager) of the church.

The average priest-in-the-street, however, had more of a portfolio career, picking up priesting gigs in the neighbourhood and mixing those with other consulting and “enforcing” jobs.

Long parallels this “hollowing out” of the front-line parish profession with today’s “ever more casual and commercialised” professions.

I think it’s simply another reminder that our perception of work as a solid, predictable, 9 to 5, 18 to 65, activity is a relatively modern (and fleeting) construct of the Industrial Revolution. Work wasn’t like that before, and it won’t be like that after.

 

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Production versus Productivity – @ASI

Here’s a thought-provoking post from Eamonn Butler at the Adam Smith Institute.

He discusses the difference between measures of production, such as GDP, and growth in actual productivity as enabled by technology.

From the humble washing machine to the new iPhone, technology enables us to do more, but that isn’t reflected in GDP. Similarly, inequality is measured by (relative) wage growth, but ignores that the poor as immeasurably better off than they were before:

The poor in particular have gained from entrepreneurial breakthroughs, the growth of new inventions and technologies, mass manufacturing, and other parts of the capitalist system. The prices of what poorer groups buy have plummeted more than most, while the quality of what they can afford has skyrocketed. Wages may not be rising fast for the poorest groups, but there are more fringe benefits as standard, and money buys a lot more than it did twenty, thirty, forty or any number of other years ago. So people who talk about ‘rising inequality’ are up a gum tree. The income figures greatly overstate inequality, because the poorest groups are so much better off than they have ever been in history.

Definitely worth a read.

 

Photo by frank cordoba on Unsplash

Build more or cut immigration – @MattwRidley

Matt Ridley’s Times column on the UK’s infrastructure challenges.

As ever, it’s an objective and data-driven argument:

Of the 1,447 people that Britain added every day in the 12 months to the end of June last year, roughly 529 were births minus deaths, 518 were net arrivals from the European Union, and 537 net arrivals from elsewhere, minus 137 departing British citizens. Given such a flow, our unemployment rate of 4.3 per cent and employment rate of 75.1 per cent are remarkable, if not miraculous. We are one of the world’s great workplaces, which, of course, is why people come.

and …

Though a densely populated country, Britain is not in any sense running out of land. Only about 7 per cent of the land area is classified as urban, rising to almost 11 per cent in England. But of that 11 per cent a great deal is still not concrete: gardens, parks, water and so forth. So the actual paved-over percentage, even just in England, is about 2.27 per cent according to the National Ecosystem Assessment in 2012, and more like 1 per cent for Britain as a whole. This is why a flight over southern England, let alone the Pennines, gives a very different impression from a car journey through the ribbon development along the roads: there is vastly more farmland and woodland (13 per cent of Britain and rising) than concrete.

As so often these days, we suffer from a long-standing failure to have made the case.

Here is the column in the Times.

Here is the same column from Ridley’s own blog, which includes links back to the data sources.

Over decades, we have failed to make the case for development.

We had the Brexit vote (at least partly) because we failed to make the case for immigration.

People deify that nice Uncle Jeremy Corbyn because we failed to make the case for free markets.

Is the shrill intolerance of no-platforming, safe-spacing, snowflake students the result of past failure to make the case for free speech?

 

Photo by Stephen Crowley on Unsplash