What do opinion poll probabilities tell us?

Anyone speculating on the result of the EU referendum can refer to either opinion polls or prediction markets. On the morning of June 20, polls put the probability that Remain will win at 52 per cent, while prediction markets estimate 75 per cent. That is a big difference. What then do these figures mean?

Visions of Europe: Why the European Union is not, and should not be, the United States of Europe

Many visions of Europe are driven by rivalry the United States of America. In this article I describe one which welcomes European integration, sees a European identity as a complement to national identity, not a substitute for it, and does not equate ‘ever closer union’ with additional powers for supra-national institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg.

Stakeholders with the most to lose should control struggling companies

When a corporation is unable to meet valid claims, control passes to the holders of these claims in a legally defined order of priority. But, as finance has grown more complex, these rules have come to look more shaky; they can falter dangerously in modern banking or in the case of a struggling retail business such as BHS.

I am Scottish, British and European and happy to remain so

The Europe worth campaigning for recognises multiple identities and the changed nature of the state. If government is a provider of services rather than a monopolist of force, its powers can be, and inevitably are, shared. The rational debate is not over sovereignty, but about which unit of government is best fitted to deliver which services.

Simple arithmetic shows why basic income schemes cannot work

Swiss voters will decide in a referendum on June 5 whether to introduce a “basic income”. In proposed reforms to the social welfare system, all residents would be entitled to a guaranteed income of SFr30,000 ($30,275) a year from the state — unconditionally. It has attractions for people at both ends of the political spectrum, but is it workable?

The dangers of confusing democracy with populism

Last week I received a communication from the Electoral Commission about the coming EU referendum. The pamphlet states the case for each side and gives instructions on how to vote. At first sight that process epitomises democracy in action. But on closer examination the leaflet illustrates why momentous decisions should not be made this way.

Helicopter money: A disguise for debt financing funded by short-term borrowing

The term “helicopter money” is derived from a vivid image created by the US economist Milton Friedman in which a central banker showers notes on a grateful populace. More recently, the notion has been promoted by Adair Turner, the former chairman of the UK financial regulator, in his book, Between Debt and the Devil .

Political instability stems from the diminished importance of the left-right spectrum

The problem of western democracies such as Britain and the US is that the institutions of a two-party system in which alternating governments compete to attract votes in the centre do not work well when politics is no longer arranged on a one-dimensional spectrum from left to right. Recent political upheavals are only the start of the resulting instability.

Berkshire business model is simple and effective, yet rarely copied

Buffett’s method is to find well-run companies and give them more freedom than they would enjoy on public markets. Yet other conglomerates use financial engineering and impose “transferable” management skills.

Incremental improvements to infrastructure offer better value for money

Does it lift your heart to hear that “Britain is uniquely placed to lead the world in a smart power revolution”? Do you share the ambition of George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, to discover “what the government needs to do to become a world leader in 5G infrastructure”? Here’s why my heart sank when reading these words in the plans of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission.