Articles

The importance of time zones to business and London’s competitive advantage

An extended trip to Asia and Australasia demonstrates the problems the world’s different time zones pose for business. People call bright and early from an English morning, acknowledging only perfunctorily that it is late evening in Sydney, that you have already downed a glass or two of Australian wine and that you would like nothing more than to go to sleep.

The danger of political groupthink in our universities

It’s no surprise that social science professors are to the left of the general population. But I was taken aback by the magnitude of the difference, as indicated by a recent study showing 95% of academics supported Barack Obama in the 2012 election. Is this not of concern? Universities should be encouraging freedom of thought and diversity of opinion.

What Uber and another John Kay teach us about innovation and competition

Uber’s superior service threatens London’s black-cab drivers, just as (my namesake) John Kay’s flying shuttle eventually led to rebellion by out-of-work Luddites in the 19th century. The losers from such innovations should in some circumstances be compensated. But restricting competition is against the public interest.

Pharma responsibilities are to a wider community than its own shareholders

Two recent events have served to highlight the range of difficult questions raised by pharmaceuticals regulation. Last week, a man died in the French city of Rennes after a clinical trial of a painkiller went tragically wrong. In New York last month, the company controlled by former hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli, raised the price of the life-saving drug, Daraprim, from $13.50 a tablet to $750.

The business of attacking companies is hard to admire but publicly useful

In cases of fraud official action inevitably damages both the business and its share price, and no agency will be right all the time. Short selling hedge funds are not right all the time either, but when they are wrong they lose their own money.

Teams of foxes make the best forecasts, but expert hedgehogs can help

In Superforecasting , by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, a distinction is made between hedgehogs that know one big thing, and foxes that know many little things. Through experimentation, teams of foxes have been shown to make better predictions. Yet governments and businesses still prefer the narrative approach offered by hedgehogs, perhaps with good reason.

Famous quotes may be apocryphal yet illuminating

Even if Keynes’s last words were not regret “at not having drunk enough champagne”, the story tells us something true about the man. Well chosen phrases gain currency not by virtue of their provenance, but because they meet the (accurately quoted) requirements of Alexander Pope: “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d”.

Exercise power without responsibility using committees and rules

The characteristics of organisational failure are timeless. There are striking parallels between FM Cornford’s 1908 satirical guide to university politics and a slightly newer document, which has recently resurfaced: The Simple Sabotage Field Manual, which helped saboteurs in occupied territories to damage organisations.

Look behind the fiscal tree but don’t expect to find any money

There is plenty of tax waste and avoidance — but if eliminating them was painless, it would have happened. However, one need not believe in pots of gold behind the tree to be concerned. Tax is a moral issue, and paying it demonstrates a sense of shared values of importance to economic and social life in the modern state.

UK invites more bank failures by backtracking on executive liability

The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which reported in 2013, recognised the central significance of executive responsibility for systemic failure in the sector. It proposed a senior managers regime which would hold executives liable for wrongdoing in activities for which they had responsibility even if they had no specific knowledge of the improper conduct. Having accepted this recommendation, the UK government is now backtracking.