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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.
George Osborne has, it is reported, abandoned plans for root-and-branch reform of the taxation of pension saving and will content himself with tinkering with rates of relief. However, what's really needed in our tax system — as in so many other areas of political life — is purposive change: reforms may well be implemented in piecemeal fashion but should be motivated by a sense of strategic direction.
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.
The Airports Commission reported in July, with a clear recommendation to build a new runway and terminal at Heathrow. It relied heavily on an elaborate modelling exercise that calculated costs and benefits for the next 50 years. Little weight should be attached to these calculations. And more consideration should be given to the Gatwick proposal.
Projects acquire political momentum of their own. The original rationale is forgotten, if indeed it ever existed. And so it has been with HS2, the project to build a high-speed rail link from London to Birmingham and then to the north of England.
We are all subject to confirmation bias — a tendency to find, or interpret, facts to support opinions we already hold. But truthiness is more extreme, occuring when conviction is prized over information.
In the face of an event like the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the urge to respond decisively is natural and strong. But the bias to immediacy and action is as pervasive in finance as it is in politics.
The belief that an aggregate of casual opinions provides a better process of value discovery than a flow of informed judgment through close engagement by investors, is an article of faith rather than a matter of empirical evidence.
While most of the debate surrounding Scottish independence has been about economic matters, the economic arguments are far from conclusive either way. The real questions concern the sort of country Scots and Scotland’s residents want. The nation’s political future will drive the economics.
We have a large consultancy business of transport modellers, environmental experts, risk managers and impact assessment modellers, the front line of an army that has turned evidence-based policy into policy-based evidence.