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Lower business rates would benefit property owners not retailers

Retailers have recently complained about the level of business rates. However, were this property tax is reduced their joy will be short lived. Business rates are both a tax on land and a tax on structures, and in the longer term all we would see is higher property values and rents, especially in prime locations.

Beware “mathiness”: The use of algebra and data to reinforce ideological preconceptions

It is characteristic of science to give precise meaning to concepts and the basis of their measurement. Economics is genuinely harder. Yet it is all too easy to write a mathematical symbol without giving thought to what observable fact in the real world corresponds to that symbol.

Effective leaders recognise the limits of their knowledge

We all have a tendency to interpret evidence, whatever its nature, as demonstrating the validity of the views we already hold. It requires intellectual magnanimity to acknowledge that additional information might lead us to a different conclusion.

Top nations like Denmark do well without pushing others around

We once suffered from Norman Angell’s “Great Illusion” that prosperity was the product of aggressive control of territory and resources — and now we know better. The wealth of Denmark is instead built on exporting bacon and drugs to control diabetes — an appropriate combination — around the world.

Take care with summary statistics when the underlying population is changing

Since 2008, UK employment has risen substantially and working hours have increased but output has barely grown. To explain this productivity puzzle we must dig into the detail of how aggregate statistics are built up.

UK election confirms many beliefs are held in the absence of facts (truthiness)

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.

Why worry about deflation?

Our perception that inflation is the normal condition is no more than a reflection of the experience of people alive today. And there is no qualitative difference between an economy in which prices are rising slightly and one in which prices are falling slightly.

To assess value it’s wise to escape the market crowd

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.

If “capital is back” it’s in a different sense

The days when economic power was acquired by inheriting the mill are long gone. Mr Buffett began his business career as a mill owner, but closed the mills and went into insurance. That is the reality of capital in modern economics.

Precise inflation figures ignore evolutions in product quality and consumer choice

Price indices are compiled by measuring the changes in the cost of buying a fixed bundle of goods chosen to represent the consumption of an average household. But what the average household buys changes with the arrival of new goods; and with changes in relative prices; as well as with variations – good and bad – in quality