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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 belief that the zero lower bound to interest rates is a significant obstacle to stimulating demand supposes that there is a host of projects that promises a prospective return less than zero but more than, say, minus one half per cent. This completely misunderstands the nature of the barriers to long-term productive investment. We need less financial ingenuity and more common sense.
Britain has a trade surplus in almost every service sector except tourism. As a result, world trade negotiations have not played to British strengths because advanced economies tend to trade freely in manufactures but retain home-country bias in their purchases of services. This should frame any debate on trade in the EU referendum.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.