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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.

The dangers of ever-closer tax scrutiny

Explaining your possibly complex financial affairs to unsympathetic journalists adds to the already too long list of reasons why able people might not want to go into politics. And such scrutiny draws attention away from genuinely serious and widespread tax evasion, corruption and money laundering, practices.

Central problem with banks is “too complex to fail” not “too big to fail”

Recent stumbles by Bernie Sanders illustrate a misdirection in his attack on the banking establishment. The central problem is not so much “too big to fail” but “too complex to fail”.

Democracy thrives on a diversity of thoughtful and sincerely argued views

“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” The principle encapsulated in these words from Thomas Jefferson sounds fair. But we should be more anxious to fund the work of non-partisan institutions with direct policy relevance, like the Bank of England, IFS and Royal Society.

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.

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.

Solutions to the Greek debt crisis should be found through pragmatism not blame

The Greek crisis is not simply the result of Athens’ inept public administration but also of an extensive carry trade on eurozone convergence by northern European banks, notably in France and Germany, which obtained short-term profits by matching northern eurozone liabilities with southern eurozone assets. For every foolish borrower there is usually a foolish lender.

It sometimes makes sense to fix the market rather than its results

The 2015 election was an almost unmitigated disaster for the UK Labour party. Yet there was one significant success — an intellectual one. It’s called “predistribution”. And it has already been put to use by the new Conservative administration with a 40% increase in the minimum wage.

Has the EU pushed integration too far and too fast?

The empires of history have generally collapsed from overstretch, which led to restive populations on the peripheries, and then to doubts about the wisdom of the project in the home country itself. These symptoms are recognisable in Europe today.

The best answer to the West Lothian question is to ignore it

The logic of English votes for English laws is irresistible. But the core issue is that it is genuinely difficult to identify purely English matters in a United Kingdom of which England constitutes 85 per cent of the population.

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