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Frances Coppola

Frances Coppola

I’m Frances Coppola, writer, singer and twitterer extraordinaire. I am politically non-aligned and economically neutral (I do not regard myself as “belonging” to any particular school of economics). I do not give investment advice and I have no investments.Coppola Comment is my main blog. I am also the author of the Singing is Easy blog, where I write about singing, teaching and muscial expression, and Still Life With Paradox, which contains personal reflections on life, faith and morality.

Articles by Frances Coppola

We need to talk about productivity

14 days ago

"We need to discuss the complete disconnect between the marginal product of labour and labour wages," said Sir Chris Pissarides, speaking on the closing panel of the Lindau Economics Meeting.I tweeted this comment. Laurie MacFarlane of the New Economics Foundation promptly responded with this chart that brilliantly illustrates Sir Chris’s point:
"Quite why marginal productivity theory is still taught as something which explains the real world is beyond me," commented Laurie. Marginal productivity theory says that profit-maximising firms will only employ workers who can generate at least as much additional return for the firm as they are paid. Expressed like this, it seems sensible: why would a firm employ a worker who is a net cost? But marginal productivity theory also says that the

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Tariffs, trade and money illusion

August 21, 2017

In the past few days, I have read three pieces from Economists for Brexit – now renamed "Economists for Free Trade" – extolling the virtues of "hard" (or "clean") Brexit and calling for the UK to drop all external tariffs to zero unilaterally after Brexit. Two are written by professors of finance (Kent Matthews and Kevin Dowd). The third is from the veteran economist Patrick Minford.All three of these pieces wax lyrical about the benefits to GDP and welfare from unilaterally reducing external tariffs to zero. But bizarrely, not one gives adequate consideration to the currency effects of trade adjustment and the likely monetary policy response. Minford’s brief discussion contains a schoolboy error (of which more shortly). The other two never mention it at all.In today’s free-floating

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Calculus for journalists

August 8, 2017

“What do they teach them at these schools?” wondered the Professor in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The Professor, of course, was concerned about logic. But I wonder too – not about logic, but about maths. Especially among journalists writing about life expectancy and other long-term trends.Here is the FT proclaiming "Average life expectancy falls". This is the headline for a chirpy piece about how reduced life expectancy could make things easier for pension funds facing big deficits. 
There’s only one problem with this. Life expectancy isn’t falling. And the report the FT cites does not say that it is.
This is how the press release from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries summarises the findings of their report:
Recent population data has highlighted that, since

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Bitcoin and bimetallism

July 31, 2017

I wrote a piece on Forbes recently in which I described a bimetallic system of coinage and suggested how such a system might work – or rather, fail to work – for Bitcoin. These are the relevant paragraphs:
In a bimetallic system, there are effectively two currencies which are linked by a fixed exchange rate set by fiat. At the end of the 19th century – the time of Bryan’s speech – Britain’s copper penny was worth 1/144 of one pound. Other denominations of coin were created by multiplying up the penny: so the silver sixpence was unsurprisingly worth six copper pennies, and the silver shilling was worth twelve pennies, or 1/20 of a pound. All these relationships were fixed by fiat.

So, suppose that instead of using bitcoin as the medium of exchange, we use some other coin – let’s call

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Crypto-tulips

July 12, 2017

Here is a very familiar financial bubble, in pictorial form:

And this is what it looks like, charted:

In those days, of course, tulips at least had to be able to flower. But things have changed since then.There are three key stages in the lifecycle of a financial bubble:The "Free Lunch" period. A long, slow buildup of price distortion, during which investors convince themselves that rising prices are entirely justified by fundamentals, even though it is apparent to (rational) observers that they are buying castles built on sand.
The "This is nuts, when’s the crash?" period. Everyone knows prices are far out of line with fundamentals, but they carry on buying in the irrational belief they can get out before the crash they all know is coming. Speculators pile in, hoping to make a quick

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Asymmetric herding

July 9, 2017

Ten years ago today, Chuck Prince, then chief executive of Citigroup, dismissed fears of a financial crisis. “When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated," he said in an interview with the Financial Times in Japan. "But as long as the music
is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing".

He wasn’t dancing for long. Less than a month later, the first bank failed. Over the weekend of 27th-29th July, IKB Deutsche Industriebank AG, one of Germany’s key "Mittelstand" lenders, was bailed out by a consortium of German banks after credit markets refused to provide it with liquidity. The music had stopped. 

The reasons for IKB’s failure are now all too familiar. Anxious to diversify beyond its traditional core market of German small and

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The Worst Political Storm In Years

July 2, 2017

A year ago, I attempted to look beyond the shock of the Brexit vote and its associated economic disruption, and see into the distant future. I saw a completely different political paradigm, though I could not discern its shape. And I saw a possibility that, like Hong Kong in 1997, the fears of economic disaster would prove baseless, and Britain would have a bright future, though one which I could not imagine. I called on everyone to try to make Brexit work:
Not for a long time has the future been so uncertain. In the short-term, there will be pain. But in the longer-term, the future could be exciting. I did not vote for this, but this is what my compatriots chose, and I accept their decision. So this is what we – collectively – have chosen. Now we must embrace it, fully. For only by

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When vultures cooperate

June 29, 2017

Rather to my surprise, the Co-Op Bank has had a reprieve – well, perhaps more like a stay of execution. Even more surprisingly, this has come from what many would regard as a most unlikely source. The American hedge funds that rescued the bank back in 2014 are about to rescue it again, with a little help from their friends and relatives. "Vulture funds" are behaving most unlike vultures.Four months ago, the Co-Op Bank put itself up for sale. Unable to comply with the capital plan agreed with the Prudential Regulatory Authority, and apparently unable to persuade its hedge fund owners to cough up any more funds, it tried to find a "white knight" – ideally, a bank with deep pockets and an interest in UK high street banking. There appeared to be several potential buyers: the TSB, Virgin and

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The newly dreadful state of the Union

June 10, 2017

Last Thursday’s election was a shock. It was appalling for the Tories, extraordinarily encouraging for Labour and something of a "meh" for the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. And it was dreadful for nationalist parties. UKIP was completely wiped out, ending up with no seats at Westminster and a hugely reduced share of the poll. The SNP lost seats, and even Plaid Cymru did less well than it had hoped. Nationalism, it seems, is dying down. Well, in the UK, anyway.Faced with a disastrous result, any half-decent party leader would step down. To his credit, Paul Nuttall, the UKIP leader, did exactly that. But not Theresa May. Dear me, no. In the last two days, we have discovered the lengths to which Mrs. May will go to retain her hold on power.The Tories’ desperate reach for powerLacking

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A beautiful death

May 30, 2017

My mother, Joy Cooke, died last Wednesday, 24th May, at the age of eighty-seven. It was a peaceful end. Beautiful, in a way.Mum had been ill for a long time. She had vascular dementia, triggered by an accidental morphine overdose after an orthopaedic operation in 2013. She also had COPD, brought on by a lifetime of smoking. For the first year of her slide into the oblivion of dementia, she was cared for by my father. But in August 2014, after she became doubly incontinent and both physically and mentally frail, he had to admit that her care was too much for him. She went into a nursing home that specialised in the care of those with dementia. There she remained until her death.I wasn’t there when she died. But I had been to see her earlier that day, along with my father and my youngest

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Squaring the circle on immigration

May 15, 2017

It had to happen. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has refused to commit to a net migration target. Facing a barrage of complaints from the hospitality industry about potential staff shortages post-Brexit, Rudd appears to be softening the government’s line. She told BBC Radio 5Live’s Pienaar’s Politics:
"My personal view is we need to continue to bring immigration down. I want to make sure that we do it in a way that supports businesses.”

So what way might that be, then? After all, her boss is on record as saying she thinks net migration should fall to the tens of thousands. Currently, it is in the hundreds of thousands: according to the latest ONS statistics, net migration for 2016 was 273,000 (net inflow), of which 164,000 was from outside the EU. Even if immigration from the EU stopped

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Intergenerational unfairness

May 9, 2017

This thread on Twitter has attracted a lot of attention. It goes some way towards explaining why older people are generally in favour of Brexit, and why Theresa May’s "strong and stable" mantra particularly appeals to the baby boomer generation. For those who aren’t on Twitter, I’ve paraphrased part of the thread here.
I have been thinking about the "strong and stable" mantra, in the context of my mum, who thinks Theresa May is great. Mum is a product of post war Social democracy (born 1947). She got 6 good O levels despite failing the 11+, and went into the civil service. She got into a mess due to creating me with my irresponsible dad, but then met my stepfather, whom she is still with.

In material terms, since the early 80s my mum and my stepfather have had no money worries.

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Illiberal Britain

April 29, 2017

"Why have you changed your avatar?" asked a friend of mine.Why indeed. Ever since I joined Twitter in 2010, my avatar has always been a picture of me, and my Twitter name has always been my own name. I’ve never wanted – or needed – to be anonymous.So why now?The image on my avatar is the Anarchist Cat. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about it:
The black cat, also called the "wild cat" or "sabot-cat", usually with an arched back and with claws and teeth bared, is closely associated with anarchism, especially with anarcho-syndicalism. It was designed by Ralph Chaplin, who was a prominent figure in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). As its aggressive stance suggests, the cat is meant to suggest such ideas as wildcat strike actions, sabotage, and radical unionism.
A while ago, I added triple parentheses around my name in solidarity with the online Jewish community. Anti-Semitic elements on social media use triple parentheses to identify accounts they think are Jewish so that they can be targeted for hate attacks. I am not Jewish, but I have been the target of anti-Semitic abuse by people who (weirdly) decided I must be Jewish because I opposed their particular brand of racism. I know, first hand, how horrible it can be. So I added the triple parentheses to my own name in solidarity with the real Jews who suffer such hate attacks both online and in the real world.

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The Libor witch hunt

April 25, 2017

Since I wrote my post about the Bank of England’s alleged manipulation of Libor before and during the financial crisis, something of a witch hunt seems to have developed. Certain people with axes to grind have jumped on the bandwagon set in motion by the BBC’s Andy Verity and are aggressively promoting their view that the Bank of England’s behaviour was fraudulent. Their argument is that the Bank of England has no business attempting to influence market rates, that those at the Bank who did this should be brought to justice just as traders who rigged Libor have been, and that businesses, households and public sector bodies that lost money when the Bank of England "talked down" Libor should be compensated.This is arrant nonsense. Influencing market rates is what central banks do. It is called monetary policy, and it is the means by which they control inflation. If central banks could not legally influence market rates, monetary policy as we know it would be impossible.To explain this, let’s look at how monetary policy worked before the financial crisis. Prior to the era of QE and excess reserves, the principal tool that the Bank of England used to control inflation was the cost of funding for banks.

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Libor and the Bank

April 11, 2017

Nearly five years ago, the former CEO of Barclays Bank, Bob Diamond, defended himself against accusations that on his watch, Barclays had deliberately falsified Libor submissions. To no avail: after widespread adverse press coverage, Diamond resigned.Was this at the instigation of the Governor of the Bank of England and the head of the FSA? We will probably never know. But events yesterday make not only Diamond’s resignation, but also the prosecution and jailing of traders and Libor submitters from Barclays and other banks, look distinctly odd.The BBC’s Andy Verity has revealed the existence of a recording which appears to indicate that the Bank of England and the Treasury pressured banks to "lowball" their Libor submissions during the financial crisis. According to Verity, the conversation, between a junior Libor submitter (who was subsequently jailed) and his manager, ran like this:
In the recording, a senior Barclays manager, Mark Dearlove, instructs Libor submitter Peter Johnson, to lower his Libor rates. He tells him: "The bottom line is you’re going to absolutely hate this… but we’ve had some very serious pressure from the UK government and the Bank of England about pushing our Libors lower." 

Mr Johnson objects, saying that this would mean breaking the rules for setting Libor, which required him to put in rates based only on the cost of borrowing cash.

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A dangerous Eden

April 4, 2017

I have been going to the gym. Seriously. For about a couple of months now. I’m doing weight training for the first time in my life, and cardio exercises, including – wonder of wonders – short bursts of running. I’m even paying for a personal trainer. It’s a shocking extravagance, but I’m likely to find any excuse under the sun not to do my workouts unless I have someone telling me what to do and shouting at me if I don’t do it. As one of my school reports said, "Frances does not enjoy physical exertion". Truer words were never spoken. Sporty, I am not.

So why am I doing this? It is all because of my family. Specifically, my father. He has serious heart problems, vascular deterioration in his brain and Type II diabetes. And I am a lot like him. 

Ok, so he is 83. But he was a lot more active in his 50s than I have become. Since I reduced my singing teaching and took up writing, I have become largely sedentary. Even gardening has gone, killed by a brutal combination of severe hay fever and asthma. And although I enjoy walking, I don’t do it nearly enough. It is too easy to hop into the car even for short trips, and longer ones are a rare indulgence in a life dominated by work. 

I looked at my father – now slim, after drastically changing his diet when he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. And I looked at me. And I did not like what I saw.

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Barnier and the Tantalus game

March 28, 2017

The EU has laid out its negotiating strategy for Brexit. Well, not officially yet, of course – the letter triggering Article 50 won’t be delivered until tomorrow, 29th March. But as is its wont, it has made its intentions clear in the press.In an op-ed in the FT, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has stated in no uncertain terms how he expects the negotiations to proceed. He identifies three crucial issues that must be resolved before there can be any discussion of future trading arrangements between the EU and UK:the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK
continuing funding for current beneficiaries of EU programmes
the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

The first of these responds to Theresa May’s continued refusal to guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK. Tellingly, Barnier makes no mention of UK citizens living in the EU. If May won’t guarantee EU citizens’ rights, he implies, the EU won’t protect the thousands of UK pensioners living in Spain, France, Portugal and other sunny South European countries. It will be up to the governments of those countries to decide what happens to them. Nice.The second is code for "we want our money". This is the contentious 60bn Euros the European Commission says the UK must pay when it leaves the EU.

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Of cars and tariffs, and Brexit fantasies

March 18, 2017

"The Germans won’t want tariffs on their car exports to the UK", said my father the other day.I have to agree. No-one likes tariffs, especially when they are used to having none. But it was his next comment that made me pause. My father’s idea is that the EU will allow the UK to have tariff-free access to the EU’s markets after Brexit in order to placate the powerful German car manufacturing lobby. He’s not alone in this view: it has been repeatedly stated by Brexit promoters, both during the Leave campaign and since the vote last June.The obvious rejoinder is that the EU (ex-UK) is 27 countries, not one, and although Germany is powerful it does not call the shots with regard to trade. Although a qualified majority vote is sufficient to allow the UK to leave the EU, a new free trade deal between the UK and the EU post Brexit would require the agreement of all 27 members, and in some cases sub-sovereign agreement too. The recent trade deal between the EU and Canada was nearly derailed by Wallonia, a sub-sovereign of Belgium.Nor could there be a deal specifically between Germany and the UK regarding car exports. The UK is leaving the EU, but Germany is not. And members of the EU are not allowed to negotiate their own third-country trade deals. If it tried to enter into a separate agreement with the UK, Germany would be breaking EU treaties.

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Game theory in Brexitland

March 12, 2017

"No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal", says Theresa May. Her Brexit sidekick David Davis appeals to MPs not to "tie her hands". And that master of flannel, trade secretary Liam Fox, says that leaving without a deal would be "not just bad for the UK, it’s bad for Europe as a whole".These three statements sum up the hopes of the Brexiteers. The idea seems to be that if the UK adopts a really strong stance in its forthcoming negotiations with the EU, the Europeans will be so horrified at the prospect of the UK leaving without any agreement that they will cave in and give the UK what it wants. Welcome to the Brexit game of chicken.On the face of it, the UK government’s negotiating principles appear sound: set out your red lines, make it clear that you won’t tamely agree to everything the other side wants and that you will walk away rather than give ground on things that really matter. But if you are going to play brinkmanship, you really have to understand your opponent. The EU is well versed in this game – and it knows how to win.So, how credible is May’s threat to walk away from negotiations? Davis’s intervention is clearly intended to make it credible. If Parliament can overturn her decision and send her back to the negotiating table, then her position is much weaker. On this occasion, therefore, perhaps they are right.

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Adam Smith’s Destructive Hand

March 3, 2017

Adam Smith’s "invisible hand" is perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts in economics. It is usually interpreted to mean that when individuals all operate according to their own self-interest, their actions somehow combine to create a well-ordered, well-functioning society "as if guided by an invisible hand".To be fair, this statement about the "invisible hand" (from the Wealth of Nations) does seem to mean exactly that:
[The rich] consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity…they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.
This should have been challenged long ago on the lack of counterfactual evidence. It is an assertion, not a fact. Nonetheless, despite the glaring inequalities in our world today, it could be true.

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UK inflation and the oil price

February 21, 2017

Inflation is back.Here is the change in the consumer price index (CPI) for January 2017, according to ONS:

Well, this doesn’t look too serious. CPI is barely reaching the Bank of England’s target of 2%. It has been much higher for most of the last decade, and yet the Bank of England has kept interest rates at historic lows.But consumer price inflation – the prices that people pay for goods in the shops – is only one side of the equation. On the other side is producer price inflation (PPI), the prices that companies pay for the materials and energy they need to produce goods and services. The picture here is entirely different, as this table from ONS’s January 2017 producer price inflation report shows:

Annualised producer price inflation has risen dramatically in the last six months. It reached double digits in October 2016 and currently stands at an astonishing 20.5%. Most of that is due to sharply rising import prices, of which by far the most important is crude oil, the price of which has risen by 82% in the last year. The dominance of oil imports in producer price inflation figures is evident from this chart:

Rising oil prices in the last year have added 9% to producer prices.But inflation is a rate-of-change measure: it tells you how fast prices are rising, but not where they started from.

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The end of the road for the Co-Op Bank

February 13, 2017

The Co-Op bank is putting itself up for sale. It announced today that it will offer all of its shares for sale, including the Co-Op Group’s 20% stake and the shares currently owned by a consortium of American hedge funds, institutional investors and small investors. The decision follows on from last month’s disclosure that it was facing a full-year loss for the third year running and
would fail to meet capital requirements set by the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA) for some years to come. It has almost certainly been made under pressure from the PRA.

The decision to offer the bank for sale was undoubtedly very painful for the Board. But it has been obvious for some time that the Co-Op Bank’s recovery plan was heading for the rocks. Both the 2014 and the 2015 reports contained warnings from the directors, endorsed by  the auditors, that the bank may not be able to continue as a going concern. There is little doubt that the forthcoming 2016 report, due at the end of March, will contain a similar warning.

In fact the Co-Op Bank has been living on borrowed time ever since it ignominiously failed the Bank of England’s stress tests in 2015. The capital plan it agreed with the PRA was high risk from the start, relying on very favourable trading conditions and no major shocks.

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France’s shame

February 12, 2017

Today, the Guardian has a report on conditions in the refugee camp at Dunkirk, just up the French coast from the infamous "jungle" at Calais that was cleared at the end of 2016. "Women and children ‘endure rape, beatings and abuse’ inside Dunkirk’s refugee camp" proclaims the headline. This is of course the shiny new refugee camp, supposedly built to international standards, that was opened less than a year ago.It makes harrowing reading. Here is an excerpt:
The witness statement from another volunteer, who could speak Arabic, describes how a 14-year-old from Morocco appeared to have been raped and could not sit down and kept repeating that he felt so “ashamed”. 

Their account stated: “He didn’t want anything, he was only crying and asking for his mum. He had been badly beaten."

The worker also described how a young child had been sexually assaulted on site, leaving her mother so shocked she had been rendered mute. “We have also seen in the past a woman holding a seven or eight-year-old girl by her arm next to GSF [the charity Gynaecology sans Frontières has a unit on site] and apparently this child had been raped just before, and the woman was afraid to report it to police. She was there, standing silent refusing to report it.”
But hang on. Let’s just look at the last two sentences in that excerpt again, shall we?"….the woman was afraid to report it to police.

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Seeing through the smoke

January 31, 2017

The last week has been extraordinary, even by the standards of these extraordinary times. A flurry of Executive Orders from the new President of the United States has thrown the global order into chaos and sparked outrage throughout the world.

But he has only done exactly what he said he would do. There is nothing in the Executive Orders signed so far that was not announced during the Presidential campaign, repeatedly and to loud cheers from his many supporters. The President was lawfully voted in by the people of the United States on the basis of the promises he made to them, and he is now following through on those promises. Frankly, I find this hard to criticise. If his decisions are illiberal, discriminatory and racist, that is because a substantial proportion of the American people are illiberal, discriminatory and racist. The problem is not the President, it is those who elected him.

I do not understand why those who cherish liberal values and human rights convinced themselves that President Trump did not mean what he said. Not to follow through on his promises would have been a major betrayal of those who voted for him. How could anyone possibly respect or trust a President who made promises on the campaign trail that he had no intention of keeping once in office? Honesty, loyalty and trustworthiness are the foundation of civic society.

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President Trump’s Triffin problem

January 19, 2017

In many eyes, President-elect Trump is a loose cannon. He says things that upset people the world over. Many of them perhaps should not be taken too seriously – after all, he is a showman. But it would be a mistake to dismiss his rhetoric on trade. There, he is in deadly earnest – and it does not bode well either for America or for the world. 

Trump’s trade agenda was set in Peter Navarro & Wilbur Ross’s paper (pdf) of September 2016. Peter Navarro’s most famous work is the documentary "Death By China" which essentially blames China for all America’s woes. Wilbur Ross is a businessman who made a fortune from buying up and restructuring manufacturing businesses, many of them protected by George Bush’s trade tariffs. Both of them are unashamedly protectionist, labelling countries running large trade surpluses as "cheaters" and "manipulators" and demanding that the rules of international trade be changed to benefit America at their expense. Both of them have been appointed to top trade jobs by Donald Trump. 

Navarro & Ross identify three causes for what they describe as "America’s economic malaise". Two of them – high taxation and over-regulation – are long-standing complaints by America’s right-wing business community. But the third is new. Navarro & Ross explicitly blame America’s trade deficit for poor GDP growth.

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It’s not an NHS crisis, it’s a social care disaster

January 13, 2017

You’ve probably all noticed that I haven’t been writing much lately. Well, not on this site, anyway, though I have been doing rather a lot elsewhere.In the last couple of months, my life has been upended. I suppose I should have seen this coming – the signs have been there for a long time – but the speed at which this has happened has shocked me.At the end of October, my father suffered a fall at his home on Sheppey, where he has lived alone since my mother went into a nursing home in August 2014.  He was found – after several hours – by the taxi driver he had booked to take him to see her. I didn’t find out for another two days that he had been taken into hospital.When I went to see him, I was horrified. He couldn’t talk, and when I spoke to him he just stared at me. I thought he had had a stroke. But the hospital thought otherwise. They decided it was his heart, fitted him with a pacemaker (for which he had previously been recommended, but no-one had got round to fitting it), and discharged him. Unable to talk and unsteady on his feet, he went back to his home, to live alone with no support.He tried to carry on as before. The day after his discharge, I had a phone call from his taxi driver saying that he had just taken my father to see my mother. "He shouldn’t be living alone", he said. "He’s not well".How right he was.

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No, I’m not going to respect your opinion

January 13, 2017

What does "discussion" mean?According to the Oxford Dictionary, there are three definitions:the action or process of talking about something in order to reach a decision or to exchange ideas
a conversation or debate about a specific topic
a detailed treatment of a topic in speech or writing

Well, this is a pretty wide brief, isn’t it? Lots of opportunity for misunderstanding there.I recently joined a discussion group. There are lots of these on social media, some open, some closed. Some have clearly defined topics, others are much woollier. Most do not specify what they mean by "discussion". I expected a friendly debate in which differences of opinion are welcomed and there is no intention of reaching any conclusion. But there is no particular reason why I should expect this. Another person might expect discussion to be focused entirely on obtaining general agreement to a particular course of action. And someone else might simply be wishing to air their views on a particular topic without those views being challenged. All of these fit within the dictionary definition of "discussion".So I asked the members of my group what they meant by "discussion". Of course, there were different views. So we are now having a discussion about the meaning of discussion.

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The return of machismo

January 1, 2017

2016 has been an extraordinary year. Memorable for so many things: celebrity deaths, the melting of Arctic sea ice, Trump, Brexit, terror attacks in Europe, drownings in the Med, destruction in Syria. The largest movement of people in recorded history. And – perhaps – the overturning of the political & economic paradigm established by Reagan and Thatcher. Are we seeing the end of elites and the triumph of the common man? Was the Brexit vote really the victory of "ordinary people"? Was Trump’s election really due to a populist surge?I look at Trump’s cabinet and I don’t see a resurgence of populism. On the contrary, I see the triumph of the 1 percent. Trump’s cabinet is made up almost entirely of old, white and extremely rich men. Many of them are former senior military personnel. The few women are rich, beautiful and – by American political standards – young. In short, the composition of Trump’s government speaks not to pluralism, or even the end of globalism, but to something else. The return of machismo.By this I mean the sort of machismo that defines clear expectations for men and women. Men are to be rich, white, old, powerful. Women are to be rich, white, young, beautiful. Women can hold positions of power, provided that they conform to the expectations of the men who put them there.

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The essence of evil

December 30, 2016

I have a confession to make. I have been reading the Daily Mail.No, I haven’t gone over to the dark side. Rather, I have been true to myself. I have always tried to keep an open mind. And sometimes that means doing something of which my critical self does not approve. Like reading tabloid newspapers.Reading is an important part of my life. I’ve always needed time to myself, to read and think. Without that space, my mind fogs and I become irritable. I suppose I am a bit introverted, really.  But shutting people out, even temporarily, can be difficult. Frances has her head in a book again? Just shout to get her attention. Works every time. And now that I have become my father’s part-time carer, time for reading and thinking is hard to come by. The fog is slowly descending on my mind. I discovered long ago that the easiest way of creating time to read and think is just to disappear for a while. So, over the years, I have collected some favourite boltholes. One of them, bizarrely, is Medway Service Station on the M2. Ten years ago, I used to stop there every week on my way to teach in Sittingbourne. It has a decent coffee shop with comfortable chairs. And it has newspapers. You just borrow them to read while you drink your coffee.Most days now, I drive from my home in Rochester to my father’s home on Sheppey, and back again.

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Market failure

December 22, 2016

I hate the term "neoliberal", but in this piece I am going to use it, simply for want of a better word.

Neoliberal economic dogma says that the public sector crowds out the private sector. So the public sector should only step in as a last resort to provide for those that the private sector cannot or will not serve. In recent years, we have interpreted this to mean that the public sector should only provide for the very poorest in our society. If people can afford to pay, the private sector will provide. 

Is this true? Well, true believers say it is. So, if an elderly man with a gold-plated defined benefit pension and substantial savings needs sheltered accommodation because he is no longer safe to live on his own, he should have no problem finding it, should he? 

I did an internet search for sheltered housing on the Isle of Sheppey, where the elderly man lives. This is what I found:

Only one of these enclaves is sheltered housing: the other is accommodation restricted to over-55s, but it does not have an on-site warden. So, for the whole of the Isle of Sheppey (about 38,000 people, of whom around 25% are over 60), there is one sheltered enclave with 38 units, all of which are currently occupied. It is run by Amicus Housing Association on behalf of Swale Borough Council. There is no private sector sheltered housing on Sheppey.

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