BBC Question Time and think tank political affiliations

A “left-wing” think tank:

But these don’t rate a “left wing” warning:

Here’s the guest list breakdown:

“Other panelists” is presumably where the think tank guests go – so it is a shame Question Time hasn’t broken the pie chart down further for the segment of “left wing” think tanks.  And there’s still no explanation as to how Farage is such a regular guest.


Manufacturing jobs are better jobs

Financial Times:

Your weekly paycheck isn’t your wage; it’s your wage multiplied by your hours. Over the last 40 years, hours overall have drifted down, particularly in retail, where in the last decade scheduling software has allowed companies to more efficiently call employees in or dismiss them. But manufacturing jobs, which are more likely to be unionised, still offer 42 hours a week. Mining and logging, which tend to run closer to capacity, offer 47 hours.

And in America, whether an employer offers benefits can make a huge difference. Last year 81 percent of production jobs offered health insurance. Overall for private workers, 68 percent. For service jobs — the single largest group — 39 percent. So the job that Gary Cohn says Americans wouldn’t choose at the same pay turns out to have better pay, better hours, and better benefits. People are nostalgic for manufacturing jobs not just because it’s nice to make something. It’s because they’re better jobs.

Trump was on to something, during the campaign. People are dissatisfied with the quality of the jobs they hold. Perhaps they want manufacturing jobs. Perhaps they just want the kind of security that manufacturing jobs offer. Either way, it’s hard to be sympathetic to the people in the administration who, confronted with the President’s inchoate but not entirely incorrect feelings on economics, attempted to explain them away.


The BBC’s bias against understanding

Stumbling and Mumbling:

Then yesterday John Humphrys prefaced a question about the type of Brexit Leavers want with the words that this is “all getting a wee bit technical and I’m sure people are fed up to the back teeth of all this talk of stuff most of us don’t clearly understand” (2’12” in).

All this (and you can no doubt think of more or better examples) is a symptom of a BBC bias – a preferences for reporting splits and divisions rather than detailed analysis of policy. This has nasty effects.

One is that, as Nick says, it creates a bias against understanding. The question: “what type of Brexit do you want?” is a vitally important one. The fact that one of the BBC’s best-paid journalists can dismiss it as “stuff most of us don’t clearly understand” is therefore an admission of colossal failure. Polls show that the public are wrong about many basic social facts. Our biggest broadcaster must surely take some responsibility for this.

Secondly, it generates a bias towards charlatans. Because the BBC doesn’t do policy detail, empty windbags who don’t have such policies get a free pass. Brexiters who don’t have a plan for leaving have gotten far more coverage and deference than they merit. This bias perhaps plays against the Tories as well as Labour. The fact that clowns like Johnson (the mere fact that journalists call him Boris in a way they don’t use first names for (say) Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn is itself revealing. )  get more coverage than the likes of Rory Stewart, Robert Halfon, David Willetts or Jesse Norman surely puts the Tory party into a much worse light among thinking people than it would get from a reputable broadcaster.

By the same token, MPs who cultivate links with journalists (and share their posh backgrounds?) get better coverage than those with, say, technocratic backgrounds or links to trades unions. I suspect that one reason why the BBC has been so bad at covering Corbyn (especially soon after his election as Labour leader) is that it has been blindsided by the fact that he has much more support outside Westminster than in.


Conservative Zugzwang Redux

Simon Wren-Lewis:

After the 2017 General Election, I wrote a post about how, whatever the Conservatives did next, they would make their position worse (a situation called ‘zugzwang’ in chess). In that post, by taking a piece of received wisdom as given, I underestimated the hole they were in. The mistake I made was to assume that by 2021 the Brexit issue will have been put to bed and a new Conservative leader would be elected in time to fight the next election.
The error was to underestimate the determination of the Brexiters to keep the issue alive. If a deal is made with the EU and parliament accepts that deal (both big ifs) it will be on terms which Brexiters find more intolerable than being in the EU. We will be in the customs union and at least part of the single market: pay, obey but no say. The reasons that the Brexiters will keep complaining about that kind of Brexit is partly because they cannot stop themselves, but mainly because they need to keep the issue alive to obtain the prize of the Tory leadership. In this they will be helped by the return of UKIP talking of the Brexit betrayal. The received wisdom after the 2016 vote that the Brexit vote would end this fatal division among the right of UK politics was another mistake.
That leads to the ultimate zugzwang: Remain Tory MPs cannot risk May departing from the scene, because if she does the solid Leave majority among members will vote in a Brexiter. The Conservative zugzwang is even worse than I thought in that earlier post. If MPs vote through an EU deal and we enter transition there is a good chance Theresa May will fight the next General Election. What seemed unthinkable after 2017 now seems most likely. We know from 2017 and the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy that May is the type of leader that makes the most of Corbyn’s qualities.
It is worse than that. The issue of ‘Brexit betrayal’ will remain alive until 2022. UKIP will start taking votes from Conservatives more than they take votes from Labour, because Leavers are more likely to be Conservatives. That does not mean Labour are bound to win in 2022. The Conservatives will try their best to convince voters that Labour under Corbyn will tear the UK’s economy and foreign policy apart even more than the Tories have done. But an actual or impending end to transition will not be sold by the Conservatives as a triumph but instead will remain an existential threat to the party.
This was the point at which I realised something that I had completed missed: this will never stop.  There is no placating the brexiters.  Whilst the EU still exists and the UK trades with it, no leave will be good enough for the ultras.

Does Amazon Have More Power Than the Federal Reserve?

The New Republic:

The Kansas City Federal Reserve, one of the dozen reserve banks in the U.S., gathered on Friday in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to discuss a signature puzzle of our times: How can the economy hum along, with unemployment falling for years, without wage growth? How have the gains from the economy been segregated from most Americans who do the work, instead flowing into the hands of a small group at the top? And what can the Fed, or anyone, do to reverse this?

All of these events—the rise of intellectual property, dynamic pricing, and weakened labor bargaining power—have links to monopoly. These researchers are saying, collectively, that the economy has fundamentally changed as a result. The normal tools used to manage economic growth, like shifting interest rates or containing inflation, used to be enough to ensure that the market would bring higher wages and broadly shared prosperity. But those channels have been broken, and may stay broken until dominant firms are cut down in size and power.

This lack of control over the economy is incredibly dangerous. The Fed has tools to regulate and even break up the banking sector, though they are not using them. But the agencies that oversee business competition—the Justice Department’s antitrust division and the Federal Trade Commission—have the primary authority to guard against harmful market concentration. If the conclusions from Jackson Hole are correct, economic policymakers desperately need their help.

Hostile environment: anatomy of a policy disaster

The Guardian:

Theresa May was two years into her job as home secretary when she told the Telegraph in 2012 her aim “was to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration”.

Only May can say whether she knew then the “hostile environment” strategy – essentially empowering figures across society to become immigration enforcement officers – would evolve into to a catch-all brand for her approach to migrants, illegal or otherwise. Because “the hostile environment” came to encapsulate not just her approach to illegal immigration but to reflect a broader rancour towards migrants in the UK.

This peaked with the Windrush scandal; the hostile environment has been squarely blamed for the desperate circumstances in which people who had the right to be in the UK found themselves.

The Guardian has spoken to senior figures who worked within and alongside the Home Office – including former immigration enforcement chiefs – to seek an industry view as to what went so terribly wrong.

The Other Side of “Broken Windows”

New Yorker:

In the nineteenth century, British researchers began studying the variation in crime rates between and within cities. Some of these studies offered relatively simple accounts of the variance, in which concentrated poverty led to higher crime. Others went further, asking what explained the disparities in crime rates among poor neighborhoods. Most of this work “offered theories,” the University of Pennsylvania criminologist John MacDonald wrote in a recent paper, “but did not attempt to provide guidance on how to curb crime.” He compared this tradition, unfavorably, with the work of British health scholars, most notably John Snow, whose research on cholera “noted the importance of the spatial environment,” and who “suggested the separation of sewers and drinking water wells to prevent water-borne diseases.”

Of course, social scientists have long influenced crime policies. Consider the “broken windows” theory, which the Harvard political scientist James Q. Wilson and the Rutgers criminologist George Kelling introduced, in a piece in The Atlantic, in 1982. According to Wilson and Kelling, criminals perceive broken windows and other forms of disorder as signs of weak social control; in turn, they assume that crimes committed there are unlikely to be checked. “Though it is not inevitable,” Wilson and Kelling argue, “it is more likely that here, rather than in places where people are confident they can regulate public behavior by informal controls, drugs will change hands, prostitutes will solicit, and cars will be stripped.”

“Broken Windows” is one of the most cited articles in the history of criminology; it’s sometimes called the Bible of policing. Since the nineteen-eighties, cities throughout the world have used Wilson and Kelling’s ideas as motivation for “zero tolerance” policing, wherein officers monitor petty crimes, such as graffiti, loitering, public intoxication, and even panhandling, and courts severely punish those convicted of committing them. “If you take care of the little things, then you can prevent a lot of the big things,” the former Los Angeles and New York City police chief William J. Bratton has said. (Bratton has also applied the theory in overseas consulting work.) In practice, this meant stopping, frisking, and arresting more people, particularly those who live in high-crime areas. It also meant a spike in reports that police were unfairly targeting minorities, particularly black men.

The broken-windows theory always worked better as an idea than as a description of the real world. The problems with the theory, which include the fact that perceptions of disorder generally have more to do with the racial composition of a neighborhood than with the number of broken windows or amount of graffiti in the area, are numerous and well documented. But more interesting than the theory’s flaws is the way that it was framed and interpreted. Consider the authors’ famous evocation of how disorder begins:

A piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up, a window is smashed. Adults stop scolding rowdy children; the children, emboldened, become more rowdy. Families move out, unattached adults move in. Teenagers gather in front of the corner store. The merchant asks them to move; they refuse. Fights occur. Litter accumulates. People start drinking in front of the grocery; in time, an inebriate slumps to the sidewalk and is allowed to sleep it off. Pedestrians are approached by panhandlers.

Things get worse from there. But what’s curious is how the first two steps of this cycle—“A piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up”—have disappeared in the public imagination. The third step—“a window is smashed”—inspired the article’s catchy title and took center stage. Debates about the theory ignored the two problems at the root of its story, jumping straight to the criminal behavior. We got “broken windows,” not “abandoned property,” and a very different policy response ensued.

But what if the authors—and the policymakers who heeded them—had taken another tack? What if vacant property had received the attention that, for thirty years, was instead showered on petty criminals?




A challenge to the tax profession: if you want to be credible back real tax reforms

Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK:

As a result I am not looking for nice words, which is what the profession has offered. Nor will reformed misconduct arrangements that have to date never been used satisfy me. These are cheap. I want real action. That does not, of course, mean tax returns on line. But it does, I think, mean commitment from the major tax players, and active demand from them for a series of entirely appropriate reforms in tax.

The first is active support from the firms and professional bodies for full public country-by-country reporting, including intra-group transactions. Nothing less will do if these firms and their tax department are to be subject to necessary scrutiny for the consequence of their actions.

Then I want support for full disclosure of beneficial ownership of companies (defined as being disclosure of all holdings over 10%), and that has to be worldwide.

And I am looking for support for all limited liability accounts being on public record in full, without exception, worldwide. After all, that’s a pre-condition for fair markets to operate. Why wouldn’t the tax profession want that?

And then I am expecting their support for corporate tax reform to a unitary basis to remove the abuses that artificial structuring still permits.