Daily archives: July 27, 2011

Economic Dead End

We have had a “natural rate” of economic growth of around 3% for a couple of hundred years. There have of course been peaks and troughs, but the trend has been consistent. If anyone wants to quibble with the precise 3% figure, that does not affect my argument.

With the economy stagnant following a stark decline, there is much discussion how to “kick start” economic growth gain, either by tax cuts or higher public spending. The terms of so-called debate have been very limited, taking it for granted that substantial growth will resume again as soon as we get the engine turning.

But of course, that is not necessarily true. Civilisations do go into absolute economic decline. Never forget Ozymandias.

There are reasons to imagine life may never be normal again. We have lost a great deal of our manufacturing base. The presumption is that it is fine for low earning manufacturing to be carried out in the BRICs, while we get much higher margins for providing banking, insurance, design and marketing services.

But why should that last for ever? The banking crash was a result of the fact that so much of the financial services sector, on which we depend so heavily, has no more relationship to the real economy than the passing of cash inside a casino. It is a miracle of the brutality of power that taxpayers were made without violent revolution to give up much of their individual wealth to bail out rich bankers. The incredible pain of this is what we are just beginning to suffer, because our pockets are being lightened very very substantially but regularly, spread over a long period.

The banks have not really been reformed and western taxpayers actually no longer have the cash or credit to bail them out on that scale again. The house of cards could tumble any moment, and the Euro crisis and dollar deficit impasse are winds buffeting that card house.

But the Euro crisis and US deficit struggle are much more important than their immediate effects. The brinkmanship in the US will be resolved and, even if the US defaults, the immediate fallout will not be Armageddon. The real damage is already done. The BRICs nations have been reminded forcefully that they are supplying their goods in unbelievable quantities to the west, in return for bits of paper of extremely dubious value. The medium term consequences of the banking crisis and the currency crises will be drastic indeed. Do not expect the BRICs to put up with this forever. It is not going to take them long to work out they can do their own banking, trade in their own currency, finance their own research and marketing, and insure themselves. Then what will we do? Staff call centres for them?

The same is true of commodity suppliers, who are also wondering right now about the value of the bits of paper they receive in exchange. Watch gold mining shares.

Commodity supply is the other reason we cannot automatically expect to resume economic growth. We already face huge upward demand pressure on commodity prices, particularly from China. It is a truism that mineral resources are finite. There is a whole lot of mystic nonsense talked about “Peak oil”. The simple truth is that of course oil is a finite resource, and of course at some time production will go down. What is nore relevant is that, thanks largely to China, we have already passed the point when growth in supply of oil will ever exceed growth in demand. Rising commodity prices will also hamper UK economic growth in the medium term.

The little argument between Balls and Osborne over whether tax cuts, or lower or higher public spending, will make a difference, is largely irrelevant. The world has changed. Everyone seems to accept we will be in economic decline relative to emerging economies. They have to get into their heads that we could be in absolute economic decline – permanently.

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Edinburgh Thoughts

This is a photo of my great grandmother, Valentina Brattisani, taken on her wedding day at the Catholic cathedral in Edinburgh. I post it because I had never seen a photo of my great grandmother until just now, and it is an emotional thing to rediscover an ancestor. She looks astonishingly like my grandmother, also called Valentina. Somewhere there must be an uncut copy of that photo with my great grandfather on too.

it is actually quite a sad story, because Valentina died still young, her husband remarried, and her children were effectively cast out in favour of new ones. My grandmother was born into what was famously one of Edinburgh’s wealthiest families, but lived in slums and great poverty. She had thirteen surviving children, however, and was a permanent source of love and fantastic food for the masses of children and grandchildren with which she was permanently surrounded.

I shall be in Edinburgh all of August. I shall stand outside that Cathedral, and take some flowers to the graves of both Valentinas.

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More Help Needed

I continue unabashed to get readers of this blog to help with the research for my new book. Problem is, you have such an incredible store of knowledge, I can’t avoid the temptation to exploit it.

Can anyone trace the genealogical relationship between Lord Auckland, author of the disastrous 1839 invasion of Afghanistan, and Anthony Eden, author of the disastrous invasion of Suez? I am pretty sure there is one.

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Losing in Libya

Gaddafi now controls 20% more territory than he did before we started this odious bombing campaign. He has been able to hold more and better attended rallies of more genuine supporters in recent days than he ever could before we started bombing. Exactly as I predicted, the effect of NATO bombing has been to rally nationalist support around Gaddafi, whom we have stupidly put in a much stronger position than he was when he only faced genuine internal rebellion.

The French and British have now backed down, and both have agreed that Gaddafi will be able to remain in Libya as part of any transition deal. That amounts to an acceptance that he will be the power behind the throne. The problem is, of course, that it is Gaddafi who is growing stronger and NATO which is growing weaker, with political will to keep killing crumbling as surely as NATO economies and currencies.

Hague and Cameron have moved, from abject weakness, to a position of allowing Gaddafi to remain in Libya, which they adamantly rejected three months ago. Then, there was some hope Gaddafi might have accepted it. Now, he has no need to accept a face-saving deal for NATO. He can just sit and watch them dwindle.

It is, moreover, a facesaving proposal that mocks the International Criminal Court, revealing it starkly as a tool to be brought out and used against the enemies of the western alliance, but simply shoved back in its box if they change their minds.

Obama made a shrewd political move to distract from the abject failure of the Afghan occupation to achieve any of its stated goals, by assassinating Osama Bin Laden. Expect now a similar ploy in Libya, with attempts to assassinate Gadaffi by bombing – and possibly by other means – being radically stepped up in an attempt to rescue some “victory” from this humiliation.

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