« The interest rate puzzle | Main | The bias against social science »

January 26, 2020


Tasker Dunham

Don't know about economic growth but I don't want any of those rub-Brexit-in-their-faces 50p coins.


I live in a safe Tory seat, majority > 15,000. The local MP is hardly visible, lives a long way off and does nothing. Indeed the Tories could put up a donkey with a blue rosette and it would storm into office.

Why so popular - because the Tories do nothing, minimal extra housing, minimal extra roads, minimal schools. No business parks and definitely no industry. This is exactly what the majority here want, the majority earn well (in London), many send their kids private. The only snag is that house prices have slowed, but are still high. We have reached a stasis that is comfortable for many and any change looks like a bad thing.

Looking around quite a lot of constituencies are like mine. Some say Brexit will disturb the stasis, I reckon it will take a long time. A long slow glide path downwards.

steve lindsey

even though it will reduce (pdf) GDP over time.

I'm at work so can"'t follow the pdf but so far I have only seen reports that say GDP will grow more slowly than it would have done otherwise. In other words; grow.


“economic stagnation breeds intolerance and xenophobia”

I’m not sure this is axiomatically true, though it might be true as a crude approximation. Didn’t the 1958 Notting Hill race riots happen in a period when the UK was experiencing relatively healthy economic growth? It’s probably the worst incident of White-Black intergroup violence in the postwar era.

Another counterexample might be Fiji. The country tends to have military coups by ethnic Fijians whenever Indo-Fijians win elections. The coups usually depress the economy, but reassure ethnic Fijians of their political supremacy. I’m sure some economist somewhere will torture the data to make it say it’s all about economics not identity. But it seems unlikely.

The real point is this: relatively diverse societies are inherently more fragile than relatively homogenous societies. If your country has the demographic diversity of Fiji, Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Syria or the former Yugoslavia, you’re at far greater risk of something - maybe something non-economic - triggering an outpouring of inter-ethnic animus. If your country has the relative homogeneity of Japan, you can endure a whole “lost decade” of stagnation at far lower risk of strife.

No society has yet found the formula to permanently abolish any possible economic downturn ever. But during boom years, people tend to stop thinking about what might happen when the boom eventually slows or ends. The attitude seems to be, this social experiment will all work out fine, just as long as we can keep GDP growth at 5% per annum forever. And maybe, just maybe, that’s not smart.


Good point. But maybe another angle here, besides relative income, which does indeed matter a great deal, might be the psychology of voters depending on age. Indeed, when you start in life growth is really important to you. When you retire (or come close to retiring) stability not growth becomes paramount. So you tend to vote conservative because all you care about is keeping the status quo. You may fail to realize that the status quo is undermined by weak growth and therefore end up voting against your own long term economic interest, but preservation of your position and status is what you focus on. That’s why as societies age, they tend to become more conservative and unfortunately selfish.


Do economists (and leftists for that matter) see any correlation between an economic model reliant on cheap/low skill imported labour and an economy with low productivity/low investment in productivity? I've always been curious about why economists like Portes etc who laud economic benefits of (lower skilled) immigration appear silent on productivity. Is this a blind spot of economists that the public at large have avoided?


Partly we have become habituated to anaemic growth. Marc's reason is also spot on (and fits with Chris's original postulate).

Ken Oliver

"happiness depends more upon relative (pdf) income than absolute income"
Or as HL Mencken said "happiness is earning a thousand dollars a year more than your brother-in-law".

People are underestimating the effects of population aging on GDP growth in developed countries. It is ultimately an old and (in many cases) shrinking workforce that is crippling productivity growth.

he old are not at all fond of creative destruction and that's why in both politcs and economics small-c conservatism has become prevalent. And it is ultimately old populations that are driving real interest rates down too (it's a simple extension to Solow-Swan to see why).

But the flipside of that is that the old (rationally) value stability far more than growth. Sclerosis suits them just fine. That is the reason, for example, why Japan's dire economic performancehas led to no discontent - in a younger country they'd have had several revolutions since 1989.

Dr Zoltan Jorovic

I started reading Westlake and Bowman's proposals, but stopped when I got to the bit about restrictive planning laws being the reason our cities were not growing. This is complete crap. Check out the difference between planning permissions given, and delivery - in the borough where I live, only 25% of permitted planning has been built out. Which means 75% are sitting waiting for the developer to actually get on with it. It has NOTHING to do with planning law and EVERYTHING to do with the developers not wanting to increase supply too quickly and risk a drop in prices. Obviously this is not something any rightist commentator can admit so they perpetuate the myth. This means that I really can't be bothered to take anything else they say seriously. Nor should you.

Laurence Cox

To think of productivity only in terms of GDP produced per unit of labour is to take too narrow a view. We also need to consider energy productivity, that is to say the GDP as a function of energy use. In the past, when products were mainly physical, significant energy input was needed for their production and that energy scaled with the number of the product produced; in an information economy the energy use required is far smaller; what is the energy cost of streaming music or video on demand compared with the cost of providing it on a CD or DVD? Whether you have a streamed or a physical product, you can still only watch or listen to one at a time.

In an economy where the most important activity is reducing carbon emissions to net zero as soon as practical, low or zero conventional GDP growth may be to everyone's benefit. See, for example:


Davis X. Machina

I don't want people in power who will make my life better, I want people in power who will make someone else's life worse, and let me watch.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad