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Why not Greece? 

Brad DeLong has some interesting thoughts on why ancient Greece didn’t have an industrial revolution. The comments are well worth following as well.

What can they be thinking? 

There was an enormous demonstration in London yesterday, allegedly in favour of “liberty and livelihood”. I have nothing against the countryside (well, not much), but I thought the Countryside Alliance protest verged on the absurd.

Far from being neglected, farmers in the UK benefit from £3 billion in direct subsidies every year. It is certainly sad that rural livelihoods are threatened, but it was sad as well that coal miners, textile workers and shipyard workers in the UK could no longer compete internationally. Fortunately, the economy overall has proved robust enough to provide alternatives in many cases. Why should farmers be a special group?

It’s not as though the problems of the countryside are unique. Cities and towns have plenty of problems, too. Apparently, the state spends about 20% more a head on public services for town dwellers, but this is easily accounted for both by the extra costs in the city (particularly London), and the greater range of problems, spanning from urban deprivation to providing for the vastly more diverse population of the towns.

Worse, although organisers claim the march was about much more, the real impetus behind the gathering was desperation to save blood sports, notably fox hunting. I personally don’t think hunting is much of an issue — I’d rather government time and resources went to things that really matter. But the reality is that a democratic majority in this country — as expressed through a representative system — wants to see the end of fox hunting. I’m sure there were people distressed at the time when bear baiting and cock fighting were outlawed.

So the march is really about resentment that there is an overwhelming Labour majority. Most of the 400,000 people on the streets yesterday think the natural order of things is Conservative (it’s reminiscent of the passion of the anti-Clinton crowd in the US for eight years — they couldn’t accept that he won two elections). The nadir of the affair is the front page banner headline in today’s Daily Telegraph: “407,791 voices cry freedom“. Do they really think this is an equivalent fight to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa?

Hutton on the euro 

Will Hutton discerns a fundamental change in euro policy that I haven’t seen commented on elsewhere.

He believes that the Growth and Stability Pact, which is in desperate trouble, could be scrapped. In its place would come a system similar to the one operating in Britain, where the central bank operates an active monetary policy within an inflation target set by government. Finance ministers would set budgets with a view across an entire economic cycle, rather than determined to achieve balance in any one year.

Hutton calls it “contemporary Keynesianism for Europe around the British model”. If true, I agree with Hutton that it would alter the terms of the euro debate within the UK. I think those implacably opposed, and they are many, would probably not be swayed, but it might push some people off the fence towards the euro.

Globalisation redux 

There have been times when I’ve thought Tom Friedman took too simplistic a view of globalisation. But I think his weekend column is absolutely on the mark.

“The debate about globalization before 9/11 got really stupid. Two simple truths got lost: One, globalization has its upsides and downsides, but countries that come at it with the right institutions and governance can get the best out of it and cushion the worst. Two, countries that are globalizing sensibly but steadily are also the ones that are becoming politically more open, with more opportunities for their people, and with a young generation more interested in joining the world system than blowing it up.”

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