Mariana Mazzucato’s interesting economic argument

Alberto Mingardi, one of those we around here think to be a top bloke, has an excellent analysis of the rather, umm, interesting economic ideas of Mariana Mazzucato over at Cato. Mazzucato it the one who insists that because all of the components of the Apple iPhone had their start in some government research grant or other then the government should be owning a piece of Apple.

To really cover the issues with this line of thinking please do read the whole of Mingardi’s piece. For a flavour though, he notes an interesting thought. Which is that this obviously didn’t happen with the original Industrial Revolution because government didn’t fund anything other than the military and the debt back in those days. So it’s clearly not necessary that government fund research, despite Mazzucato’s insistence that it must. And we can then go one step further: not that government has its mitts all over 40% of everything in the economy it would really be rather surprising if something as complex as a smartphone didn’t have some fort of series of connections to said state. Because it’s got connections to rather large parts of that economy that the state has its mitts all over, of course.

Again, well worth reading.

And we must also turn to a more speculative reading of this situation. Do understand that this is entirely opinion. And it is our opinion that it’s a very interesting fact that the first governmental R&D funding organisation to adopt Mazzucato’s prescriptions is that of the European Union. The latest round of EU funding for R&D will indeed insist that the EU should take part in any financial rewards that develop out of any research or even D that it has funded.

And the original research by Mazzucato that led to the conclusion that this should be done was funded by the EU. An EU which we very well know would love to have its “own resources”, that is funding that it doesn’t get by going cap in hand to the national governments.

Again, let us be very clear indeed that this is opinion and opinion only, but we are of the opinion that there’s a very definite whiff of policy driven evidence making in the air.

Proof that Britain is a profoundly conservative nation

Do note that we do not mean that Britain is a Conservative nation, only a conservative one. And our proof comes from an unlikely source, George Monbiot:

Battered into passivity by the media’s misinformation machine, distracted by consumer culture and the celebrity circus, we live in a permanent fug of confusion about the sources of oppression, and of alienation from the means by which they might be addressed.It is tempting to assert that civic life in this country is dead – but it’s not true. Millions of people belong to NGOs, or volunteer for charities. Eerily, however, there seems to be no connection between this mass participation and political change.

That is, we let the politicians prance in their Westminster bubble and keep on keeping on ourselves. We can see that there are things that we can do, ourselves and without direction, to make our country, our nation, a better place.

So, we go do them. Without orders, without instruction, without central control or even an ideology to guide us upon our way. Those who train the guide dogs for the blind, raise money for the air ambulances, the hospices, those who rescue those in peril on the seas: volunteers all. Done not for the glory of anything, just for the humanity of having done it.

We could call this evidence of profound liberality, and in a sense it is. You want to pitch in to society then do so, you don’t then don’t. No one is forced to do anything but the system as a whole works well, better than many if not all others.

It is also profoundly conservative (again, not Conservative). This is Edmund Burke’s little platoons of society just getting on with being society. We ourselves are generally radicals which is the complete antithesis of conservatism. And yet this is at least one aspect of the conservative society that is Britain, even modern day Britain, which we thoroughly approve of.

Civil society should carry on being just and only what it is, civil society, and don’t let anyone tell us different.

Corbyn’s win and the future of politics

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as the new Labour Party leader tells us three things. First, that we have (deservedly) lost faith in the prevailing political class. Second, that the old class-and-age-based party alliances are dead. And third, that things are going to be a lot more interesting (if also a little worrying).

First, Corbyn (like Donald Trump in the Republican Party election in the US) did well because he does not follow the accepted norms for politicians. For one thing, he didn’t wear a suit in regulation camera-friendly plain colours or, like rival Andy Burnham, blue-grey and the regular white shirt and camera-friendly plain tie too. Indeed, there was speculation that Corbyn’s minders had briefly got him to dispose of his undershirt, but this hope was soon dashed. He was neither clean-shaven nor coiffured. Unlike the others he looked like a regular person, in fact – acting his age as a mature person who does not need to dress like a mannequin to be taken seriously, but can be taken seriously on his experience alone.

Maybe that is why he used just two words when the others used ten. He had no need to exert his presence by filling the available airtime, because his presence alone was quite sufficient, and the views he was expressing were so gripping. No need to fill the airways with platitudes when you can simply drop one or two bombshells and enjoy the silence.

The reason why he gripped the debate and garnered the votes was precisely that. Whatever you might think of his positioning, he seems like the sort of person you can have an honest conversation with in the pub, rather than someone who believes nothing and spouts focus-group-tested soundbites at you. Britain, it seems – or at least the Labour side of it – is ready for such straight talking after the porage of the Blair-Cameron era. The fact is that we are fed up with identikit politicians and want leaders who will take firm views on things they believe in – even if we sometimes disagree with them.

Second, with this stance, Corbyn can attract new people to his side of politics, breaking them away from their traditional tribes (as the LibDems tried, but failed to do). Mrs Thatcher, similarly, had strong support in the working-class and Northern areas that were hardly traditional Tory heartland communities. They voted for her, even though they disagreed with much of what she did, because at least she looked like a leader, who knew where she was going, and not as a cipher that could let us drift off down the path to hell if it seemed to be less controversial. And there are a lot of potential things coming up that might split old alliances too – such as Scottish devolution and the EU referendum. The Labour Party in Scotland is dead, but might a more-left UK Labour Party be more willing to do a deal, or be more able to pick up the votes of disgruntled Scots? It all suggests that a Corbyn-led Labour Party (if it can hold together) could well pick up all kinds of new support from new places, and from non-voters who have given up on Westminster government entirely.

Third, all that is going to be interesting. The Labour (or indeed Tory) moderates who try to paint Corbyn as a dangerous nutter will seem as significant as the temperance campaigners who complained that Churchill drank too much.

With any luck the old consensus in which we drift gracefully into more and more public spending and more and more regulation and more and more intrusive legislation over our lives might suffer a shock, as it did in the Thatcher era. It probably won’t last long until we are drowned in cross-party porage again, but enjoy it while it lasts, if you enjoy a white-knuckle ride that is.

Ruth Davidson speech to Adam Smith Institute

This week the ASI hosted the feisty Ruth Davidson to deliver a lecture on lessons from Scotland’s founding father of economics – Adam Smith – as she outlined her vision of an alternative to the SNP’s statist agenda.

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this evening.

It seems to me that there is a rather long and – if I might say – inglorious tradition of Scottish politicians hanging speeches round the neck of Adam Smith and his legacy.

I’m sure you’re familiar with them, but – for me – there seems to be two main types.

The first type is what I would refer to as the Gordon Brown method.

The Brown method is where you examine Smith’s philosophy from three hundred years ago and demonstrate that, astonishingly, it coincides almost exactly with your own policy agenda here in early 21st century.

Yes, it turns out that Adam Smith was a kind of New Labour prophet, just waiting to be discovered all this time.

Which shows your current policy platform isn’t a tricksy wheeze to triangulate left and right, all the better to scoop up the votes of middle England. Oh no!

It turns out that it has a “golden thread” linking it right back to the heart of the Scottish enlightenment where, before the words “Tony Blair” were ever heard, it was first discovered that liberal economics and social justice could go hand in hand.

The fact that Smith actually came from Kirkcaldy is just the cherry on top of the cake.

I can only say that if I was Gordon Brown looking for some kind of ballast to hold my political beliefs together, I probably wouldn’t have been able to resist either!

But that isn’t the only type of speech of course. There’s a slightly shabbier version of the Brown method which adds a great dollop of parochialism mixed with hubris.

This is the one where Politician B seeks to assert that pretty much everyone has got Adam Smith wrong from Day One. Apart, of course, from the speaker himself.

And why have they got him wrong?

Broadly speaking, continues Politician B, this is because they are not Scottish.

And, in not being Scottish, they therefore fail to understand the true meaning of Adam Smith.

Target number one is, of course, the Adam Smith Institute.

(Read the full speech here.)

The suggestion is that Labour should sponsor its own Militant entryism

At least this is how we read this:

Labour leadership frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn has unveiled plans to give grants to working-class party members to help them become MPs to stop it being dominated by people from affluent backgrounds.

Data from his campaign team claims Labour now has more MPs who went to private school – around 12% – than those from manual working backgrounds.

Corbyn would set up a diversity fund to help party members who are shortlisted in one of the top 100 target seats at the next election while they are trying to win selection. Campaign costs can amount to £4,500, his team claims.

We suspect that it will not just be those of working class backgrounds who are aided through the candidate selection process in this manner, but those who hold the correct views. Correct here meaning somewhere over on the magic money tree side of socialist views.

As The Beard pointed out, history runs first as tragedy and then as farce. And some of us are sufficiently greybeard to recall when the Labour Party expended great effort to root out the Militant Tendency. Now the suggestion is that the Labour Party should actually subsidise such entryism.

Yes, there is an element of farce to that, isn’t there?