The argument in favour of independent central banks

Donald Trump has tweeted:

Our Economy is very strong, despite the horrendous lack of vision by Jay Powell and the Fed, but the Democrats are trying to “will” the Economy to be bad for purposes of the 2020 Election. Very Selfish! Our dollar is so strong that it is sadly hurting other parts of the world........The Fed Rate, over a fairly short period of time, should be reduced by at least 100 basis points, with perhaps some quantitative easing as well. If that happened, our Economy would be even better, and the World Economy would be greatly and quickly enhanced-good for everyone!

Which is the argument for central bank independence.

You or we might think that Donald Trump should be re-elected - or not. But that boom or bust for the economy should be determined by his re-election prospects is that argument in favour of central bank independence. As far as interest rates should be centrally determined their being so by politics is a seriously bad idea. Because, obviously enough, the motivation of a politician is to get re-elected, not to do what is independently best for the economy nor the people.

True, there are certain elections where one side winning rather than the other will clearly be better for said economy and said people. Thus we might even think that a bit of manipulation will be of benefit. It’s just that for incumbent politicians “certain” always means “this one with me in it” which isn’t the way to decent monetary policy.

Warning - may cause loss of appetite!

Though most have never heard of it, Public Health for England (PHE) runs a programme which is literally deciding what we should or should not be eating.

The concept is nothing new – governments attempting to dictate what individuals put into their own bodies – however, Josie Appleton’s recent paper on PHE’s ‘reformulation scheme’ shines the light on a more recent victim…the food industry.

In a nutshell, the reformulation scheme aims to reduce the amount of sugar, salt and calories found in foodstuffs sold across the UK, as well as cutting portion sizes. The scheme appears to be an attempt on the government’s behalf to tackle the nationwide obesity ‘crisis’, with the UK currently ranked as Europe’s 3rd most obese nation (World Health Organisation). However, the programme is problematic in nature for several reasons.

Firstly, as Appleton also understands it, the scheme is worryingly paternalistic. This is because freedom of choice is removed from the consumer under the guise that PHE knows what’s best, reducing the autonomy of the consumer as a decision-maker. This results in shifts in the market based on pressure from PHE rather than a change in tastes or preferences, leaving ordinary people out of the equation. The result of this is clear: the government interfering with one of the most private decisions one makes, what to eat.

Although one could argue that despite the wide variety of health-conscious and natural products readily available, these tend to be more expensive and more time-consuming to prepare than ‘unhealthy’ alternatives or pre-made meals (and not to mention, less tasty!). Therefore, the option to eat healthily is not accessible to all and policies such as the ‘reformulation scheme’ arguably aim to combat this disparity. In fact, obesity disproportionately affects those from lower-income households in the UK (Carl Baker). However, one could also argue that these schemes also negatively impact these same individuals since the diminishing portions rarely drop in price, and therefore consumers will spend 25% more, despite the smaller product (Josie Appleton: 31). Therefore, ceteris paribus, it seems best to leave the choice with the consumer.

It is also worth noting that the ‘reformulation scheme’ and alike are impractical and verging on the absurd due to being highly bureaucratic. This is because the targets they set are unrealistic, the categories assigned fail to account for natural sweeteners (for example) and are assigned arbitrarily. This underlines the inadequacy of said form of food regulation, and the merits of leaving the choice with the consumer, particularly since such generalised schemes will never be able to cater for the myriad of preferences and contexts which motivate consumers to choose certain products.

Finally, a fundamental problem of the ‘reformulation scheme’ is its function over taste approach. Whilst the functionality of food cannot, of course, be ignored, it does not do justice to the cultural relevance of food. In reality, consumers will almost always seek a specific product for their taste as that is what ultimately differentiates them from their competitors. The role of food is therefore not limited to sustenance, as PHE’s myopic view would suggest.

With government taking a seat at the dinner table through such invasive policy, one does wonder what lies ahead. For example, if vegetarianism and veganism continue to rise in popularity, should consumers expect government schemes to eventually ban all meat and animal-based products, or perhaps to have these sold in bland packaging and in limited supply? Such changes in policy should not appear dystopian considering that the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health has made similar recommendations in several publications, demonstrating a similar sentiment to that of PHE.

If anything, the government should focus on promoting a healthy lifestyle by continuing to improve its Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) lessons, and thus promoting education over prohibition.

Chiara Buttiglione is a research intern at the Adam Smith Institute.

The teenage minimum wage debate

Recent months have seen further calls for raising the minimum wage rate for teenagers to the same rate as adults. For instance, Labour has promised to include under 18s in its plans for a £10 an hour minimum wage. However, this debate is not a new one, with the Green Party proposing an equalised £10 minimum wage system five years ago.

Supporters argue that age should not be a defining feature in determining the minimum wages of workers. In the words of SNP MP David Linden, “How, therefore, can we be in this ludicrous position in which people under 25 are paid less simply for being a particular age?” To illustrate this point, the National Living Wage for those aged 25 and over is £8.21 an hour, whilst those under 18 can be paid £4.35 an hour.

On the other hand, there is another aspect of this debate that must be considered: employability. There are concerns that equalising the minimum wage rate for all ages could end up reducing youth employment rates, because employers may choose to hire more experienced, older workers over teenagers. Indeed, scrapping age differentials would generally reduce the incentive for employers to hire younger workers with less experience in the job market.

The potential risks of a large increase in the youth wage rate has been noted by the independent Low Pay Commission (LPC), which advises the government on the national minimum wage policy. Its 2015 report cited the 3 to 6 per cent fall in the employment rate of 16 to 17 year olds after New Zealand raised its under 18 minimum wage by 41%. The LPC generally tends to suggest smaller, consistent increases in the minimum wage. It has also been argued that for youths with few qualifications, greater difficulty in acquiring jobs can negatively impact their CVs and resultantly their long-term employability. To put this into perspective, raising the UK’s under 18 rate to equal the over 25 rate overnight would amount to an almost 90 per cent increase. 

It is due to these potential unintended consequences that this issue has been a cause for debate. Whilst proponents of Labour’s position note the benefits of higher wages for younger people, there have been concerns raised over possible side-effects.

Arguments on both sides of this debate are by-and-large genuine in attempting to promote the interests of younger workers. Ultimately however, moves to change the status quo require an assessment of the costs and benefits. This debate will certainly persist in the coming years, but if politicians are serious about promoting the interests of young people, then potential impacts on teenage employability should not be disregarded.

Kaamil Kaba is a research intern at the Adam Smith Institute.

Carbon taxes in practice

The idea of a carbon tax has been previously addressed on this blog by Tim Worstall [here, here, here, here, and here]. He’s already covered the economic arguments behind why the carbon tax would correct the market failure of negative externalities from pollution, incentivise innovative solutions to climate change, and reduce the environmental damage of an atmospheric buildup of CO2.

But it’s not like taxing carbon is a brand new idea. Plenty of countries have instituted forms of carbon tax, including Australia, British Columbia, Canada, and the UK itself. So just how successful have these initiatives been? 

Let’s start with Australia, which passed a carbon tax scheme on 1 July, 2012 despite heavy public and partisan opposition, with the intention of moving to a more market-based emissions trading scheme in 2015. It set a price at AUS $23 (£14.8) per tonne, not applicable to road transport or agriculture. The then-Labour government reduced income tax, increased welfare payments, and introduced forms of compensation for heavily-hit industries and households to offset higher costs for consumers, all powered by the revenue gathered from the new tax. It had an extremely short lifespan, however, being repealed in July of 2014 after the opposing Liberal Party won on promises to ‘axe the tax!’. The scheme has been replaced with a much less encompassing ‘Safeguard Mechanism’ in which a voluntary scheme of emissions reduction credits and observation aim to reduce emissions through a much more subtle approach.

So did it work? Well, kind of. Overall, emissions dropped by 0.8% in the first year and 1.4% in the second year, the latter being the largest emissions decrease experienced in a decade. Just in 2013, emissions from companies reduced by 7%. However, energy increased, the government that scrapped the tax argued any reductions were attributable to declining industry, as emissions were decreasing before the tax began, and public concern for the environment was at an all-time low of 36%. The Energy Users Association of Australia maintains that “it cannot be said that pricing emissions...reduced emissions in stationary energy to any meaningful extent". So it’s a bit of a toss-up.

Canada, meanwhile, was lauded by environmentalists as visionary, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau passed legislation in December 2018 that imposed a federal carbon tax across four provinces which had thus-far failed to create sufficient environmental plans. However, such new legislation has had little time to take effect, so let’s look at a province which took this path years ago. British Columbia instituted a carbon tax scheme in 2008, headed by the BC Liberal Party. Beginning at CAD $10 (£5.43) in 2008 and increasing to CAD $40 (£24.91) this past April, it “applies to the purchase and use of fossil fuels and covers approximately 70% of provincial greenhouse gas emissions”. A decade on, per capita emissions have decreased 14%. While it did increase energy prices, with gas rising by up to $0.19 per gallon (approx. £0.3 per liter) the first year, it worked exactly as carbon tax advocates said it would. People drove less, businesses invested in renewable energies and energy-efficiency. By 2015, only 32% of citizens opposed it, and the business community largely held a favourable opinion. Significantly, the province actually returns more money to taxpayers in the form of corporate and personal income tax cuts and tax credits distributed to low-income families ($1.7 billion) than is actually generated in revenue ($1.2 billion) from the tax. In terms of tax schemes, a success. 

And so, back home. The UK has a form of carbon tax, and has done for a while. The Fuel Duty Escalator (FDE) was in place from 1993 to 2000, then in 2005 the UK signed on to the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). However, the ETS was not seen as placing big enough prices on carbon, with permits for additional carbon being as cheap as 2.81 euros per tonne. On 1st April, 2013, the Carbon Price Floor was introduced “to underpin the price of carbon at a level that drives [the] low carbon investment” that the ETS had so far failed to do. The Carbon Support Price (CSP) was added on top of the ETS allowance prices to reach CPR levels. The current CPF is £18 per tonne of CO2 is frozen until 2021. Recently, it was announced that the UK would continue with carbon taxes even in the case of a no-deal exit from the EU on 31 October.

So, has it worked? Well, the UK’s use of renewable energy has increased, with 11.5% of energy in 2016 coming from wind, compared with only 9.2% from coal, which is the first time coal has been so eclipsed as an energy source since 1935. In March of that year, “coal generation fell to zero for the first time since public electricity supply started in 1882”, and in 2017, total carbon emissions in the UK fell to levels last seen in 1890. The fact that the CPF doubled in 2015 may have had something to do with this.

There seem to be three key features of successful carbon tax schemes. The first is that, in the initial stage of planning and initiating, there must be bipartisan support. Australia’s tax was pushed through by the Labour government, leaving it all too easy for the consecutive government to win on an ‘axe the tax’ platform that highlighted any price increases or additional difficulties imposed on businesses. However, in the UK, when a tax scheme was spearheaded by a right-leaning leader, bipartisan support ensured more public acceptance of the scheme and a longer life span.

Secondly, the price of the tax must be set high enough to make an impact and accurately reflect the social cost of carbon emissions. The UK specifically chose to add a tax in addition to the ETS scheme, and it was only after that increase that businesses started evolving and investing in energy efficiency and renewables and emissions declined significantly. 

Lastly, a ‘revenue neutral’ approach is necessary, meaning revenue gathered by the tax is used to offset any negative impacts: especially those imposed on the lowest-income households and carbon-intensive businesses. The global financial crash hit a mere 2 months after B.C. first instituted its carbon tax, yet the tax survived and even the poorest households received cuts and repayments to make up for increased energy prices. 

However, there are questions regarding how far a tax can feasibly be taken without losing public or business support, and how much of a substantial impact it can actually make. Some researchers estimate a tax of even $73 per tonne would be insufficient to make a substantial climatic impact, and while $100+ per tonne just might do it, the likelihood of this happening in real life is very low.

The end of Prague Spring brought no summer

During the night of August 20th, 1968, 200,000 Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops, together with 2,000 tanks entered Czechoslovakia to suppress the 6-month period of liberalization known as Prague Spring. They captured the Ruzyně International Airport, and used it to fly in more troops by air. Czech troops were ordered to stay in their barracks, and by the next morning Czechoslovakia was occupied. Ultimately the Soviet forces had over half a million troops, well-armed and with modern equipment, to thwart any resistance to their invasion.

Alexander Dubček had been elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in early January of 1968, and had begun a programme to partly decentralize the county's rigid Communist economy, and to loosen restrictions on travel and allow much more free speech and media freedom, something that never happens in Communist countries. Dubček dubbed it "socialism with a human face".

Most Czech citizens heeded Dubček's call not to resist the invaders. He and many others remembered only too well the brutal and bloody suppression of Hungary's attempt at freedom in 1956, and wanted to avoid the same. All the same, there was passive resistance, with road signs being removed or painted over to confuse the invading forces. Only the ones pointing the way to Moscow were left untouched. Many who could, escaped the country, some 70,000 immediately, and eventually 300,000. Further emigration was stopped by the invading forces.

Most of the reforms were reversed, and In April 1969, Dubček was replaced as first secretary by Gustáv Husák, who continued to remove the remaining freedoms. Dubček was expelled from the party and given a job as a forestry official. Czechoslovakia remained under Soviet control for a further 20 years until the Czech Velvet Revolution of 1989 occurred amid the wave of liberations that spread across Central and Eastern Europe, bringing down the Berlin Wall and ending the Soviet Empire.

Dubček backed the Velvet Revolution of December 1989, and when it succeeded, he was made chairman of the federal assembly under the new Havel government. He died three years later, in a country that now had all the freedoms he had campaigned for, and many more.

The suppression of Prague Spring made it obvious once more that Communism was not about ideology; it was about power. It showed that the party clique who held that power by military force were prepared to use it brutally to maintain their grip. They had put down risings by firing on protesters in East Germany, Poland and Hungary, and now they used it again in Czechoslovakia.

The fact is that people want freedom and they want a better life, neither of which can be attained under Socialism. Any who rebelled against the oppression and deprivation that characterized Socialism in practice were murdered. We do well to remember that when we remember what happened on this day 61 years ago.

The important question still not being answered - why did we start using plastics in the first place?

Van Badham tells us in The Guardian of her attempts to stop using plastics for a month:

I’m a beeswax-wraps and bamboo-toothbrush user, I “make do and mend” my clothes, I store bulk-bought snacks in glass jars. But there are no illusions in our house that taking mere individual responsibility for what is a collective problem can ever solve it – one household makes negligible difference when 340 million global tons of plastic are produced in a single year. The enraging history of plastic also includes how its corporate makers avoided bans and regulation by aggressively mobilising anti-litter campaigns in the 1980s – a sleight-of-hand blaming of citizens for the garbage mountains that their own companies were pumping out.

Well, no, not really, because everyone who has been able to use plastics has used plastics. So it’s something to do with us consumers, not producers. As is normal in a capitalist and free market society of course, it’s demand that creates supply.

Then there’s this:

Opening my cupboard doors onto paper sacks of flours and sugar was heartening precisely to the point I discovered that some shitting mice had trashed the lot.

Ah, yes, that’s it. We used plastics because it was cheaper to do so. Evidence that using plastics consumes fewer resources overall than not using plastics. Sadly, people not grasping this rather important point:

What I learned from my month of privileged, cashed-up western failure is that it’s going to take the regulation of plastic production, distribution and supply by global governments to make anywhere “plastic-free”. Single-use-plastic-bag bans are not enough. Recycling is not enough.

Global government is required to insist that we should all consume more resources?

What is it about the modern world that has robbed people of the ability to think?

How the profit motive helps cystic fibrosis sufferers

Very little violates our sense of fairness more than patients suffering from genetic disorders being denied treatment on the grounds of price. Last Monday, the Scottish Medicines Consortium announced that Orkambi and Smedyko, two groundbreaking drugs which treat cystic fibrosis, were currently too expensive to be purchased by the NHS north of the border. NICE, which evaluates drugs for England, came to the same conclusion in 2016. Since then, NICE has been in a protracted fight with Vertex, the company that manufactures the drugs in question, over the question of price.

I myself suffer from cystic fibrosis, and this kind of financial battle is painful to watch for all affected by this wretched disease. Anger at the drug company in question is all too natural. Putting a financial price on human lives is the stuff of dead-eyed economists, not normally functioning humans. Nevertheless, one should always be wary of unintended consequences. Excessive interference with the operation of pharmaceutical markets could in fact have serious, negative consequences for patients. 

Up until 2012, treatments for CF invariably focused on the management of symptoms, not the underlying genetic causes of the condition. A breakthrough in gene therapy techniques allowed Vertex to create Kalydeco/Ivacaftor, a drug targeted at specific mutations responsible for about 4-5% of CF cases. Vertex have subsequently followed up with other gene therapies, including Orkambi and Smedyko, that target different mutations responsible for a larger percentage of CF cases. It is hard to overstate just how innovative these creations are, or what a breakthrough they represent in the treatment of CF, a crippling disease that severely affects quality of life and has a life expectancy of around 38 years.

As much as we might wish them to be, drug companies do not exist for altruistic reasons, and investors buy their shares in the hope of profits. Although the profits from one drug can be extremely large, the vast majority of drug-creation attempts fail, swallowing up hundreds of millions of pounds of wasted expenditure. The development process for new drugs as a whole is therefore incredibly expensive, and the few products that emerge successfully from the process inevitably come with very large price tags. This is especially true when the drugs in question treat a fairly rare condition, such as cystic fibrosis.

Yet rewarding innovation not only pays the innovator back for their discovery, but provides good incentives for other pharma companies to capitalize on their work. Vertex’s profits have encouraged new marketplace participants to enter the arena and create new drugs that target yet more of the different mutations that give rise to CF. The Vertex drugs currently work for about half of all CF patients, but other companies are working on drug trials for more gene therapies, not out of charity, but out of a desire to make money. The interests of patients seeking treatment and these endeavours seeking profit align nicely. 

Lastly it should be remembered that the price NICE are offering to buy the drugs at, £104,000, is massively lower than the price Vertex sells them for in other markets. The NHS using its monopoly power in this way infuriates American drug companies and will no doubt be an issue in future US trade talks after Brexit, but for now at least it enables the British healthcare system to leech off the R&D of more innovative nations. And while the NHS in Scotland could not realistically buy the drugs while they remain unavailable in England, lest this provide an overwhelming incentive for CF patients to move north, we can reasonably expect that once NHS England and Vertex eventually strike a deal, the NHS in Scotland will follow suit.

In our commendable desire for fairness and desperate need for a cure, we should be careful not to kill the geese that lay the golden eggs. Market mechanisms incentivise companies to produce ground-breaking drugs that massively benefit people with CF, and while the NHS is absolutely entitled to drive as hard a bargain as it can, anger at the drug companies for seeking to protect their margins is arguably misplaced. Without those profits, few of us would have much realistic hope for a better future.

Jonathon Kitson is an MA Political Economy Student at KCL, interested in forecasting, geopolitics and psychology. He was diagnosed at birth with Cystic Fibrosis.

Mandeville’s precursor to Smith’s invisible hand

Bernard Mandeville is one of the most controversial and interesting thinkers of the eighteenth-century. Mandeville was born in 1670 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where he  studied medicine before moving to London in the late 1690s. In 1705 he published The Grumbling Hive, which he later developed into The Fable of the Bees: or Private Vices, Publick Benefits (1714). It was so scandalous at the time that it is said only one person, Dr Johnson, publicly praised the work. 

Mandeville was critiquing republicanism and its emphasis on a frugal society focused on civic virtue. Johan de Witt, a Dutch republican, published the Fly and Ant in 1703, which contrasted the nature of flies—consumers, who are addicted to commercial goods and though they may eat jam at times, their life is short, as they are ultimately killed by humans—with the nature of ants—who are hard-working and virtuous, sustaining their states—to show the advantages of republics. Mandeville’s Fable, which may have been a direct reaction to de Witt’s treatise, amounts to a scathing critique of republicanism, civic virtue, and mercantilism. Its underlying doctrine, that there are unintended positive consequences of self-motivated action, can be viewed as a precursor to Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’.

Mandeville argued, as the full title of the Fable suggests, that, without noticing, seemingly selfish acts of individuals are necessary for a prosperous and thriving society; in short, personal vices make a whole society successful. He concludes this through examining a bee hive, which was a traditional symbol of a hard-working eighteenth-century citizen, who was fully dedicated to the state, valuing the whole over themselves. 

At the start of the Fable, the hive is very successful, powerful and prosperous, even though—or because—all bees follow their self-interest. For instance, doctors are in their profession for the fame, not for benevolence; politicians are all corrupt; lawyers wanted to create more feuds, instead of ensuring peace. As Mandeville pointedly states: ‘Thus every Part was full of Vice, Yet the whole Mass a Paradise’. Nevertheless, this vicious hive was the envy of all other hives, due to its strong economy and large population.

Then honesty and traditional virtue is introduced in the hive, which undermines its power. Many bees lose their jobs, as there is less economic activity due to the frugal nature of traditional Christian virtue. Rich bees no longer spend money on luxury goods, such as great houses, which destroys the building industry. Similarly, bees no longer go to taverns to spend their money on alcohol, which leads to pubs closing. There is no more innovation and little manufacturing, as the now-frugal bees are content with the bare minimum. 

In sum, the people no longer spend money on luxury goods—which Mandeville views as everything that is not immediately necessary—this puts many out of jobs, meaning they can no longer support themselves and starve to death. What remains of the once so powerful hive is a hollow tree. Mandeville concludes that ‘fools only strive to make great an honest hive…fraud luxury, and pride must live, while we the benefits receive’.

The relation to Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ is obvious. Just like Smith, Mandeville’s core idea is that the unintended impact of the many serving their own interests, as merchants in the market system, is positive. Smith, in the section of the Wealth of Nations where he discusses the ‘invisible hand’, he explains first that the annual revenue of a state is the sum of its produce or the exchangeable value of it. Hence, when merchants trade goods for their self-interest, they increase the wealth of the whole state. For Smith, ‘By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it’; it is as if an invisible hand is guiding the merchants’ promotion of the public good. 

Smith was not advocating for dishonesty but rather for a self-interested motive as the best way to incentivise innovation, economic growth, and thereby promote the liberty of the people. Smith’s invisible hand relies, like Mandeville’s moral, on a doctrine of unintended consequences, where people promote the common good unintentionally through following their own interests in a market system.

However, Smith was deeply sceptical of Mandeville’s ethics and he critiqued it thoroughly in the Theory of Moral Sentiments. Hence, though there is a connection between the theories, we should be mindful of the differences, too. 

Greetings everyone!

I have always wanted to take a gap year but was looking for something more interesting than the traditional ‘gap yah with Tarquin’. Thus, I was thrilled to find out that I would be spending my Gap Year at the Adam Smith Institute and getting involved in their policy-related mischief. 

The gap year is an opportunity to develop and research my political ideas before returning to a generation that seems increasingly in veneration of socialism. Thus, rather than spending my September in a fresher’s week explaining to drunk people in the pub why there’s nothing wrong with student tuition fees, I thought I would enjoy it more in Westminster talking to people less likely to glass me. I look forward to the opportunities for research and meeting interesting people in the year ahead. 

I have a number of hobbies from interesting debates in that shadowland of the comment sections of Jeremy Corbyn’s Instagram posts to sport to reading books on History and Politics. As a Brexiteer, I look forward to pursuing a new vision for the UK rather than the damage control attitude which has defined the last few years. I will enjoy writing about the new trade deals and regulatory reform available in the year ahead. As a teenager who would like to own their own property some time in their life, I have a strong vested interest in potential new reforms for planning restrictions that will help deliver affordable housing. I will also hopefully be writing about many other topics from pensions to education. 

I am optimistic in the power of the market to deliver better living standards to people throughout the world as well as providing innovative solutions to many of the problems we face from climate change to ageing populations. I am excited about the year ahead and cannot wait to get started. 

London's electric taxis – older than you think

Although most people suppose that electric taxicabs are the newest thing, the first ones took to the streets of London on August 19th, 1897. Walter Bersey's electric cabs could reach 9-12 mph. They were competing against Hansom cabs and other horse-drawn vehicles, and had to meet the same rules, including the ability to ascend London's steepest hill. They took two passengers and were illuminated in and out, which made shy passengers feel as if they were under the spotlight. Their customers reputedly included the Prince of Wales.

Motorized vehicles had been limited by the "red flag" law which required non-horse-drawn vehicles to be preceded by a person carrying a red flag, a law presumably passed after lobbying by the horse carriage industry. When it was repealed in 1896, motorized traffic began to spread, and the London to Brighton Run was inaugurated in celebration. While electric Berseys took part, they couldn't manage the whole 60-mile run, and had to go part of the way by train.

Their batteries were lifted out hydraulically, and could be replaced in 2-3 minutes at London's single charging station. They were known as "Hummingbirds" because of the sound they made, and because of their yellow and black trim. Unfortunately, wear and tear took their toll, and after 6 months they became noisier and vibrated more. Their heavy weight (2 tonnes) wore out the tires too quickly, and they frequently broke down. This, plus the often-faster speed of their horse-drawn rivals, led them to be phased out after two years,

Bersey, however, remained optimistic for a great future for electricity. He declared, “There is no apparent limit to the hopes and expectations of the electric artisans….in short [it] is the natural power which shall be the most intimate and effective of all man’s assets.”

He was ahead of his time. Once again electric-powered taxis are making their appearance on London's streets, in greater numbers every year. It makes obvious sense to use a power that can be generated from a variety of sources, including environmentally friendly ones. It makes even more sense not to foul up city air with the exhaust fumes of petrol and diesel engines. It should be pointed out that even horses polluted, leaving thousands of tons of their excrement fouling London's streets, harbouring flies and diseases.

Electric ones are cleaner, quieter, and more efficient. They are also safer, and carry no inflammable liquids. Range and reliability used to be their main drawback until Elon Musk made it his mission to solve those problems, which he did. I've been driving a Tesla for nearly 5 years now, and my experience is that it feels a world away from driving a fossil fuel car. When electric propulsion is combined with autonomy (self-driving) capability, it will represent another leap into a more convenient and less impactful world. There will be fewer accidents, too.

As we stand on the edge of a transformed world of transport, it is appropriate to pay tribute to the early pioneer, Walter Bersey, who put his electric taxis onto the street on this day 122 years ago.