No Stress: The flaws in the Bank of England’s stress testing programme

In 2014, the Bank of England commenced a stress testing programme in an effort to test the capital adequacy of major UK-based banks. It concluded that its results demonstrated the resilience of the banking system. No Stress, a report from the Adam Smith Institute, suggests that we should be extremely sceptical of the Bank’s conclusions.

The report sees Kevin Dowd, Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute, professor of finance and economics at Durham University, and author of three books, ten book chapters, and dozens of journal articles on risk modelling, present a powerful and rigorous indictment of the Bank’s stress testing programme.

Dowd makes the case that the stress tests are significantly methodologically flawed and worse than useless, giving policymakers unreliable information about the strength of the UK banking system, providing false risk comfort, and creating systemic instability by forcing banks to converge towards the Bank of England’s models.

For these reasons and more, he concludes that we should end regulatory risk modelling and re-establish strong bank governance systems that make decision-makers personally liable for the risks they take.

Read the paper.

The No Breakfast Fallacy

The depletion of mineral reserves poses no serious threat to society, this new report from the Adam Smith Institute concludes.

The No Breakfast Fallacy: Why the Club of Rome was wrong about us running out of resources argues that outcries over resource availability from environmentalist groups are based on a misinterpretation of numbers and a misunderstanding of what mineral resources actually are.

The monograph, written by Senior Fellow and rare earths expert Tim Worstall, says that groups that have warned about the world running out of rare mineral resources, such as The Club of Rome, have been using the wrong sets of data, mistaking the exhaustion of mineral reserves for the exhaustion of mineralresources.

Mineral reserves, the monograph explains, are simply the minerals that have been prepared for use for the next few decades; they are minerals that can be mined with current technology at current prices. Some reserves are going to run out in the near future, but this is a normal process. Every generation runs out of mineral reserves.

Mineral resources, however, refer to a concentration of minerals of a certain quality and quantity that have shown reasonable prospects for eventual economic extraction. These are much larger than mineral reserves.

Organic farming, for example, may be a useful idea, the monograph asserts, but the idea that it is a necessity because we’re about to run out of inorganic fertilisers is based on a falsehood. The reserves for minerals used in fertilizers may exhaust in the next few hundred years, but the exhaustion of resources is not estimated to occur for 1,400 years for phosphate and 7,300 years for potassium.

The report concludes that efforts to conserve and/or recycle mineral resources are wasteful and often end up being net harms to society, by diverting economic activity from more productive uses.

Read the report.

 

Non-Sense: Examining the arguments and rhetoric around non-dom tax provisions

  • Being a UK resident with non-domiciled status simply means that one does not intend to remain indefinitely. The tax system requires residents to be taxed on their foreign income. Non-doms resident in the UK elect to be taxed on either the arising basis (their worldwide income is taxed automatically) or the remittance basis (they are only taxed on worldwide income if they bring it to the UK). 2008 reforms mean that after 7 years of UK residence, non-doms who choose to be taxed in the latter way must pay a yearly fee of £30,000 (rising to £50,000 after more years of residence).
  • Ed Miliband has claimed that there are 116,000 non-doms but this ignores those of the UK’s 400,000 international students and 6 million foreign-born workers who did not have to file a self-assessment form and those who did file it but did not tick the non-dom box. It is estimated that something like 1 million are not permanent residents, so are by definition non-doms.
  • The rules introduced by Labour (and supported by the Tories) in 2008 ended up only hurting less wealthy non-doms and did nothing to really wealthy ones: electing to be taxed on a remittance basis benefits only those with very high foreign incomes.
  • The UK is far from the only country with an arrangement for taxing foreign incomes. In fact, of the 221 jurisdictions which have some form of personal income tax, a mere 35 tax only local income.
  • There is a substantial literature showing that tax systems are very important in deciding where top talent goes. It tells us that punitive changes to the UK tax system could discourage the most valuable potential immigrants from footballers to inventors.
  • Changing how we determine someone’s domicile is likely to have unintended consequences. First, making it easier to acquire a new domicile might reduce inheritance tax receipts, as UK domiciled residents of foreign countries currently pay UK death duties on their worldwide estates. Second, changes to the concept of domicile would have repercussions in other areas of law, such as matrimonial matters and determining the validity of wills.
  • The ethical justifications for Ed Miliband’s view that it is immoral that non-doms do not pay tax on their foreign income are deeply contentious. There is no principled moral case for taxing more than local income.

Read the report.

The Ties that Bind

  • Social cohesion is the strength of interactions between members of society. These interactions are characterised by a number of norms that include trust, a sense of belonging, and a willingness to participate.
  • Measures of social cohesion include generalised trust, interpersonal trust, civic participation and volunteering.
  • Evidence from the US suggests a strong relationship between rising diversity and lower levels of generalised trust. There is much less evidence for a relationship between diversity and other measures of social cohesion in the US.
  • There are some cultural reasons to suspect that American evidence might not fully apply to Europe and the UK.
  • European evidence at a national level does not suggest a negative relationship between diversity and trust or other social cohesion indicators.
  • Evidence from the UK is mixed. There is some evidence to suggest an association between higher diversity and lower generalised trust – yet there is also conflicting evidence which finds no such association.
  • There is little evidence to suggest a negative relationship between diversity and other measures of social cohesion such as: civic participation, trust in authority, or voluntary work in the UK.

Read the report.

The Real Problem Was Nominal: The Crash of 2008

Prof. Scott Sumner, who inspired the US programme of QE3 and was dubbed ‘the blogger who saved the US economy’ by The Atlantic, explains how central banks—not bankers—caused the 2007-8 crash. He goes on further, showing how the European Central Bank is repeating the mistakes the Fed and the Bank of England made in the dark days. And he argues that they can solve the slump and prevent future crises with a market-based, rule-based, stability-focused monetary policy of targeting the level of nominal GDP.

Read the report.

The Green Noose

  • Despite academics, politicians, and international organisations recognising that the UK is facing a housing crisis, it is currently far less developed than many imagine, especially when compared to similar countries. Indeed, only two members of the EU 27 have less built environment per capita than the UK: the Netherlands and Cyprus. 90% of land in England remains undeveloped, and just 0.5% would be required to fulfil this decade’s housing needs.
  • Green Belts are not the bucolic idylls some imagine them to be; indeed, more than a third of protected Green Belt land is devoted to intensive farming, which generates net environmental costs.
  • The concept of ever-expanding urban sprawl is mistaken and pernicious. In addition, Green Belts can give rise to “leap-frog development”, where intermediate patches of land are left undeveloped due to restrictions, a phenomenon indistinguishable from what many understand urban sprawl to be.
  • By encouraging urban densification, Green Belts take green space away from those places where it is most valued. Each hectare of city park is estimated to be of £54,000 benefit per year, compared to a mere £889 per hectare for Green Belt land on the fringe of an urban area.
  • There are substantial welfare costs of Green Belts. They have made accommodation more expensive and smaller, increased costs for businesses (especially relative to other European cities), and have contributed to the volatility of house prices.
  • The avenue of reform we favour is the complete abolition of the Green Belt, a step which could solve the housing crisis without the loss of any amenity or historical value – if only politicians and planners had the courage to take it.
  • Failing this, we conclude that removing Green Belt designation from intensive agricultural land would also enable the building of all the housing required for the foreseeable future, and could help ameliorate the catastrophic undersupply of recent decades.
  • In the short term, simply removing restrictions on land 10 minutes’ walk of a railway station would allow the development of 1 million more homes within the Green Belt surrounding London alone.

Read the report.

Wind Power Reassessed: A review of the UK wind resource for electricity generation

The UK wind debate assumes that wind farms operate at roughly their average output most of the time. According to Dr. Capell Aris’ new paper produced in concert with the Scientific Alliance this is not true. Power comes only extremely intermittently and variably and there are long periods of negligible efficiency in the long winter months when power is most needed. A 10GW wind fleet would need approximately 9.5GW of fossil capacity to guarantee its output.

Read the report.

 

Parliamentary Snapshot: MPs on Entrepreneurship

Members of Parliament may talk a good talk about their desire to support entrepreneurship in the UK, but in practice there are multiple, competing policy options open to them – whether this is increasing tax breaks, spending more in various ways or cutting regulation. Due to the limited time and resources available to government it matters where the sympathies of our representatives lie within the context of the current policies already in force. Parliamentary Snapshot: MPs on Entrepreneurship is the first survey to uncover the views of MPs on policies impacting entrepreneurs, providing useful insights on the opinions and working knowledge of the House of Commons.

Read the report.