Fishing Lines

“Teach all men to fish, but first teach all men to be fair. Take less, give more. Give more of yourself, take less from the world. Nobody owes you anything, you owe the world everything.” – Suzy Kassem

A political declaration has been published jointly by the UK Government and EU which aims to take the first small steps along the very long road between where we are right now with the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement out to the final trade deal and future relationship between the UK and EU beyond the expected transition period post March 2019.

Others will go through the whole thing in detail with far more competence than I can manage. I particularly recommend Ian Dunt’s Twitter thread here.

I do want to comment on one are in particular because it has already caused more than a bit of a fight up here in Scotland and as it does a good job of highlighting the political divisions involved in Brexit in certain interesting ways. Let’s discuss fishing.

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The UK/Iceland “Cod Wars”: The UK is no stranger to getting into a fight over fish

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Excluding Growth

“Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth on a finite planet is either a madman or an economist” – David Attenborough

I have a bit of a bugbear about the way many of us approach economics and the future potential of things like an independent Scotland. We focus rather too much on chasing after “growth”.

This focus permeates much of our thinking about the economy and what we should do to improve it. It frames our analysis of policy to the point where we can sometimes struggle to imagine any kind of alternative. “Growth is good”…even when it’s not.

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But we live in an economy where we have experienced near-constant growth for decades. We have not all been equal participants in that growth. Of the nearly $4.5 trillion added to global GDP between 2016 and 2017, 82% of it was captured by the richest 1% of people. The poorest 50% of people saw no increase in their wealth at all.

Faced with such rampantly growing inequality, there have been steps taken to try to, if not solve the problem, at least make a it more palatable to voters.

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We Need To Talk About: GERS (2017-18 Edition)

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” – Mark Twain

There’s no day that’s guaranteed to set the heather alight amongst Scottish political social media sects like the release day of the annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland report – also known as GERS.

GERS

I want to make one thing clear up front. No serious commentator now suggests that GERS can be used as is as a projection of the finances of an independent Scotland. My 2016 paper “Beyond GERS” shows some of the changes that would need to be made for this to be the case. But as a set of accounts for Scotland, the region of the UK, I’m content to use GERS as it is. Maybe improvements can and should still be made, but this is true for all statistical publications and the team behind the report do the best they can within their remit.

So what does this year’s publication tell us about Scotland, the region? Continue reading

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like GERSmas

A photo of the Scottish countryside. The sky is split between the moon and the night on the left and the sunset on the right.

It’s beginning to look a lot like GERSmas
It’s on the news, you know.
The size of the deficit, is all that matters to it
No deeper in shall the headlines go.

It’s beginning to look a lot like GERSmas
What will the numbers have in store?
To the rest of the UK, we compare ourselves today
It becomes a chore.

If a tax here is tweaked and everyone is freaked
imagine if they tried something more.
To reform all the land, make sure fracking stays banned
tax the rich till they’re sore.
But till we can then GERS we have and here it comes again.

It’s beginning to look a lot like GERSmas
Here, again, we go.
The fight about all the stats, the guesstimates and the facts
Where we stand I doubt we’ll ever know.

It’s beginning to look a lot like GERSmas
For calm, I shall now say.
Why don’t we have a truce, and not let Twitter run a loose
This GERSmas day….

Just this GERS-mas day.

Merry GERSmas everybody.

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Demanding Supplies – Supplying Demand

“There will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside” – David Davis, October 2016

“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” – Apocrypha, commonly attributed to Marie Antoinette

I hesitated to write this article. Why, shall become clear in the reading but the short version of it is that this is not just a sensitive topic but the mere act of talking or writing about it may provoke the negative effects discussed.

The artifact warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I am talking about the recent stories that as we enter the “kinetic phase” of Brexit, beyond which any meaningful control of the course can be made, it is looking increasingly likely that the negotiations will conclude without a deal. The UK’s own red lines are insurmountable and are themselves incompatible with the EU’s red lines.

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We Need To Talk About: The Growth Commission Report

If this is a discussion document – It’s time to start discussing it.

The Growth Commission’s long-awaited report is finally out and will surely take some time to fully digest. It has been described as a discussion document and a starting point for the revitalised case for independence; not the final word on SNP policy or national trajectory.

In many ways, the report covers ground now very familiar to campaigners in the independence debate. We’re all now quite familiar with the deep and systemic flaws of the UK’s economic system especially its regional inequality which, quite frankly, is embarrassing when compared to neighbouring countries in Europe.

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(Source: Eurostat)

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We Need To Talk About: Hypothecated Taxes

Hypothecated taxes are designed to undermine the NHS – Prof. Richard Murphy

There’s been an idea floating around recently – mostly pushed by the Lib Dems but floated elsewhere too – that the solution to NHS England’s current, catastrophic crisis is an additional income-linked tax (either a new tax or an addition to income tax or National Insurance) which would raise money specifically for health spending.

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Queuing for bedspace in an English hospital

Other schemes have been suggested, like an addition to income tax to be spent on education. This idea of having a dedicated tax which raises revenue for a specific purpose is known as ‘hypothecation‘ and here is why it is a terrible idea.

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We Need To Talk About: The Deficit

Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact. – Barack Obama

Whenever we talk about national budgets, it doesn’t take long before someone mentions the “national deficit” and the “national debt”. Indeed, as I’ve noted in some of my commentary on GERS, sometimes it can seem like this is the only thing that makes it to the headlines at all. The almost unchallenged “wisdom” is that a government spending more than it raises in taxes is a terribly bad thing. It’ll leave future generations burdened with debt and, anyway, you wouldn’t run a household’s finances that way, would you?

This is a wisdom that has led us to Austerity and there is barely a politician out there who speaks for any other ideology. It’s not just the Tories. Corbyn’s team is at it, at least  by degrees and even Nicola Sturgeon often speaks the same language when defending Scotland’s finances. (And, yes, I’ve used that same language in the past too. Life is about learning.)

Of course, the root of the obsession lies with the fact that the “national deficit” is something that seems quite close to the politicians and therefore it’s something that they should be “sorting out”. But maybe the economy is a bit less simple than this. Maybe, like the fable of the blind men appraising the elephant, one can get a false impression of the whole by getting too close to one detail.

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Trumped Up Trade Talk

“Sooner or later every war of trade becomes a war of blood.” – Eugene V Debs

This past week has been an interesting one in terms of international trade news. President Trump announced, via a Tweet, that he was slapping import tariffs on Chinese steel and that “trade wars are good, and easy to win“.

The ripples of this announcement are still spreading but already countries and trading blocs like Canada and the EU are considering retaliatory tariffs.

The thing is, China isn’t even a particularly major player in US steel imports. It barely factors on any of the top fives by specific products.

US Steel

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Irrigating the Data Desert

“Why speculate when you can calculate?” – John Baez, American mathematical physicist

Last week saw the release of Common Weal’s latest policy paper, Scotland’s Data Desert, which examined the gaps in statistical data for Scotland and called for a Scottish Statistics Agency to help fill them.

We weren’t the only ones studying the problem of the dearth of data in Scotland. As part of a year-long program of research into this topic, we got involved with the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee who had launched their own public consultation looking specifically at the state of economic data in Scotland.

Our response to that consultation led to us being invited to present evidence directly to the committee in September 2017.

The final report from the committee’s investigations was published a few days ago and we are very pleased to say that many of our recomendations have been accepted in the conclusions of the report.

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