Despair deaths and regional inequality

I can't stop looking at this table. Mortality rates in England rose between 2011-16 for teenagers and most working-age adults under 50:

That's bad enough. But what should give all of us pause is the reason that Public Health England (PHE) gives for rising mortality among young and middle-aged adults:
Among people aged 20-44, an increase in mortality rates from accidental poisoning had a negative effect on life expectancy between 2011 and 2016 of -0.06 years in males and -0.11 years in females....  Data from ONS indicate that in this age group, over the whole period from 2011 to 2016, 70% of accidental poisonings were due to drug misuse and 10% were to alcohol. PHE also notes a slight increase in male mortality rates due to cirrhosis, which is in the top 10 causes of death for men. Among women, suicide is playing a slightly larger role:
An increase in the female suicide rate in the 20-44 age group also had a small negative effect on life expectancy between 2011 and 2016 (-0.02 …

Why targeting productivity is a bad idea

Last week I attended a workshop entitled "Enhancing the Bank of England Toolkit," hosted by the Progressive Economy Forum. Presented at the workshop, and underpinning most of the debate, was this report from GFC Economics and Clearpoint Advisers, which was written for the Labour Party and first issued last June. The report was widely criticised at the time, as one of its authors ruefully observed in the introduction to the presentation. Nonetheless, the authors presented it unamended.

The report recommends setting a productivity target for the Bank of England in addition to its existing inflation target:
An additional target will be introduced: productivity growth of 3% per annum. The Bank of England will be required to explain how its policies are impacting upon productivity and, therefore, the potential growth path of the economy. This target is extremely challenging. A footnote in the report notes that labour productivity growth since 1950 has averaged 2.4%, and describe…

An Experiment with Basic Income

In 1795, the parish of Speen, in Berkshire, England, embarked on a radical new system of poor relief. Due to the ruinous French wars and a series of poor harvests, grain prices were rising sharply. As bread was the staple food of the poor, rising grain prices increased poverty and caused unrest. Concerned by the possibility of riots, the parish decided to provide subsistence-level income support to the working poor. The amounts paid were anchored to the price of bread. Each member of a family qualified for a payment, so the larger the family, the more they received. In effect, it was a system of in-work benefits.

Subsistence-level income support already existed for the non-working poor. The Poor Laws, first introduced in Elizabethan times, distinguished between different categories of “poor” and treated them differently. At the time that the Speenhamland system was introduced, the old, inflrm and children were placed in poorhouses, where they were cared for and were not expected to …

The Eurozone's Long Depression

Sectoral balances can tell us so much about what is going on in an economy. Especially when they are expressed as a time series, as in this remarkable chart from the ECB:

Although it is a time series, this is not a rate-of-change chart. The y axis is in billions of Euros, not in percentage growth rates. But the chart nevertheless shows that Eurozone net saving has risen steadily since the financial crisis, except during the Eurozone crisis of 2011-12 when it dipped slightly.

What do we mean by "net saving"? The legend appears to conflate saving with investment, and the brief explanation at the bottom of the chart doesn't really help. So here's some simple algebra to sort it out.

In national accounting, "saving" is the excess of income over desired consumption. For the private sector, it looks like this:

Sp = Y - T - C

where Y is the net income of the private sector from all sources, T is tax payments, and C is all other consumption.

Thus, "net savin…

Lessons from the Long Depression

A version of this post appeared on Pieria in December 2013. 
In my post “The desert of plenty”, I described a world in which goods and services are so cheap to produce that less and less capital is required for investment , and so easy to produce that less and less labour is required to produce them. Prices therefore go into freefall and there is a glut of both capital and labour. This is deflation.
There are two kinds of deflation. There is the “bad” kind, where asset prices go into a tailspin and banks and businesses fail in droves, bankrupting households and governments and resulting in massive unemployment, poverty and social collapse. America experienced this in the Great Depression and narrowly avoided it in the Great Recession. More recently, at least one European country has felt the effects of this catastrophe.
But there is also another kind. This is where falling costs and increasing efficiency of production create a glut of consumer goods and services. In other words, supp…

The desert of plenty

This post first appeared on Pieria in November 2013. 
Throughout history, humans have dreamed of plenty. They have longed for there to be abundant supplies not only of essentials, but of luxuries. The promise made to the Israelites wandering in the desert was that they would eventually come to a land “flowing with milk and honey”. And the vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation is of riches beyond imagination.
Recent forecasts of forthcoming abundance, too, have focused on the benefits. Imagine a world in which everything was so plentiful that not only the essentials of life but the luxuries, too, were free. There would be no need for money, because nothing could be bought or sold; and there would be no need to work, because there would be no need for income. And if everyone believed that such “superabundance” would last forever, then there would be no need to worry about the future – no need to save or prepare in anyway. There would be no point in deferring consumption in expectat…

Keynes and the death of capitalism

In a recent article for the New Statesman, the economics commentator Grace Blakeley makes an extraordinary claim. Writing about the origins of the IMF, she says:
Seventy-five years have passed since these international financial institutions were created in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944. Back then, delegates sought to tame the power of international finance, the growth of which helped to cause the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the ensuing Great Depression. JM Keynes – who led the British delegation – arrived at Bretton Woods with the aim of “euthanising” a financial elite he viewed as parasitic on productive economic activity. I thought that Bretton Woods was about free trade and economic cooperation, not "taming the power of international finance." But I can be wrong. So I checked it out.

According to the U.S. State Department, Bretton Woods was indeed born from the U.S.'s dreadful experience in the worldwide depression of the early 1930s. But it was not internat…