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Vítor unbound

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I always find the views of former policymakers fascinating, not least because of their tendency to become much more outspoken once they are out of office. Some express much more radical views than they did while in office: Larry Summers springs to mind, and Adair Turner. Others become critical of the institutions that they ran: Mervyn King, for example.

The latest former policymaker to reveal what he really thinks is Vítor Constâncio, Vice President of the ECB from 2010 to 2018. In a fascinating lecture at the London School of Economics, he discussed the causes of the Euro crisis, the policy responses to it, and what should be done to prevent such a disaster happening again. The entire lecture is on an LSE podcast (audio only, sadly), but Vítor released four of the slides from his presentation on Twitter, with brief comments.

The slide that has attracted the most attention is this one:





Many people seem to have interpreted this as some kind of mea culpa. And the slide does appear to …

Checkmate

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With only six months left to the moment when the UK leaves the EU, the Brexit end game is upon us. If there is to be a Withdrawal Agreement at all, the Northern Ireland border problem must be solved within the next couple of weeks. But at present, both sides are well dug in and showing no inclination to budge. No-deal Brexit is looking increasingly likely.

Nonetheless, the game is still afoot. In Salzburg, the EU appeared to strike a mortal blow to Theresa May's Chequers proposal. After this, surely she had to compromise on her red lines?

Not a bit of it. Mrs. May is sticking to her Chequers proposal, apparently hoping that eventually the EU will blink. She remains, as ever, oblivious to the mortal damage that this would do to the EU as a political project.

But agreeing a deal with the EU is not Mrs. May's top priority anyway. With the Tory party conference approaching, continual rumours of a leadership challenge, and Boris trying to make himself look like Churchill-in-waitin…

Cake and cherries

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Sometimes I despair at the naivety of politicians.

Theresa May's humiliation in Salzburg was an inevitable consequence of her belief that the EU would be willing to compromise its "four freedoms" to keep her in power. To be fair, press reports since the Chequers plan have suggested that the last thing the EU wants is a change of leadership in the UK. But it was a mistake to interpret this as meaning the EU was willing to become Theresa's poodle. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The EU has said many times that the four freedoms are not up for negotiation, and proposals that tried to keep some of them while rejecting others have all been flatly rejected. Theresa's prized Chequers deal was weighed in the balance and found wanting the moment it hit Michel Barnier's desk. All the European Council did was confirm what everyone already knew.

Except our Theresa, that is, who apparently thought that "this is not going to work" meant that the EU wou…

Do you remember yesterday?

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It’s ten years since the fall of Lehman Brothers. Ten years…. but it seems much longer. I look back on the mid-2000s as if they were a past century. Those days are gone forever, and the future is increasingly dark and uncertain. How a single event can change the course of history...

“Do you remember yesterday, that was a hundred years ago?” cries Lucretia in Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia, shortly before committing suicide. Lucretia's death was the event that brought about the fall of the Tarquin dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of Rome. A fundamental re-ordering of Roman society was triggered by a single act of betrayal. Tarquinius raped the wife of one of his senior generals. She committed suicide. Appalled, the Roman army overthrew him. No doubt Tarquinius had raped many other women. But Lucretia was a noblewoman and the wife of a loyal supporter. It was too much.

History is scattered with similar triggers for earth-shattering political changes. The…

Patrick Minford's holidays

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Skewering Patrick Minford has become something of an economists' bloodsport. I admit, I have done my fair share of Minford-bashing, though I do try to stay away from trade economics. Others are much better at lampooning Minford's antediluvian approach to trade economics than me.

But when Minford starts pontificating on the effect of currency movements on the balance of trade, I can't resist getting out the shotgun. Minford is appallingly bad on anything that involves foreign exchange. He just doesn't seem to understand how floating exchange rates interact with trade dynamics and capital flows. So it is unsurprising that his latest venture into this complex subject is as disastrous as the last.

Here is Minford, in the Express, talking about Brits and their holidays:
The mood of British consumers is good, reflecting the fact that the economy continues to grow and create record employment.

A staycation is best because of the Brexit devaluation, which makes British holida…

Job guarantees for the disabled

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It took me a while, but it has finally dawned on me why job guarantees might be very popular in the U.S., even among the sick and disabled. The clue is in this response to a tweet from Nathan Tankus:
It's not just a problem for the technically disabled. Health issues are the #1 reason why people miss work and lose jobs. Many are too weak or previously injured or old before their time. Until Medicare for all, JG with benefits would be a fantastic lift for many. — Bob Spencer (@binhkhe) August 24, 2018 Here in the U.K., access to healthcare is not dependent on being gainfully employed. But in America, it is. If you aren't working, your access to healthcare can be very limited. Thus, sick and disabled people who are unable to work can lose access to healthcare. The very people who need it most are denied it.

But there is a fatal flaw in the notion that a job guarantee could compensate for lack of universal healthcare, even temporarily. No job guarantee scheme can possibly ensur…

Life after death

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Last Friday, I watched my father die.

It was the first time I had witnessed death in a human being, though I have seen it in animals. I will never forget what it looked like. The pallor of death is quite different from paleness due to shock or illness. Even before death arrives, the blood drains away from the face as if bleached, leaving behind something more like wax than human flesh.

Right up to the end, I knew he could hear. He tried to open his eyes when I spoke to him. He knew that my brother and I were there. I don't know if he was in pain, but his breathing was distressed, so I asked the palliative care nurse to give him morphine. Perhaps the morphine stopped him fighting the process of death. He died shortly afterwards.

I have sung about death many times: in the classical song repertoire, death is almost as ubiquitous as love. And I have read many, many words about death. But nothing prepared me for this. So many of our ways of describing death are euphemistic. Perhaps…