Going round in circles

When in France, we are visited each autumn by an invasion of green scutal beetles, generally known as stink bugs, although ours don’t stink. They fly around the room like overloaded transport planes, lurk in the window frames and settle on ledges. One of their favourite tricks is to perch on the rim of a lampshade. The bulb throws a giant silhouette on to the ceiling that makes the bugs look like something from a horror movie.  Continue reading

Falling in and out of Europe

It is nearly a year since I decided to divorce The Times after decades of fidelity and embark upon a reckless fling with The Guardian. It hasn’t turned out to be as ecstatic as I had expected. Yes, there is more serious news and comment, but it comes at a price. The price is a relentless pessimism and negativity that infects the entire newspaper. Britain and the world, as presented by The Guardian, constitute a living hell. To anyone contemplating a similar migration, may I suggest that a prescription for Prozac should accompany your subscription.   Continue reading

Tomorrow never knows

From the start of the American Civil War until just before it ended, there was no doubt amongst informed opinion in Britain as to how it would end. “I suppose,” the Foreign Secretary, Earl Russell, wrote to the British Ambassador in Washington, “that the break-up of the Union is now inevitable.” The Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Gladstone, agreed. It was all but impossible, he said, that the North could win.   Continue reading

An end to liberalism

Recently, The Economist celebrated its 175th birthday. As it reminded its readers, “in September 1843 James Wilson, a hatmaker from Scotland, founded this newspaper. His purpose was simple: to champion free trade, free markets and limited government. They were the central principles of a new political philosophy to which Wilson adhered and to which The Economist has been committed ever since. That cause was liberalism.”   Continue reading

The free market and fairness

The second crisis of capitalism (part 5)

Do we support a free market?
The answer is clearly “maybe”.
We’ve nothing against the free market,
just as long as it doesn’t stay free.

That is from a poem I wrote in about 1990, satirising Labour Party policy. Neil Kinnock was trying to walk a precarious tightrope between traditional socialist policies and the new economic (and electoral) realities of the time. Now I look at the lines again, I am disconcerted to find that – far from satire – they come quite close to saying what I now believe.   Continue reading

The rich and the super-rich

The second crisis of capitalism (part 3)

In last week’s blog, I summarised research published by Thomas Piketty that showed how economic growth was increasingly being diverted into the pockets of the very rich. The result is that inequalities in wealth are now at a level, throughout the Western world, approaching those obtaining at the start of the First World War. Piketty has shown how, even at an average rate of return on investment and with taxes paid, the growth in the wealth of the wealthy will, year by year, outstrip the growth in the wealth of everyone else.   Continue reading

Why the moderate Right should listen to Piketty

The second crisis of capitalism (part 2)

I will admit to having had two expectations when I opened Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. The first was that the author was a left-wing economist, possibly a neo-Marxist, the darling of the European left, and someone with whom I was likely to disagree. The second was that I expected his book to be essentially polemical in style, long on diatribe and short on evidence.   Continue reading