The Political Economy of Brexit; London Will Adapt.

Everyone is trying to second guess the negotiating strategy of Theresa May, and how the EU will respond. No country should be more concerned about this than Ireland, the only EU country to share a border with the UK. Next week, the Irish government will host an all Ireland civic dialogue.  Political economy considerations have never been more important.

In hindsight Brexit might be conceived as a long-term inevitability, which can be traced back to the structural fault-lines of EU enlargement, and the free movement of peoples into Europe’s largest ‘open’ labour market. Helen Thompson, a professor at Cambridge has suggested as such:

  1. The euro crisis politicized the city of London, which became the default offshore finance centre for euro clearing.
  2. EU enlargement, and then the euro crisis, turned Britain into Europe’s employer of last resort, turning it into an offshore labour market.
  3. This spurred and politicised a latent immigration concern within large swathes of public opinion, and the electorate.
  4. Very quickly, the euro crisis, and the response to it, not least the Fiscal Compact Treaty, exposed the future of Europe as a two tier Union: between the Euro area, and the rest of the EU.
  5. The balance of power (i.e. the rise of Germany) changed and weakened Britain, who were increasingly “outside” the EU process, despite being the employer of last resort for the euro area.

In terms of the political economy of Brexit, the biggest risks don’t really pertain to the city of London (who’s core priority will be to allow some sort of system for the free movement of workers within their sector). The city’s strengths, paradoxically, make it a source of weakness. The Conservative government are confident London’s financial service based economy will adapt. This is much less the case with medium-tech trade and manufacturing (think Nissan and car manufacturing).

For all sectors of Britain’s political economy, a Norway style deal is probably preferable (European Economic Area). Theresa May, and political elites, are not likely to push for this, as it implies complete free movement, and won’t wash electorally. However, Theresa May will want access to tariff free trade, primarily to ensure that the North of England is not badly effected, and that firms such as Nissan in Sunderland don’t pull out and move to Spain. Manufacturing has more to lose than Finance.

This implies that Theresa May will push for a customs union – tariff free – allowing imports for British based manufacturing supply chains. The question then is whether it is a customs union for everything? Theresa May could opt out of agriculture, and then use this as a bargaining card in negotiating other international trade deals, outside the EU.

The question of free movement will be determined by how Teresa May considers Ireland. If she gives priority to maintaining free movement within Ireland (north and south), which I think she will, then this implies there will be no visa controls at the British borders. Hence, it is probable that Theresa May will aim to get a series of sectoral deals – and allow for the free movement of people within sectors, particularly ICT and Finance. This is what ultimately matters for the city of London.

Those most affected within the City of London will be legal services. British lawyers, who predominately rent off the finance sector, will no longer have a hearing on mergers and acquisitions within EU law. But I can’t see Theresa May negotiating a strategy to ensure British lawyers have access to EU courts. What she will want to ensure, on behalf of business and finance elites, is that the city remains a magnet for high-skilled talent. This could be achieved with sectoral deals.

Britain’s main bargaining card is that their consumption-oriented economy, and open labour market, in addition to a high-tech cluster in London, has carried the employment burden of the Eurozone’s labour market woes, in addition to absorbing so much labour from central and eastern Europe. Germany has done little, if anything, to increase domestic demand, to compensate this. So it’s worth asking, absent the liberal-oriented British economy, where will unemployed EU workers go?

 

A dynamic model of financial balances for the United Kingdom

[Attention conservation notice: Rampant self-promotion]

Irish economy readers might be interested in this work. Together with colleagues at the Bank of England we’ve built a model of financial balances for the United Kingdom. The basic question we’re trying to answer is: how can large open economies deal with persistent imbalances now and into the future? This is the first model of its kind for the UK and something we hope to build on in the future. We summarise the findings in this Bank Underground blog.

 

Supply Curves Explained

Numberless ‘experts’ have misunderstood the government’s mortgage deposit subsidy. It’s all about the supply elasticity, as Michael Noonan helpfully explained to the Irish Examiner on Tuesday.

“The economists are saying we should have concentrated on the supply side. When there’s a demand for something, it leads to increased supply. If we can give deposits to people there will be an increased supply. The [building] industry will move to supply the extra demand.

To give you an example: When it was done previously, the first [car] scrappage scheme was introduced by Ruairi Quinn back in the 1990s. The theory then was the motor-car business was on the flat of its back — no cars being sold. So, with the scrappage scheme, people were given money and that money expressed itself in demand for new cars and a lot of new cars were sold. So, when there is demand backed by cash, supply responds and that’s the theory of it.”

So you whistle up some guy in Germany and he ships over 100,000 houses, at yesterday’s price.

Why didn’t I think of this ? Does Philip Lane read the Examiner?

The Nobel Factor

Tomorrow we will know the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. This is not a ‘true’ Nobel, coming some 50 years after Alfred Nobel established the original prizes in physics, medicine, chemistry, literature, and peace. The Swedish Central Bank established the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in the late 1960s as a way to counter what it saw as the virulent spread of social democracy across Nordic countries in particular.

The Nobel Factor, a new book by Avner Offer and Gabriel Söderberg, traces the development of the Nobel Prize in economics, which grants authority and ‘Nobel magic’ to economics above other social sciences, and ensures laureates are listened to on every subject. Economics itself is seen as being more scientific, more worthy of the ears of the powerful, as a result of the Nobel prize. The impact of neoclassical economics, the dominant form of economics which emphasises market based interactions above all others on policy makers through teaching and research, is assured because of the Nobel prize.

Offer and Söderberg begin their book with what may well be the best combined explanation, intellectual history, and critique of neoclassical economics and its policy variants I’ve ever read. From there we have a discussion of the social and economic context for the creation of the prize in economic sciences, and an extended discussion of the conflict between free market and social democratic values in the Nordic states in particular. There’s a really interesting series of chapters tracing the evolution of European politics and the individual awards and their subject areas. There’s a great chapter focusing on Assar Lindbeck, a forceful personality and someone who shaped the Prize. 

The story gets a little more complicated once the Prize itself evolves, because it’s not a simple case of rewarding only those who espouse ‘markets are great’ approaches, like Friedman and Hayek. For example in Chapter 7, we learn a lot about empiricists, experimentalists, econometricians and behaviouralists who won the Prize because of their rejection of equilibrium approaches to economics. In Chapter 10, the failure of economics to understand, model, or respond to the growing threats posed by unfettered global capital markets gets a very thorough treatment.

Overall I found the book riveting in that it is written in a deep and scholarly way. I buy the ‘Social Democracy vs Markets’ argument about the genesis of the economics Nobel in the 1960s, but I’m not sure the evolution of the Prize is as clear cut as it could be, after awards to people like Oliver Williamson and Lin Ostrom and Vernon Smith.

The book concludes on a hopeful note. The authors write on page 278:

“To recapture validity, economics has to come down to the ground of argument, evidence, and counterargument, supported by reason and an open mind. In the quest for valid knowledge, for those of Enlightenment disposition, it is well to ignore black boxes, the magic of prizes, and the lure of immutable laws”.

I couldn’t agree more. As intellectual, social, and political history, the Nobel Factor is well worth your time getting stuck into.

My wish for tomorrow’s Prize: Duncan Foley for his work on Public Goods and General Equilibrium, and Charles Manski for his work on just about everything else.

The box below should display the Nobel citation tomorrow around lunchtime.