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25 april 2012, the dreaded double dip

People get terribly hung up on definitions, and so it was today when the uk dipped back into "recession". In fact, whether or not the national economy has momentarily dipped below an arbitrary line or not is far less important than people's reaction to it, which is fanned by the near-hysterical reaction of a round-the-clock and all-pervasive mass media desperate for screaming headlines to send traffic to websites (15 august 2011). It is a vicious circle: recovery seeming further away means less hiring, more firing, less investment and less spending, all of which acts as a further break on economic activity, making recovery further away. I was on the radio talking about all this today (7 minutes in). It may yet last another quarter or two, given the above and the diamond jubilee, but the zig will zag back in due course, which will probably be the pattern for the uk economy for many years, hugging a narrow band close to zero growth, as we get through the great deleveraging (24 november 2011) that is as inevitable as it will be painful.

21 april 2012, will they back down ?

I've long held that reducing greenhouse gas emissions (or coe two as the kids call it) may well be the right thing to do, but we shouldn't pretend it would be cheap, wouldn't work against economic growth, and would not involve drastic change in our western lifestyle. The best illustration of the latter is air travel, which for my grandparents was a once in a decade expense, for my parents biannual at most, but between me and my two siblings never a month goes by when one of us isn't airborne, often at a cost of less than a train. The eu has long tried to lead the world on changing the pricing of coe two (5 january 2012), but its efforts have seemed doomed since the new world order made its debut at copenhagen (a great entry, of 28 november 2010), which failed to deliver a mandatory global framework. This means europe runs the real risk of business simply shifting outside its borders to avoid higher costs; not a policy to be adopted lightly in hard economic times. Yet, it is still going on planes, which have now been brought within the groundbreaking emissions trading scheme (20 july 2011), adding perhaps two euros cost to a flight. Airlines are not happy, both european ones and others, the chinese threatening to cancel billions worth of airbus orders. Europe though is doing the right thing, as was recently recognised by five nobel economic laureates, who correctly diagnosed the political problem as starting in washington, where far from obama's election representing "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow, and our planet began to heal", things carried on much as they did under george bush the climate change denier. "Because emissions are not priced" they wrote "the world is wastefully using up a scarce resource, the earth's ability to safely absorb greenhouse gas emissions". Good economics, good policy, good for the long-term and those that come after us; bad short-term politics. Let's see what wins out.

14 april 2012, a quick one

Grand national day today (see 10 april 2011) and much to do, as the sun shines and I complete my study's annual move back into the conservatory, having been exiled in the dining room for a few months. Work has piled up, both at home and from the office, and the kids of course let me do none, as the demands of lego and cycling top the bill for the weekend. There's also those now more than one hundred emails I'd like to reply to, and some of the organisation of a forthcoming weekend and, and, and. And we're in london two of the next three weekends: one for a wedding (without kids) and one to see my sister and family (definitely with). It's raining now, lego calls, and I think I'm expected to make lunch, as my other half is near her photo exhibition (which needs crowdfunding) and has a million things to do; about a million less than me then. Just had a grand ten-day break, so can't really complain, but all work and no play makes baron a dull boy... Postscript: we won ! My younger picked the same horse as I randomly drew at the office sweepstake - and it sneaked home in an exciting photo finish, and so we went out to celebrate, with breadsticks, pasta, bread...

6 april 2012, still crazy after all these years

I was so struck by bosnia, by such carnage, in such sophistication, in the middle of europe. And so very close to me, across the hungarian border whose capital I was living in at the time (see 26 may 2011). Still today, I can't work out the degree to which it was caused by religion, and how much religion was pressed to the cause. In a city known across the continent for its tolerant, secular population, neighbours seemingly suddenly drew lines in the road they literally defended with their lives. To see first world war trenches, holocaust imagery, african child soldiers, israelis in uniform, all somehow speaks of war to my particular cultural programming, but to see men shooting out of the windows of well to do houses, with family photographs on the walls, somehow seems stranger and that it ought to have been easier to stop it happening. I do remember seeing the serbian soldiers start shelling sarajevo from the very spot where just a few years before the winter olympics has been taking place. All war is madness, but this seemed especially so. After a traditionalish religious childhood, and an early adulthood much less so, the wheel has begun to turn again as our kids make their way through school, and as a family we have welcomed the culture into our lives, although on our own terms. As an arch modernist and secularist, it is a strange internal discourse, and sometimes uncomfortable for someone so usually sure in their views. Not an unpleasant situation though, on the contrary on days like today as we prepare for our seder, amongst my very strongest and best childhood memories. I am making more for my own children, and I am strangely and incredibly happy about that.

5 april 2012, patient capital

I've just returned from a short break in budapest, mainly to see my other half's family, but also because I love the place I've twice lived in and will at some point make a hat trick. This time, we left the kids with their grandfather and stayed at the flat of a friend that now lives in strasbourg (12 february 2011). Her flat though has been transformed into an aladdin's cave, with thousands of books lining every surface and piled to the ceiling. She started her small firm - csimota - about a decade ago and it has blossomed amazingly both into a hugely diverse and original cultural force, and also, it would seem, a social and entrepreneurial success. I could not be happier that someone I like so very much, doing something I think of as so important, has done so very well. While we were away (as well as my old mp, george galloway rather sensationally winning a by-election), big society capital was launched, to help a thousand flowers exactly like csimota bloom. It is riddled with people I half know, like stephen bubb (4 october 2011) and ronald cohen, and who ought to be able to make a great go of it. I'm immensely enthusiastic about social investment as an efficient use of capital and have been an eager advocate for some time of using it more systematically in my part of the world, something which this week has only made me even more determined to pull together.

24 march 2012, bank on it

I often correct people who think that I worked in a bank, that actually I worked in a central bank. Even more different is the world bank, whose new president looks like being jim yong kim, a south korean born american academic, and an astute pick by obama. Of the bretton woods twins, I have a very much closer association with the imf. However, it's actually the world bank I have probably been more interested in, from my period at the united nations and my ongoing interest in development and human rights, which has in these last years taken a back seat to my family and my work. Whilst it is the imf that has the main role to play in squaring the macroeconomic circle, it is the world bank that needs to pick up the human pieces of poverty, inequality and recession, which is what makes the asian health specialist a sensible shift. There is no shortage of work for the "bank" to do: two in five females are aborted due to preference for a son, a sixth of girls die in early childhood, more than a third of women die in their reproductive period and 4 million a year go missing. 10, 000 staff cover more than 124 countries, so this is no small outfit, and a hugely important one in the world of development, providing the link as it does to money and global governance. The bretton woods institutions were founded to rebuild the shattered world of 1945, to ensure international economic cooperation so that the eventual results of the depression, fascism and war, did not come about again. The design, mainly of british economist john maynard keynes (to plan b or not to b), has proved a durable one. In today's circumstances, it still has a big job to do.

17 march 2012, ice to have

Although pretty much every week in the local press, I am not so often in the economist, the last time but one being about iceland. I used the bankrupt european outpost as an allegory to the uk to wax lyrical about the inevitability of it losing its own currency and eventually joining the euro (ditching the krona - is sterling next ?). Now, it looks that while the first of those presumptions may hold true, the second may not, as so bad is the euro's reputation at the moment, iceland may instead adopt the canadian dollar. This is not quite as mad as it seems (and indeed mirrors a newt gingrich proposal for the uk to join nafta) because trade flows exist, and the loonie can be unilaterally adopted, unlike the euro where iceland would first have to join the eu, with its despised-in-iceland common fisheries policy. Things will come to a head early next year with a referendum on eu membership. I am usually an optimist on such things, but although I think the eu's long term future is safe and indeed strong, it is clearly not looking quite so to many at the moment - and the euro, its strongest element and the big draw for iceland - looks weak. Thus, it may well be outweighed by the generational national survival issue of fish. As I doubt it though, perhaps it will happen...

10 march 2012, here we go again

In 1996, while I was living there, israel assassinated yechiel 'the bombmaker' ayyash in gaza. It was supposedly in retaliation for his work developing palestinian suicide bombings. Of course as night follows day it led to a whole new spate of such bombs, several of which I was caught up with on the streets of tel aviv. Israelis do panic and pandemonium in a pretty orderly way, and looking back now it's amazing how quickly you learn to live with the fact that the bus you're about to get on might well explode. I recall one friend on such a bus. 30-odd people were killed, but as he was sat at the back, he walked away with cuts and bruises - and an exemption from his army service. Still today though, words like extradition and due process aren't quite translated accurately into hebrew. Ayyash was tracked and killed when his friend was tricked into giving him a mobile phone, which promptly exploded. No such ingenuity with the assassination of zohair al-qaisi yesterday. And the palestinians don't have the means to carry out suicide attacks these days, resorting instead to sporadic rocket fire. This inevitably brings israeli retaliation, and so the whole cycle gets going again, until someone pretends to try and get the peace process going again. This will never happen until israel comes to terms with the need to speak to those it thinks are its enemies, primarily today hamas. You don't need to make peace with your friends. There's no sign whatsoever of that happening though, nor of anyone making them do so. That the agenda of the israeli prime minister's recent visit to washington was dominated by iran was a triumph. Notably absent was any pressure to move anything forward on "the palestinian track". They are in a more hopeless situation now than they were then, as is any occasional optimism (8 september 2011, 30 april 2011)

7 march 2012, any which wei

With excuses for a rare lapse into the day job, but we were everywhere yesterday. Amongst other things I was having afternoon tea in the house of lords with lord nat wei, but meanwhile our economic advisory panel were putting the finishing touches to a greater manchester "growth plan", that the chair, jim o'neill (14 january 2010), was talking about on bbc radio 4's "pm" programme (21:30). It's being launched next week with a good quorum of ministers in attendance led by danny alexander. Meanwhile, over in the south of france, our high-powered delegation were wooing global developers and investors at the legendary "mipim" propertyfest, well covered in the press, especially the "appliance of science" material based on graphene, already well covered, including in the times. Our monthly economic dashboard was also widely covered locally. We published an excellent study, and best of all that helped manchester get blanket coverage in the financial times, no mean feat. Got home late but feeling very upbeat about these things.

Attached File: Times_graphene.pdf

4 march 2012, euthymol-ient

As a family, we have conservative tastes in toothpaste. My other half, who has a homeopathic side, eventually found a perfect one for our kids, when they were young in germany, and so when we left we brought a year's supply with us. We picked up the same when travelling there a year later, giving us the excellent tale to tell of travelling to germany to shop for toothpaste; rather spoilt when we found it in a health shop in bramhall a few miles down the road. A year later though, crunch time, and failed internet shopping coupled with the acceptance that by now we should probably be using fluoride, helped bring in a second choice but accepted alternative, to be found at the local supermarket. I was frequently heard saying that my grandpa (23 january 2012) cleaned his teeth with a bit of salt and they were perfect until the day he died; that though was before everything that passes our lips had sugar in it. The adult half of the family are not picky at all. However, in the search for an acceptable youngster alternative, I did at one point buy euthymol, attracted by the beautiful art nouveau styling of its packaging, and its promise of distinctive flavour. That it was, resembling nothing more than germolene, another quirky english product my other half hates. However, I rather liked it. That helped with the imperative to practice what I preach, and not simply throw it away. Instead, I am determined to finish it, using it only in the mornings, moments before I leave for work. Though just a tiny boost to my conscience, and a smaller one to our household finances, I'll take these positives anywhere I can get them. It's worth it.

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