Corporate activity in The Monday Briefing
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Economists of all stripes would agree that investment and the application of technology drive economic activity. For decades governments around the world have made strenuous efforts to encourage investment and new technologies. Last year this orthodoxy came under fire from an unexpected source.
In an interview with Quartz Bill Gates made the case for taxing robots at the same rate as human workers: “Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, social security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”
This is a radical idea, the more so coming from someone whose fabulous wealth came from Windows, a technology which transformed the nature of work. So what is the rationale for introducing a robot tax now?
The summer months tend to be pretty thin for media coverage of economics and finance. Like the rest of us, journalists take their holidays in July and August. Yet economics is no respecter of holidays and events and data have continued to pile up.
Emerging market economies have been the main losers from US protectionism and higher US interest rates.
Capital has flooded out of emerging economies to the US to benefit from rising interest rates. This has meant less liquidity and has sent some emerging economy currencies through the floor. Emerging market governments or businesses which borrowed in dollars, and many have, are having to cope with rising financing costs and a heavier local currency debt burden.
The imposition of tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium by the Trump administration in March has sparked a cycle of retaliatory tariffs. This is a serious outbreak of protectionism, one that is already acting as a drag on growth. Yet the global trading system is in rather better shape than it looks. This week’s Briefing explains why.
First, the bad news.
Britain’s recent record on growing productivity and wages has been lacklustre. In the UK GDP per hour worked, the main measure of productivity, has risen by just 2.2% since 2010, less than a third the rate seen in Germany.
The second quarter Deloitte survey of UK Chief Financial Officers released today reveals growing concerns about Brexit and a marked shift towards more defensive balance sheet strategies.
UK activity has softened since the vote to leave the EU. The UK slowdown has been pronounced, though less severe than widely predicted on the eve of the referendum, and has left the UK slowing into a global recovery.
I don’t recall a time when there has been so much interest and anxiety about the effects of new technology on jobs. Last week I took part in a panel discussion at the House of Commons on the future of work. These are the ideas I tried to convey.
A week ago, we seemed to be on the verge of a second euro crisis with a populist mood threatening to sweep Italy out of the single currency. By the end of the week a coalition government was in place, the markets had cheered up and the newspapers were worrying about other things.
The changing size of the state tells the story of modern nations and the ideas that shape them.
Until the late nineteenth century the civilian state scarcely existed. In 1692, when comprehensive records for what was to become the UK started, civil spending by government came to a modern equivalent of around £90 million. A country that was about to acquire a vast empire was governed with a budget equivalent to that of today’s Food Standards Agency.