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Western politics has developed a more nationalist character in recent years. In Europe populist parties claim to champion national interest against globalisation while in the US Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have broken with the free trade consensus that has lasted since 1945.
Perhaps the most fundamental task facing economists is to measure the change in human welfare over time.
To get to a measure of spending power you need to measure incomes and prices over time. Incomes are relatively straightforward, prices less so. To gauge the changing standard of living you need to measure thousands of prices in constantly changing representative basket of goods and services.
Societies become richer by producing more goods and services from a fixed amount of labour and other inputs. The history of human material progress is the history of ever greater efficiency in production.
Since the financial crisis that process seems to have broken down. Productivity growth has slowed and, for many, wages have stagnated. Across the Western world policymakers and politicians are searching for ways of raising productivity growth.
The global recovery is entering its eighth year – sufficiently long for some commentators to suggest that we are due for another recession. That seems premature. 2017 looks likely to be another year of growth for the global economy, and at a rather faster rate than in 2016.
But this is not likely to be the year in which growth finally breaks through, returning to the heady rates seen in the decade before the financial crisis. In other words, activity is likely to remain close to the lower, so-called New Normal levels seen since 2009.
For the last Monday Briefing of 2016 we have pulled together our favourite funny news stories from the Briefing through the year. As ever credit goes to my colleague, Alex Cole, who tracks down each week’s news stories and is the indefatigable inventor of the play on words that concludes each week’s Briefing. The Monday Briefing will return in the New Year. In the meantime the Economics Team – Ian, Alex, Debo, Jemma and Anthea – send our very best wishes to you for Christmas and the New Year.
With Christmas approaching here is our seasonal offering of six thought-provoking articles to occupy the quiet time during the holidays. All are available free and on-line.
The continuing problems faced by Italian banks, some of the oldest in the world, is a reminder of Italy’s long banking history. This History Today article describes how the Italian Medici family built their banking empire in the fifteenth century; “not merely the most profitable organisation in Europe, but the richest commercial house there has been anywhere.”
Our Christmas Quiz offers an eclectic test of knowledge of economics and business. The answers, and a brief explanation of the factors at work, are at the end of this note.
- Which of the following countries is likely to show the fastest growth of the seven major industrialised nations this year?
Increasing specialisation in production has been a major driver of human welfare in modern times.
The late eighteenth century pioneer of modern economics, Adam Smith, called it the division of labour. Smith argued that splitting production into a series of tasks, each performed by a specialist, whether a worker or a company, would raise productivity and growth.
Advances in science and technology are widely seen as holding the secret to the economic success of nations. Breakthroughs in natural sciences and inventions such as the steam engine, electricity and the internet have transformed human welfare. From Archimedes to Berners-Lee, society celebrates great inventors and scientists.
It has been a torrid couple of weeks for the pound. A growing expectation that the UK is heading out, not just of the EU, but of its single market, has led to a further lurch down in the value of the pound. Against a basket of currencies sterling came close to its lowest ever level last week. Last Friday it was trading at $1.22, down 16% from pre-referendum levels.