Hand waving

The regular reader will have quickly realised that this post will be about economics – a discipline usually considered by mathematicians to be little better than hand waving (but given the state of the economy and the attempts at improvement this may be better equated with drowning).

I revealed that the somewhat maligned play, If you don’t let us dream etc, had made me think and this post is the fruit of that thinking made flesh. I should point out that I have not yet read the book on economics I purchased and the delay in producing this post does not indicate mature reflection – just a backlog (backblog?) of posts to send out into the aether.

The play made reference to Sovereign debt, in particular that of Ecuador (which probably doesn’t count as it as achieved at altitude), and who should be responsible for it. This made me think of the case of the oppressive, kleptocratic regimes which are all too common in the world today. When a people finally manage to dispose of such a poisonous form of governance – whether by revolution or a combination of patience and the ageing process – they are often left with huge debts run up by their former oppressors. It does seem, to me at least, somewhat iniquitous to expect them to spend the following decades (or longer) repaying those who helped to fund the rape and oppression of their country and its people. Rather, I might expect them to be entitled to significant compensation from these same financiers who had assisted their erstwhile rulers in their murderous rapine. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case in international law – if it were, I should imagine there would be some truly massive shifts in funds between the developed and developing world and quite possibly new impetus to responsible lending and good governance the world over. Somehow I can’t see vested interests letting this happen, but I would love to see at least one country sue those who funded their oppressors for damages (and win, obviously).

Following this thought, I went on to ponder states rather closer to home and that are nominally democratic and so govern for the benefit of a slightly larger share of their citizens. Even in such states, I do have to wonder what benefit some of the spending in our name gives to the citizenry at large – how exactly do we benefit from Trident or its replacement (for example)? It enables our political masters to feel important on the world stage but does seem an awfully expensive way to massage their delicate little egos – surely counselling to enable them to come to terms with the UK’s diminished importance since the glory days of the 1890s would be cheaper? I can’t help feeling that with a few more lasses in parliament, we wouldn’t be wasting quite so much money on dick-swinging – but I am digressing (hard to believe, I know).

The big complaint here is the cost of “bailing out the bankers” who seem to have been holed below the water line. This was not debt run up by the State, but by commercial entities operating within the State (though probably not paying much in the way of tax to it). Their size and embedded nature meant that government felt obliged to fund their debts, i.e. the State was providing an implicit corporate guarantee to the Banks. I say, let’s make it explicit! The provision of corporate guarantees (or irrevocable letters of credit) to stand behind a corporate entity is a normal part of “the market” – and can attract very significant fees, especially if the entity in question is indulging in risky business. I say we charge the Banks for the guarantees that the State is offering them at the going market rate. Clearly, we can’t trust the existing rating agencies to measure risk as they only seem to recognise the patient is sick some months after the corpse has been buried ‘neath the clay – but there are a fair few States with the issue, so funding an independent agency should be feasible (we can probably fund it from the guarantee fees anyway). Banks can either choose to pay for a guarantee or they can survive on their own, but in such circumstances they may be restricted from taking deposits from the retail and smaller commercial side of the business (or if they can, such investors would have to be made aware that their investment was highly risky – as should already be the case for existing high-risk investments). The “market” can then decide how much demand there is for very risky banks and how much for their safer brethren. Banks that want to attract investment from the more risk-averse would pay for the sovereign guarantee and manage their business accordingly. Any future bail-outs should have already been funded and the State will not end-up trying to run troubled Banks, plus the country will have made a nice income to pay for less sexy items like libraries, decent support for the disabled and the Arts.

Hey, this is turning into a manifesto – albeit a rather unachievable one if I only control a single nation state, I think I need to be aiming for world domination (or at least a decent chunk thereof). Does anyone know of a hollow volcano (preferably extinct) coming up for sale (I would consider a long-term rental) in the near term?

A stage I’m going through…

As I set hands to keyboard, I see it is a good six weeks since I last posted.  Well, ‘good’ if you view the arrival of a new post from GofaDM in much the same way as a zebra greets the tender, watery embrace of a peckish crocodile.

This period of neglect follows a rather heavy period of work (something the regular reader will know that I usually try to avoid) which has left me with little time or energy to render my musings in electronic type.  Despite, or perhaps as a result of, this lack of new material visitors continue to come to my shop door and this has shamed me into returning to my laptop.  I also have whole heaps of plans for posts, s many that they are now keeping me awake at night and the only way to exorcise them is to send them out into the unfeeling world (or at least the only way I am currently going to try).

In a, probably vain, attempt to retain my somewhat tenuous grasp on sanity I have been turning to the Arts over these difficult early weeks of 2013.  Little do the philistines in charge of this country’s purse-strings realise what a vital role the Arts play in the continued economic viability of the UK (or at least in my part thereof).  Still, on the basis that most government policy is decided on the basis of anecdotes – at best (certainly evidence seems to be largely ignored)  – I hope this may have a salutary effect on future funding.  Whilst books, music, comedy, television and cinema are all important – the main plank of my strategy to keep the “men in white coats” (with their vans with such nicely tinted windows) from my door has been the theatre.  This would have astounded the me of little more than 18 months ago who had barely been in a theatre for more than a decade.  It would seem that the theatre is rather more addictive than is generally realised – maybe it’s the smell of the grease paint?

My theatre-going began with classics from ages past – and this continues.  Among these classics, I’ve seen two plays this year (both farces) by Arthur Wing Pinero, a character I had previously assumed was a fictional creation from the late night Radio 4 show Date with Fate hosted by the splendid voice of Charles Gray in the guise of AWP.  Turns out he (AWP not CG)  was also a real playwright of the late nineteenth century and despite choosing The Magistrate on the basis of a complete misunderstanding, it was a scream and on the strength of this example I went on to see Trelawney of the Wells at the Donmar Warehouse last week.  This was also good fun – though less farcical, but with more heart – and the interval ice cream whilst on the expensive side was rather larger than the usual theatre fare.  Interval snack mention: tick.

However, the most exciting theatre I’ve seen has been new (or at least recent) writing.  This often also has the benefit of being staged in smaller, more intimate venues.  I have come to realise that I am much more willing to take a chance on a play that may be outside my traditional “comfort zone” than I am with a film or a TV programme – rather an odd choice to make from a cost perspective as I’m taking chances with the most expensive option, but so far it has worked really well.  Most of my choices have proven to be both entertaining and thought-provoking.  Many I’ve chosen on the basis of proper, broadsheet reviews (which give me some idea of what I’m going to see) but some, as this past weekend, on much flimsier criteria.

My first was selected on the basis of a single actor (though it later transpired to include Meera Syal as well, so two actors).  The actor in question, Damian Molony, I think is quite excellent as Hal in Being Human and was also great in Travelling Light at the National last year.  However, more important than his acting chops was the fact that he is the man who introduced me, via the medium of Twitter, to 10 Greek Street – so I owed him one and the least I could go was go and see his latest play in partial recompense.  This play, if you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep has the longest title of anything I’ve seen and was the most overtly political.  It has received mixed reviews – the Torygraph particularly took against it – but I found it darkly entertaining, if occasionally uncomfortable, and the most thought-provoking thing I’ve seen yet.  Criticism seem to fall into two camps: either that it would not be suitable as an undergraduate economics course (though something that was suitable would have made very poor theatre in the absence of a truly remarkable lecturer) or that it lacked character development.  This later would have been tricky to fix with more than 20 characters played by 8 actors across a mere 75 minutes.  I’d say it was highly successful at achieving the author’s aims in a very buttock and bladder friendly period of time.  The acting was also first rate and, as it turned out, I recognised fully half of the cast.  So successful was it that I went out and bought a book (from a flesh-and-blood bookshop) on economics directly afterwards – not something I ever saw myself doing.  I should perhaps note the stirling work of Tim Harford on More or Less and John Kay on a Point of View (both on BBC Radio 4) in rehabilitating the whole field of economics for me in the period prior to Saturday’s play and book purchase.  Expect the standard of economic discourse on GofaDM to improve markedly in the weeks to come (well, I say ‘expect’ but perhaps that may be building expectations too high , only time will tell).

Saturday’s second play was in the basement of the Hampstead Theatre which meant I visited Swiss Cottage tube station which is quite lovely (I’d recommend a visit), largely as it appears rather less “improved” than many of its brethren.  Another play with a long title, I know how I feel about Eve, this time chosen on the basis of a tweet by the stand-up comic Rob Rouse.  By the way, I have been to new plays with shorter titles – the previous week I went to see Port at the National (nothing to do with the delicious drink from Iberia, bur rather a reference to Stockport) which was also very good.  ikhIfaE was excellent, despite a subject matter I probably wouldn’t have chosen with greater advanced information, and in shades of the first (and best, for my money) of the latest series of Black Mirror raised interesting questions about the nature of identity when trying to replace the dead.  Again, in and out in a very reasonable 70 minutes – I find I’m rather liking these tighter plays, even though you do miss out on the interval ice cream.

Whilst I now find myself starting to becoming twitchy if I haven’t been to the theatre for more than a few days, even at my current (accelerating?) rate of consumption I cannot keep new (and old) British theatre going alone.  So, can I urge all GofaDM readers to make the effort to visit the theatre – it need not be that expensive (oddly new theatre is often cheaper than old, despite the works being stubbornly within copyright) – and they could use the money (as to be honest can the Arts more generally).  Why not try something new or just different to your normal fare?  It has certainly worked for me!  If it affects you as it has me, we can form a new take on AA – Audience Anonymous – to try and manage our condition (something Hal would certainly understand).