#141: England’s Glory or ship of fools?


There used to be – and, as far as I know, still is – a brand of matches called England’s Glory, sold in iconic boxes featuring the battleship HMS Devastation. If tasked with updating that artwork, one could hardly do better than a rowing-boat full of squabbling fools.

There is, of course, no situation that can’t be made worse by a politicians’ witches’ brew of ambition and obstinacy. But the shambles now being inflicted on the British public is something new in the realms of idiocy.

I don’t intend, here, to go into the merits or otherwise of the voters’ “Brexit” decision itself, though readers are, of course, welcome to debate it. As for the political machinations at Westminster, it need only be remarked that the current imbroglio is consistent with a process that has been bungled right from the start.

What I think we can do here, though, is set out the purely economic context from the standpoint of surplus energy economics (SEE).

If you understand SEE – an interpretation of the economy summarised here – then you’ll know that prosperity in the United Kingdom has been deteriorating since 2003. Though this deterioration is by no means unique to Britain, it’s been more severe there than in most other countries. Properly understood, eroding prosperity has been as instrumental in the “Brexit” process as it has been in the election of Donald Trump, the handing of power to an insurgent (aka “populist”) coalition in Italy, and the elevation, and subsequent travails, of Emmanuel Macron in France.

And this, really, is the critical point. Policymakers right across the Western world simply don’t understand that prosperity is heading downwards. Because they (and their advisors, and most of the commentariat) remain wedded to conventional economic interpretations, they really believe that people are getting better off. In the British instance, they’re convinced that an increase of £3,220 (11.6%) in GDP per capita since 2003 means that people are prospering.

If you believe this, you can’t even begin understand what people in Britain – or, for that matter, in America, Italy or France – have got to complain about. Blind to the economic causes of discontent, politicians tend to fall back on more arcane explanations, many of which seek to pin the blame on unscrupulous “populist” politicians.

Where Britain is concerned, reported GDP increased by £390bn (24%) between 2003 and 2017. Unfortunately, this was accompanied by a £2 trillion (63%) increase in debt. This means that £5.19 was borrowed for each £1 of incremental GDP. It also means that, whilst GDP has grown by between 1.5% and 2% each year, debt has been added at rates of close to 10% of GDP annually.

Fundamentally, it means that most of the “growth” supposedly achieved since 2003 has been nothing more than the simple spending of borrowed money. If, for any reason, Britain lost the ability to carry on adding to its debt in this way, trend growth would fall to somewhere around 0.3%, a number lower than the rate at which population numbers are growing. If ever it became necessary to deleverage, then most of the “growth” of recent years would go into reverse. Anyone questioning this interpretation need only ask himself or herself one question – ‘what kind of economy needs to price credit at rates lower than inflation?

The reason why financial adventurism has been adopted to create a simulacrum of “growth” is that the energy dynamic has turned negative. According to SEEDS (the Surplus Energy Economics Data System), Britain’s trend energy cost of energy (ECoE) has risen from 3.4% in 2003 to 9.2% now. The latter number is a growth-killer. This has been worse than the global increase (from 4.5% to 8.0%) over the same period, which is one of the main reasons why prosperity has fallen more rapidly in Britain than in most other countries. Part of the differential has been the unlucky timing of the maturing of the UK North Sea oil and gas province. But this has been exacerbated by energy policy, nowhere more obviously than in protracted vacillation over replacement nuclear capacity.

According to SEEDS, personal prosperity in the United Kingdom had, by 2017 (£22,050) fallen by £2,490 (10.2%) since 2003 (at 2017 values, £24,540). Moreover, each person now has 47% more debt than he or she had back in 2003.

The political logic here is that, by the time of the referendum in 2016, prosperity had fallen by more than enough to swing the “Brexit” vote against the perceived preference of “the establishment”. Politicians completely failed to understand this trend, and probably wouldn’t have called the referendum at all if they’d been better informed.

Once this essentially economic dimension is understood, what follows is pure tragi-comedy. The Conservatives chose, in succession to David Cameron, to put in charge of the “Brexit” process a leader who believed that the voters’ decision was the wrong one. Still unaware of the deterioration in prosperity, Mrs May called a general election, seemingly believing (along with the ‘experts’) that this would give her a Commons majority of well over 100, when the outcome was that she lost even the slender majority inherited from Mr Cameron. Meanwhile, the EU side opted to posture on a claim that they held all the high cards, and Mrs May and her officials fell for this line, going to Brussels as a supplicant, and so, necessarily, returning with an agreement so flawed that it had no real chance of Parliamentary acceptance.

What the British electorate are watching now is a culminating shambles. Having lost a referendum they expected to win, and been battered in an election they expected to be a triumph, Conservatives have opted now to challenge a leader who, because of her stance on “Brexit”, they should never have chosen in the first place. This has happened at the worst possible time, between the cup of a botched agreement with the EU and the lip of a departure date at the end of March. Some think that the leadership challenge process can be compressed, and it’s probably fair to say that one might as well make a mess of things in three weeks as in six.

Where this leaves the public is with a political class which doesn’t understand the fundamental issues around prosperity, and really believes that either ‘liberal’ or collectivist economic orthodoxy can restore “growth”. It seems hardly necessary to add that a ship of fools remains foolish, whether or not the captain is thrown overboard.

= = = = = = = = = =

Germany vs EA7

Prosp per capita DE EA7 UK

131 thoughts on “#141: England’s Glory or ship of fools?

  1. Lovely piece Tim. You’ll know that it’s pointless me trying to spread your word to certain publications because the readers are in such a fury over Brexit that they cannot see the very serious problems we face

    The same goes for my MP who just kicks my emails referencing your work onto the Treasury where they disappear into a black hole of indifference.

    Personally I think May has to go but whether anyone else can get a better deal remains to be seen.

    At the moment I fear a free spending Marxist Government could grab power and sink us for good – if only we’d invested in some decent nuclear power stations 20 years ago.

    • Thanks Donald. It’s one of the quickest pieces I’ve ever written here. You will have sensed my anger I’m sure. I don’t see what the British public did to deserve this. I think, as I’ve said all along, that whilst Mr Corbyn might not win the next election, it’s his to lose.

    • Hi if Corbyn does get in you may have to revise your calculations. If there was a massive redistribution of wealth I don’t think it would make much of a difference and would probably hasten the end of luxury goods (cars etc) as many would find they could no longer afford them if they had to cope with much higher taxes – and even their savings being stolen.

    • Tim, you often ask what the British public did to deserve this. For me, they are complicit. Engagement with politics is low. Voter turnout is not high enough. Ignorance is celebrated in culture. Sky TV, Netflix, Premier League football and other bread and circuses are gorged upon. A relatively small group of wealthy people are allowed to dominate politics and industry via the public school system. Anachronistic fantasies about the greatness of the nation – obsession with the Monarchy, poppies, etc – are encouraged, breeding ignorance and arrogance. Witness the pathetic interviews with the man in the street when news crews ask about politics – a shallow moan about politicians (somebody else’s fault) and the general state of things, and then a shrug.

      You could apply many of these criticisms to other democracies. But I’m not sure it helps to absolve the voters of blame – only encourages the helpless attitude.

      Another factor I think about is: with the extraordinary wages now available at the top of the private sector, what is the incentive for the country’s brightest and best to go into politics? And as a politician, you’ll face scrutiny, ridicule, intrusion from the press and public. These factors must really reduce the pool of talent willing to take political leadership positions.

    • I can’t disagree, the only thing I’d add is that powerful interests in politics, finance, business and the media shape the agenda and the narrative in ways which might lead ‘ordinary’ people to think “what’s the point?” Seeing bankers rescued but shop-workers left to sink, and former politicians getting rich on the gravy train, is likely to breed cynicism.

      I’ve never understood a number of things, including – Why does anyone pay the prices charged for TV sports coverage (which they could watch in a bar)? Why is anyone still on Facebook? Why do people hand their money to online bookies? Why is anyone taken in by advertising?

  2. I’m sure I quoted this in an email to my MP – all I got was an acknowledgement but no reply.

    Currently trying to get stability is like being in the same dingy as the character from the film ‘Cast Away’ as he drifted towards the small island.

  3. As I understand it, and I clearly may be wrong, the position of HM Official Opposition is to
    respect the referendum result
    oppose a no deal exit, and
    oppose the only deal that the Europeans say is available.
    Am I missing something here?

    • Not missing anything that I can think of. If it were me, I think I’d delay “Brexit”, but promise the voters that what they voted for will happen. Then, as the arrogance on the EU side is gradually deflated (just look at Paris), try to get a better deal.

  4. Hi Tim

    Thanks for this very perceptive piece.

    What I deplore in this whole farago is that it makes the UK look utterly foolish and incompetent and a laughing stock in the World. Of course you might paint it as a struggle within a mature democracy and a sign of a vibrant politics but I’m afraid it doesn’t look like that to me.

    The politicians have failed the people they are supposed to represent and it is a crisis that is unparalleled in recent times.

    As you say these events are, in a sense, the surface manifestation of deeper currents, none of which are recognised by the political structure, and serve to compound the notion of incompetence. Frankly I can’t see how we’ll get out of this right now but I do think all this talk about a “cliff edge” and “crashing out” is irresponsible hyperbole. Any business or government department with a management with more than two brain cells would have proceeded from 2016 on the presumption that we would leave without a deal aka the precautionary principle. This isn’t Management 101; it isn’t even Management kindergarten; it’s Management toddler!

    What also concerns me is what is happening in Europe which seems to be on the cusp of quite serious problems; my view has always been that Brexit is a sideshow and the real fireworks will come from Europe in the next few years.

    One day the dust will settle and we can get around to discussing the “real” issues.

    • Britain started this chapter in early 2016 looking arrogant – demanding the EU discuss “reforms”in preference to the issues of the economy and migration – before blundering into this political cul-de-sac. This now makes the UK look very foolish – and, BTW, takes some of the international media heat off Mr Macron.

    • Bob j, i would like to say this: I live in the Netherlands and i don’t see GB as the ‘laughing stock of the world’. You respond, as a country, to a mess the whole world is in. Just like the yellow vests in France. The problems we face will manifest themselves in many strange ways, we ain’t seen nothing yet! In other countries, like mine, things get papered over through political correctness like a cordon sanitaire around certain political parties. Those are not solutions, its extend & pretend. I am ashamed about my own country because we don’t take it to the streets, yet. Our time will come! And we all will be the laughing stock of the world.

    • It seems to me that the elites aren’t going to adopt necessary responses until the requirement becomes utterly inescapable – but this is what will happen as prosperity keeps on declining. That’s why I’m considering writing about plans appropriate to deteriorating prosperity, even though I know there’s no chance whatsoever of such plans being taken seriously until there is absolutely nowhere else to go.

    • But we’ve run out of cheap to produce energy. We’ve run out of cheap to produce metals and just about everything else. And because energy is required in the production of all resources – that exacerbates the overall problem.

      There is no solution to this problem. The politicians at the very top of the heap know this. The central bankers know this.

      The ship is going down. And nobody is getting off alive. They will put on brave faces as they feed the masses more lies but there is panic and fear (masked by Xanax gobbled before every session in front of the camera).

      They know – they know much more than we do. For heaven’s sake they have fought massive wars over resources, particularly oil. They know how important it is

    • Very possibly……would you be happy lending money to an organisation whose management seemingly ‘couldn’t manage the skin off a rice pudding’?

  5. Yes Dr Morgan I agree entirely with your article but I also think the public attitude is inconsistent with the facts.

    The energy cost is so important and nobody seems to recognise it.

    But, is this so surprising when youngsters, at school, are taught that financial studies and economics are the road to a secure financial future? Accounting, bean counting and paper shuffling seem to be the key subjects of study for a successful and profitable future.

    Modern manufacturing using real-time embedded computer technology is poorly taught in schools. Dyson, like many hi-tech companies, is considering manufacturing abroad due to lack of skills in this country.

    Attitudes to realistic and profitable employment should be steered by Government.

    • Can’t argue with that. I would add that, whilst we don’t allow interested parties to pay politicians and administrators whilst in office, there are no limits to how much money they can hand them for ‘consultancies’ and ‘conference speeches’ the moment they retire. It continues to surprise me that no-one demands the closing of this loophole.

      So far I’ve worked mainly on what is happening and why it is happening. Soon, though, I’m planning to set out something about how societies can adapt to deteriorating prosperity.

    • There’s also an immigration angle to this. We do need to attract people with useful skills. But, if governments carry on admitting large numbers of unskilled people who simply want to come to Europe, we risk a public backlash which opposes all immigration, including the skilled people that we need.

  6. Hard Times in the USA

    My family was poor, but we weren’t as broke as the people described in the article. My father, for example, never had to do dangerous work for low pay. My first real exposure to such people came when I was working highway construction to make the money for college. Almost all of the men I worked with had some sort of bodily damage. (I could have been killed twice.) Mostly from accidents at work, but also from fights. And not long afterwards Gerald Ford became President of the US while dancing to Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown, a song featuring the knife damage done to Leroy when he challenged the wrong man. It occurred to me at the time that the gap between the White House and the Bloody Bucket on Friday night was wider than the Pacific Ocean.

    In the US, I think we can safely say that, at the top level, neither political party gives a hoot about the people described in the article. Neither party actually gives a hoot about the environment, either. As Simon and Garfunkel sang referring to the Nixon/ Kennedy debates in 1960, ‘any way you look at this you lose’. I have to assume that many people in France and Britain have the same feelings now.

    Don Stewart

  7. I venture to suggest that all of this muddle is driven by the vested interests of those who (mostly implicitly) see their future to be dependent on growth (of all kinds).

    All very interesting – says he who is in his 80s with long since discarded vested interests!

  8. Of course the declining share of national income going to wages doesnt help neither does the increasingly unequal distribution of earnings.

    As I often say The Conservative Party has been infiltrated by Trots hoping to cause a revolution

  9. ‘When things get serious, you have to lie’ Jean Claude Juncker

    The politicians know that the masses are poorer and getting poorer each and every day as we reach higher on the resource tree to pluck the fruit.

    Of course they are not going to acknowledge this. Of course the MSM is never going to tell the masses anything but things are great (remember ‘green shoots’).

    To acknowledge this would a) cause great angst and b) raise the question of why

    And nobody wants to discuss the elephant in the room – there is no more cheap energy to be discovered and that is what is causing the end of growth (and the end of civilization in due course).

    And the PTB know full well that there is nothing that can be done about this problem other than what is being done. Pump in stimulus until it no longer has any effect.

    This is VERY serious stuff. Expect lies. Nothing but lies.

    • TM2 – indeed, and there is evidence to support this everywhere you look.

      If scarcity is indeed the mother of invention, as many economists would have us believe, then the high energy prices of 2008 should have already motivated new forms of economic activity and investment, i.e. more localisation, less globalisation. That this hasn’t happened confirms that this is no longer an option open to us, we have long since passed that particular threshold – there simply isn’t enough of an energy endowment to support such an adaptation.

      We persist with the globalisation narrative simply because the much-needed ‘cheap’ energy resources are in foreign lands and there are no alternatives (but lots of new competitors in China, India etc). We must have them at almost ANY cost…

    • Indeed so. But, however persuasive the lies might be, the reality cannot be hidden indefinitely. My feeling is that France is a foretaste of wider anger as prosperity decline continues. Statistically, SEEDS indicates that the Netherlands and the UK seem nearest to ‘yellow jacket’ anger.

  10. Dear Dr Morgan
    Since the 2016 referendum, prosperity in the UK, from following news stories on homelessness, food banks, and failing retail, I would assume has continued its contraction as per SEEDs. Coupled with below inflation pay increases for most, frozen benefits for the non retired, further increased debt loads and the government’s continuing austerity programmes, there are more unhappy people than in 2016. On top of those factors you have the shambles the political establishment has made of the Brexit process further increasing the populous disgust for the establishment as a whole. I think the establishment figures campaigning for a second referendum are fooling themselves into thinking that the “the people” will recognize there mistake and vote the right way next time. I think they would have a very big surprise at the anger that is in the country, especially at having to repeat a vote they already thought they had done. The people I know are happy to vote but hate the saturation media campaigns that dominate the media for months before hand, they will punish those who inflict that on them again!

    To give others some idea of the effect of austerity, I work indirectly for the government in a support role in further education. I have been in my job for some years. When I started my pay rate was a little over twice the minimum wage rate. When the current series of increases in the minimum wage rate are completed in 2020 my pay rate will be the minimum wage rate! That is a big status devaluation for a technical job. Since 2008 I have had five years with no pay increase, and five years with a less than 1% pay increase, usually 0.9%, slightly less than the teachers to maintain class hierarchy, even though they have much higher pay rates to start with! I’m OK, the house is paid for, I have a little bit of land for food and firewood and are ten minutes by bus from work and the town centre. And I have no debt! Most of the people I know are a lot less fortunate and angry!

    Best regards Philip Hardy

    • Thanks Philip.

      I think there’s ample evidence to support the SEEDS interpretation, viz that people in the UK have been getting poorer over a lengthy period. This in itself makes anger inevitable, even without mistrust of the governing elite. Aside from the monarchy, most institutions have lost a great deal of public respect.

      I find the deliberate promotion of the term “people’s vote” annoying, since the people have already voted – any suggestion of “….and you’ll carry on voting till you give us the result we want” is dangerous, especially when you remember repeated referenda in other EU countries over Maastricht.

    • Dr Morgan

      “I find the deliberate promotion of the term “people’s vote” annoying, since the people have already voted…”

      The Director of the People’s Vote campaign is James McCrory, (who earlier in his career was Nick Clegg’s “spin doctor”), who moved to his current role from being Executive Director of Open Britain, a pro-EU lobbying organisation which merged with the then ailing People’s Vote campaign in July, 2018, merging its social media “clout” (c570k Facebook “likes”) with that of the Peoples Vote (c10k “likes”.

      Open Britain was formed after the Referendum in August, 2016, and was a “re-branding” of Britain Stronger in Europe, the latter being was declared as the official Remain campaign in the Referendum by the Electoral Commission in April, 2016.

  11. PS On the day of the last Brexit referendum result the teachers were very voluble over the shock of the bad result to them, I noticed that the support staff were mostly tight lipped and kept quite that day and since!

    • These weren’t members of the ‘profession’ that oversees that more than a fifth of sixteen year olds leave school functionally illiterate i.e. they cannot obtain a pass at GCSE English and have a reading age of ten or less? No wonder we have a skills shortage.

  12. Good article by Ambrose in the Telegraph

    Small extract :

    Xavier Bertrand, the president of Hauts-de-France, warns of “economic catastrophe” should trade talks break down. Unemployment in Calais – a Le Pen stronghold – is 14.2pc and rising again. It is 15.5pc in Mauberge and 14.2pc in Lens-Henin. You can be sure of one thing: if there a Brexit smash-up and a regional depression, the Gilets Jeunes will blame Mr Macron and Paris. It will cut no ice to argue that the EU had to be tough to uphold the sanctity of the Four Freedoms or to deter future escapees.

    The political and economic pain threshold of the eurozone is extremely low. Europe’s leaders have not had to confront their own Brexit dangers since they have been dealing with a Prime Minister who has folded obediently at each crucial stage of the talks.

    True, they are not always good judges of their own peril. They dismissed the Lehman crisis an Anglo-Saxon matter, and were astonished when it brought down their own banking system. They seemed to be sleep-walking in 2011 when austerity overkill and premature monetary tightening pushed Italy and Spain into the abyss.

    It is possible that they would misread the risks and dial up the Brexit pressure a few more notches if faced with a less emollient Prime Minister. Yet it is fair bet that they would be forced to reach a tolerable arrangement for their own political survival if faced with stiff British resistance.

    The greater difficulty lies within Britain. Is it possible to take a divided nation into a showdown with the EU, against the will of Scotland, the big guns of the CBI and the City, most of the media, and half the population?

    The best argument you can make for Theresa May’s plan is that it bridges these fissures in the Anglican spirit of compromise that has guided this country for three centuries. If she were to secure a legal text from Brussels that scraps the EU veto over exit from the Irish backstop – and therefore when we can leave the customs union and the EU legal system – I could see why many Brexiteers might swallow their other reservations and accept the package.

    Personally, I am reluctant to accept even that. The Withdrawal Agreement does not settle the matter. It delays the fight until late 2020 when the EU will “have the UK against the wall again”, in the words of ex-Brexit negotiator Sir Ivan Rogers.

    We will by then have lost our leverage over the £39bn exit fee. Unlike the Withdrawal Agreement, it takes the unanimous backing of every EU state (and the Walloon parliament, among others) to pass the future trade deal. This renders the accord hostage to any country, over anything, whether fish, or Gibraltar, or taxation policies.

    The political declaration states that the European Court will hold sway, with powers to impose punishment for what it deems breaches of the accords under Article 135.

    The Government tried to lock in some legally-binding commitment to the future trade deal in the Withdrawal Agreement while we still had strong cards to play, and qualified majority worked in our favour. The EU refused.

    Nothing is to be gained from stretching out this uncertainty for another two years or longer, only to face a fresh cliff-edge in worse circumstances. It is better to walk away now on WTO terms and turn the psychological tables on the EU.

    Either it would move crab-like to some sort of settlement on the basis of sovereign equals, in the spirit of mutual recognition. Or it would lash out and risk setting in motion its own existential crisis. That would at least reshuffle the pack.

    • Thanks, it’s well-reasoned. I’ve never understood why the UK side didn’t call Brussels’ bluff on the supposed strength of their negotiating position. I understand that support for “Italexit” (at least from the euro) is gaining support rapidly, and may now exceed 60% – so is the EU really going to confront Rome over its deficit, especially when the French deficit is on track to exceed Italy’s?

    • As things stand the deal will not get through Parliament. We could have GFC 2 next year and the EU will be in a much weaker position having run out of ammunition to assist their ailing economies.

      I expect far more riots in France – Italy as the truth of diminishing prosperity sinks in and the realities of a no deal Brexit begin to bite

      We just have a group of bone headed politicians on both side of the channel (and the pond) who have all the wrong priorities.

  13. While agreeing with everything said, I think this article was too optimistic. There was no mention that the long downtrend in interest rates is over. Each recession or downturn since 1980 has seen interest rates cut to new lows. In the UK there are no rates to cut. The only way of stimulating the heavily negative real interest rates needed in response to the next downturn will be to stoke inflation. Rather like starting a fire in the middle of the sitting-room, it will be near impossible to control in order to avoid burning down the whole house. Another financial crisis will see multiple banking failures throughout Europe. The politicians’ plans for bail-ins show that they already know that they have failed to address the problems in the financial sector. Whoever is in government following the next crash must surely grasp the issue and reform financial markets. Only once the City is scaled back by international pressure will it be apparent just how much manufacturing in the UK has been hollowed out.

    • Thank you. The biggest single banking risk in Europe, I believe, is Italy. Not only have Italian banks been the big buyers of Italian govt. bonds (where yields could spike if the ECB doesn’t relent on QE, leaving Rome having to go to the markets for Eur 275bn in 2019), but French banks have close to Eur 300bn exposure to Italian banks. Spain doesn’t look quite so bad – until you remember exposure to Latin America (true of many Spanish corporates, too).

      I see no scope for really raising rates, suspecting instead that the next downturn will force CBs, even the Fed, to back off. The near-inevitable response to the next crash, in my opinion, will be very big QE, meaning that the next crash (here called “GFC II”) won’t be just a banking (credit) crisis, but will extend to the weaker fiat currencies too.

      FDY, the latest numbers that I have show manufacturing at less than 9% of the UK economy, but just under 18% in the rest of the EU – a striking difference.

    • @Christopher Barclay

      I’m not so sure you’re right about interest rates. The neutral rate of interest (an unobservable concept admittedly), that is the rate of interest which sustains growth and inflation at a set level, is in fact going down not up due to the debt burden. Put simply we can’t afford higher rates because there’s too much debt around. There will be a push to keep administered rates low.

      However, actual market rates, may well trend higher. In Italy, mentioned in the article, the ECB has been the buyer of most Italian debt for some time. If Italy has to go on the market it will face much higher actual rates than the ECB -0.4%.

      As regards bail ins I am very sceptical as to whether these would be put into effect on a large scale. If small businesses and individuals who are simply parking cash are hit then there will be mayhem and possibly the end of fiat currencies; the chaos and economic disruption would make Brexit look like a well planned exercise!

      The only way I see out is by collapse and, hopefully, some sort of resurrection.

    • Its interesting that our manufacturing has withered on the vine (almost like it was planned that way).

      Same with our armed forces, they have been cut and diced to specialise in certain areas (capital ships for naval forces without the ability to support them with sufficient escorts for instance) all to fit nicely into an EU force, Brexit has put that out to grass (at the moment that is)

    • The powers-that-be have the mindset that $1 of, say, takeaway pizzas or manicures is worth the same as $1 of manufacturing (or agriculture, or extractive industries, or construction).

      Intuitively, this doesn’t make sense. If, for instance, a car plant closes, deriving a region of, say, $500m of income, making up this $500m by moving a government admin office there, or selling more pizzas or manicures, fails to fill the gap, even though the nominal sum is the same.

      I’ve investigated this, and concluded that “output” actually falls into two broad categories.

      The first is globally marketable output (GMO). These are outputs that are or can be traded internationally, so they are priced on international markets (“hard” pricing). This category tends to include essential (“non-discretionary”) products, everything from food and energy to manufactured goods, machine tools, infrastructure and so on.

      The second is internally consumed services (ICS). These are “soft” (locally)-priced, and they are residuals (things bought with whatever money we have left after we’ve paid for essentials). These are services that Americans, say, can sell only to each other.

      The value-adding profiles are quite different (activities like car plants have large knock-on value to suppliers etc).

      Hence, $1 of GMO has a lot more economic value than $1 of ICS.

      Now, consider US “growth” between 2007 and 2017. In that period, US GDP increased by $2.6tn – but debt increased by $10.2tn. This suggests that most “growth” is simply the spending of borrowed money. This is confirmed by the GMO/ICS split, because borrowed spending is channeled into ICS.

      The growth between 2007 and 2017 divides as follows:
      GMO: 1%
      ICS: 92%
      Net exports of services: 7%

  14. Back to the topic of Peak Oil: For all intents and purposes it has arrived. This SRSRocco report provides some interesting graphs showing the production of oil products (fuel oil, diesel & gasoline) since 2002.


    The production of liquid products is far more useful in assessing the energy supply situation than simple oil production volumes, given that products are the things we actually use.

    The conclusion: Something broke in 2007. At this point, it became very difficult to expand the production of heavy oil products like diesel and fuel oil and increasingly, refineries had to crack fuel oils to produce diesel. They managed to kick the can down the road doing this until 2015, at which point cracking of fuel oils could no longer inflate total diesel supply. Global diesel production appears to have peaked in 2015.

    Why is this a problem? Diesel and fuel oil are the fuels that power the world’s trade networks. They fuel the ships and planes that carry goods between continents and the trains and trucks that carry goods within nations. Just as importantly, they provide the fuel for mining. Gasoline and LPG are consumer fuels, which tend to power private cars and light trucks. Peak diesel basically means peak trade, peak production of real goods and hence, peak ‘real GDP’ for the entire world. It is probably no coincidence that international politics have turned increasingly sour since 2015.

    Why has non-conventional oil production not come to the rescue? Non-conventional oil production such as shale oil (tight oil) and natural gas liquids; tend to produce light oils and condensates, which are generally suitable for the production of gasoline and LPG. These allow you to drive to work or to drive for pleasure. But they do not deliver real goods or power the mining equipment needed to produce the ores needed to make them. In some important ways, tight oil production may be worsening the global situation, give that high value diesel is being used to produce lower grade light liquids.

    The final graph in the Sorocco report shows an apparent peak in total refined liquids production around early 2016. Total liquids production has declined about 7% since then. Looking at the fuel oil production graph, actual ‘peak oil’ can be considered to have occurred around mid-2008. Non-conventional resources appear to have been of little value in extending the supply of the economically valuable ‘trade fuels’, hence the virtual absence of any real economic growth in the western world since 2008.

    The decline in global surplus energy likely began sometime before 2015, given the increasing energy cost associated with production of fuels of all kinds. In any event, imports and exports for both BRIICS and G7 countries show a clear peak around 2014, which is consistent with supply constraints of trade fuels.


    World bank trade data indicates that global merchandise exports peaked around 2013-2014.


    A decline is real global GDP cannot be far behind.

    • It’s certainly deluded. Essentially, the economy is an energy system. Human physical labour accounts for less than 1% of energy supply in the developed economies. We definitely need ingenuity, so encouraging the immigration of, say, some very bright and qualified people from India can improve how energy is used. Admitting unskilled workers does not do this. It adds to the 1% of energy contributed by physical labour, but dilutes everyone’s share of the 99% that comes from energy inputs other than labour.

      That’s a simplification, of course, but the basic logic supports restricting immigration to those with skills and ingenuity that boost economic efficiency.

  15. Dr. Morgan
    This may seem like a minor point from the vantage point of London, but I believe its significance may become evident even there. There are illiterate immigrants who know how to use the sun and the rain to grow food. An organization I support has helped some illiterate southeast Asian immigrants establish a farm. They have built a beautiful farm, and sell at the local farmer’s market as well as feed themselves. They also expertly use bamboo as a building material. The amount of human labor to solar energy harvested is quite small, but crucial…like an enzyme.

    Do those skills sound like they might be useful things for ex-City bankers to pick up in the decade ahead???

    Don Stewart

    • Such skills would be a very useful contribution and anyone offering them should be welcomed. I don’t live in London (or for that matter the UK), by the way. Where I do live, agriculture is very important indeed.

  16. @Dr. Morgan
    I did not mean my comment as some snarky put-down of you. So to whom is the snark addressed??? Well, the Real Bankers to whom nothing is real unless there are trillions of dollars or pounds attached to it. Secondly, to POTUS who thinks that we should recruit more Norwegians to come to the US and build walls agains those from sh_t-ho_e countries. Thirdly, to everyone who thinks that Light Tight Oil plus Tar Sands can solve our energy problems. Fourthly, to those who think that skyscrapers growing food are in our future. Fifthly, to those who awarded William Nordhaus the Nobel for Economics. (I could keep adding to the list, but it would be a lot longer than the list of the guilty in the Brexit affair, and dim Brexit’s luster as the problem of the moment, so I’ll just leave it at that.)

    It seems very clear to me, based on your work, and the work exploring the ‘end of diesel’, and lots of other evidence that the ability to use regenerative agricultural practices to grow food, fuel, fiber, and building materials while also cleaning water supplies is likely to be a very useful suite of skills in the coming decades.

    It is also clear to me that thinking solely in terms of thermodynamics won’t get us very far. If we look, for example, at the work done to produce Light Tight Oil, we notice the immense amount of sand moved and forced into the Earth. And the use of the Light Tight Oil is mostly to move 3000 pound SUVs on very expensive highway systems. In other words, the thermodynamics doesn’t make sense in a world where energy is scarce. While governments may be able to keep the system going for a while with increasing debt and robbing from pension funds, that game is going to be over during our lifetimes.

    For the alternative, we have to look carefully at how nature uses enzymes. Both respiration and photosynthesis use enzymes which increase the productivity of chemical reactions by factors of hundreds of thousands. Without enzymes, none of us would be here. And so we have to use new knowledge and relearn old knowledge to apply ‘enzyme-like’ action at critical points in order to best utilize the energy from the sun, the chemical energy stored in seeds, the potential energy stored in water which is high in a landscape, and so forth. The days of using precious liquid fuels to move sand to blast tight oil wells to drive SUVs must begin to seem primitive.

    Of course, I have left out consideration of the Debt…the 800 pound gorilla in the room which forces everyone to continue in the insane dance.

    Don Stewart

    • Thanks Don. I didn’t take it as a put-down, though perhaps I am somewhat over-sensitive on immigration.

      You see, there are two issues here which are in danger of being conflated:

      (a) I think the future popular direction includes increasing hostility to immigration

      (b) from a purely economic perspective, I think there’s a strong case for restricting immigration to those with skill contributions to make.

      I’m aware that my views on (b) might be miss-stated as support for (a).

      Mrs Merkel is a case in point. If she urged the EU to invite talented people from wherever in the world, she would have logic on her side. But I cannot fathom why she thinks admitting about a million people from the Middle East and North Africa makes any sense whatsoever. Perhaps she thinks that immigrants should self-select, rather than taking the Australian line where the host country sets the selection criteria.

  17. It’s nice to see that some firms are doing very nicely at the moment.

    According to Private Eye ‘BlackRock’ an US investment firm with a base in London has been shorting Government contractors like Babcock – Capita – Carillion – Interserve and have been making a killing.

    This same firm also pays George Osborne £650k a years for one day’s work every week.

    • In fairness, it didn’t take much insight to see that sector falling apart!

      On the latter point (though with no particular reference to Mr Osborne), I’m on record as advocating that former ministers and civil servants should, in retirement, have their earnings capped at, I suggest, 10x the average wage (meaning, in the UK, about £300,000). We don’t want to deter bright people from entering government – but anyone who thinks £300k is “not enough” may not be in politics for the right reasons.

  18. @Dr. Morgan
    I agree with you that Mrs. Merkel’s program makes no sense.

    But (and there is always a ‘but’), in the US the dangerous jobs have been outsourced to illegals. An illegal is a lot more likely to fall off a roof than a native born because roofing jobs have been outsourced to the illegals. And an illegal cannot go to the police to complain about ‘unsafe working conditions’.

    Politicians may think that they can afford to maintain native borns on some sort of welfare paid for by the financial shenanigans your describe so well, so that the native borns don’t need to do the ‘dirty and dangerous’ jobs. And, God forbid, the employers don’t have to install expensive safety mechanisms. Which means the politicians also need to support a certain number of illegals. We don’t have to have walls to keep out the illegals…just jail sentences for employers who hire them. Now WHY is it that the obvious solution is never mentioned?

    Christian people mostly have trouble with the notion that re-roofing their steeply sloping roof may be dangerous IF the job is to be performed by a fellow native born Christian. But once it is an illegal up there risking his neck, no matter his religion or lack thereof, concerns float away on a summer breeze.

    Don Stewart

  19. A few thoughts on the way forward.

    Dividing lines:
    A. Deployment of technology which slows down energy descent. Nuclear, natural gas driven trucks, mass transit for cities and people.
    B. Proven radical new source of liquid fuel. The ‘water’ solution mentioned here in the last post. Unclear what is the ECoE as compared to conventional sources…or maybe it is a hoax like cold fusion.
    C. Radical rethinking of how humans live in the world. Combining the best insights of our forefathers and cutting edge science.

    This note won’t have much to do with A or B. Instead, I will take a brief look at the prospects for C. I will also add right up front that if we choose C, it supports only the population it supports and it only supports them in a style of life consistent with the physical constraints. So we have to start with the physical reality and work out how to flourish while taking advantage of the opportunities afforded. Which may very well be a radical change, and require the collapse of BAU. And most especially of debt and governments.

    While volumes could be written on C Alternatives, I will restrict myself to a sketch based on McFadden and al-Khalili’s book Life on the Edge (hereafter, M & K).

    Beginning on page 59 and extending for around 30 pages M&K consider the role of enzymes:
    *Enzymes can destroy the collagen in a dinosaur relic in ‘a nanosecond’.
    *However distasteful the collagen may be when we are eating a tough/ cheap cut of meat, the collagen is absolutely necessary to our physical structure.
    *The enzyme collagenase is used to dismantle unwanted or damaged tissues in living creatures. The dismantling is an essential part of life. Regrowth of new tissues is accomplished by different enzymes. (My note. A Fasting Mimicking Diet promotes a collagenase breakdown of damaged tissues and a stem cell mediated regrowth of new, young, tissues.)
    *What we see around us consists almost entirely of stable molecules, which are resistant to disintegration. The exception is oxygen, which is notorious for free radicals. But oxygen is made as a result of photosynthesis, so has not disappeared from Earth. (Bolsonaro in Brazil may be about to engage in a war with oxygen…which is indicative of the level of intelligence of both voters and politicians.)
    *In order to break down stable chemicals for our own use, humans commonly use heat. We cook our food and we cook our fuels in refineries.
    *Heat lowers energy barriers, which permits the breakdown of the molecules. Enzymes can likewise lower energy barriers.
    *’And in contrast to the random molecular jostling of the surrounding molecules, the enzyme is performing an elegant and precise molecular dance as it wraps itself around the collagen fiber, unwinding the fiber’s helical turns and precisely snipping the peptide bonds that link the amino acids in the chain before unwrapping itself and moving along to clip the next peptide bond….The choreographed action taking place within this molecular steering center is very different from all the random jostling going on outside and around the enzyme.’ (My note…we are moving from Thermodynamics to precision biology. This is one reason why Thermodynamics Models are informative, but not adequate.)
    *Is enzyme catalysis just a collection of several straightforward classical catalytic mechanisms packed into active sites, providing the vital spark that ignites life?….Up until recently, nearly all enzymologists would have said yes.’
    *Adding up the standard chemical explanations yields a puny number compared to measured enhancement. There seems to be an embarrassingly large gap between theory and reality.
    *No one has yet managed to design an enzyme from scratch that can produce anything like the rate enhancements delivered by natural enzymes.
    *What is the enzyme doing? The answer is pretty obvious: enzymes manipulate individual atoms, protons, and electrons, within and between molecules.
    *to understand the real action that goes on inside the active sites of enzymes, we must leave our classical preconceptions behind and enter the weird world of quantum mechanics where objects can be doing two or a hundred things at once, can possess spooky connections and can pass through apparently impenetrable barriers. These are feats that no billiard ball has ever accomplished.

    We can try to bring our new understanding of how Nature does it into the industrial world we are familiar with. M&K have a laboratory devoted to that very task. Alternatively, we can use our new knowledge to adapt traditional ways to be more productive. For example, growing food more efficiently as opposed to manufacturing faux food. My bet is on the second alternative, because the faux food alternative probably requires us to re-engineer the world of microbes and likely some parts of our body proper.

    Have I laid out a Five Year Plan? Not at all. We have to learn as we go, with no guarantees that we will be successful. And we have to be mindful first of all that BAU will not go quietly. We also have to branch out from the physical to the psychological. After humans achieve what is required for basic life, we want more serotonin and dopamine. Well, if you think about it, a shiny new SUV delivers serotonin and dopamine, but so can enzymes operating at the atomic level. Now we are flirting with the psychoactive drugs which have been part of human existence forever, but always bring about repressive measures from the PTB.

    I hope this is not persuasive, but instead thought provoking.

    Don Stewart

    • Not familiar with that one – I think I had in mind the lyrics of Al Stewart’s song about Stalin, “Joe the Georgian”, from his 1995 album Between the Wars. There’s also a Grateful Dead track of that name (on the live album Steal Your Face), and one by Bob Seger.

      It’s a thought-provoking interview – thanks for the link.

  20. Re: Adam Curtis article
    ‘And it becomes a perpetual, infernal motion system, which is a distraction. ‘
    T.S. Eliot quote: We are distracted by distraction from distraction.

    Don Stewart
    PS If you would like to look at a mostly sober-sided reflection on politics in the US, look up the current Larry King interviews on RT. The chairman of the Virginia Republican Party and former speechwriter for Obama’s Attorney General. The conclusion of the Republican is that Trump’s antics are hurting the Republican party. The Democrat assures us that the Democrats will field a vigorous team in 2020…Larry King sounds a little dubious on that point. A somber interview.

  21. Apres-moi, le deluge
    Apologies if the French is bad. According to Max Keiser in his current episode, when the catastrophic impact of the Trump deficits on the prospects for the dollar were presented in a chart, Trump noted that it doesn’t collapse until after 2024, and “i won’t be here anymore’. All this, of course, prompted Max and Stacey to review Trump’s history as profiting from bankruptcies.

    Ray Dalio, the executive at Bridgewater Capital, is more negative. He thinks the collapse may come during Trump’s current term of office.

    Don Stewart

    • That’s long been my interpretation, as I’m sure you know.

      Prior to the 2008 crisis, ‘adventurism’ had been confined to the reckless issuance of credit. Therefore, it was the credit system – banking – that was put at risk.

      Since then, we’ve seen reckless monetary adventurism which, logically, makes GFC II a monetary as well as a credit (banking) event.

      Of course, it was possible to rescue the banks because money remained reasonably sound. But if money itself is at risk, what do you do then?

      This whole scenario is mind-bogglingly idiotic. So, as the “Brexit” farce unfolds, it’s useful to be reminded that, despite appearances to the contrary, the UK does not have a monopoly of idiocy in high places.

      Britain now has a situation where a third of her own party don’t support the premier; there’s no “Brexit” deal that can get through Parliament; the incumbent government has no chance whatsoever of being re-elected; and lots of politicians advocate telling the public to “vote again and keep voting until you get it right”.

      A Sterling crunch must be getting nearer.

    • Agreed doc. Here’s an interesting view on this stuff:

      Like i mentioned before, ‘they’ have emergency plans on their shelves. Our current system is their power base, through currency manipulations, political correctness, msm coverage etc. They know that when they lose the system, their power base can only survive by implementing harsh measures. And they will.

      The issuer of the petrodollar knows what it means to maintain a good energy balance. This balance is gone. This is why my gut feeling tells me the so called ‘trade tariffs’ are nothing more or less than an attempt to reverse globalization i.e. trying to steer the Titanic into shallow water so some of us can swim to the nearest coast.

      Brexit is not in favour of ‘extend & pretend’; cutting off an arm doesn’t do any good to the cancer patient, does it?

      Very good to see though madam May takes care of the entertainment on the bridge of the Titanic by dancing around while mr Juncker keeps his eye on the bottle.

      Again, dear doc, thank you very much for your efforts and participation in the comments.

      Best regards.

    • I must say that Mrs May has gone up in my estimation by ticking off Tony Blair for calling for a second referendum. Her stated view is that the voters have decided, and it’s the job of government and MPs to enact that decision. I’m sure she’s right about this.

      Where “the 1%” are concerned, it seems to me that deteriorating prosperity is going to result in mass demands for the following:

      – Redistribution, through much higher income taxes, and wealth taxes

      – Economic nationalism and a reversal of globalisation

      – Tight restrictions on immigration

      – Tough controls on what people can earn during and after a career in government

      Together, or even singly, these demands could wreck the “globalist liberal” position. If the demand for these reforms becomes widespread, not just electorally but in “yellow jacket” form – and is taken up by insurgent (“populist”) politicians – what might the incumbent elites do about it?

  22. After GFC-I about 10 yrs ago, having completely lost faith in the UK banking system, I decided to spread some of my savings about. I’ve mentioned before that I have some money in Rouble, but I also put about £10,000 in Thai Baht, as a sort of draw-down holiday fund.
    At the time I got about 55 Baht for £ 1. ( So I got 550,000 Baht, and I was getting between 4- 5 % interest on it over there ! )
    Since then, I have had a 3 or 4 holidays there, spending over 150,000 Baht out of my fund in the process. ( I spent other money using my CC too ).

    Anyway, I still have over 440,000 Baht in my account, which if I were to repatriate back into Sterling, I would get £ 10,500 for today.
    So to sum up, I had £10K about 10 years ago, I spent about 1/3 of it, and today I got more left than what I started with !
    Dr. Tim, I think your Sterling crunch started 10yrs ago and it is still on-going.
    OK, it may for now still only be moving at glacial pace, but very soon a big chunk of ice might just fall off.

    I’m just wondering now what to do with the rest of my Sterling, hanging on to it is looking increasingly like a bad idea.

    • Thai baht isn’t one I would have thought about, not knowing the country, but obviously it has served you very well.

      Back in the 1950s GBP was worth over $4. Colloquially, people used to refer to 5/- (five shillings) as a “dollar”, and the half-crown (2/6d, or 25p now) was known as “half a dollar”, and in slang “half a dollar, one Oxford scholar”. As a rule of thumb, 1 shilling (=5 pence) was worth then about what £1 is worth now, meaning it’s lost roughly 95% of its purchasing power.

      This is symptomatic of a country in at least relative decline, and increasingly turning inwards. But the real crunch in sterling is yet to come, I’m sure. This is a difference between (a) not wanting t o pay very much for sterling, and (b) not wanting to own it at all. This is a logical consequence of high debt, a bloated financial system, a deteriorating economy and chronically poor leadership. Beyond GFC II, risk factors centre around overseas investors not wanting to own GBP. The election of Mr Corbyn might be a trigger, though quite how he could be worse than Blair, Brown or Cameron eludes me. Obviously, the markets dislike socialist madness but like neoliberal madness!

    • Interesting article over on Zerohedge:
      suggesting that the BoE has got a hand in engineering Sterling’s decline.
      As the decline in Sterling has been going on for quite some time, it cannot be claimed that Brexit alone is the root cause of it’s malaise.
      I had always thought that parity to the Euro would be a watershed moment, but the article reference suggests that parity to the US $ might be in the pipeline !
      Of course, this is just a beauty contest in the knackers yard, so it is not really much to go on. What is important is the purchasing power.
      In any case there are both political as well as economic pressures on GBP.
      So will the BoE manipulate GBP down even more to weaken the economy, as a prelude to a second Brexit referendum ?
      You know, really squeeze Joe Public until he bows to the EU diktat.
      You can check out of the EU any time that you like, but you can never leave !

      Can I ever hope for better than £1 : Eur 1.10, or will I be looking back wistfully at that Eur 1.10 wishing I had sold my £’s

    • Interesting, but not all that likely, I feel. To be sure, the weakness in GBP isn’t only about “Brexit”, but there are plenty of other factors, including a weakening economy; dependency on borrowing; poor quality leadership; high debt; a bloated financial sector; and, for some investors, the prospect of Prime Minister Corbyn.

      Ultimately, currencies weaken when international investors don’t want to own them. Quite apart from “Brexit”, there’s no strong case for investing in Britain, the main reason you would want to purchase GBP.

      A weaker currency can boost exports, but only if you have something to export. It increases the cost of imports, especially essentials like energy and food, and pushes up inflation. It increases the local equivalent of debt denominated in foreign currencies. Moreover, if a downwards momentum becomes established, you can be forced into raising rates, with all that that means for property prices and household budgets.

  23. William Nordhaus Nobel; SEEDS
    For some reason I had a dream last night about the stupidity of the idea that William Nordhaus ‘proved’ that there are no limits to growth.

    I imagined a ‘honeymoon ship’ full of eager young people which hits an uncharted reef and sinks near a tropical island. The island is unpopulated. Fortunately, the captain is a take charge kind of guy who studied Economics at Oxford or Yale. He concludes that they need an ‘economy’. And he learned in college that economies work on money. The money should ideally have no value at all. So he declares that sea shells are the currency of the island. But an economy also needs for the fiat currency to circulate. What he has is a whole shipload of virile young people who are eager to (make love). So he decrees that henceforth each time one of the couples (makes love), the man must give the woman one seashell. This works OK for a while. The men are happy to go out and pick up one of the plentiful sea shells, and the women are glad to get it, and both parties seem to enjoy the process of ‘earning’ the sea shell. It is, in fact, a perfect Nordhaus economy.

    But, of course, nobody is doing any actual work. And after a pretty short period of time, the young people figure out that you can’t survive on (making love) alone. So they decide to start a coconut farm. Off in the distance they can see another island that has some coconut palms. So they decide to simply fire up the speedboat and go over to that island and get some of the trees and bring them back. But, alas, they have no speedboat and they have no fuel and they have no crane to lift the palm tree onto the boat. And if they had all those things, they would have no idea how to actually go about farming coconuts.

    And so they die. Happy to the end, (making love).

    Don Stewart

  24. On sober reflection, no dreaming:
    Add another paragraph, just before ‘And so they die’

    Sensing that things are starting to unravel, the Economist searches his memory for what he was taught in college. The answers are obvious: monetize more and impute hedonic adjustments.

    And so, each time the female achieves the release of nitric oxide, she is required to pay the male a sea shell. But since nitric oxide not only feels good, it also enables cardiovascular health, she is required to give the male 2 sea shells. Since the man now has 2 additional sea shells, he can give the female twice as many doses of nitric oxide. And so ‘liftoff’ occurs and everything on paper improves at a high rate of compound interest. Of course, there are still no coconuts.

    Don Stewart

    • Bravo

      However, offering a dose of nitric acid, even if the female is ready and willing with the sea shells, will soon be illegal in the West as far as I can see……

  25. Tad Patzek; Depression; Confusion; Alarm
    Tad Patzek is of Polish origin, went on to become a petroleum professor at Berkeley and Austin and now in Saudi. His current post may be interesting to you mostly because of a discussion in the comments about the ‘looming disaster in diesel’ or, alternative, the ‘fake news about the looming disaster in diesel’.


    The article itself is a requiem for the failed experiment of Humanity. The Requiem includes reference to the notion that we are running out of diesel. Ugh Bardi and Nafeez Ahmed have recently made the same claim. If you go down to the comments, you will see a strong rebuttal. I don’t see any closure on this issue.

    BW Hill was making very similar claims a couple of years ago. There was a long, inconclusive argument on Hill’s website. I would look at Hill’s evidence and be convinced, then look at the rebuttal evidence and be convinced, and finally concluded that one had to be an expert data analysis with about 150 years experience in poring through the statistics to make any sense of it all.

    Don Stewart

  26. The answer to your question is painfully obvious:- It is a Ship of Fools !

    We have often lamented the poor quality of politician in the UK, but that is what happens in a country where celebrity status is worshipped. People have quite simply lost touch with the real world. Real talent, or skill, or knowledge and wisdom, are scorned in favour of sensationalism.
    Like the very amusing comment here about the desert Islanders living off love and fresh air, with not a coconut to eat between them. Anecdotes like that are funny, because there is an element of truth to them.
    The UK now finds itself in an Engpass of its own making. The professional negotiators of the EU have run rings around the UK’s amateurs.
    It really does look like another referendum coming up, or a “Peoples Vote”, ( apparently it wasn’t the People who voted in the last referendum ). No doubt there will be a media onslaught in favour of remaining in the EU. The Remainers will win the vote, and Artikle 50 will be withdrawn.
    Back to square 1.
    However, prosperity will not increase. The UK’s economy will still be in the same dire position that it was before.
    The Brexiteers will take umbrage, don yellow Hi-Viz jackets and, having been denied the Brexit that they were promised, they will take to the streets. The return leg of the Paris match.
    Where it goes from there, I do not know because I can see no way of restoring prosperity to a nation that has flogged off its assets, a nation that has scorned its Engineers and Technicians in favour of lawyers and accountants, and a nation that will soon be divided by ethnic diversity.

    Is it just me that sees things so bleak ?
    Have I now lost all sense of youthful vigour and hope ?

    • With prosperity deteriorating, the calling of a second referendum would discredit the political process, because it would confirm that a system which rescues bankers but not retail workers brazenly ignores the popular vote, even when it secures more than 50% of the votes cast. That would indeed set the scene for a yellow jacket movement in Britain.

    • Agree.

      On the “Peoples Vote”, the 2016 Referendum took 13 months to prepare for, and followed due process, including the passing of legislation, overseen by the Electoral Commission (as an aside it also cost the taxpayer c£123M). Preparation for another Referendum could cut some corners in terms of timescale, however it is certain that it is dependent on EU agreement of an A50 extension, and IMHO the EU would not wish to extend it for such a long period, due to the uncertainty of the result.

      I must say I’m surprised that the People’s Vote campaign doesn’t just break cover and pivot to supporting A50 revocation following the recent ECJ judgement.

      On prospective “civil unrest”, the Government is no doubt well-prepared to invoke the Civil Contingencies legislation in the short term, however c17.4M of its Electorate will have realised that the Government is undemocratic and unrepresentative, and neither the soap opera performed for its benefit nor the empty “in the national interest” bleatings will persuade them otherwise.

      Couple this with the continued nationwide rollout of Universal Credit, repeated major failures in resource-starved NHS Accident & Emergency, etc. etc. and we will have a toxic cocktail that the Government will have difficulty in explaining away.

    • Indeed so.

      My belief is that, after the referendum, the Conservatives should have confined its leadership contest to pro-“Brexit” candidates. The winner should then have told Brussels that “it’s hard “Brexit”, unless you make us a better offer”. The negotiations would thus have started with hard “Brexit”, then travelled away from it to something softer. Instead, the reverse seems to be happening, with the UK dancing to Brussels’ tune until the conclusion became unpalatable.

      The campaign for a “People’s vote” – a euphemism for a second referendum “because you voters got the first one wrong” – is everything Mrs May has said about it. If it happened, it would be hugely divisive – I think those proposing it either don’t understand the anger it would cause, or don’t care about it because they assume the forces of law and order can cope.

      But this overlooks several issues:

      – Prosperity is continuing to diminish
      – You can either have ‘policing by consent’ (as now) or policing by force, the latter requiring police forces more numerous by several orders of magnitude
      – There may well have been a change of government by the time it can happen
      – Governing a country where half the electorate are incensed, and a further quarter dislike the system even where they agree with the aim, is asking for trouble.

      Look on the bright side, though – anything advocated by Tony Blair is guaranteed massive opposition.

  27. While the whole fiasco can only further deepen disillusionment with nearly all the main parties in Britain (SNP excepted?) , itself very dangerous for a stressed democracy, talk of anger spilling over in to violence seems rather exaggerated. The Brexit voters are not really the types who riot – we know who they are in Britain’s cities, don’t we?

    As for Brussels, while dismayed at their (mis-placed, for the EU economy is weakening rapidly) arrogance and willingness to risk – even force -a ‘hard’ Brexit or a needlessly punishing deal – it is hard to see how they would have acted in any other way given the existential issues at stake: the need for the reinforcement of the Holy Union in the face of growing discontent;; a clear signal that leaving is not going to be a comfortable option for anyone; and.of course, the much needed cash that the UK stumps up each year.

    Moreover, the result of the referendum was so very close that it could only act to encourage them in the belief that it could be over-turned. This is not the British way of regarding such a result, but it is certainly the Brussels one.

    This was always entirely predictable, even before the referendum was called, and Brexiter leaders must take a great deal of blame for not being realistic in either their aspirations or their timing: as I say to Basque and Catalan nationalists ‘Great idea, a beautiful idea, your proposed republic, but it just won’t fly. Not yet.’

    Brexit is based on a mis-reading of the true state of the British economy, both its potential and resilience. Brexiters were sold a pup by deluded and not entirely honest ideologues (in no way of course do I excuse the EU Project Fear by saying that): time, now, for everyone to take deep breathes, think about the poorest people who undoubtedly will suffer most if this goes ahead, remain in the EU and await calmly the profound changes which it will surely undergo in the coming decade – with political disintegration over migration, and the failure of the Euro both being highly likely. In politics, pragmatism and adaptability before all else. The ‘Hard Brexit or Bust’ people need dragging off to have their heads examined.

    • @Xabier

      I don’t agree that Brexit was based on a misreading of the economy. Extensive surveys point clearly to issues like sovereignty and immigration as the main motivators not the economy. In that respect Project Fear is of limited use because it concentrates on the economy.

      I wholeheartedly agree that there will be major changes in the EU; in fact I believe it will be unrecognisable in ten years’ time. There will be rearguard action to preserve the status quo but I believe this will fail and change will indeed come. The irony is, as you imply, that what will emerge is an EU much more to the liking of the UK.

    • I’m pretty sure about the connection. When people feel poorer, they’re likely to seek someone to blame, including immigrants and the EU. They’re also likelier to lash out at “the establishment”, albeit only in the ballot box. I’m pretty sure that, if British people were prospering, enough Leave voters would have voted Remain, or at least abstained, to alter the outcome.

    • I feel that people are looking for solace – a safe port from all the economic woe around them – but in reality the bright lights they can see on the horizon – (The USA – China – Commonwealth) are just a facade hiding real problems.

      Looking at the business news – Asos (profit shock) Laura Ashley (closing 40 stores) Restaurants (closing at a high rate) and thousands of Jaguar Land Rover jobs to go – I’m not surprised there’s so much discontent around.

    • Whisper it who dares, but the British economy is gradually falling to bits – and I think I can fairly say “you heard it here first”?

      This said, to see really big problems you’d have to go to China.

    • You’ve been warning for a very long time Tim – but only a small minority will listen.

      Incidentally I’m still marginally for staying in the EU as at least we’ve got some shelter there -especially as the World becomes more and more protective. We simply cannot trust China or the US.

      Everywhere I look on the Business pages of the BBC – Guardian – Telegraph – there’s worrying news.

    • I agree – I think the Europeans are heading towards a better economic model than Britain or the US, whilst, where China is concerned, it looks wholly unsustainable.

      I have two reservations:

      – The public, rightly or wrongly, have opted for “Brexit” – and I fear that failing to enact that choice would strain the relationship between governing and governed, perhaps to breaking point, and certainly would turbocharge existing cynicism

      – Might the EU be weaker or stronger with the UK in it?

    • The trouble with the vote was that it people believed in the simplistic promises of the Leave campaign – more money for the NHS – less immigration (but a lot of immigration comes from outside the EU).

      I see almost like voting to go to war with all the initial excitement and daring do it promises whereas the stark reality is something completely different. Quite a few people I know voted leave but now wish that they hadn’t.

      I understand the points about democracy being affected if another referendum was held but I suspected the remain camp could get a majority this time – being driving by economic fears.

      We can all see that the World is changing rapidly and that some severe economic shocks are on the horizon so better to be in a port we know (warts and all) than be adrift trying to get trade deals elsewhere.

      I’m getting fed up with pro leave politicians saying the public have decided so that’s it. The World has moved on since 2016 so I would – at the very least – like to test public opionion to understand how they now think about Brexit.

      I feel the EU would at the very least be more stable if the UK remained but it does need to change – first directive – getting rid of the Euro.

    • @Donald

      To me the key difference between EU and non EU immigration is that we cannot control EU immigration whereas we do have some control with non EU migrants. Furthermore, and as we have seen, EU migration can ebb and flow so one year we’re short of doctors; two years later we’ve got plenty; one year we need X,000 houses to house all the immigrants; next year we’ve got a housing crash because they’ve all gone home. Fantasy? An extreme case? Take a look and see how the number of immigrants from Poland has nosedived; they gone back home.

      Talking of back home no one talks about the effect on Poland being denuded of young, skilled workers when they have huge demographic problems themselves. Free movement is just another divergence generating mechanism contrary to the EU’s stated objectives.

      Also it’s amazing to me that this discussion is usually conducted from an exclusive UK perspective. The EU, despite in my view being a failed project, is pressing ahead with powers to create an EU army and is also a staunch supporter of the UN Compact on Migration and will seek to centralise control of this, notwithstanding that a number of EU countries have refused to sign the compact.

      You are right about the World moving on since 2016; I think there is now even more reason to leave the EU.

      As to Remain winning a second referendum I wouldn’t bet on it. British Social Attitudes has been polling since 1992 on attitudes to the EU. There is a constant minority for leaving the EU and there is a larger number for staying in a “reformed” EU (impossible). Since 1996 these two categories have fairly consistently polled more than 50%. Euroscepticism runs deep here.

    • I think it was Dr Liam Fox who said recently that, if there were a second referendum and the vote went to Remain, he would straight away demand a third one on a best-of-three principle! Does this end as the best of three sets, like ladies’ tennis, or best of five, like mens’?

    • I understand your views and you have made some good points but at least you’ll have to accept that it’s uncharted waters outside in the big bad World and I would prefer a more settled time to eventually leave. The EU may well have been forced to change for the better by then.

      However I can already sense that anyone reading this post will say – in light of what we know about energy – when will there be a better time?

      The above look promising.

  28. I suppose I am in some ways influenced by my experience of Spanish politics, in which the various political groupings quite literally hate one another to death (the state itself was hiring mercenaries to kill people as late as the 1980’s -90’s) – and yet life goes on.

    So disappointed Brexiters, however angry, will just go on being angry and bitter – while life goes on.

    One of the most dismaying results of this has been to see such hard and emotionally intense lines being drawn in a formerly fairly rational electorate (the parties have always had their nutjob ideologues, that’s the nature of parties).

  29. De Gaulle kept the UK out of the EU for 10 years from their first application to join the club, reasoning that they would be a trojan horse for anglo-american global strategic interests vs a united european compromise, so essentially a mole. (He eventually relented after considerable US pressure, which didn’t help dissipate those suspicions; what irony) Whilst all members undoubtably wanted to improve their economic circumstances, it was not the only or even most important consideration, a lot of wars have been prevented and the UK is particularly ungrateful on that count with respect to the Irish peace.

    So, the Europeans could be excused for seeing this as an amazing stroke of luck, the UK leaving of it’s own accord, the member who never really wanted to fit in or appreciated the benefits, just created bad-will by continually demanding to be treated specially simply because they believed in their exceptionalism. Granted many fight for more than they should get, it’s more a wolf pack on the kill when feeding, with size determining who benefits most, vs true eglitarian sharing, but even so.

    Even the tortured people of Greece, brutalised by German-commanded EU bureaucratic cruelty, still chose to stay as the lowest in the wolfpack hierarchy, rather than alone in a changing world rapidly reverting to trade decided by brute force. The odds of survival even as the omega wolf in a pack of 27 being quite a lot higher than that of a lone wolf. Who will the UK join? The commonwealth countries have little wealth to trade with vs the EU and living memory of the cruelty they too suffered under colonialisation by guess who?. The human capacity for delusion seems to have no limit; in today’s world, if you are not in a gang, you better be biggest in the valley of death, only the US, China & Russia look like holding their own.

    • Somebody once said that “the Entente Cordiale was buried somewhere between Mers-el-Kebir and Suez” – the former being the port where the Royal Navy sank the French fleet at its moorings in 1940, whilst the French felt betrayed when Britain withdrew from Suez in 1956. There are alternative interpretations of both events, more favourable to Britain – but there’s no doubting the sincerity of de Gaulle’s anger, despite the great help given to him by Britain during the war years.

      I keep coming back to the issue of economic mis-interpretation, with both Britain and the EU unduly complacent about economic prospects. Britain only achieves “growth” by borrowing £5.19 to buy £1 of incremental GDP – in the Euro Area, the prosperity of all countries other than Germany is in protracted decline, and debt is rising relentlessly (see new charts added at the foot of the article).

      Deteriorating prosperity isn’t simply theory – you can see its effects very clearly, first in Greece, then in Italy, now in France, and likewise in Britain. Widespread hardship, contrasting with the affluence of a tiny minority, is becoming internally divisive, my suspicion being that we should watch Holland (and perhaps Belgium) for the next stirrings of unrest.

    • @Norfolk

      I’m not sure I swallow the lone wolf disadvantage completely.

      One aspect of the EU is that it is a protectionist trading bloc and this tends to foster monopoly. Monopoly not only restricts competition it also restricts innovation and innovation is vital. The UK does have a good tertiary education system and this needs to be built on if we are too survive.

      Interestingly I voted “no” in the 1975 referendum because I thought that Europe was heading towards a cultural and economic uniformity and that was not a good thing; diversity was better. Now I was wrong in substance but not I think entirely.

    • For me, it all comes down to “putting your own house in order”. As presently structured and managed, the UK economy faces a bleak future. But it doesn’t follow automatically that the solution is to remain in an EU which might itself in due course fragment. Remaining in the EU is no substitute for coming to terms with the reality of deteriorating prosperity. Neither the UK nor the EU has even got “to first base” on this, which would involve recognition of the real situation and its attendant risks, economic, financial, political and social.

  30. The latest edition of Private Eye has a small illustrated section which brings the reality of our near future situation home:

    1950s – Wooden toy soldiers
    1970’s – Space Hoppers
    1990’s – Spice girls Albums
    2018 – Slime toys
    2019 Food and medicine


    • Baked beans already in store, but I just twisted my GP’s arm to give me year’s supply of my own favourite medicine.

      Curiously enough, at the pharmacy an old boy was being told that they couldn’t get his drugs in at all, ‘production difficulties’…..

    • ‘Production difficulties’ That’s interesting because I was told the same thing a few years back. It eventually became available after about 18 months but I could never find a proper explanation.

  31. Help is On The Way!
    I read that the BBC is desperate to pin the troubles in France on the Russians. Pretty soon the BBC will figure out that ‘renegades’ who have abandoned Fair England for some scruffy Mediterranean islands, and who are undoubtedly Russian agents, are behind the ‘fake news’ which makes it look like total chaos in the UK.

    Just a head’s up…..Don Stewart

  32. Do you Tim, or other contributors, think there is any nefarious reason for all this talk of a “people’s vote” rather than simply asking for a second referendum?

    • I think it might be a mixture of two things – a penchant for fine-sounding euphemisms, and a reluctance to use the word “second” referendum, which reminds people that there was a first one.

    • Anything prefaced with ‘People’s’ must be treated with great circumspection: remember the ‘People’s Charter’?

      This applies all the more to anything backed by dear old Tony Blair.

      A second referendum, – delivering a substantial majority against Brexit – is the best option out of all the festering mess we are presented with, and a way of backing away from the dead-end to which the British have been led by inept domestic politicians, and the arrogance and irresponsibility of Brussels.

      Brexit might indeed have worked, damaging neither Britain nor the EU, but not in their hands.

      And I suspect that such a majority would be forthcoming now.

      Then we might await the grand spectacle of the disintegration of the good ship EU on the rocks of a disfunctional Euro and immigration policy amid a global economic down-turn perhaps impossible to manage, which will be in itself quite enough to be getting on with for the UK’s fragile and leaking craft…….

    • @Xabier

      I’m actually inching towards your view. Although a Leaver who would go for a “managed no deal” – for which we should have been planning from the day after the referendum – I’m beginning to think that, amongst all the chaos, the best we’ll get is BRINO.

      I’m as certain as I can be that the EU will have either changed out of all recognition in ten years’ time, or it will have disintegrated or fragmented so leaving might not make a huge difference after all.

      Things certainly seem on the move now, both economically and politically, and are gathering a momentum that may be difficult to stop. I don’t relish this because many will suffer but it would be hubris for those who have tried to foist a utopian vision on Europe.

    • I think Mrs May (and others) are right about being seen not to do what the voters decided on. A second vote smacks of “keep voting till you get it right”, something associated with the EU since it happened in Denmark and Ireland over Maastricht. Today I’ve heard, on British radio, ordinary people from both sides of the divide saying just that. ‘What’s the point in voting if they ignore the outcome?’

      On the other hand, neither the UK nor the EU is remotely prepared for “Brexit” in March. Two years have been squandered.

      So here’s what I’d tell the public: “We’re delaying “Brexit” until March 2020. But we are NOT ignoring your expressed wishes – after March 2020 there will be no free movement, no different treatment of Northern Ireland, and no ECJ jurisdiction in the UK. The onus now is on the EU to offer something, preferable to “hard Brexit”, that we can accept, before that date”.

      Worth trying?

    • Yes worth trying Tim but Italy may have collapsed before then triggering a domino effect across the EU

    • Tim

      The trouble is that the EU needs to take a hard line pour encourager les autres so they’ll dig their heels in, as they already have. However, if we do leave without a deal I’m sure this will be a shock to them and they won’t like it. Quite apart from any damage it may do to us it will not paint the EU in a favourable light, notwithstanding May’s World class incompetence.

      Also I don’t think Art 50 could be extended that easily; it requires all 27 to agree and would they agree if it was only used to create an “up yours” from the UK?

  33. I should think that, with the ever more evident deterioration in the EU economies, it’s a matter of buying time for reality to get through to Brussels, and pressure to be exerted by the real paymasters who, surely, would not like to see so large a market as Britain get stuffed up for good as global trade tanks.

    One must hope for reason to emerge at some stage: like nurturing a fledgling fallen from its nest, it works sometimes….

    But can we also hope for maturity, intelligence and, frankly, intelligence, from Britain’s parties? From the trenchant comments of the former ambassador to the EU, it’s not very likely!

    • @Xabier

      Things would have to get pretty dire for the EU to budge on anything. It is too large, too rule bound and has too many with skin in the game to change quickly and have a Damascene conversion. Idiocy combined with inertia can take a long time before reality dawns.

    • I think there are two principles at stake here – honouring the public’s decision, and accepting that neither side is remotely prepared for any sort of “Brexit”. Delay alone would be seen by the public as going back on the first principle. But delay with a time limit and with a guarantee of meaningful “Brexit” at a specified date might be accepted by them.

      Two years is a long time in the EU these days – by 2021, Italy could be on its way out, German politics may have changed completely, and goodness knows where France will be. Time is on the UK’s side, I think.

      The downside is that, if “Brexit” drags on, so does the distraction from fundamental issues around prosperity and risk.

      I’ve considered writing up what I would do if the policy decisions were up to me……….

    • @Donald

      An interesting piece.

      However, he says:
      “One of the paradoxes of the hard Brexiteers’ argument is their belief that the EU is a deluded political project run by people who will stop at nothing in their pursuit of ever closer union, while simultaneously basing so many of their assumptions on what economic self-interest dictates.”.

      This conflates the political with economic self interest. Both companies and individuals will make mutually convenient ad hoc arrangements in the case of no deal; this will undercut, to some extent, any truculence that may be shown by the bureaucrats and the political structure. In a very real sense the “micro” aspect is more important than the “macro”.

      Later on he says:
      “Are British politicians willing to expose British farmers to unfettered foreign competition?”

      The system we had before joining the EEC was to import food at World prices but subsidise specific sectors in agriculture and I assume we would return to something similar.

      ” As Peter Foster, the Telegraph’s astute Europe Editor puts it, no deal “will not change the fact that the UK will need a trade deal of some form with the EU, given the bloc remains the destination for 43 per cent of UK exports. Negotiating that is tough; negotiating it from a position where the EU can impose costly and disruptive frictions on the UK economy will be tougher still”.

      Of course he is quite right but omits the £95bn trade deficit with the EU which must surely give us some leverage. Growth is slowing rapidly here and in the EU;they have a whole host of troubles; a truculent attitude towards us may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in the EU and unleash forces that they cannot control.

      He is right; no deal is a risk but faute de mieux is it clearly such a bad option?

      The Attorney General laid out how the UK could be kept in semi permanent limbo by the backstop and still not have any remedy under international law and that is the risk with May’s deal.

      I would take a more nuanced view of a no deal scenario.

    • Hi thanks for analysis – but I will stick to my view that we need a deal – if only to have some (small) amount of certaintanty in a very uncertain World which is changing by the day and is in danger of exploding with very little notice.

      Things that may happen. Italy collapses – Ireland collapses – Trump impeached – China closes its doors to sort out its own internal debt issues and asks for its loans back – Peak oil begins to really bite – OPEC massively increases the price of oil which sticks this time due to demand – UK has to ration electricity (apparently 100% certain) – a run on the pound decreasing its value by 20% – more riots in France with an increase in fatalities – EU eventually forced to give us a better deal or face economic catastrophe itself (pound recovers) – Russia invades Ukraine – fracking in the US exposed as a money pit – investors lose everything.

      I hope none of the above happens and it’s all very hypothetical (apart from the UK power cuts) but the next decade is not going to be very nice. The decade after will depend on how well we’ve adjusted to new realities.

    • @Donald

      You’ve left out a supercaldera eruption in Yellowstone from the list of potential disasters!

    • Sorry missed that one and also the extinction event asteroid. Very lax of me 🙂 Still the US has announced major new Gas and Oil fields but no mention of extraction costs (at least not verifiable ones) so perhaps it’s party time again – at least until Global warming gets us.

  34. From what I gather (open to correction!) the plan is actually to withdraw most or all state agricultural subsidies for production, instead making them dependent on meeting ecological and environmental targets.

    So, higher-quality British producers would potentially become very vulnerable to foreign competition, and maybe unviable.

    The theory is that a prosperous UK would be able to strike advantageous trade deals and import cheap food to make up for losses if the home farmers were unable to make themselves sufficiently competitive.

    That agriculture is a strategic resource of the first importance does not seem to figure very much in these calculations……

    We also have the plans to eliminate a large % of dairy, beef and sheep farms, again for environmental reasons: too much rural flatulance, and the supposed need to reforest the uplands to reduce flooding risk. George Monbiot was a great advocate of the latter.

  35. Reading the comments of the former ambassador to the EU, he really does tell only half the story: quite right about the utter incompetence and delusion, the false expectations, on the British side of the equation, but gives no weight at all to the bad faith and irresponsible attitude of Brussels, prepared to push things to the brink and maybe beyond in an attempt to crush secession. This posture of Brussels deserves the strongest censure.

    ‘The 27 are united’, which he emphasizes, is really not adequate as a description of the situation: they are not, and are growing ever less so as time passes.

    The ideology ad practical effects of the Union is being questioned throughout Europe, even in Germany now, and dismissed by many; and it is failing to deliver the basic prosperity of the mass of people, which has been the only real glue in the structure. Of course, SEE tells us why it cannot deliver this anymore.

    Moreover, it is rather disengenous of him to maintain this, as the formal equality of the ‘the 27’ is something of a fiction: we know very well who is in the driving seat in Europe. He sounds, in fact, almost like a propagandist for Brussels.

    But with the insistence on internal freedom of movement, the mass importation of the unskilled, many from utterly alien races and cultures (a proven failure to date) resistant to assimilation, they may find that many of their passengers have bailed out, not caring for where the ride is going and how much they are expected to pay …….

    • Indeed so, though here’s another aspect to consider.

      In seeking to punish the temerity of British voters, Brussels is trying to influence how Italians, Frenchmen and others cast their votes – does the EU bureaucracy actually have a mandate for influencing the internal political decisions of member countries? If Brussels really has been empowered to influence how these people vote, I must have missed it.

      Furthermore, I don’t think punishment stops with the British – if Rome persists with its budget, the same could soon be visited on Italians. Ask Greece.

      It seems to me high time that the adults in EU national governments stepped in to stop this brinkmanship.

    • Tim

      Any bureaucracy will try and expand its remit and authority even where it constitutionally has none. It’s really what they do.

    • Absolutely – but are people generally aware that Brussels has taken upon itself the right to interfere in the internal politics of member states? I rather doubt it….

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