Ideas aren’t running out, but they are getting more expensive to find — VoxEU.org: Recent Articles

The rate of productivity growth in advanced economies has been falling. Optimists hope for a fourth industrial revolution, while pessimists lament that most potential productivity growth has already occurred. This column argues that data on the research effort across all industries shows the costs of extracting ideas have increased sharply over time. This suggests that…

via Ideas aren’t running out, but they are getting more expensive to find — VoxEU.org: Recent Articles

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London in the mind

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…there was no Mayor of London, Greater London Authority or City Hall.  Bankside Power Station was just about to be re-born as the Tate Modern. The year was 2000, and I was teaching and researching at the London School of Economics. Together with my colleague Tony Travers, I became involved in an exhibition in the Oxo Tower, called “Our London, Our Vote” . The purpose of the exhibition was to help explain to Londoners what the role would be of the new Mayor and London Assembly, to be elected that May. As part of the exhibition, I put together some quotations about London for one of the display panels – quotations not from politicians and public officials but from writers, artists, poets.

Here they are below:

London “is an idea, almost a metaphysical entity in the minds of those who contemplate it”  A.N.Wilson

“We do well perceive in our princely wisdom that our City of London is become the greatest, or next the greatest City of the Christian World.”  King James I, 1615.

“When I was a child in Trinidad, the wharves were lined with cargo boats coming from and heading to the London docks. The clothes we wore, much of the food we ate, all the luxuries of life we associated with London”   Darcus Howe, journalist.

“Rain grey town/known for its sound/In places/small faces/abound”  The Byrds, Eight Miles High

“Unreal city/Under the brown fog of a winter dawn/A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many/I had not thought death had undone so many” T.S.Eliot, The Waste Land

“It is odd how one imagines that just because the sun is shining in London, it is shining everywhere else”  Hanif Kureishi

“Hell is a city much like London/A populous and smoky city”  Shelley

“If I had to sum up for you what London seems to me, it’s a community of unpaid extras in the most expensive theme park on the planet”   Malcolm McLaren 

Is London too much? Four centuries of debate

King James I lamented in the early seventeenth century: “soon London will be all England”. Then, as now, London’s population growth was both driven by and drove the capital’s economic prosperity. Before the end of the century, arguments would appear for what we would now call the ‘re-balancing’ of the country’s economy and population : 

“Now as to the Grandour of London. Would not England be easier and perhaps stronger if these vitals were more equally dispersed? Is there not a Tumour in that place, and too much matter for mutiny and Terrour for the Government  if it should Burst? Is there not too much of our Capital in one stake, liable to the Ravage of Plague and fire?…Will not the resort of the Wealthy and emulation to Luxury melt down the order of Superiors among and bring all towards Levelling and Republican?”

This was written by Robert Southwell to Sir William Petty in 1686, one of the many  fascinating extracts and fragments of how contemporary observers saw the coming of the Maxine age in Humphrey Jennings’ marvellous ‘Pandemonium’. Southwell’s argument across four centuries sounds some very contemporary concerns: regional inequalities; threats to resilience, both natural and man-made; conspicuous consumption by the ‘1%’.

Moreover, as the historian Richard Olson points out,  Southwell was responding to an essay by Petty in which he argued that by 1800, London’s population would rise to 5 million, exceeding that of the rest of England.

Hence, both London’s pre-eminence, and the debate on whether this is beneficial or the opposite, has  persisted for four centuries. That suggests to me that the issue will not be resolved any time soon. As a policy-maker, the more salient issue for me is how to craft a set of national policies which both support London’s growth and dynamism, and also use this asset to the benefit of the whole of the UK. 

Any colour as long as it’s green

The Wall Street Journal tells me that Tesla has now overtaken Ford as the second largest car maker in the US by market value. General Motors is ahead but may now be glancing in the rear view mirror. 

Is this a “seismic shift” in the industry as WSJ puts it – a “growing belief that internal-combustion engines will be replaced by electric motors as the primary power source for automobiles”? Others disagree, seeing more hype than substance. Currently, Tesla produces fewer than 100,000 cars a year, compared with Ford’s millions. But are we on the brink of a major innovation-led change? 

Cities, Data and Digital Innovation: My new paper

My paper on Cities, Data and Digital Innovation is published today by the University of Toronto. You can read more about it here, and download the paper here.

I wrote the paper last year while on sabbatical at the University of Toronto. I enjoyed living, working  and writing the paper in Toronto. I hope you enjoy reading it.