Thursday 22 April, 2021

Tulip mania

Shot on Tuesday in the college garden. Sometimes, you can see why the Dutch went nuts about them.

Opening up — for whom?

Diane Coyle (Whom God Preserve) had a thoughtful essay in the FT at the weekend about economists’ hopes that consumer spending will bounce right back and drive a recovery. And maybe it will: the pile of household savings, she says, is estimated at about £180 billion (who estimates these things?) and a lot of this is just bursting to be spent.

Yeah, maybe. But…

We are two nations, and only one will have scope for a roaring 2020s. To point out the obvious, people who have been able to work from home, spending less, for months will for the most part welcome the chance to get out and enjoy themselves. But many others do not have the money to do so, and indeed have amassed debts instead.

For those freelancers who fell through the gaps in furlough and self-employment support schemes, or those on low incomes, the headache will be how to climb back out of a financial hole. The Resolution Foundation has reported recently on the surge in universal credit claims and evidence that many of these new claimants are further in debt than they were before the pandemic, or behind on essential bills.


I got my second AstraZeneca jab yesterday. (Plus a little badge to stick on my sweater.) As before, a beautifully organised operation. A well-oiled machine working like clockwork. And not a single corrupt, outsourced company in sight.

And nobody from Accenture, KPMG, PwC or McKinsey either.

Memoir of a Recovering Utopian

A short (5 minute) video I recorded for a Royal Society online event recently.


Quote of the Day

”TV is a medium, because it is neither rare nor well-done.”

  • Ernie Kovacs

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Ry Cooder | My Girl Josephine


Long Read of the Day

Why do bogs get such a bad press?

Conserving peatlands is a cheap climate change win. So why’s it a hard sell?

Lovely essay by Sami Emory.

Peatlands often appear to the untrained eye as a bland swatch of greys, browns, oranges, and green. What we do not see is what they really are: robust ecosystems of flora and fauna—such as wetland birds, sphagnum moss, heather, and several species of quite crafty carnivorous plants. Furthermore, much of what makes these habitats so special exists beneath the surface. Peat stores, which can reach down into the earth for upwards of thirty-two feet, are dense with carbon, making the peatland a Goliath of sequestration. And with their regulatory effect on a region’s water table, peatlands also help improve water quality, reduce flooding and fires, and keep at bay rising sea levels.

What really matters to Boris Johnson

From Politico:

It took days for the prime minister to issue a tweet about violence in Northern Ireland and he missed the first five government coordination meetings about the emerging coronavirus pandemic. Yet Boris Johnson was super quick to jump on the crisis in European football. What gives? The explanation comes down to simple politics, writes my POLITICO colleague Emilio Casalicchio: “Politicians care about voters, and voters — including a large chunk of the core Red Wall group the two main parties are fighting over — care about football.”

Emilio’s great piece is here.

The Tech industry will eventually be a regulated one.

In the heat of the fray it’s always hard to take the long view. But when historians of tech come to look back at this period in the evolution of the digital world they will see that it was — in the long view — inevitable that the industry would be regulated. And we’re beginning to see the first beginnings of that phase-change.

Today’s FT ($) reports that antitrust regulators in the UK, Germany and Australia on Tuesday mounted a unified attack against the domination of internet giants on Tuesday, warning that the pandemic was not an excuse to approve deals.

The three regulators, which have been at the forefront of global attempts to rein in big tech companies such as Facebook and Google, said the pandemic had accelerated the concentration of power in the hands of a few, and warned they would take an increasingly sceptical view of tie-ups.

The head of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, Andrea Coscelli, said he expected “tremendous pressure” from companies citing the need to rebuild after the pandemic as a reason to justify mergers and investment.

“We’re clearly in a difficult economic situation, and it’s attractive, someone coming to you with plans for investment. But . . . this is really about the medium term, it’s about having market structures that are going to deliver day in, day out for consumers.”

The three regulators said the pandemic “should not be used to bring about a relaxation of the standards against which mergers are ultimately assessed”.

Amen to that. Now let’s see if they really mean business.

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