Sorry for the hiatus. I have just spent four years working for Vince Cable, as special adviser in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. (I was so unprepared for the job that I didn’t know what the ‘I’ stood for at the outset).
It is strange to revisit this blog and remember everything that occupied my thoughts back then: mostly the fiscal mix, monetary policy, credit policy (paging Her Majesty’s Treasury: they are different) and macro. I am still obsessed by this, despite it being a matter of policy within government that they are barely ever discussed and even then in the most desultory, back of the envelope style way. You would be astonished, and dismayed. If the world was well run, macro would be no more difficult a subject than how to defend the realm or maintain the water supply. But it is not well run, and the cult of amateurism around macro (leavened with a misplaced Argument from Authority, where the authorities are the Bank and the Treasury) deserves treatment of its own.
However, the job of Spad subjected me to such a blizzard of micro policies and a rollercoaster tour of government that my field of interest has inevitably widened In any single month I may have been asked to get stuck into: the regulation of tobacco displays; private copying exceptions to copyright law; the sensitivity of steel firms to environmental levies; a new public interest test for mergers and takeovers; whether the views of one venture capitalist should be enough to override all employment law; the risk of state aids upsetting the British Business Bank; how to get the right kind of money out of the Treasury for a project; votes on executive pay; who Vince should see at conference; whether net or gross lending figures have any meaning; what rights of appeal companies should have to Competition Tribunals; and so on.
You get the picture. This leads to another point: how can anyone be properly qualified for such a job? I hope to write a fair bit about Spads. I feel I acquitted myself well (although I was spectacularly lucky that one email chain casting me in good light was read out in public. Before a judge). I think I had some qualifications: a fair smattering of economics, 10 years in business, a good MBA. Even then, I struggled, particularly at first. The most honourable dividing line within the world of Spads is between those who realise they are grotesquely overpromoted, and those preening fools who think that standing next to the right politician on election day gave them a divine right to rule.
Obviously, there are no LibDems in that latter category.
So I will resume. I expect early posts to go into some detail about quite how tight are the fiscal projections in the OBR’s latest report. This sounds unoriginal. I hope it won’t be.
[A minor housekeeping point: the domain name for this blog got snaffled by someone or other in the last year or two. Assuming I can’t get it back, you can either use http://www.freethinkecon.wordpress.com, or the slightly snappier http://www.mostlyeconomics.com. I ran out of inspiration, and in a world of Twitter, Feedly and other handy ways of absorbing content, I am not sure how much it matters any more. ]