Willy Hutton’s mistake

OK, OK, just today’s mistake from Willy Hutton:

Cities have always been the load-bearers of economic and social advance: agglomerations of people are the source of creativity and scientific experimentation; they also create demand and then supply that demand. Cities are ever more important, but they need to be big – at least 2 million in population by some estimates –to create the scale on which diverse economies depend. London’s advantage, above all, is its size, although it has benefited hugely from an undeclared industrial strategy favouring financial services, the creative industries, its transport and, most recently, its education system. Being the capital doesn’t hurt either, while membership of the EU has attracted hundreds of companies to locate their headquarters there.

Birmingham and Manchester, England’s next biggest cities, need to be bigger and governed as regions to capture these agglomeration effects and organise strategies better to support themselves economically and socially.

Yep, agglomeration, all entirely true. It’s people interacting with people which create economic wealth. Great.

But note the elision there. Willy says that’s about governance. That is, he’s insisting that London’s wealth generation is coming from the GLC (or whatever it’s called now), therefore Brum should have a BLC etc.

London was one of the pre-eminent economies of the globe rather before the GLC existed. The economic wealth creation isn’t therefore reliant upon this method of governance.

17 comments on “Willy Hutton’s mistake

  1. London is disproportionately large because of central government. Has always been the case despite the Kings and Queens of England touring the country with their entourage in the past.

    Take the seat of power from London and a lot of that wealth would follow. That’s why I’d like to see Parliament move to Birmingham/Manchester while the Palace of Westminster is being renovated.

  2. This is more evidence of my “London is dying” perspective. If Will Hutton thinks we need big cities, we probably don’t.

    We know that remote working is growing, and the sort of jobs it affects most is people sitting at desks, not people manning a lathe. At which point, what is going to happen to all those people in London working at desks?

    And as Mr Yan said (and something I observe walking down the streets), it’s heavily public sector. Tons and tons of fake charities, quangoes, the BBC, arts, museums.

  3. Is Our Wully suggesting that the combined activities of Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnston and Sadiq Khan have increased London’s commercial viability in any way? Bit of a stretch even for him, surely?

  4. Sad Dick has provided significantly more work for medial professionals while simultaneously removing troublesome coloured young men from council estates.

    That could be considered an economic benefit.

    He should consider taxing knife and gun possession to bring in even more money.

  5. Greater Brum Council would be GBC which also stands for Great Burger Company so I guess that’s why you wrote BLC.

  6. “Birmingham and Manchester, England’s next biggest cities, need to be bigger and governed as regions to capture …” the revenue of the rural populations around them for spending on city infrastructure.

    I am often suspicious of people pushing regionalism as an alternative to rule from Whitehall. Repeating the problems of a centralised UK government in miniature is not a remedy. And they tend to shy away from considering a genuine English authority.

  7. Well, if you’re going to regard the money the State or local government spends as “domestic product” on a pound per pound basis, possibly. But if you looked only at real wealth creation…?

  8. Also, both Sheffield (570,000) and Leeds (710,000) are bigger than Manchester (540,000). If he means *GREATER* Manchester he should say *GREATER* Manchester.

    To think that the Manchester Guardian has descended to this level of fact checking.

    Actually I was rather stunned to discover than Manchester has a comparable population to Sheffield dispite being four times smaller in area. About two thirds of Sheffield is countryside, but that still makes Sheffield something like twice the area of Manchester with comparable population.

  9. Dear Mr Worstall

    “London was one of the pre-eminent economies of the globe rather before the GLC existed.”

    And continued to be after Maggie scrapped it.

    DP

  10. San Fransisco, Boston+Cambridge (thats Massachusetts for you Brits), New Orleans, Washington DC, Seattle Washington … all have populations under a million

  11. Look at the three greatest British scientists. Darwin did his work living in the countryside, after his great voyage aboard the Beagle. Newton did his work partly in Cambridge – no city, a small market town – and partly back in the sticks in Lincolnshire when the university was closed by plague. Maxwell’s most important fertile period was at King’s College, London.

    One out of three doesn’t seem to me to be good evidence that even in Britain cities are “the source of creativity and scientific experimentation”, at least not at the very highest level.

  12. @ dearieme
    The three greatest British theorists.
    Scientists include Robert Stephenson, Jethro Tull, James Hargreaves, Edward Cartwright, Richard Arkwright, and Abraham Darby of which zero out of six came from London.

  13. London was pre-eminent before the creation of the London County Council and then the GLC.
    It no longer is. Will Hutton thinks that is an argument in favour of the GLC. You know something? I don’t think that is an argument in favour of the GLC.

  14. London has benefited from an undeclared strategy in favour of Labour-controlled councils that receive vast sums to finance their spending on education and social services – this benefits a majority of London boroughs, not the whole of London. It has benefited from funding for “The Arts” which actually means funding Labour Luvvies and Opera, which is enjoyed by senior civil servants, that don’t cover their ridiculous salaries/costs without state subsidies. London transport and commuter lines are subsidised because civil servants use them.
    OTOH there is *no* subsidy or strategic support for financial services that generate so much of London’s (and the UK’s) wealth or genuinely creative industries.

  15. @dearieme, February 18, 2018 at 7:58 pm

    One out of three doesn’t seem to me to be good evidence that even in Britain cities are “the source of creativity and scientific experimentation”

    Agree, a small town/city provided much of Britain’s economic and science advancements – Edinburgh: Enlightenment, Medicine, Adam Smith…

    Large cities often make local idea collaboration more difficult

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