Yes, it\’s Willy Hutton Again!

What joy Sunday mornings brings us with a Willy Hutton column to consider. Today it\’s that because we can plan how to win gold medals at the Olympics then we can and must plan the economy.

Facepalm:

Everyone has marvelled at the success of Team GB, but the best haul of medals in 104 years is no accident. It is the result of rejecting the world of public disengagement and laissez faire that delivered one paltry gold medal in Atlanta just 16 years ago. Instead, British sport embraced a new framework of sustained public investment and organised purpose, developing a new ecosystem to support individual sports with superb coaching at its heart. No stone was left unturned to achieve competitive excellence.

The lesson is simple. If we could do the same for economy and society, rejecting the principles that have made us economic also-rans and which the coalition has put at the centre of its economic policy, Britain could be at the top of the economic league table within 20 years.

Gaining gold medals isn\’t that tough. Go out and find the higher, stronger, faster peeps, give them a bit of money so they can train and see what happens.

We\’ve a clear goal, a clear timetable and a fairly simple method of getting there.

So, what\’s the goal with the economy? Anyone?

More economic growth? Could be. But maybe it\’s more leisure time. Maybe the real goal is an increase in aggregate utility (that\’s actually what it is in fact)? Or is it less inequality? Lower CO2 emissions?

So we have a problem right at the start here. We don\’t actually have a clear goal.

Then we\’ve a scale and information problem. Within each of the sports we\’re talking about it\’s a pretty small world. Some hundreds to perhaps a couple of thousand potential Olympians in any one of them. Those people almost certainly already inside one of those networks and known to those involved.

So our selection problem isn\’t all that difficult.

Try this again with the entire economy. 65 million of us. And what we\’re actually looking for is that weirdo in a shed in Melksham who has this strange, strange, idea about how to build a better vacuum cleaner. Anyone want to try and build a selection mechanism that would pick up James Dyson? More importantly, can anyone even think of a government run selection system that could conceivably do so?

And then we come to that really rather serious problem. That of uncertainty. We\’re around and about at the technological frontier in this country. The future path of growth depends upon technologies and innovations as yet unknown. Their interaction with a human society as yet unknown, their interaction with other as yet unknown technologies and innovations (not much point in the pneumatic tyre before the bicycle, the light bulb before electricity etc).

So, given that we know fuck all about what is going to succeed then how can we select those things to aid in succeeding?

Quite.

And then the bureaucracy thing. Years back there was a scheme to get people rolling around the ex=Soviets and \’Stans. Go out, see what\’s happening, see if you could build a business on it. Government would kick in a few thousand pounds, up to 50% of your costs, for going having a look see.

Not a bad idea on the face of it. No one knew sod all about what was going on, not even the people on the ground who were running the economies. The only way to do anything really was to go and potter about and kick the tyres.

So, what was the actual scheme? Well, firstly, it was only for small businesses. That\’s OK. Secondly, you got the money 3 months after your return and after you\’d filed a report. Not so useful, really didn\’t help with the cashflow issues which are the reality of every small business. And finally, you had to file a report stating what you intended to find out before you went to be eligible.

Eh? What?

Yes, you had to know the results of your research trip before you made your research trip. An early example of policy based evidence making.

That\’s what any government run scheme will end up being like. I\’ve seen it again in all of this carbon investment stuff. It is simply a truism that solid oxide fuel cells are a potentially fabulous technology. And it\’s also true (a result from some British university work which I helped subsidise) that scandium oxide is a somewhere between vital and very useful part of that technology. Certainly as important as better gearboxes are to windmills. Scandium is also potentially a way of making windmills themselves more efficient.

So, given that the nation is pissing tens of billions into this renewables pot there would be the odd £100k floating around to investigate new and secure sources of scandium, right?

No, obviously there wouldn\’t be. For the planners have plans and they don\’t include plans for things the planners haven\’t thought about.

Which really ain\’t the way that you advance in new technologies.

Any system of planning can only aid with our known knowns and our known unknowns. And that\’s just not how an economy advances: something which is much more to do with our unknown knowns and unknown unknowns.

And don\’t forget, this is entirely without facing the problem of having some fuckwit like Willy trying to do the planning.

39 thoughts on “Yes, it\’s Willy Hutton Again!”

  1. Gaining gold medals isn’t that tough. Go out and find the higher, stronger, faster peeps, give them a bit of money so they can train and see what happens.

    It’s worse than that. The whole way that funding is allocated is based on winning, regardless of the sport.

    So, the result is that money gets pumped into obscure sports like velodrome cycling, canoeing and rowing that most of the world (and most people in this country) don’t care about. You have sportspeople that are well-funded having the time to train, when everyone they’re competing against is doing it part time.

    Just about everyone I’ve heard talking about the Olympics are people who don’t actually care that much about sport.

  2. To address a wider point, the Olympics must be a contender for the all out record of the use of deceit in public life. It started with the absurdly low estimates of the cost, continued with it’s, as yet, unidentified ‘legacy’ & it’s now difficult to find anyone advocating anything who isn’t using it to support their cause. If we were to see an article claiming an Olympic Effect on the Higgs boson it wouldn’t come as a surprise.

    And I’ll make my own claim. So far, I’ve managed to go through the entire fortnight without seeing a single minute of televised coverage. There has been no adverse effect on my personal happiness index whatsoever.

  3. Dammit! You beat me. I watched a full three minutes of highlights waiting in line at the pharmacy. Admittedly, I was playing “spot the Simpsons porn” – amazing how low profile that logo is in the actual arenas.

  4. So idiot will is advocating using taxpayers money as a gift to a small elite from which an even smaller elite are going to be ‘winners’ and the majority get nothing.

    What a fucking genius.

  5. Matt. The trick was to disconnect the sat receiver, so avoiding the possibility of a visitor hitting the TV remote & giving a wide berth to any bar with a TV. As a result, I’ve now acquired some rudimentary Finnish. All in all, a net gain.

  6. bloke in spain,

    The most pernicious aspect of “legacy” is “inspire a generation”, a textbook example of “think of the children”.

    If velodrome cycling inspired people, it wouldn’t need lottery money and massive spending on facilities to survive. People would pay to see it, at a price that would keep the roof over the building, like they do with cricket, rugby and football.

  7. The Soviet Union used to win a lot of gold medals at the Olympics. Therefore, let’s adopt their economic policies.

  8. Like Bloke in Spain I have not seen any of the coverage. More concerned with growing my online gift selling business.
    People warned me months in advance that the Olympics would impact my sales. They were right. Increased sales numbers by 50% or so – mostly within the UK. Found out only a couple of days ago that John Lewis is doing well too for online sales. Perhaps Olympics are good – for those of us who sell online.

  9. @ Matthew L

    > I watched a full three minutes of highlights waiting in line at the pharmacy.

    > amazing how low profile that logo is in the actual arenas.

    So the full three minutes you watched was enough to observe the profile of the logo in the arenas?

    Yes, the logo is Simpsons porn. Yes, everybody knows it. No, they have not consequently said ‘OH NOES’ and hidden it away. It is prominent and it is everywhere.

    It’s fine to not like the olympics, and to criticise stuff.. but no imaginary observations please, not even little white ones. That way lies only the dark side.

  10. May I commend Bill Bryson’s book At Home to one and all, not only for being a jolly fine read but also for containing many ecamples of how inventions need the right conditions to become useful innovations.

  11. Brian, follower of Deornoth

    So let me be sure I understand: Willy Hutton’s new policy is to spend money on those who are successful, and the rest can go to the devil.

    So that’s the end of the welfare state, then?

  12. Willie does realise the key to our successful sports funding system was not only to pick winners but to cut funding from sports that don’t perform. It has to be ruthless to work so the sports try really hard to win. How many British industries that aren’t world beaters would he withhold investment from to be like Team GB?

    Hell, sports finds it hard enough to be ruthless enough. The special pleading from swimming to continue their funding even though they didn’t deliver has already begun.

    But the success of Team GB does has a lesson. We chose niche sports and got really good at them instead of trying to compete at everything.

  13. I don’t quite get the folk who are avoiding watching the Olympics because of all the political baggage and other bullshit that comes with it. Athletes competing against one another is with watching on its own merits – if that’s what you’re into – and can be done in isolation of all the other guff. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the sporting side of the games, hardly missed a thing.

  14. Starting from Olympic success, one could argue for employing royalty – two royals competing and they got a silver and a bronze (the latter being Saudi Arabia’s only medal of the Games). The only other royal Olympians I can remember are Princess Anne who missed out on a medal after being concussed and King (then Prince) Constantine who won a Gold. So either two medals for two contestants or one Gold, one Silver and one Bronze for 4. A much better success record than the hundreds, probably thousands, of “elite” athletes supported by New Labour’s sponsorship programme.
    BTW we don’t have enough royals to make up an Olympic squad (they could make up a decent Polo team but that’s not an Olympic sport any more). I am pointing out that Will Hutton is not even taking the best lesson from the Olympics.

  15. Tim Newman,

    I don’t quite get the folk who are avoiding watching the Olympics because of all the political baggage and other bullshit that comes with it.

    Exactly. I have no problem with opposing the government spending £9bn+ on it, yet enjoying the sport. I would rather have had £400 in my pocket and seen it from Paris, but by the time it opened, my money had been spent.

  16. “Steve // Aug 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    The Soviet Union used to win a lot of gold medals at the Olympics. Therefore, let’s adopt their economic policies.

    I am amazed that you were the first to say that.
    However I agree 100%.

  17. Tim Newman, I have no problem with political baggage. Just no interest in watching sports I do not follow.
    There seem to be a number of us who do not bother with the olympics simply from lack of interest.

  18. I might be wrong about this but I seem to remember that the opening of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom is centred around his concern that the war would create an appetite for central planning.

  19. “If we could do the same for economy and society, rejecting the principles that have made us economic also-rans”

    So, he’s saying that since the free market hasn’t made britain the number one economy in the world, britain should reject it in favor of economic modes used by nations even further from first place?

  20. There’s an easier and quicker refutation: “Will, show us a planned economy which isn’t/wasn’t a total basket case. Cheers”

  21. Will Hutton was so great at planning when he ran the Work Foundation… into the ground. His foresight in stealing its pension pot and paying himself an enormous salary for several years is why the Work Foundation still exists today.

  22. Noticed this article as, although less ludicrous than Owen Jones or Toynbee, the guy is a consistent Anti- Cassandra.

    You’ve said pretty much everything but a couple of points made in the comments which were spot on.

    1/ I can pretty much recall at least one, if not a string of articles by Hutton condemning the Major government’s decision to introduce the National Lottery as a ‘tax on the poor ‘ and ‘taking away government expenditure’ -As even the Grauniad’s own editorial team thought praising Major for the Games’ medal haul appropriate, do you now change your position?

    2/ I can also recall a string of articles advocating absorption into the Eurozone (a position he holds still) -Given the pressure on the economies ( and performance of) Spain, Ireland, Portual and Greece in the Games, I’d argue Brussels would Most likely have declared our fundingfr Sport in breach of rules on ‘State Aid’ and taken it to keep the Greeks in for another month!

    The man is a tool….

  23. What a miserable load of shits! The political message of the Games is quite clear: give people enough money to live off ,so they don’t have to drudge away working in laissez-faire’s boring jobs ,and they can produce anything .This goes for athletes ,pop musicians who once dossed around in Art Colleges on grants and wrote some good songs and inventors. Major Douglas came up with a scheme of Social Credit that he recognised would lead to loads of people playing golf;Anatole Kaletsky has proposed a Quantitative Easing for the People scheme which could have the same effect (see Reuters web-site pat two weeks.
    Laissez faire is doomed: give up flogging a dead horse.

  24. I can understand how Reedatopia gets its athletes, pop musicians & inventors but where do its dustmen come from?

  25. DBC Reed,

    “What a miserable load of shits! The political message of the Games is quite clear: give people enough money to live off ,so they don’t have to drudge away working in laissez-faire’s boring jobs ,and they can produce anything.”

    Maybe you think that it’s worth £3.7m for someone to win a silver medal in judo, in which case, go and stick your hand in your pocket and pay for it. Funding elite athletes belongs in the same bin as funding opera.

  26. bloke in spain,

    I can understand how Reedatopia gets its athletes, pop musicians & inventors but where do its dustmen come from?

    The artists that come up with work that doesn’t fit with the cultural ministry’s values.

  27. DBC Reed, ChrisM is no more anonymous than DBC Reed – indeed the ratio of initials to names is 3 times higher with DBC Reed than with ChrisM – and I comment here about as frequently as you do.

    You started it by calling the commenters here shits and now you are whining when you are called one back – with considerably more justification.

    I can indeed progress and follow an argument when I want to. In your case I didn’t want to as your comment wasn’t worthy of rebuttal, I simply wanted to insult you. Now fuck off, there’s a good chap.

  28. Chris M(oron)?
    I actually advanced a perfectly respectable argument backed with references to Kaletsky’s recent pieces on Quantitative Easing for People .
    You replied with witless insults,as if bad language is not the norm for this site and part of the stock in trade of our host.
    What’s with all this “good chap” business? You some kind of public school twat as well as a moron?
    When it comes down to it,this is what all right- wing opinion is about: supercilious malice. No ideas.Hatred borne of self-loathing.
    So fuck off yourself and stayed fucked off ,you cunt ( State school directness)
    Gosh that bit about the initials was so clever,I was taken aback by the sheer sophistication.You are an anonymous troll on top of everything else.Bad form doncha know?Oik!

  29. But Mr Reed, you still haven’t answered the question:
    “give people enough money to live off ,so they don’t have to drudge away working in laissez-faire’s boring jobs ,and they can produce anything ”
    So who drudges away at the boring jobs? Said this before but it bears repeating. The most vital job in the whole of society is the humble plumber. Without him, we all die of cholera & dysentery. But you can’t get away from it. When you’ve seen one blocked U bend the next one doesn’t contain any novelty.

  30. DBC

    I did boring jobs nearly all my working life, one of them was in the public sector so it isn’t just laissez faire that provides those, it was good for me. Like the great majority of people I have no talents and only average intelligence, having a job of work to do gave my life a grounding and now that I’m retired I enjoy the freedom all the more. You might also want to tell my nephew, who has struggled to find a job since he left college and now has a part time one in a supermarket and couldn’t be more delighted, that he is leading a pointless life of drudgery, he will give you a rude answer. You are a snob sir.
    Btw you have misunderstood Tim’s use of insult and bad language, it works because it is funny.

  31. “Tim’s use of insult & bad language, it works because it’s funny.”
    As did the superb Rumsfeldian reference. Guaranteed to sting the soul of any lefty.
    Seems to me, Mr Reed would do well to put aside the strange views of military economists, for a while & get a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

  32. Steve:

    There was a time when Greeks were the only ones to win any Olympic medals–therefore, let’s adopt GREEK economic policies!

    There–fixed that for you (and for David).

  33. @Bis
    I was about to offer some ideas about boring jobs in response to the Stigler but was taken aback by Chris M’s sheer malevolence .
    I think I will sulk for a while if you don’t mind.
    The answers can be found on a do-it -yourself basis by joining up Anatole Kalestsky’s Quantitative Easing for the People on Reuters site over last two weeks with the National Dividend ideas of Major Douglas who really did say that if people wanted to play golf all day then his proposals would let them.

  34. DBC Reed, I repeat as you are slow on the uptake, I am no more anonymous than you are. “ChrisM” is no more and no less anonymous than “DBC Reed”. I am really unsure why you want to know any more than that anyway. I am also pretty surprised that you are unable to grasp this pretty simple point.

    Your ” perfectly respectable argument” began thus:
    “What a miserable load of shits! ”

    And yet now you are complaining when someone responds to you in kind. You are not only a thin skinned little prick, but a hopeless hypocrite to boot. If you want courteous reasoned argument, you need to do like wise, until then you can fuck off, there’s a good chap.

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