We might just be focusing on the wrong supply chains

Around the globe, markets are adjusting.  Inflation is looking less and less transitory: the Bank of England’s chief economist reckons that UK inflation will top 5%.

It’s all very painful.

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The IMF is still optimistic.  Someone needs to be

Britain’s latest irritation is a shortage of drivers.  What could it be: foreign truckers repatriating to Bulgaria post-Brexit; a shortage of motorway lavatories?  

The Daily Telegraph thinks it might also have something to do with the backlog of 56,144 licence applications that built up during Covid.

Which persists because staff at the licensing agency don’t want to go to the office.  And management can’t let them handle personal data at home.  An upsurge of strikes certainly isn’t helping either.

Not everyone responded with due gravity.  When the government issued a friendly reminder to existing licence holders, one German-qualified holder let it be known: 

I’m sure pay and conditions for HGV drivers have improved, but ultimately I have decided to carry on in my role at an investment bank”

Welcome to the post-Covid world.  Not just in Britain – supply disruption, rising inflation and interest rates creaking upwards are global phenomena.

The IMF has issued a double adverb warning for central banks to be “very, very vigilant” over inflation risks.

The job of markets is to adjust.  This is how economic growth happens.  

And after a global disruption of supply and demand on the scale of the 1970s oil price shocks, or the exit from controls after the second world war, it looks like there is lots of adjustment to be done.  

Which is perhaps one reason the IMF is a little less optimistic in its latest World Economic Outlook:

“The global economy is projected to grow 5.9 percent in 2021 and 4.9 percent in 2022, 0.1 percentage point lower for 2021 than in the July forecast.”

It says:

“The downward revision for 2021 reflects a downgrade for advanced economies—in part due to supply disruptions—and for low-income developing countries, largely due to worsening pandemic dynamics.”

And:

“The fault lines opened up by COVID-19 are looking more persistent—near-term divergences are expected to leave lasting imprints on medium-term performance.”

No wonder it feels:

“Policy choices have become more difficult, with limited room to maneuver.” 

Which is worth some reflection.

Politicians everywhere might feel that their policy choices have always been more difficult, particularly after the global financial crisis.  But for the last ten years, they have had the benefits of low interest rates, rising house prices and easy debt increases.

Now they are reliant on the workers and businesses in the private sector to deliver the necessary productivity growth, while also absorbing the costs of more regulation (that’s you climate change) and higher taxes.

While keeping the workers (when they are working) at Britain’s licensing agency happy.

The IMF is optimistic. Policy choices may be getting more difficult yet.

Perhaps most difficult in those countries where government policy has so far been most successful in cushioning voters against change.

With MMP the politicians have to decide what Germany has decided

Voters in the German federal election on Sunday had the opportunity to sweep away the detritus of 16 years of compromises from retiring Chancellor Angela Merkel.  

The Green party led in the opinion polls by a good margin earlier in the year.  Only a few days ago, the Guardian dared to dream of a red-blooded left-wing coalition between Social Democrats, Greens and the former communist Left Party united by desire for higher taxes, more pernickety controls and a slug of anti-Americanism.

In the end, the German voters did what they have done for much of the post-war era, giving victory to the parties of the right (acknowledging that these labels seem to be less meaningful these days).

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Will China’s communist party complete a second century?

The Economist has marked the 100th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with one of its context-rich historical essays.  It puts its money on the side of the party’s continuing adaptability and resilience.  This is probably the orthodox position.  But, as the Economist’s editorial staff themselves say when hedging their bets, only time will tell.

The more optimistic among us might look beyond the party’s seemingly-monolithic strength and see it – in pleasingly Marxist terms – as a prisoner of its own fundamental contradictions.

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Climate change just got cheaper – or maybe not …

Britain’s fiscal watchdog – the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) – has some good news.  It thinks the cost for the UK of getting to zero carbon could be much less than anticipated:  

While unmitigated climate change would spell disaster, the net fiscal costs of moving to net zero emissions by 2050 could be comparatively modest.”

Under its ‘early action scenario’ government net debt would rise by a mere 20% of GDP in the years to 2050 from the current 105%.  That almost seems encouraging when compared with the near-30% of GDP increase responding to the Covid pandemic , and the roughly 50% surge which followed the global financial crisis.

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NZ public service reform for the UK?

It’s not unusual for governments to decide the solution to their frustrations is to tweak the machinery of government.  Nor for senior public servants to channel those ambitions to safety.

But things look more serious in the UK.  A sequence of reports from high-powered ‘independent’ commissions and well-connected think tanks are floating proposals which bear more than a resemblance to the state sector reforms implemented in New Zealand at the end of last century.

For one of the key players, the seeds of change were planted back in 2010. Back then, Michael Gove (now the Minister for the Cabinet Office) was put in charge of education.  He coined the term ‘the Blob’ to describe the coalition of resistant civil servants and external ideologists who opposed his proposals to change the school system.  And helping him on the Blob job was Dominic Cummings – PM Boris Johnson’s erstwhile chief strategist.

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Has ‘Johnsonism’ arrived?

Britain’s new health minister, Sajid Javid, says he will keep wearing a mask after formal restrictions are removed in the next fortnight.  It’s a more political than public health gesture.  Unless perhaps he’s meeting unvaccinated ministerial visitors from Australia or New Zealand.

Britain’s Covid debate is morphing faster than the virus.  Thanks to the fast spreading Delta variant and a super-charged vaccination programme it’s plausible that pretty much everyone bar Scottish lighthouse keepers will have had Covid antibodies delivered to them by the end of the year via neighbours or needle. 

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Covid casts a long shadow but Singapore’s ministers see light beyond

Believers of logic in policymaking must get frustrated by governments’ wildly diverse, frequently changing and often conflicting Covid responses and ask themselves how long these differences will persist.  Unfortunately the discovery process does require you to make it up as you go along.

This means that the high-vaccinating UK is moving full steam towards unlocking on 19 July, with PM Boris Johnson saying “pretty much life before Covid” is very likely.  A shrewd guess is that this means some manageable adaptations (e.g., vaccine passports) with contingency plans for local restrictions in case of flare-ups.

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G7 – the view from the top is fine, if a bit fuzzy

The omens were good for the G7 summit at Carbis Bay in Cornwall.  Untypical blazing sunshine and a victory for England’s footballers in the Euro Championships put the hosts in fine fettle (qualified only slightly by the NZ cricketers’ series win).  

The first and most important objective was achieved: the world leaders managed to agree not to disagree. Even better, no one called the host, Britain’s PM Boris Johnson, “weak and dishonest”, no matter how much they might have been tempted.

But despite the 25 page summit communique, direction and leadership was a little harder to find.

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Vaccine politics look like normal politics – just more extreme

Point of Order has been consistent in anticipating an irritable post-Brexit relationship between Britain and the EU.  But who would have thought vaccine politics would develop as a major flashpoint, let alone a possible relationship breaker?

Even hyper-critical Brits have had to acknowledge that the UK government is a leader in the global vaccination rollout.  And as more background information seeps into the public arena, the British government’s decisiveness in supporting vaccine development, committing early to contracts and driving mass vaccination is looking better and better.

But the same comparisons spell political danger for European politicians. Co-ordination by the EU appears to have resulted in slowness: slowness in making commitments, in tweaking the production process and in approving the product.

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