Strategic thinking, very serious people and roads not travelled

Paul Krugman has popularised the notion of the Very Serious People. Very Serious People spend a lot of their time talking about strategy. After all, strategy is the most important, most serious thing you can talk about. After all, when you’ve got strategy worked out, the rest is pretty much just filling in the detail.

We certainly have a VSP problem in economics as we sail on out into the treacherous waters pretending that it’s more or less like the 1990s and to the extent it isn’t it would be jolly good if we could get back there. Is anyone thinking about Australia’s response to the threat of secular stagnation? Not so much. (But isn’t it great that we haven’t had a recession in twenty five years? I mean, not wanting to repeat myself, but isn’t it, well … great?) A whole host of micro-economic reforms that might be contemplated? Not so much.

Anyway, I was reminded of this when I came upon this essay on The Path Not Taken, namely the path not taken by the UK in Europe. The essay is from 2014 and makes for very sad reading now. Of course a lot of bad luck coalesced to produce the political cock-up that was Brexit, but, reading it with hindsight, the essay intimates that it was born out of the same complete lack of imagination from the UK’s political elite. I don’t know enough about the internal politics of the EU to really know, but the essay strikes me making its key point very compellingly.

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6 Responses to Strategic thinking, very serious people and roads not travelled

  1. Pappinbarra Fox says:

    Nicholas, your reference to secular stagnation induced me to go searching myself and I came across a Time article from 25 March 2016 : This theory explains why America might never recover. Interesting reading. Why don’t those politicians with at least a passing interest in economics engage in very serious thinking or at least take advice along those paths? A few Labor people might be so inclined, but LibNat, which one would think would be natural to them, do not appear to be interested in better quality economic thinking.

  2. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thanks Julie,

    I’m much more critical of our bureaucrats – those with independence at least, and those without could at least intimate such issues.

    I’ve said a little about that on this blog here and here.

    Compare the latest back-slapping fest in seeing off Glenn Stevens with the contributions of Mervyn King, Adair Turner both during their tenure and post retirement and Andy Haldane in his current job as Chief Economist of the Bank of England (which often publishes its current estimate of the implicit subsidy to banks for being to big to fail).

    There’s also wider commentators in academia. As in the second column referred to above, compare people like Sam Brittain, John Kay and Martin Wolf to our economic journalists. There are a number who I think do a good job, but as journalists, not one of them is really pushing our economic thinking along. And I don’t say that in a snobby way in the sense that I want them to have lots of economic credentials. I don’t think that’s necessary to take a deep and constructive interest in a debate and chase it down in one’s commentary.

  3. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Oops – just realised I called you Julie – was pondering what I say to you and Julie picking on me on another thread ;)

    Worse still, I fear you may have a point :(

    But I will try to reply.

  4. Jim says:

    I’m know the likelihood of finding a VSP in the ranks of mainstream politics is about as high as finding a unicorn in my back yard.

    And I’m beginning to think that the likelihood of finding VSPs in the ranks of senior public servants that are not overtly influenced by their political masters is about the same.

  5. derrida derider says:

    “I’m much more critical of our bureaucrats – those with independence at least, and those without could at least intimate such issues. ”

    As a representative of the class of bureaucrats without independence, I can only say I agree. But then it comes down the chilling effect of lack of independence – constant censoring quickly leads to self-censoring which quickly kills imagination.

    Gee – does that make me a VSP? I always thought I was the epitome of the unserious (read “unsound”) bureaucrat – at least that’s what my masters tell me.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      DD, I always thought of you as an unsound chap like myself, so on that score at least in the tallowed halls of Troppo you’re fine with me, and since we like empty pomposity here at Troppo, I’d like to say that on behalf of us all.

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