Tag Archives: economics

Retirement and Pensions: Creative Solutions Required to an Age-Old Problem

This article was contributed by MSc Governance, Economics and Public Policy student Thomas Boulton. He argues that increases to the State Pension age are sensible, but daring solutions are needed to safeguard pensioners’ living standards and address fiscal deficit.

In 2017, Theresa May attempted to introduce legislation that would have meant the value of an elderly person’s house was taken into account when measuring their eligibility for state funded care. This would have meant many more people having to pay for their own care. The backlash and subsequent backtracking almost cost May the position of Prime Minister. These events serve as an excellent foreshadowing of the likely problems policy makers will face this century. Data on public finances, forecasts in the UK dependency ratio and declining birth rates globally illustrate the emergent need to recognise the threat that demographic aging poses, and that traditional solutions will not be available.

Why we may have to work longer

Put simply, we are living longer, and old age is expensive to the exchequer. Over the last 40 years, life expectancy has increased at a faster rate than the average working life. As a result, the average number of years of retirement a person enjoys has almost tripled, from 5 years 10 months in 1980, to a peak of 16 years in 2014, and 15 years and 5 months in 2018, which comprises almost 25% of their adult life. Whilst nobody would want to begrudge someone a long and happy retirement, the impact retirement has on public finances cannot be ignored. With longer life expectancy, the length of a person’s life at which they are a net contributor to overall public finances begins to diminish.

Source: ONS

At the age of 68, the average person ceases to be a net contributor as a result of retiring and paying less tax, compounded by increased health and welfare spending when they reach their 70s.

Hard choices

Increasing the retirement age alone will not plug the gap. Life expectancy is forecast to continue rising in the UK. More significantly, demographic aging trends suggest increasing the retirement age may not have a significant impact, even if the electorate were to regard the idea of working longer as tolerable.

Source: OECD

Whether we choose to stick to a retirement period of just over 15 years, as in 2018, or maintain that a quarter of our adult lives be spent in retirement, people born in 1990 could still expect to be working in 2060. However, this would only leave public finances a little better off than they are now, given the forecast in the old-age dependency ratio.

Source: ONS

Birth rates and net migration

One straightforward solution to the dependency ratio is to increase the number of people in the country between the ages of 22-68. Easier said than done. Birth rates are in decline both in the UK and in all of the countries where the UK’s migrant workers have historically originated. This should leave today’s policy makers wondering where tomorrow’s migrant workers will come from.

Source: World Bank

Private pensions and productivity

One recent policy success has been the institution and uptake of workplace pensions, which will mean many fewer people will be reliant on the state pension. The possibility of withdrawing the state pension for those with large private pensions, and other benefits such as free TV licences may be politically tolerable, if framed in a redistributive way. Other than that, policy makers will have to find ways of ensuring tax receipts can increase, while also enabling higher birth rates. Given the further deterioration of public finances post pandemic, the solutions will have to be creative, and implemented more urgently than foreseen by Theresa May. Above all, they will have to be put forward to the public much more convincingly.

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The Emerald Isle: where only grass grows

This post was contributed by MSc Politics, Philosophy and Economics student Andrew Ó Murchú and was originally written as an assignment for the module ‘Economics: Theory, Policy and Institutions’. Andrew argues that Ireland’s dairy expansion is setting off environmental indicators.

By far the most grass covered country in Europe at ca. 56% of total land area, Ireland’s particular success with milk production can be attributed to its extensive green landscape. Today this is made possible by an inordinate amount of fertilisers and cow manure – the latter now the cause of a shrinking dairy industry in the Netherlands which, like Ireland, benefitted (albeit briefly) from the lifting of EU milk quotas in 2015.

Ireland now has its eyes on the historical growth patterns of the New Zealand dairy industry. Prior to the introduction of quotas in 1984, the two countries then had similar levels of output: annual production stood at almost six and seven billion litres of milk respectively. While Irish production has increased on average almost 6% per annum since 2015, the industry produced just over eight billion litres of milk in 2020 in comparison to 21 billion litres in New Zealand. This exponential growth is now seen as a model for the Irish dairy industry’s expansion in a game of catchup that is causing tensions between government, industry, and environmental NGOs.

A case taken by An Taisce (Ireland’s National Trust) against the successful planning application for a new cheese production facility in Kilkenny has recently been dismissed by the High Court in Dublin. Now the NGO has applied for leave to appeal this decision to ensure the construction of the facility – which would increase Ireland’s annual milk output by over 5% – does not go ahead. The group is concerned that the joint venture between Ireland’s largest dairy processor, Glanbia, and the Dutch dairy producer, Royal A-ware, will set bad precedent for the expansion of an industry with an already poor environmental record.

In their appeal, An Taisce draws attention to a report by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency in 2020, which showed that phosphate levels in 25% of Irish rivers were found to be increasing in line with the dairy herd, while consumption of other inorganic fertilisers has also increased since 2015 in attempts to increase grass utilisation. The Irish landscape has been described as a ‘duoculture’ of dairy cows and grass by ecologist Pádraic Fogarty, with hedge and woodland cover in Ireland already amongst the lowest in Europe even before quota abolition. The blame for the compounding biodiversity crisis is being pointed firmly at the fast-paced expansion of the dairy industry, but political appetite to challenge it is in short supply.

In an unprecedented intervention this month, the Irish Prime Minister, Micheál Martin, appealed in the Irish parliament for An Taisce to stand down in pursuit of the successful planning application. From a short-term political perspective, this may make sense. The multiplier effect of the dairy industry in Ireland is significant, with every €1 of dairy goods exported representing 90 cent spending within the Irish economy, and in 2020 the dairy industry was valued to generate output of €11.3 billion in the country (3.5% of GDP). But as Ireland’s food policy prioritises growing sales to emerging economies for sustainable food, pursuing environmentally destructive practices is unlikely a sustainable position.

Irish annual milk production stands at 1,623 Kg/capita in comparison to 862 Kg/capita in the Netherlands. This may indicate the central position of the dairy industry within Ireland’s economy – but considering the state of the Irish environment, catching up with New Zealand’s annual milk output of 4,671 Kg/capita appears less and less appropriate, or even desirable. The Irish government needs to reconsider its policy of dairy expansion which has become radicalised around the trope that Ireland is only fit for growing grass and its image of grazing cows on pasture. The pursuit of this productivist policy is crippling biodiversity and other environmental indicators. While companies from the Netherlands are moving in on Ireland as a source of overflow from a stunted dairy industry at home, the Irish government need only look to the Dutch food system itself to discover the possibilities diversification has to offer.

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What has COVID-19 done for chess?

“The beauty of chess is it can be whatever you want it to be. It transcends language, age, race, religion, politics, gender and socioeconomic background. Whatever your circumstances, anyone can enjoy a good fight to the death over the chess board”

– Simon Williams

Chess can be dated back at least 1500 years to Northern India, and it has evolved with the times; even through this pandemic. Although the exact number of chess players worldwide is unknown, we know that the number of players has grown over the last eight years. The last estimate by Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) was 600 million in 2012. This figure is expected to have increased, especially over the last year. But why has chess become so popular?

The impact of the pandemic

Chart showing the percentage of revenue that makes up the £117 million games market

2020 has been an unprecedented and disruptive year, but despite this it has been a year of extraordinary growth. One where total internet searches grew by almost 70 percent, e-commerce by almost 12 percent and online streaming services by 28 percent, the online gaming market has shown exceptional growth with experts at Newzoo estimating that the games market would generate £124 billion in revenue, a 15 percent increase compared to the previous year. This exceeded the original £117 billion estimate.

Chart showing the growth of the gaming market.

In the first and last quarter of the year, platforms like Lichess, Chess.com and Chess24 reported significant spikes in activity leading to multiple server upgrades to cope with this increased demand.

Why is watching Netflix good for chess?

Based on Google Trends search queries for the terms ‘chess’ and ‘How to play chess’ worldwide, there was an increased affinity for the game in March/April and October/November. COVID-19 has fuelled the gaming industry during this period, now that everyone has more time, causing these peaks. A study carried out by Instant Offices found the average commute in London to be 74 minutes a day and 40 minutes elsewhere in the world. This, coupled with the cancellation of numerous shows and sport encouraged extra hours on in-home entertainment.

Chart showing the popularity of Chess search terms.

The second peak in late October was due to the release of Netflix’s record-setting series The Queen’s Gambit. The show, which featured a female protagonist Anya Taylor-Joy playing Beth Harmon, ranked #1 in 63 countries. Magnus Carlsen, the world’s highest-ranked grandmaster, noted that the series “did chess better” than anything Hollywood has made previously, especially since the focus was on Harmon’s talent and not her gender.

As a result of gaming’s success, e-sports viewing has surged with an estimated revenue of £810 million, which translates to an incredible 16% increase since 2019. Analytical firms such as Social Blade found online chess viewership to have boomed on viewing platforms including Twitch and YouTube. YouTube videos have gained more than 350 million views globally since January 2020 and YouTube gaming reached 100 billion watch time hours.

Chart showing YouTube views for popular chess streamers.

Figures from Social Blade reveal how chess streamers and content creators have peaked this year for the same reasons as the peaks for the search terms’ popularity.

In August, Team SoloMid (TSM) a Los Angeles based e-sports organisation valued at £300 million signed its first professional chess player GM Hikaru Nakamura. This is a milestone for chess since the board game is being adopted by the e-sports industry.

What’s next for chess?

Although 2020 negatively impacted a lot of industries, chess has managed to flourish. In the upcoming years it will be crucial that these platforms manage to retain their new users and continue to grow in order to monetise the gaming community and develop. It will be important for these platforms and content creators to publish engaging content. Inevitably some players will be itching to go back to local clubs so that they can have their ‘battles to the death’ face to face once the world returns to some form of normality.

This blog was contributed by BSc Financial Economics student Sanjiiv Easwarathas and was originally written as an assignment for the module Quantitative Techniques for Applied Economics.

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The groundbreaking climate action of Sweden’s century-old industry

This blog was contributed by BSc Economics student Linus Kask and was originally written as an assignment for the module Quantitative Techniques for Applied Economics.

In Viking mythology, Thor, the god of lightning, wore iron gloves to manage his famous hammer Mjolnir. Known as the guardian of humankind, Thor used his hammer and gloves to protect the world from giants. Now a new saviour of the world as we know it is lighting up in the land of the Vikings.

For over a thousand years in the northern parts of Sweden, blast furnaces have burnt coal to create iron for steel production. This technique is still standard practice today, thus making the steel industry one of the world’s greatest emitters of carbon dioxide. In a world that lusts for steel to expand economies and an industry sticking to its business-as-usual approach, its emissions are only set to rise. However, a group of businesses from north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden have now formed a vanguard and are looking to turn the industry status quo on its head.

In 2016, the Swedish state-owned mining company LKAB, the state-owned power company Vattenfall and the privately owned steel producer SSAB joined forces to start HYBRIT, Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology, an initiative to create zero-emission steel. In 2026, the first emission-free steel will be on the market and a full-scale operation is expected to be running by 2035. The common goal of all three companies is to be fully carbon neutral by 2045.

Today, coal is burnt in blast furnaces in order to reduce oxygen from iron ores and extract iron for steel production. HYBRIT aim to replace coal with hydrogen in this process, as when hydrogen reacts with the released oxygen, the only residue product remaining is water instead of carbon dioxide. Hydrogen is the most common element on earth but it is seldom found in its pure form in nature because it is so reactive. This means that it must be extracted from a composition of elements. The most common way is to separate hydrogen from carbon in natural gas, but the residue product then is carbon dioxide. Instead, HYBRIT use water, separating it into oxygen and hydrogen through electrolysis. This is an extremely electricity intense technique and will, when HYBRIT’s technology has reached its full potential, require 10% of Sweden’s current energy consumption. Due to the immense amount of electricity needed in the production of hydrogen, it is paramount that the power is not produced using fossil fuels. This is quite easy to achieve in Sweden, as the country’s energy mix consists of only 1% fossil fuels. In comparison, the rest of the world’s energy mix includes a staggering 65% fossil fuels.

Bar chart showing fossil fuel consumption in Sweden vs the rest of the world.Because of the vast amount of electricity needed to make this groundbreaking shift in the steel industry, the world’s energy mix must contain a greater proportion of renewables. This huge infrastructure investment will be justified by the fact that the steel industry is accountable for 7% of the world’s emissions, releasing more carbon dioxide than India alone, or Africa and South America combined. The development of the technology is not a small investment either, estimated to cost 15 billion Swedish kronas, 1.8 billon US dollars, per annum for the next 20 years. This expenditure is validated because HYBRIT will play a crucial role in reaching the goals set in the Paris Agreement for the whole world. In Sweden, HYBRIT’s new technology will be fundamental in achieving the country’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2045. The steel industry in Sweden today accounts for 10% of its emissions.

Graph showing the CO2 emissions of the steel industry.Booting the coal in steel production has its economic advantages as well. Carbon prices are set to rise, and McKinsey & Company, a consultancy, estimate that unless they reduce their carbon emissions, steel companies will risk 14% of their value as a result of this increase. With steel demand on a steady rise driven by increasing urbanisation and world population, the industry has a lot to gain by switching to hydrogen.

Line graph showing rising global steel demand.Time is of the essence. If the steel industry does not find an alternative route to production without coal, it could account for 25% of carbon emissions by 2050, thus crushing any possibility of keeping the global temperature within the goal of 1.5 ˚C above pre-industrial levels.

For the first time since the Viking ages, Thor’s iron gloves could be made using sustainable production. HYBRIT’s technology is the best promise available for emission-free steel and if they succeed, a supreme shift has occurred in this ancient practice. North of the Arctic Circle in Sweden, a status quo is about to be turned on its head.

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Driving Investment: The Missing Piece to your Investment Portfolio?

This blog was contributed by BSc Financial Economics student Paul Talbot and was originally written as an assignment for the module Quantitative Techniques for Applied Economics.

Picture of a classic car

Classic cars, an alternative investment that is rarely discussed when investors are looking for a strategy to increase ROI in their portfolios. Some prestige classic cars have increased over 400% in the last decade[1], but what sets these assets apart from status quo investing?

“Stories. That to me is the answer. Every car has its own history, its own adventures, its own japes and probably plenty of scrapes. Tales to be told and shared with fellow enthusiasts. Few other asset classes, however valuable or beautiful, can match it”[2]

The majority of investors would not be able to afford a 1960 Ferrari 250 GT, but investment growth has been seen across the majority of the classic car market. A more affordable sector is British classic cars, iconic cars such as the Jaguar E-Type or the Triumph TR6 has yielded over 50% returns since 2007, outpacing the heavyweight UK asset classes.

Graph showing price indices of UK classic cars

The classic car market also benefits from a favourable tax status, investors do not pay capital gains tax on profits as they are classed as “Wasting Assets” by HRMC. Movable assets such as classic cars can be gifted to family members, if no benefit is retained or lent, or for a period each year, to a car museum to avoid paying inheritance tax on death. If you intend to enjoy your investment on the road, they are also exempt from road tax and a MOT.

Tax relief of 20% on investment gains already drives these assets ahead of other financial instruments and it is no surprise that this is attracting some attention. The classic car market added significant gains to the UK economy last year[3] and is expected to continue grow from £940 Million in 2019 to £1.65 Billion in 2023.

Graph showing projected UK classic car market

Investing in classic cars does not come without a few speed bumps, it is not a case of purchasing any car and hiding it away for many years. Paul Michaels of Hexagon Classics notes “The very best cars — meaning those with full histories in exceptional condition, either completely restored or lovingly maintained with some age-related patina — will always command the highest prices.”

It is always advisable to get an expert opinion and the history authenticated before purchasing your investment and continue to keep your new asset lovingly maintained and stored away from the elements. All the above will add an upfront and annual running cost to purchasing the investment, reducing overall yield, but in turn, the better the asset is maintained and stored, the higher possibility of future gains.

The average global investment portfolio last year contained only 4% of luxury investments, this includes fine wines, collectable coins, art, jewellery and classic cars to name a few[4]. With climate change at the forefront of government polices banning the sale of petrol/diesel cars by 2030 and the rise of autonomous vehicles, will only make these investment stars a rarer commodity.

Pie chart showing global average asset allocation.

With central banks flooding the markets with liquidity, artificially supporting equities and driving down bond yields, parking a little piece of history in your garage and diversifying your portfolio will not only provide the perfect inflation and market correction hedge, but you may have some fun along the way.

Next time you look at your annual investment report, the immortal words of Wilbur Shaw may spring to mind.

“Gentleman, start your engines”

Further Information

[1] https://www.hagerty.com/apps/valuationtools/market-trends/collector-indexes/Ferrari

[2] HRH Prince Michael of Kent interview with Knight Frank November 2020

[3] FBHVC National Historic Vehicle Survey – https://www.britishmotorvehicles.com/news/fbhvc-national-historic-vehicle-survey-reveals-significant-contribution-to-uk-economy

[4]The Attitudes Survey is based on responses from 600 private bankers and wealth advisers managing

over US$3 trillion of wealth for UHNWI clients. The survey was taken during October and November 2018

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The silent extinction of the truffle kingdom

Could climate change lead to the complete extinction of truffles? BSc Financial Economics with Accounting student Nada Hinic explains.Mushrooms on a forest floor

         “All that is gold does not glitter,
          Not all those who wander are lost;
         The old that is strong does not wither,
         Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

         (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring)

Could climate change lead to the complete extinction of truffles? According to some scientists, it is quite possible: the increase of dry and hot weather in the regions of Italy, France and Spain can lead to a very serious situation for truffles, with the possibility of them disappearing completely in these regions by the end of the century. This would mean that the delicacy, which is already dizzyingly expensive and can be compared to the price of gold, would reach the value of an even more incredible level.

Average retail truffle prices in 2019

Source: https://truffle.farm/truffle_prices.html

We can find strong evidence in historical articles on culinary culture that 18th and 19th century Europeans consumed truffles abundantly, from which it can be concluded that this fungus was not expensive. In the last 100 years, crops in the regions of Italy, France and Spain have decreased from a harvest of 2,000 tonnes a year to just about 20, due to global warming, acid rain, and, more recently, heat waves and reduced rainfall.

Scientist Ulf Buntgen, in his latest study ‘Black truffle winter production depends on Mediterranean summer rainfall’ (for which he used 49 years of continuous harvest and climate data from Spain, France and Italy) claims that truffle production rates from November to March significantly rely on previous rainfall from June to August, and that too much autumn rain adversely affects the later winter harvest.

The question might be asked how the market manages to survive. The logical answer would be that dealers have turned to alternative sources. Truffles themselves are not uncommon. Many sources in Europe still under the radar are producers in Croatia, Poland, Serbia, Albania … where they grow the same species as in the three most popular European regions. Why is that so? Truffles that are claimed to come from France or Italy (regardless of country of origin) achieve a premium price.

China has been, for several years now, the largest producer and exporter of truffles in the world. However, the quality of Chinese truffles is not satisfactory to any world standard, so their market price is very low. Australia and New Zealand are also on the horizon, but their production only covers their local demand. With the greatest sadness, one must also ask: will the Australian truffle market survive the devastation brought by the recent forest fires? The US has also entered the market recently, but it cannot be considered a serious competitor to the Europeans as yet.

All the sources combined are not enough to keep up with the demand for this delicacy. In 2019, a pound of quality black truffle cost about $650, and white almost $2000 (however the price soared again in November 2019). In 2017, due to too much drought in the previous year, the yield of white truffles was so weak that the price of one pound of white truffles skyrocketed to $4000.

Average white truffle prices (USD/lb)

Source: https://truffle.farm/truffle_prices.html

London restaurateurs charge around £5 per gram of truffle shavings, claiming they make no profit on truffle, but the reason for the offer is the quality of the dish: ‘only few shavings can turn the dish from ordinary to extraordinary’.

Because of their hidden underground life cycle, truffles have aroused the interest of many scientists and many mysteries about them have now been revealed, though not all.

Truffles are hypogenous fungi: that is, unlike mushrooms on stems, they grow underground. Buried, their interaction with the rest of the living world is very complex. They depend on their hosts on which they feed, which are primarily oak and hazelnut trees and fir trees. The development of truffles is a wonderful harmony between the tree and the truffle itself: the tree provides the truffle with sugar and the fungus gives the tree nutrients from water and soil. Fertilisation depends on the animals they can feed with their trunks, not on the wind, to spread its spores. To attract the attention of animals, when truffles mature, they turn on their spectacular scent, sending signals to anyone available to them that they are ready to be excavated so they can be dispersed.

But if truffles are so rare and desirable, why not just grow your own? The answer is that truffle cultivation is harder than it looks, and many scientists have addressed the issue. In recent decades, techniques have been developed to vaccinate tree seedlings with truffle mycelium, but the process is still difficult and does not necessarily guarantee that truffles will mature. Italian white truffles do not respond to these techniques at all, while French black truffles, on the other hand, are more susceptible to domestication.

Leading countries by truffle production in 2017 and 2018

Source: Leading countries by mushroom and truffle production 2018 (source: https://www.atlasbig.com/en-us/countries-mushroom-truffle-production) Leading countries by mushroom and truffle production 2017 (source: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-world-s-top-producers-of-mushroom-and-truffle.html)

The irrigation technique remains a safe method to preserve the survival, especially of the white truffle, as Buntgen observes in his work, but this also has its limitations. Recognising the vulnerability of the sector, there is a need to further foster stronger connections between farmers, politicians and scientists in order to maintain environmental and economic sustainability under the predicted climate change in southern Europe.

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Brexit – a death knell for UK birds?

The UK’s wildlife is under pressure. A no-deal Brexit would only damage it further.

A skylark

Skylarks in the UK – soon to be lost?

The State of Nature Report 2019 paints a bleak picture of the condition of birdlife throughout the United Kingdom – the UK’s departure from the European Union will only exacerbate this. According to the report, since 1970 the abundance and distribution of the UK’s species has declined with “no let-up in the net loss of nature” in recent years.

Since 1970, 41% of all UK species studied have declined and the report concluded that intensive management of agricultural land is the key contributing factor. The clearest evidence of this is the report’s findings on farmland birds – these species have been hit particularly hard by farming intensification, as shown by the 54% decrease in the Farmland Bird Indicator in this period (fig. 1).

fig 1 - British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), www.jncc.gov.uk

fig 1 – British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), www.jncc.gov.uk

While there are some exceptions to the trend and recent initiatives by Defra and the EU LIFE programme have helped to stem the decline, once-common birds like lapwings and skylarks, yellowhammers and grey partridges are fading from our countryside.

Farmers – friend or foe?

The UK’s farmers have long been seen as protectors of the countryside, but in a competitive environment the industry has resorted to increasingly intensive farming methods.  The land available for farming – the Utilised Agricultural Area (UAA) – has remained around 70% of the total UK land since the 1980s (ONS) and without more land available, farmers have been forced to improve productivity wherever they can, resulting in intensification of production methods (fig. 2).

fig 2 - Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs - https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets

fig 2 – Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs – https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets

The productivity index for UK farmland shows an ever upward trend – new technologies play a part, but intensive land management is the key driver of these gains.  For arable farming, intensive farming methods include increased pesticide use, planting multiple crops per year, the reduction in fallow years and extensions of planting seasons, while for livestock it is rotational grazing, higher livestock concentration and overfertilisation of pasture.  All methods impact wildlife.

Self-sufficiency

According to DEFRA, the UK is 61% self-sufficient in all foods – if, from January 1, the UK tried to survive solely on domestic production, we would run out in mid-August.  Much of this production deficit is filled by goods imported from the EU – in 2018 £19.1bn of the £24.3bn deficit was with EU 27 countries.

fig 3 - Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs - https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets

fig 3 – Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs – https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets

While the NFU has urged the government to focus on improved food self-sufficiency following Brexit, a trade deal with the EU is crucial to secure food provision. The UK government is working towards a trade agreement, but the timeframes envisioned by the Prime Minister make a satisfactory conclusion in this area unlikely. A 2018 report focusing on potential trade agreements between the UK and the EU, produced by LSE Consulting, noted that the “agricultural sector…is often highlighted as one of the most sensitive sectors in trade negotiations” and as a result “there may be limitations on what is attainable” when it comes to any trade agreements, particularly regarding tariffs. Products could potentially be sourced from alternative trade partners, but in the short term it is likely that the UK will look to domestic farmers to fill any shortfall.

Freedom of labour is not a topic which this blog has space to address, but 8% of UK agricultural workers are EU migrants with an uncertain future in this country (House of Commons briefing paper – 7987).  Farmers face the prospect a decreasing labour supply alongside a demand spike.  Increased demands will have to be made on the land available for production and intensification will only escalate, exacerbating wildlife decline.  Unless a trade deal can be reached with the EU the pressures from intensive farming will not ease in coming years and our countryside will be increasingly dangerous for our birds.

This blog was contributed by Henry Mummé-Young, MSc Politics, Philosophy and Economics student.

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Introducing Birkbeck’s MSc in Governance, Economics and Public Policy

Sue Konzelmann, Programme Director, shares the rationale behind this interdisciplinary Master’s.

When, as in 2015, one group of economists publicly support proposed new economic policies in the press – immediately resulting in another set of economists reaching for their word processors with an entirely opposing view – it’s a pretty fair bet that the ensuing debate will be at least as much about politics as economics.

Nor is this anything new; John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Von Hayek routinely traded blows in a similar public way between the two World Wars, influencing politicians and governments of very different shades in the process.

You might think that you’d be on firmer ground with corporate governance and its more legally based rules. That is, until you remind yourself that those rules are also largely set by government – and that the views of Clement Attlee’s 1945 socialist government and Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government less than forty years later would have been as wildly opposed on corporate governance as they were on pretty much everything else. Whilst Attlee’s government was part of what is (yes, you’ve guessed it) debatably described as the “Keynesian consensus”, Thatcher’s handbag was famously home to Von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom.

However, in spite of these three subjects – economics, politics and corporate governance – being inextricably linked, they are usually taught separately, an approach which inevitably loses much of the richness of what is, after all, a game that anyone wanting to influence public policy will have to learn to play.

There is, of course, no rule book to follow. Such rules as there are, may be rewritten at any point in time, and for a variety of reasons – but that’s what allows policy to evolve in response to a changing world, changing conventional wisdom or changing politics. It’s a heady mix.

Birkbeck’s new MSc in Governance, Economics and Public Policy not only shows how each of these areas influences – and is, in turn, influenced by – the others; it also sets them into their academic context and relates them to real world events and outcomes.

Although the course was initiated at the suggestion of the Progressive Economy Forum, which has strong links to one of the two opposing groups of economists already mentioned, the course will be taught by colleagues from three of Birkbeck’s world leading Departments – Management, Economics and Politics – with a wide variety of perspectives.

I anticipate that there will be some lively discussions with and amongst the students as well. As a result, one of the first rules to go out of the window, will probably turn out to be the one about never discussing politics in a pub!

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Banking by day, Birkbeck by night

Mina Yau studied the BSc Economics with Business at Birkbeck while working full-time at the Bank of England.

I applied for the Bank of England school leaver programme after completing my A-levels in Economics, Accounts and History. After a successful application, I was able to start full time at the Bank of England. This meant I chose to work instead of pursuing further education, however I did not want to regret this decision and miss out on university. As such, I decided to take on further studies after my one-year probation at the Bank. It was difficult to find a university where I could continue working. However, Birkbeck gave me the opportunity to pursue further education whilst working full-time by offering evening classes (and an extra bonus of part-time studying across 4 years).

The Economics, Maths and Statistics classes at Birkbeck really helped develop my career in the bank as they taught me the necessarily skills for my day to day role. Whether it was better understanding how the economy works, the maths behind the metrics or even data programming – Birkbeck really helped widen my knowledge and skill set.

At the Bank of England, I started as a school leaver in the Data and Statistics Division, where I would collect data from banks and building societies via our internal systems and process this to specialist teams. After, I moved to the Financial Stability, Strategy and Risk directorate, working in the Macrofinancial Risks Division in the Households team. Here I was able to deep dive into risk metrics relating to Households and built a very strong understanding on housing data. I then moved to the bank’s Resilience Division where I currently work; this is similar to my last role but more focused on risks and the resilience directly to banks.

Diligence is fundamental for balancing work and study commitments. Often, late nights are required at work, which meant I was unable to attend some lectures. Luckily Birkbeck does have facilities such as room recordings which means I am able to catch up with classes over the weekend. Thankfully, the Bank of England is also filled with talented colleagues who are able to explain and help with any queries on the classes or homework which makes studying a lot easier.

If you’re in doubt on whether or not to apply to Birkbeck due to work commitments, I highly recommend just going for it. It’s an excellent learning opportunity and gives high rewards. I can proudly say that not only after four years at Birkbeck (part-time study) I have completed my degree, I also have five years’ experience at the Bank of England to go with it.

Finally, I’d like to mention Tony Humm, a fantastic lecturer for Maths for Economists – it’s a very well taught class and definitely my favourite module! If you have a choice, I highly recommend taking this class!

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Building an (Inter)Disciplinary Career

Lucy Tallentire from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics explores the challenges and opportunities in interdisciplinary studies, raised in a recent seminar from the TRIGGER Project (Transforming Institutions by Gendering Contents and Gaining Equality in Research). 

Gender is pertinent to many disciplines, from literary theory to anthropology, film studies to linguistics, and sociology to geography. However, these disciplines sometimes differ in their approaches to how and why gender is studied. So what are the challenges in a field of study that spans several disciplines? And how can scholars make the most of their interdisciplinary roots?

These were just some of the questions considered at a recent event on negotiating careers as a gender studies scholar within a mainstream discipline. In her welcome address, Professor Helen Lawton Smith, who led Birkbeck’s participation in the TRIGGER Project, said: “Over its four-year lifespan the objectives of the TRIGGER project became more than just to support women in Higher Education, but to champion equality and what Birkbeck can do to support diversity.” Organised collaboratively by the Birkbeck Gender Sexuality (BiGS) research group and the Birkbeck TRIGGER project, this event is the first in a series of seminars that will be the TRIGGER project’s legacy, supporting PhD students, early career researchers and aspiring professors.

The seminar took the form of a conversation between Dr Kate Maclean, Director of BiGS, and Dr Gabriela Alvarez Minte, who recently completed her PhD at Birkbeck after many years of working in women’s rights at the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). As a feminist geographer who started her academic career with a PhD in Women’s Studies, Kate reflected on her unique experience of completing her doctorate and moving straight into a career in the “mainstream” Department of Geography:

“It is widely acknowledged that gender, queer, and feminist theory is some of the most intellectually challenging theory across the social sciences and humanities. However you may still face challenges as a gender studies scholar – it is not as prevalent an attitude now as it used to be, but intra-departmental dynamics can be difficult!  And it can be difficult to find a network of people to develop your ideas with – particularly important in the early stages of your career. ”

The conversation then moved to discuss the ways in which the challenges of an interdisciplinary field can be overcome. A real breakthrough for Kate was realising the need to network with other feminist scholars in different departments. When she found that other, even senior, staff were facing similar challenges, she organised a meeting for feminist academics across the institution to come together and discuss the need for a space as feminist academics – for both research and mutual support. The size of the meeting was a real testament to the need for this network, which gave them a space to knock around ideas in a very constructive way. As a result, the Gender Matters @ King’s research group was born.

Taking questions posed by the audience of early career researchers, both Kate and Gabriela were able to reflect on their personal academic journeys. Gabriela sees herself as a combination of academic and practitioner and discussed the benefit of field experience: “working at UNIFEM was extremely beneficial to the development of my ideas and drove me to fill out the knowledge I lacked in gender and development”. Kate recognised that she was lucky to go from a PhD straight into an academic teaching and research position, but emphasised the merits of postdoctoral research opportunities, which allow a unique insight into a different field, the benefit of another’s experience and good networking opportunities. Like in any other profession, networking is very important in academia, and refreshments after the seminar offered participants an informal opportunity to engage with one another’s work, ask questions, and learn from one another.

You can find out more about BiGs and TRIGGER on the Birkbeck website.

Click here to find out more about future seminars.

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