IEA Conversations
The last decade was the best in human history

The last decade was the best in human history

January 15, 2020

Everything is getting better. Let nobody tell you what the second decade of the 21st century has been bad! The astonishing feature of the United Kingdom’s overbearing sense of gloom is that it is totally detached from measurable economic factors in the real world. Shouldn’t we instead be in a celebratory mood, bursting with optimism and hope. Instead, we are the equivalent of fans of a football team on a wonderful run of form who seem permanently convinced that the next match will result in crushing defeat.

Of course, the doomsayers say that past results are no guarantee of future performance. They are technically correct in that assertion, of course, but the past does surely act as a reasonable guide and it is worth us being aware of just how fantastic the recent performance of humanity has been.

Today’s guest on the IEA podcast, interviewed by the IEA's Digital Manager Darren Grimes, has recently argued that we are living through the greatest improvement in human living standards in history. Extreme poverty has fallen below 10 per cent of the world’s population for the first time. It was 60 per cent when I was born. Global inequality has been plunging as Africa and Asia experience faster economic growth than Europe and North America; child mortality has fallen to record low levels; famine virtually went extinct; malaria, polio and heart disease are all in decline. The size of the world economy grew by over a third in the past decade and now stands at more than $86 trillion. If anything, this upward trend is showing signs of accelerating. World GDP can reasonably be expected to surpass $100 trillion before the next decade is out.

Matt Ridley's books have sold over a million copies, been translated into 31 languages and won several awards. His books include The Red Queen, The Origins of Virtue, Genome, Nature via Nurture, Francis Crick, The Rational Optimist and The Evolution of Everything. His TED talk "When Ideas Have Sex" has been viewed more than two million times. He writes a weekly column in The Times (London) and writes regularly for the Wall Street Journal.

Davos 2020: Should Javid leave it to the skiers?

Davos 2020: Should Javid leave it to the skiers?

January 9, 2020

$52,000 to spare? In the mood for some bubbly? Well then Davos is the place for you!

Despite the apparent ‘Boris Ban’, Chancellor Sajid Javid is expected to attend the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos later this month. The glamorous Swiss resort is famous for attracting big names - but should the Treasury be leaving Davos to the skiers? 

The conference has always been a controversial one; at $52,000 per ticket, one does wonder whether it really fulfils the Forum’s mission of “improving the state of the world”, or if it is just another gathering of the ‘champagne’ elite. The image of government cosying up to billionaires and big business is not new- isn’t it time to break away from this forum of apparent rent-seekers?

Dr Richard Wellings, the IEA’s Deputy Research Director discusses his take on the event, as well as the growth of the ‘crony capitalism’ it is associated with. The IEA’s Darren Grimes asks him how he thinks we can deal with this issue, and the powerful ways in which a free-market economic approach can help. The wider role of government, including the apparent misconception of their responsibilities leading up to the 2008 Crash, is explored also. 

As the author and editor of several papers, books, and reports, including A Beginner’s Guide to Liberty (Adam Smith Institute, 2009), Dr Wellings is certainly well placed to explore these matters at length during this podcast. 

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean.

How ideas can change the world

How ideas can change the world

January 2, 2020

The mission of Network for a Free Society is to encourage opportunity and prosperity by promoting understanding of the principles of a free and responsible society, and the foundations on which it is based: limited government, the rule of law, protection of private property, free markets, and free speech.

The organisation is extremely active in its efforts to distribute classical liberal CDs, texts, and small grants to individuals all over the world interested in learning about and promoting the ideas of freedom.

Today's guest, Linda Whetstone, is Chairman of Network for a Free Society and discusses with the IEA's Darren Grimes her decades-long fight for freedom. Linda takes Darren through the success stories and challenges of exporting ideas around the world and tells one or two inspiring stories of her time at the helm of the Network.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean. 

Nanny State on Tour

Nanny State on Tour

December 26, 2019

‘Nanny state’ foreign aid has ballooned in recent years. The majority (84.4 per cent) of the £44.6million was spent from 2016 to 2018. Annual spending on lifestyle intervention projects equalled £17million in 2016, £16.7million in 2017 and £3.9million in 2018.

Why is this?

The IEA's Christopher Snowdon chats to an IEA author Mark Tovey, about his recent report 'Nanny State on Tour', which is free to download here.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean.

2019: Year in Review

2019: Year in Review

December 18, 2019

The IEA’s Year in Review has been a feature of the IEA podcast channel since its launch.

Find out in our round-up of 2019, who the IEA’s Director General Mark Littlewood, Associate Director Kate Andrews and Head of Lifestyle Economics Christopher Snowdon’s Person of the Year is, the trio’s Favourite Film of the Year is, their Political Moment of the Year and their Top Prediction for 2020.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Podbean.

How can we make sense of the political realignment taking place in the United Kingdom?

How can we make sense of the political realignment taking place in the United Kingdom?

December 11, 2019

How can we make sense of the political realignment taking place in the United Kingdom?

In one of the very first Live from Lord North Street podcast episodes, the IEA’s Dr Stephen Davies discussed this topic with Kate Andrews. Having developed his political realignment theory for several years now, Steve offers in our podcast today an explanation the ongoing political realignment, particularly highlighted the UK’s general election. He discusses the triggers for change (including Brexit and the growing support for socialist ideas), the reshuffle of political structures, parties, voting blocs and redefinition of what it means to be on ‘the left’ and ‘the right’, both in the UK and abroad.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean.

Why do democracies choose ‘bad’ policies?

Why do democracies choose ‘bad’ policies?

December 4, 2019

Darren Grimes, Digital Manager at the IEA, is joined by Professor Bryan Caplan, an American economist and author, who is currently sitting on the New York Times Best Sellers list with his latest book 'Open Borders'.

The United Kingdom is currently in a general election period that has seen a slew of spending commitments, politicians of all hues talk of the ‘good’ government can do and expressing the opinion that it is the job of government to identify and correct market failure. At the expense of groups like consumers and taxpayers.

Professor Caplan's sobering assessment in his 2007 book ‘The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies’, argued that the greatest obstacle to sound economic policy is not entrenched special interests or rampant lobbying, but the popular misconceptions, irrational beliefs, and personal biases held by ordinary voters.

Professor Caplan lays out several ways to make democratic government work 'better' - for example, urging economic educators to focus on correcting popular misconceptions and recommending that democracies do less and let markets take up the slack. "The Myth of the Rational Voter" took an unflinching look at how people who vote under the influence of false beliefs ultimately end up with government that delivers lousy results.

Are the irrational preferences described by Professor Caplan in his book inevitable and hard wired? If so can they be countered? Is the only way to educate people in the sphere of economics, and if so does that imply that only people with an economics degree should be allowed to vote? What does Professor Caplan think about Jay Brennan's notion of epistocracy? As well as Brennan’s argument that if you are not well informed and know you are not you have a moral duty not to vote? They're all topics covered within the podcast.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean.

Is poverty relative, or is it absolute?

Is poverty relative, or is it absolute?

November 28, 2019

When the early poverty researchers Charles booth and Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree visited the East End of London in the late 19th century, they found large numbers of people living in the most desperate poverty. Inadequate food and shelter and unsanitary conditions were commonplace for Booth, Rowntree, and their contemporaries.

Measuring poverty was a relatively simple matter of counting the number of people engaged in a daily struggle to exist in the face of absolute hardship. Today, measuring poverty in developed nations has become a far more complex and contested matter. The struggle to acquire the basic essentials of food, shelter and hygienic conditions no longer exists on such a widespread basis.

Indeed, it could be argued that it no longer exists at all in this country. But many people, including the UK government, and charities such as Oxfam, the Child Poverty Action Group, and the Resolution Foundation, believe that poverty remains rife in the United Kingdom.

The UK defines poverty as disposable income that falls below 60% of the national medium. But imagine a country in which the national median income is a million pounds, someone making £590,000 a year might well fall below the 60% of the median average income, but that person would hardly be impoverished.

Similarly, those making more $168, the actual median per capita income in Burkina Faso in West Africa, are no better off for their neighbor's poverty.

So are we getting poverty measurements wrong? Is poverty relative, or is it absolute?

Joining IEA Digital Manager Darren Grimes to discuss is Kristian Niemietz, Head of Political Economy at the IEA and author of the 2011 release 'A New Understanding of Poverty'.

Should we scrap the ‘hugely inefficient’ corporation tax?

Should we scrap the ‘hugely inefficient’ corporation tax?

November 21, 2019

The IEA's Economics Fellow Julian Jessop argues for the IEA podcast this week that whilst he welcomes both the Conservative and Labour Party's supportive soundings on targeting business rates as an area in need of reform, he views the whole corporation tax system as increasingly out of date too.

Julian views the Conservative Party’s plan to postpone further cuts to corporation tax as a "mistake", and indeed the Labour Party’s pledge to reverse the cuts, arguing that both ignore research showing more than half the burden is borne by workers; furthermore Julian says, corporation tax remains an inefficient way to raise government revenue and has a negative impact on both investment and entrepreneurship.

Darren Grimes, Digital Manager at the IEA, asks Julian to take him through his thinking on why he believes both the Labour Party and Conservative proposals on Corporation Tax aren’t right if the aim is to boost both investment and entrepreneurship.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Podbean.

From BBC to NBT: Is it time to scrap the fee?

From BBC to NBT: Is it time to scrap the fee?

November 14, 2019

The world in which the BBC operates has changed dramatically. Viewers and listeners have unlimited choice and are ruthlessly discerning. So, is it time to scrap the licence fee?

Today’s guest, the IEA’s Senior Academic Fellow, Professor Philip Booth, says that we should, arguing that the BBC funding model needs to be pulled into the 21st century. The UK has a long history of successful mutuals and co-operatives, Philip argues, that are popular with their members. Such an ownership model for the BBC would be fit-for-purpose in the modern broadcasting world, detach the BBC from the state, and promote real diversity of corporate structures in the world of media.

A re-modelled BBC could better leverage its brand internationally and be a commercial success as well as perform other less-overtly commercial functions that its member-viewers value.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Podbean!