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Britain can’t afford to ignore Italy’s new clown
The Times - February 28th 2013
Brits and Italians have one thing in common: they like to dismiss Italian politics, and especially elections, as being irrelevant to them, albeit for different reasons. Ha ha, we want to say, after the clown Silvio Berlusconi they now have the hairy comedian...
Ceci n’est pas une economic forecast, but . . .
The Times - January 21st 2013
Ceci n’est pas une pipe, runs the title of one of Rene Magritte’s most famous paintings, underneath an image that looks, well, rather like a smoking device. Honest economists, which isn’t all of them, need to take a cue from the great surrealist. The...
Italy doesn’t need this clown – or Berlusconi
The Times - December 19th 2012
He just cannot resist the spotlight. Why else would Silvio Berlusconi suddenly announce his umpteenth engagement to a woman half a century younger than him on a TV show on one of the billionaire mogul’s own channels? Why else would he have recently announced...
If the US plays by the rules, China might too
The Times - September 24th 2012
“How courteous is the Japanese,” ran Ogden Nash’s poem from the 1930s, “he always says ‘Excuse it please.’ He climbs into his neighbor’s garden, and smiles and says ‘I beg your pardon’. He bows and grins a friendly grin, and calls his hungry family in;...
Our leaders are following the Micawber Plan
The Times - September 10th 2012
How nice it would be to bounce back cheerfully in after one’s summer break, predicting that the economic crisis was over, that recovery was on the way, that the European Central Bank had saved us all from a euro collapse, that once the American election...
Don´t write off the decadent West just yet
The Times - August 20th 2012
As we near the fourth anniversary of the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank, and even the fifth of when the distressed warbling of canaries in our financial mineshafts began to choke on their American subprime mortgages, we can be forgiven...
China´s tough-guy act masks growing jitters
The Times - August 6th 2012
These days, Chinese efficiency is much admired. Indeed, until our Olympics got successfully under way, London lingered under the shadow of Beijing’s ruthlessly spectacular Games four years ago, a tad nervous that our old-world democracy look stumbling...
Be bold and resolute - and start taking risks
The Times - July 23rd 2012
The sun has got its hat on, at last, and many are about to luxuriate in all that lycra at the Games. It will be a distraction, of sorts, from the economic gloom that surrounds us, what with the euro-zone recession, figures for British growth on Wednesday...
Leaving Europe won´t let us make all the rules
The Times - July 9th 2012
The issues are simple. That is what the massing ranks of Eurosceptics say, whether in bar-rooms, tea-rooms or TV studios. The British people must be allowed to decide whether to stay in the European Union, and soon, for two big reasons. First, because...
Mario Monti is facing a big, hairy problem
The Times - June 25th 2012
Forget Greece. Put Spain to one side. The future of the euro will be decided in the country whose boot stretches stylishly between them in the middle of the Mediterranean. Yes, Italy. For that country is about to return to the centre-circle not just on...
Europe´s problem is too much leadership
The Times - June 11th 2012
The mind-concentrating merits of imminent catastrophe can be praised once again: the decision by euro-zone finance ministers to lend Spain enough money (100 billion euros) to remove current doubts about the stability of its banking system is a welcome...
Don´t slam the door on Greeks or their money
The Times - May 28th 2012
Is there nothing our government will not stoop to in order to make Britain look bad? Fresh from David Cameron’s lecturing of European leaders and the European Central Bank president about how to save the euro and promote growth, which was pretty rich...
If I were Greek, I´d vote for the Plague Party
The Times - May 14th 2012
Many of us, when confronted with a ballot paper, feel an urge to put a cross in a box marked “a plague on all your houses”. The snag, representative democracy being what it is, is that if enough of you do that you will end up with the Plague Party running...
How Hollande and Merkel could make it work
The Times - April 30th 2012
Two ideas are gripping minds all over Europe. One is that next Sunday’s elections in France and Greece, spiced up by local elections in Italy on the same day, the campaign for the May 31st referendum on Europe’s fiscal treaty in Ireland, and the fall...
Look East, where bad news is good news
The Times - April 16th 2012
Do you want the good news or do you want the bad news? How many times, when someone has said that to you, have you wanted to wring their neck? Well, to save you that trouble, the point of this column is that in this, as in so much else, China is different....
Going private could be the worst of all worlds
The Times - April 2nd 2012
No one, it is safe to say, wants to hear any more about Cornish pasties, nor to find out whether any featured on the menu for those donors’ dinners in the Camerons’ flat. The past fortnight has been apt to give us pasty-faced Brits an inferiority complex...
Not much for workers, not much for business
The Times - March 22nd 2012
Chancellors of the Exchequer seem to take an oath when they enter office that they will henceforward ensure that the words “iron” and “reforming” become attached to their titles. So we had better test George Osborne for those qualities, giving him high...
What is ‘soft power’? Tune in to find out
The Times - March 5th 2012
Birthday parties are not always happy occasions. One, probably apocryphal, story of one of Sir John Gielgud’s parties during his 80s has the great thespian beginning his thank-you speech by saying that he was very grateful to his friends for coming, but...
A new Lehman looms. Its name is Greece
The Times - February 20th 2012
There is something spooky about the economic and financial scene on both sides of the Atlantic, something all too reminiscent of the summer of 2008. Then, as now, the many warnings of impending doom did not seem to tie in to reality. Things were...
The Iron Professor has one year to save Italy
The Times - February 6th 2012
Let’s admit it. We have all greeted snowy transport paralysis by being pleased to stay at home, snuggle up, and have an excuse to open that bottle of whisky we have long felt lustful towards. Imagine, then, the relief that Mario Monti’s Italian government...
Newt or Mitt? Both know where abroad is
The Times - January 23rd 2012
There is a time in all American presidential election campaigns when we outsiders, and probably many Americans too, scratch our heads and wonder why on earth the world’s only superpower still runs its elections as if this were the early 19th century,...
It´s not fair but voters can be terribly unfair
The Times - January 9th 2012
Hands up all those against fairness? No, I thought not, and plainly David Cameron thinks not too, or he wouldn´t have launched the new year by emphasising that attractive word, in a bid to wrestle it out of the grip of Ed Miliband. Yet as both parties´...
Get them singing to our single market tune - December 19th 2011
“My centre is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent, I shall attack.” Those reported words of Marshal Ferdinand Foch during a rather different European conflict in 1918 might not exactly summarise the feelings of David Cameron following...
Germany is speaking with an English Accent
The Times - December 5th 2011
We know our traditional response, for Punch recorded it a century and a half ago: “Who’s ‘im Bill? A stranger? ‘Eave ‘arf a brick at im.” And when the stranger is German, when the subject is the euro, and when a political leader from that country has...
Berlusconi´s legacy: 17 years of standing still
The Times - November 11th 2011
Nothing, as Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth, became him more than the manner of his leaving. Except that in Silvio Berlusconi’s case it should not be meant as a compliment. Italy’s prime minister waited to announce his resignation until long after everyone...
The facts are awful. But Europe must face them
The Times - November 7th 2011
Nicolas Sarkozy has made it perfectly clear that he is not keen on more lectures from the “I’m alright Jacques” Brits about what needs to be done to prevent the eurozone from causing the next Great Depression or, for all we know, the next world war. Yet...
Firewalls won´t help Europe avoid the iceberg
The Times - October 10th 2011
Forget the Black Death. Forget, too, the South Sea Bubble of 1720, the Baring crisis of 1890 and even the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, we may be in the worst financial crisis ever. Angela...
Default or deeper union? Whatever. Just do it
The Times - September 26th 2011
So now we know: “They have six weeks to resolve this crisis”, declared George Osborne, while in Washington, DC, for the mass meetings of finance ministers that have just been held to coincide with the International Monetary Fund’s annual get-together....
The world economy is Osama´s biggest victim
The Times - September 5th 2011
Do you remember the video of Osama bin Laden watching himself on television in his house in Abbottabad, which the Americans released just after having killed him? What’s the betting that much of the time, when his friends weren’t filming him, he was actually...
Here is the world forecast: plenty of sunshine
The Times - August 22nd 2011
Here is some news that might brighten up this gloomy August: the world economy is not about to enter a new recession. The main reason for this bold, nay reckless, forecast might not seem so cheering to Europeans and Americans, although it should be: it...
US downgrading? The real worry is EU default
The Times - August 8th 2011
It was a week on the wild side, and this week promises to be a tad tumultuous too, thanks to the first ever downgrading of America’s sovereign credit rating by Standard & Poors and the latest emergency huddle of eurozone financial officials....
It´s their Tea Party and the world is not invited
The Times - August 1st 2011
The Founding Fathers must be chuckling in their graves. They designed the American constitution, with all its checks and balances, expressly to thwart decisive government, and they have certainly succeeded spectacularly in that aim during the farcical...
Italy´s financial woes: it´s bonds and bailouts, not just Berlusconi
The Times - July 18th 2011
It is tempting to blame Silvio Berlusconi for the way in which Italy has found itself in the financial markets’ gunsights, and like the country’s prime minister himself, I follow the Wildean dictum: I can resist anything except temptation. Yet for once,...
These dynastic dictatorships are doomed
The Times - July 4th 2011
If you want a sense of time standing still, go to the “demilitarized zone” between North and South Korea and the place where the truce was signed between those two countries and the United Nations forces in 1953. When I visited Panmunjom last week with...
Ring-fencing banks: are you sure that´s wise, sir?
The Times - June 20th 2011
One of the great not-actually-said sayings, alongside “Play it again Sam” and “It’s too soon to judge” (the French Revolution), is the supposed remark by Hermann Goering that whenever he heard the word ‘culture’ he reached for his gun. I am beginning...
Toxic Berlusconi´s career is finally at an end
The Times - June 6th 2011
This is a big moment for Italy, as two notable Italians are preparing seriously for their futures. Mario Draghi, who as governor of the Bank of Italy has become one of the country’s most respected officials worldwide, is going on to greater things, moving...
Situation vacant: Europeans need not apply
The Times - May 23rd 2011
In the bad old days of George W. Bush, whenever Europe was accused of being from Venus, in the sense of disliking war rather than being sexual predators, the riposte would come that Europeans exercise “soft power” rather than the hard, Martian sort. By...
Memo on reform: if it ain´t broke, don´t fix it
The Times - May 9th 2011
When you are sitting through one of those interminable meetings in which the discussion rambles round and round every mulberry bush it can find, a pleasing way to pull the ramblers up short is to make the following demand: could you kindly define the...
The end of the golden age will soon be with us
The Times - April 25th 2011
Gold always seems designed to catch the eye, whether on a Middle East potentate’s bath taps, a soon-to-be princess’s tiara or as the price passes $1,500 an ounce at the same time as the Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency fires a warning shot across...
Will Japan bloom or wither in the aftershock?
The Times - April 11th 2011
It is barely a month since Japan suffered the worst natural or humanitarian disaster that has befallen any industrialised country since 1945. The death toll from the March 11th earthquake and tsunami is still being counted, but looks like ending up between...
Take your Europoison. You´ll feel better later
The Times - March 28th 2011
After his trial, Socrates was put to death by being forced to drink poison. His more modern namesake, Jose Socrates, the Portuguese prime minister, has just been put to political death because his parliament would not drink the fiscal poison demanded...
The party animal is ruining Italy´s birthday
The Times - March 17th 2011
Birthdays are not always happy occasions, though you might have thought that simply to have reached the ripe old age of 150 would have brought on a smile. Not for Italy: the anniversary of its unification, on March 17th 1861, is proving a rather sullen...
Prepare for a backlash against nuclear power
The Times - March 14th 2011
It is no coincidence that the internationally accepted word for a wave caused by an earthquake is the Japanese tsunami, formed from the characters for harbour and wave, nor that even the old, historic temples that you might have visited there as a tourist...
Libyan tremors will be felt as far away as China
The Times - February 28th 2011
The Arab awakening is an unfolding story that is barely two months old and which will most likely continue unfolding for years to come. But it is beginning to have consequences, and not just for the dictators and their families and cronies who are being...
Obama´s riddle: withdraw or keep military aid?
The Times - January 31st 2011
It is a sobering thought, for any European or American prone to proselytising for democracy and human rights, that this month´s events in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab dictatorships have had so little apparent connection to anything the West does...
Britain will suffer if it doesn´t help the Euro
The Times - January 17th 2011
Here is a number that should be memorised by all those who sneered last week at the French prime minister, Francois Fillon, and his request to Britain to support future rescue and repair measures for the euro: $233.5 billion (£147 billion). It is the...
Freedom needs a champion. Let it be Britain
The Times - January 3rd 2011
The past few years have been hard for lovers of democracy, and this one also starts awkwardly. Freedom House, the New York-based think-tank that monitors democracy and free speech, will this month publish its annual rating of "Freedom in the World", probably...
Been Good? Ask Santa to bring us inflation
The Times - December 20th 2010
It is the time of year when people are at their least price-sensitive. Grumble though they might at the cost of turkeys or of record prices for petrol and for heating oil, most will not really worry until the credit card bills arrive in January. Nevertheless,...
Russia has become Saudi Arabia with nukes
The Times - December 6th 2010
They may not know it, but FIFA’s executive committee have just made a forecast about the oil price over the next seven years and, perhaps related to that, about the continued strength of Russia’s billionaire “oligarchs”. In doing so, they may well have...
The euro isn´t to blame for Ireland´s woes
The Times - November 22nd 2010
When you are in trouble, especially trouble of your own making, it is always nice to have someone else to hate. During the financial crises of the 1980s and 1990s, in Asia and Latin America, that role was played by the International Monetary Fund. A 1998...
Cameron must be quietly ruthless in China
The Times - November 8th 2010
It is never easy or comfortable for a western leader to make an official visit to China, as David Cameron will on Tuesday. On one shoulder, an elf whispers in your ear of the importance of promoting British exports to the world’s new economic superpower,...
After Berlusconi, there’ll be no flood of chaos
The Times - November 1st 2010
The streets of Rome are generally lovely at this time of year, yet now the air is carrying the strong, unpleasant smell of "la fine di un regno", or fin-de-regime, as we seem to say in English. Whether your preferred imperial image is of Nero fiddling...
Gang up on China - that´ll be value for money
The Times - October 11th 2010
It has not been a comfortable few days for China, except for those Chinese hardliners for whom foreign criticism just acts to stiffen their spines. To give the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, the brave dissident locked up in 2009 for campaigning for...
Be brave and Britain won´t be another Ireland
The Times - October 4th 2010
When you have got yourself into a mess, it can be comforting to find that your neighbour is even worse trouble than you are. That unfortunate role is being played by Ireland. There is a danger, however: that the neighbour’s struggles might make you less...
Tick, tick, tick: voting reform is a time bomb
The Times - September 20th 2010
An aspect of politics that never fails to surprise us non-politicians is how often politicians lay time-bombs for themselves. We know a week is a long time, and tomorrow is another day, but some things do astound by being so foreseeable. The Cameron-Clegg...
Obama must play chicken or become a lame duck
The Times - September 6th 2010
If you had been asked on inauguration day in 2009 to define what might count as “success” for Barack Obama nearly two years later, what would you have said? Many would have reckoned that President Obama would be doing well if by now he could have achieved...
Very well then, we are contradicting ourselves
The Times - August 8th 2010
The traditional newspaper name for this period is the silly season. For economic commentators, however, it feels more like a season of contradictions, when one week’s data or market frenzy appears to turn the previous supposed trend on its head. To sound...
Note to PM: tell India we’re open for business
The Times - July 26th 2010
Cue, inevitably, headlines about passages to India, jewels in crowns and Cameron-sahib. Cue, probably, pictures of the last Tory prime minister to visit the sub-continent, Sir John Major, and his unfortunate encounter with a silly hat. Cue, certainly,...
The eco-cause has taken a bigger hit than BP
The Times - July 12th 2010
There is an uncanny resemblance between the arguments used last week to exonerate climate scientists at the University of East Anglia by the independent committee set up to investigate the scientists´ e-mail scandal and those used by BP to explain...
After the smiles, its beggar your neighbour
The Times - June 28th 2010
It took an Irishman, George Bernard Shaw, to point out that Britain and America were two nations “divided by a common language”. It has taken a summit of the leaders of the G20, held in Canada, to show that Europe and America are two regions divided by...
Where now for the crisis-hit European Left?
The Times - June 14th 2010
Try looking at the heel of Italy, where you can find a refreshing combination of old values and capitalism
Political labels such as left and right, we told ourselves when the Cold War ended two decades ago, are now meaningless. Yet we still use them,...
China’s stance on North Korea could lead to war
The Times - May 31st 2010
The world is anxious about the Kim regime but greater disasters lie ahead if its superpower neighbour fails to act
Try this quiz. You lead a rising economic superpower, with ambitions for global political power. You have pledged to pursue a "peaceful...
The Thatcherite road is all Europe has left
The Times - May 20th 2010
Solving the eurozone crisis will take more liberalisation than Germany wants to swallow
Panic is not a word normally associated either with Germany or Angela Merkel. But that was the impression given by Germany’s announcement on Tuesday that it was...
The City needs its wings clipped, not cut off
The Times - May 17th 2010
Thwacking bankers may be a crowd-pleaser but will not help Osborne to revive the economy or shrink the deficit
Britain spent so long in pre-election mode that it is hard to kick the habit. But it is time to do so, not least when thinking about taxes...
Europe’s economy is the sick man of the world
The Times - April 30th 2010
Kick Greece out of the euro to warn other reprobates that they face swallowing the same humiliating medicine
It wasn’t very nice to liken the Greek debt crisis to the Ebola virus but, as a former Mexican finance minister, Angel Gurria knows a thing or...
Immigration needs a New York state of mind
The Times - April 19th 2010
Bureaucratic controls will only deny Britain the benefits it has reaped from foreign workers over the years
Being stuck in New York, waiting for the Icelandic ashes to stop scattering themselves in Europe’s airspace, does at least provide a bit of perspective...
Why the US and China must close the gap
The Times - April 5th 2010
First they seemed at loggerheads, now Beijing and Washington appear keen to cosy up. There’s a deal to be done
In international affairs, perceptions are swinging back and forth as wildly as British opinion polls. Barely two months ago, America and China...
Berlusconi’s bubble is almost at bursting point
The Times - March 22nd 2010
If Italian voters put in the boot, the Prime Minister’s coalition partners can seize the chance to bring him down
You will, of course, be astonished to learn that for the past two months Italian newspapers have been dominated by tales of corruption,...
The pound will rise as the euro heads south
The Times - March 8th 2010
Political uncertainty is holding back sterling. But it’s a sure thing that the eurozone has a rough time ahead
The time to be greedy, the Sage of Omaha says, is when others are fearful, and the time to be fearful is when others are greedy. Warren Buffett...
Obama’s slow burn will bring Iran into line
The Times - February 22nd 2010
A sledgehammer approach to sanctions will not kill President Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambitions and might bolster his power
If you had to list the foreign-policy issues you would rather not have to deal with, what would be at the top? Probably Israel and...
Why China is stoking war of words with US
The Times - February 8th 2010
Beijing’s belligerence is a diversionary tactic. There’s nothing like nationalist outrage to sweeten unpopular economic reform
Europeans bemoaning the loss of their prominent world-governing (or, at least, photo-op-ing) role in the almost defunct G7...
Don’t write Japan off. The giant is stirring
The Times - January 25th 2010
Its economy is set to lose its No 2 position to China, but after years of stagnation Japan seems ready to shake itself up
When a car full of boy-racers overtakes an older, sputtering jalopy, onlookers give the slower vehicle barely a glance, though the...
Britain doesn´t need shock therapy
The Times - January 4th 2010
Commentary on Britain and its economic prospects has come to resemble tabloid reporting on England´s World Cup prospects. One minute, generally after defeating Andorra or some other giant, we are tipped as likely champions. Next, after losing on...
Honesty would be a better climate policy
The Times - October 29th 2009
Here is an oddity. Most human progress, in overcoming natural obstacles, say, or curing diseases, has been driven by optimism—the view that if we only try hard enough, or apply enough brainpower, we can solve any problem. Perhaps, to wax philosophical...
Let Obama talk. That´s how things get done
The Times - October 16th 2009
Can there ever have been an American president who has been prejudged, judged and then rejudged as soon and as relentlessly as has Barack Obama? Certainly not George W. Bush in 2001, for whom expectations were low at least until 9/11 changed everything....
Forget the Lisbon treaty
The Times - October 1st 2009
This is an important week for the politics and policy of Britain, but not for any reason connected to the froth of party conferences, prescription drugs or Sun editorials. The reasons lie across the sea in Ireland and across the channel in Germany, in...
The Times - September 21st, 2009
An economic crisis that began as a drama, or even a tragedy, is descending into farce. It is bad enough at home, what with Labour and the Tories arguing over whose spending cuts are going to be the nastiest, when the real issue is what it will mean for...
The three worst words of all: ‘off balance sheet’
The Times - September 1st 2009
Careless talk costs lives, said the wartime poster. Nowadays, it can damage the talker´s credibility, as it has in the case of the remarks by Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, in his now notorious roundtable interview in...
Opec’s greed will herald the end of the oil age
The Times - August 20th 2009
Proclamations of economic recovery in the past week in Japan, France and Germany, and soon in Britain and America too, may well signal the end of the Great Recession of 2007-09, albeit bumpily. As things stand, though, this month may also signal the beginning...
The recovery will prove Thatcherism right
The Times - August 13th 2009
All around the world, economies seem to be turning a corner, moving out of a period of this global recession in which the good news was just that things were getting bad more slowly into one in which things are actually getting better. Exports are...
Liberalism will emerge stronger from the crisis
The Times - August 13th 2009
All around the world, economies seem to be turning a corner, moving out of a period of this global recession in which the good news was just that things were...
China´s accidental empire is a growing danger
The Times - May 22nd 2009
A Victorian historian said that Britain “conquered... half the world in a fit of absence of mind”.
Chinese Communist Party leaders are not normally associated with absentmindedness, but rather with cool, calculated, long-term strategic thinking. Yet...